Richard Allen (February 14, 1760 – March 26, 1831) was a minister, educator, writer, and one of America"s most active and influential black leaders. In 1794 he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the first independent black denomination in the United States. He opened his first AME church in 1794 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Elected the first bishop of the AME Church in 1816, Allen focused on organizing a denomination where free blacks could worship without racial oppression and where slaves could find a measure of dignity. He worked to upgrade the social status of the black community, organizing Sabbath schools to teach literacy and promoting national organizations to develop political strategies.
Richard Allen was born into slavery on February 14, 1760, on the Delaware property of Benjamin Chew. When he was a child Allen and his family were sold to Stokeley Sturgis, who had a plantation in Delaware. When Sturgis had financial problems he sold Richard"s mother and three of his five siblings. Allen had an older brother and sister left with him and the three began to attend meetings of the local Methodist Society, which was welcoming to slaves and free blacks. They were encouraged by their master Sturgis, although he was unconverted. Richard taught himself to read and write. He joined the Methodists at age 17. He began evangelizing and attracted criticism from local slave owners. Allen and his brother redoubled their efforts for Sturgis so no one could say his slaves did not do well because of religion.
The Reverend Freeborn Garrettson, who had freed his own slaves in 1775, began to preach in Delaware. He was among many Methodist and Baptist ministers after the American Revolutionary War who encouraged slaveholders to emancipate their people. When Garrettson visited the Sturgis plantation to preach, Allen"s master was touched by this declaration and began to give consideration to the thought that holding slaves was sinful. Sturgis was soon convinced that slavery was wrong