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Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans

Inside the Mother Bethel Church

Founded in 1787, the Mother Bethel AME Church rests upon the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans. Credit: M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia®



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 exhibitions 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.


The origins of Mother Bethel 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.

Contact the church directly for visiting hours and upcoming services.

Insider Tip

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.

Nearby Historic Markers

Near Mother Bethel, at 6th and Lombard streets, stands a historic marker dedicated to the Free African Society, founded by wealthy sail-maker James Forten, Sr. and Reverends Richard Allen and Absolom Jones. The Free African 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 organize the first Negro Convention in Philadelphia in 1830.

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