BlackFacts Details

Free African Society

The Free African Society, founded in 1787, was a benevolent organisation that held religious services and provided mutual aid for “free Africans and their descendants” in Philadelphia. The Society was founded by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. It was the first Black religious institution in the city and led to the establishment of the first independent Black churches in the United States.[1] [2]

Founding members, all free Black men, included Samuel Baston, Joseph Johnson, Cato Freedman, Caesar Cranchell, James Potter and William White.[3] [4] Notable members included African American abolitionists such as Cyrus Bustill, James Forten, and William Gray.[5]

The Free African Society (FAS) developed as part of the rise in civic organizing following American independence in the 1776-1783 Revolutionary War; it was the first black mutual aid society in Philadelphia. The city was a growing center of free blacks, attracted to its jobs and other opportunities. By 1790, the city had 2,000 free black residents, a number that continued to increase.[6] In the first two decades after the war, inspired by revolutionary ideals, many slaveholders freed their slaves, especially in the Upper South. Northern states largely abolished slavery. Numerous freedmen migrated to Philadelphia from rural areas of Pennsylvania and the South; it was a growing center of free black society. In addition, their numbers were increased by free people of color who were refugees from the Haitian Revolution in Saint-Domingue, as well as fugitive slaves escaping from the South.[6]

The FAS was founded in the spring of 1787 in Philadelphia, shortly before the Constitutional Convention was held in the city.

Richard Allen, a Methodist preacher, and Absalom Jones rejected the second-class status blacks were forced into at their white-dominated Methodist church. As their numbers had increased, the church congregation had built a gallery where it asked them to sit separately from the white congregation. The men and their supporters wanted to create an