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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke


[Raphaelle Peale (1774–1825), Portrait of Absalom Jones—Delaware Art Museum, User:Delart / public domain Wikimedia File:Absalom-Jones Peale.jpg]

(Adapted, adopted, and used by permission from the Christian History Institute. You can enjoy their other writings at and

ON THIS DAY, April 12, 1787, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, African American Christians, took steps to establish a society in which members of their race could help one another. The Preamble of the resulting Free African Society explained their objectives:

(12th, 4th mo., 1778 [sic]) —

Whereas, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, two men of the African race, who, for their religious life and conversation have obtained a good report among men, these persons, from a love to the people of their complexion whom they beheld with sorrow, because of their irreligious and uncivilized state, often communed together upon this painful and important subject in order to form some kind of religious society, but there being too few to be found under the like concern, and those who were, differed in their religious sentiments; with these circumstances they labored for some time, till it was proposed, after a serious communication of sentiments, that a society should be formed, without regard to religious tenets, provided, the persons lived an orderly and sober life, in order to support one another in sickness, and for the benefit of their widows and fatherless children.

The following month they adopted articles for their society. Dues were one shilling a month. Assistance would be given to needy members as long as their plight was not owing to “their own imprudence.” No drunkard was allowed membership. Anyone who failed to pay dues for three months was ousted. Failure to attend meetings incurred a fine. Benefits were for sick members, widows, and children.

The organization held religious services. Its principal architects, Jones and Allen, had wanted to establish a church, but their potential members came from such diverse religious backgrounds they decided it was impractical. A few years later, however, both would head black churches in Philadelphia. Jones became America’s first black Episcopal priest. Allen, already ordained as a Methodist minister, became bishop of America’s first black Methodist denomination. Meanwhile, the society discouraged adultery, issued marriage licenses, kept records of births, and taught thrift. It also engaged in medical care, issuing prepaid medical policies. During the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic, members of the Free African Society nursed the sick in Philadelphia. The society also purchased land for a cemetery.

When membership became too numerous to meet in Allen’s home, the society gathered at a Quaker school. However, when the majority began to adopt Quaker forms of worship, Richard Allen and several Methodist members withdrew. Absalom Jones then became its leading voice. Members of the group built the Episcopal Church that Jones would pastor. He remained active in the society. 

The Free African Society is notable for pioneering mutual aid for African Americans and was imitated by many later organizations. It demonstrated the power of religious organizations to support both body and soul.

Written by—Dan Graves

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