Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans
Walk on hallowed ground when you visit Mother Bethel AME Church, the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. Founded in 1787, the church rests upon the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans.
The church memorializes Rev. Richard Allen, its founding pastor and first bishop. A basement crypt serves as as museum, housing Allen’s tomb and other intriguing artifacts including original pews and the original pulpit constructed and used by Rev. Allen. Recently installed exhibits depict the church’s role as an underground Railroad station.
While visiting the church don’t miss its collection of huge stained glass windows with both religious and Masonic images.
Mother Bethel origins date back to 1787 when Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones encouraged black worshippers to form their own congregations after being forced to sit in the balconies during services at some of the city’s traditional white churches.
The church’s original structure was actually a wood frame blacksmith shop that Allen purchased and had moved to the church’s current location. In addition to his religious leadership, Allen was a prominent political and abolitionist activist. Mother Bethel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Open to public:
Tue – Sat and following Sunday morning services
Call for group tours or special appointments
Service times Sun 8 a.m., 10:45 a.m., with 6 p.m. vesper service
The greatest attractions are the tomb of Richard Allen and artifacts, such as old ballot boxes used to elect church officers, muskets from when Allen raised black troops during the War of 1812 and a wooden pew from the original blacksmith’s shop.
Kids will find something of interest in the lower-level museum and can see a huge mural of horses pulling the blacksmith’s shop to the church’s current location.
Nearby Historic Markers
Near Mother Bethel, at 6th and Lombard Streets, stands an historic marker dedicated to the Free African Society, founded by wealthy sail maker James Forten, Sr. and Reverends Richard Allen and Absolom Jones. The Society’s concepts of identity and unity among the black community became the forerunner for the nation’s first African American churches and civil rights institutions.
A few blocks away, at 336 Lombard Street, another marker specifically honors James Forten, who is believed to have amassed a fortune exceeding $100,000 utilizing a multi-ethnic work force. Additionally, he helped organized the first Negro Convention in Philadelphia in 1830.
In the neighborhood
Museums & Attractions
221 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
- Dolley Todd (Madison) House
- Polish American Cultural Center
- The Bishop White House
- Independence Seaport Museum
- Theater of the Living Arts (TLA)
- Old St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
- Presbyterian Historical Society Library & Collections
- The Powel House
- Old Pine Street (Third, Scots and Mariners) Presbyterian Church
- View more attractions
Restaurants & Dining