St. Thomas African Episcopal Church
Established in 1792, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church became the first Episcopal Church with African American leaders and congregants. The congregation dates back to discrimination against black members at St. George's Methodist Church which inspired black members to form the Free African Society. After white clergy and members of St. George's continued to relegate black members to separate pews and second-class membership, black members formed their own congregation under the leadership of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. In 1802, Jones became the first African American to be ordained to the ministry by Episcopal Bishop William White. During the antebellum period, leaders and members of this congregation actively supported abolitionists and assisted efforts to assist enslaved persons escape via the Underground Railroad.
Backstory and Context
Absalom Jones, along with other black Methodists, formed the congregation after white leaders and members of St. George’s Methodist Church refused to end formal and informal discrimination. The black members of the church even performed an act of civil disobedience prior to forming their own church by staging a large walk-out during services. Jones proposed the independent church and took the lead.
Jones was born into slavery but was able to perform additional labor and purchase his freedom, a practice that was allowed but uncommon in the North and a few other parts of the United States in the 18th century. Jones and his life-long friend Richard Allen became leaders among the black members of St. George's Episcopal Church. The pair also helped the community during a devastating yellow fever epidemic and presented petitions calling for the abolition of slavery.
Absalom was appointed the First Worshipful Master and the First Grand Master of the First African Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. The Second Great Awakening influenced Allen and Jones to create their own church. The congregation's first building was at Fifth and Adelphi Street.
2. Hine, Darlene Clark, et al. The African-American Odyssey. Pearson, 2018.