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Richard Allen and his three siblings were born into slavery in Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s. When the family was sold to a plantation owner in Delaware, Allen began his fellowship work. After teaching himself to read and write, he joined the Methodist Society of Preachers and soon began to lead their meetings. His activity impressed his owner, who allowed Richard Allen and his brothers the opportunity to purchase their freedom. In pursuit of this goal, Rev. Allen held a variety of odd jobs, continued his ministry, and converted his owner to the Methodist faith.
In 1787, while kneeling in prayer at St. George's Methodist Church, Allen, Absalom Jones, and other black worshipers were pulled from the church by St. George's officials. As a result of this action, Allen and Jones organized the independent Free African Society on April 12, 1787. This organization dedicated itself to serving all humanity, denouncing slavery, and spearheading the establishment of an "African Church." On July 17, 1794, Allen, a Methodist, and Jones, an Episcopalian, opened Bethel Church in Philadelphia. On April 9, 1816, Rev. Allen unified the two factions and formed the first African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. A.M.E membership now exceeds three million faithful around the world.
In addition to Bishop Allen's international and historical success in creating a church embraced by the black community, he was also a leader in community service and entrepreneurial endeavors. He opened a day school for black children, developed the Free African Society into a benevolent organization offering mutual aid to free blacks, and started the Insurance Society of Philadelphia.