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From ‘poor, wretched, and undone’ to Bishop

Star Hill A.M.E. church

Above: Star Hill was the first A.M.E. church built (1867) in Richard Allen’s hometown of Dover, DE.

“He was more like a father to his slaves than anything else,” said Richard Allen years later of Stokely Sturgis, his former master in Dover, DE.

Sturgis trusted Allen enough, for example, to allow him as a teenager to work day jobs in a local brickyard, or cutting wood, to earn money. Allen and an older brother and sister were permitted to attend the local Methodist Society meetings.

Sturgis was no angel, however. Allen’s mother and two of his siblings were sold off, but Allen remained in bondage to the same family. “Slavery is a bitter pill,” he observed.

After joining the Methodist Society in 1777 at the age of 17, Allen learned to read and write and, recognizing a gift for preaching, began to evangelize. “I was brought to see myself poor, wretched and undone. Shortly after, I obtained mercy through the blood of Christ.” He was licensed and ordained to preach Methodism three years later by Francis Asbury, founder of the first Methodist church in America.

Sturgis permitted Allen to conduct prayers and preach in his own house, and was one of Allen’s first converts. Allen and his brother had bigger plans than staying put in Dover, though, and purchased their freedom from Sturgis for $2,000.

By 1784 Allen had moved to Philadelphia. In 1793 he formed Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first of a new denomination expressly formed to serve the needs of the black population. Today the global membership of the church Bishop Richard Allen originated is around 2.5 million members. It remains one of the largest Methodist denominations in the world.

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