The Presbyterian Historical Society has announced the digitization of records from Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, work made possible by a grant from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The grant, awarded in 2020, was given in support of PHS’s African American Leaders and Congregations Collecting Initiative.
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church began when Black members of St. George’s Methodist Church walked out of that congregation due to racial segregation in the worship services and organized their own church. Mother Bethel was dedicated on July 29, 1794, by Bishop Francis Asbury, making it one of the first African American churches in the country.
On Oct. 12, 1794, the Rev. Robert Blackwell announced that the congregation was received in full fellowship in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1816, the Rev. Richard Allen brought together other Black Methodist congregations from the region to organize the new African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination. Allen was then elected bishop of this denomination. After the Civil War, AME missionaries went to the South to help freedmen and planted many new churches in the region.
The newly digitized Mother Bethel content ranges from 1848–1982. It consists of 11 volumes of church records, such as board minutes, registers and trustees’ minutes. It also includes framed photographs of pastors and groups throughout the church’s long history. The first volume of board minutes from 1848 through 1849 can be viewed here
The Presbyterian Historical Society is located one block from Mother Bethel and is the repository of its records, which first arrived in 2013 during a renovation of the church building. That project was stewarded by Margaret Jerrido, the longtime archivist of the Urban Archives at Temple University. A PHS 2016 oral history with Jerrido can be heard here.