Mother Bethel is the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in America, founded in 1791. Richard Allen (1760-1831), a former slave, was the founder, and later became the first bishop (1816) of the first African-American denomination in the United States. This site is the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans.
Mother Bethel is an outgrowth of the Free African Society established by Allen and Absalom Jones in April, 1787. Soon thereafter, Allen and Jones led a group of worshipers out of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church to protest it policy of segregation. Two African-American churches developed as a result of this exodus. Absalom Jones founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas (the first Black Episcopal parish) in 1794. Preferring to remain a Methodist, Allen nurtured a congregation in a blacksmith shop which he hauled to this site for use as a house of worship. Officially dedicated by Bishop Francis Asbury (the father of American Methodism), it was the first of four structures on this site. The present structure, designed by Hazelhurst and Huckel, was built in 1889.
Mother Bethel's 200 year history reflects the African-American experience. Allen was in the forefront of the Abolitionist Movement; the church was an important station on the Underground Railroad as well as a recruiting station during the Civil War. The first national convention of African-Americans met here and many progressive enterprises were supported from this place. Allen opened a school for children in 1795. He called African Americans to public service during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and during the War of 1812. Great orators, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth spoke from Bethel's pulpit, and Bethel played a major role in the birth of the first Black periodical and insurance company.
Today, the A.M.E. Church is an international denomination with over two million members for whom the anvil, a reminder of the founding by Richard Allen in a blacksmith shop, is a symbol self-help and self-determination. Many visitors from around the world visit Bethel each year, where the remains of Allen and his wife, Sarah, are entombed.
Richard Allen's vision of the Black church as a place where the African-American community could "build itself up" has inspired thousands of African-American churches and their leaders to articulate the needs and aspirations of America's Black citizens - whether thwarting efforts to colonize American Blacks in Africa in 1816 or promoting Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s.
Richard Allen, founder and first bishop, A.M.E. Church.
Sarah Allen (born Isle of Wight County, Virginia), wife of Richard Allen.
Interior of church from horseshoe balcony toward pulpit and organ.
"Gaol in Walnut Street" (which may depict Mother Bethel's blacksmith shop in foreground), W. Burch & Son, 1799. American Philosophical Society