19. Home of Absalom Jones
On the southeast corner of Pine and Third Streets stood the home of Rev. Absalom Jones, first African American priest to be ordained in the Episcopal Church in the United States. We have already discussed his leadership of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Here we will talk more about his personal life. Born in 1747, Jones was thirteen years older than his friend, Richard Allen. As a young man Jones was a slave who came from Delaware to Philadelphia with his master and worked in his dry goods store for years. His master permitted him to learn to read and even to attend the Quaker Anthony Benezet’s school for Africans on Willings Alley a few blocks north of where we stand.
In 1770, at the age of twenty-three, Absalom Jones married Mary Thomas while both of them were still slaves. They were married at St. Peter’s Anglican Church across the street. Immediately, Absalom Jones began to work to secure his wife’s freedom which he was able to do finally in 1778 after often working late into the night to earn extra money. Absalom Jones, however, remained a slave for five more years. He finally purchased his freedom in 1785 at the age of 38. Although now free, he continued to work in the store of his former master while also beginning to work with his friend Richard in the Free African Society which began in 1787.
Absalom and Mary Jones attended St. George’s for Methodist meetings along with Richard and Flora Allen during these years. Both Absalom and Richard were lay preachers there. It was Absalom Jones who was forced by one of the white members of St. George’s to leave the place where he was praying in spite of Jones’ pleas to just wait until prayer was over. The white member’s refusal to do so prompted the walk-out of many African Americans from the church.
The movement to create an independent black church now could more easily garner support from sympathetic white leaders of Philadelphia. They received that support and soon both St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and Mother Bethel AME Church were established.
Here at Absalom and Mary’s home one can’t help to wonder about the dinner conversations which may have been shared between Absalom, Mary, Richard, and Flora in this home during the initial years of forming their respective “first churches.” What struggles did they share with one another? What was their friendship like? Some of those conversations may have happened on the streets between the Allen’s home and the Jones’ home. These streets were just a part of these early Methodists’ “commute.”