The Historic St. Peter A.M.E. Church

Bishop Richard Allen Commemorative Stamp

Richard Allen (1760-1831), the founder and the first elected and consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, developed as a significant African American leader in the early American Republic. He was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pa in the household of Benjamin Chew, a lawyer who later became Chief Justice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Chew, however, sold Allen and his family into Delaware. After Allen's conversion in 1777, he and his brother worked for years to buy their freedom from Stokeley Sturgis in 1783. Among his many jobs Allen drove a salt wagon during the American Revolution to raise the $2000 in Continental currency to pay Sturgis. Like other blacks, the liberty language of American colonists created a context which influenced his desire to be manumitted from slavery.

After he settled in Philadelphia in 1786, where he lived until his death, Allen, a businessman who pursued several vocations including that of a chimney sweeper, became a leader among blacks in the bustling city. In 1787 he and several blacks founded the Free African Society, perhaps the earliest black mutual aid society which disbursed funds for widows, orphans, and the sick within the membership. Philadelphia's mayor turned to him and Absalom Jones in 1793 to help during the dreaded yellow fever epidemic to relieve victims of the disease and to bury the dead. When President George Washington died in 1799, Allen penned a eulogy which showed his adherence to the founding principles of the republic. His home and church, which was dedicated in 1794, became venues where fugitive slaves hid from slave catchers. In various publications he denounced slavery and the moral and civic stain it placed upon the body politic. He promoted, for a time, black commerce with Africa and colonization on the "mother" continent. He changed his mind about the latter because he viewed it as a scheme to rid American society of free blacks and thus deprived slaves of strong advocates for their freedom. In 1830 he hosted the first national black convention.

Allen's accomplishments placed him within a frontline vanguard of African American leaders in the early American republic.


 


 
The stamp art is a portrait of Allen, a detail from an 1876 print titled “Bishops of the A.M.E. Church.” Featuring Allen in the center surrounded by ten other bishops and six historical vignettes, the print is from the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.