The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal congregatoin is the oldest independent black institution in Baltimore. Its origins date back to the late 18th century, when blacks withdrew from the parent Methodist Church in protest against racially segregated seating and lack of representation in church hierarchy. To exercise control over their own spiritual affairs, the dissenting blacks formed a "Free African Society," congregating for prayers and meetings in private homes. They soon adopted the name "Bethel," (a Hebrew word meaning house of God), and in 1817, acquired their first church building, the old German Lutheran Churhc on Fish Street (now Saratoga).
Bethel's first pastor was Daniel Coker, an eminent orator and educator who late became the first recognized missionary of the Church when he joined the colonization party that went to Liberia in 1820. In 1816 an organizing conference in Philadelphia formally established the national indpendent African Methodist Episcopal Church. Coker was elected the first bishop; he declined the post, however, and Richard Allen was appointed the following day. Fourteen of the former pastors of Bethel have gone on to become bishops of the Church.
In 1910 Bethel moved to this church, originally constructed in 1868 for St. Peter's Protestant Episcopal Church. It was one of several churches designed in "Norman Gothic" style by the Baltimore architects N.H. Hutton and John Murdoch.