Civil War Philadelphia and Its Countryside

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church   419 S 6th St,. Philadelphia, PA 19147

Hours/Access Policy: Archives  Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons 1:30-3 p.m., by appointment only.
Museum: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and after service on Sundays.
Closed on Mondays (available by appointment only). Tour request form:


Institutional Contact  (215) 925-0616; To schedule Archives use, please use tour request form:  

Individual Contact  Archivist Margaret Jerrido,  

PDF version of this page.

The Richard Allen Museum of  Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is an institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, interpretation, and presentation of public documents and artifacts that chronicle Richard Allen¹s founding of Mother Bethel and the subsequent development of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination.

Mother Bethel, founded in 1797 is the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination, and it rests upon the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans. The church originated when Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones encouraged black worshippers to form their own congregation after being forced to sit in the balcony during services at a predominately white church. Its original structure was actually a wood-frame blacksmith shop that Allen purchased and had moved to the church’s current location.
The present church (built 188-1890), designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974, memorializes Allen, its founding pastor and first bishop. Born into slavery, Allen was a prominent political and abolitionist activist in addition to his religious leadership. Through the years, from the rostrum of Bethel were heard the many voices of prominent citizens and abolitionists, pleading for justice and denouncing slavery. Noted persons to speak at Mother Bethel included such legendary figures as Lucretia Mott, Fredrick Douglass, William Still, Alfred Love, Jabaz P. Campbell, James Forten, and Octavius Catto.

Large sums of money were collected to support the efforts of the Underground Railroad, which was a system of support to runaway slaves escaping from the south. The Richard Allen Museum includes materials that depict the church’s role as an Underground Railroad station. In 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation, Mother Bethel received and helped many former slaves. During the Civil War, the church was used to recruit black soldiers into the Union Army.

The value of the archival historical materials has been recognized for a number of years and systematic efforts to organize them have been in place since about 1876. The Archives room houses the Christian Recorder, the oldest African American periodical in the United States. The Recorder, dating back to 1854, is a valuable vehicle for seeking information about many of the African-American leaders who were members of the church. Some of the paper-based historical documents include minutes, financial records, visitors’ logs, roll books, Founders Day materials, funeral programs, and books. There are also photographs and audiovisual materials.

Mother Bethel’s archival collections have been gleaned through various avenues: various church groups, pastors, church members, and interested individuals. Even though over time the church was housed in four separate structures, its history was maintained by diligent people so that the documents could be passed on to future generations. Because of the historical significance of these valuable materials, the Pastor and the church’s Historical Commission recognized that the acquisition, preservation, and organization of such materials should continue; so that the history of African-Americans in religion, the A.M.E. domination, in general, and Mother Bethel church, specifically be made available for research use.

Civil War Collection   This organization has a rich Civil War collection.

Collection Highlights / Collections of Interest:

African American Community:

1. Historical church records are on microfilm and can be used at the Historical Society of  Pennsylvania.
2. Church has a few copies of the Christian Recorder from the 1800s. Christian Recorder and other black newspapers for 19th century accessible online.
3. Bethel Sunday School Minutes 1863-65.

Prints, Photographs, and Drawings
1. Print of the Third (1841-1889) church by A. Hoffy.
2. Photograph of Third church building.
3. Photograph of Fanny Jackson Coppin (1835-1912, who was active in civic life, especially education and the church.

1. Slave hunter’s poster from 1851 Massachusetts.

1. Lady’s dress c.1850, thought to be of a type worn to the Third church.


Built Legacy
1. Stained glass window in the sanctuary to left of pulpit given to the Fourth, present      church by the GAR in 1890, star with sun in center.

 For more information about the Mother Bethel AME’s Civil War collections, please visit the following pages:

Resource Guide for the Archives: addition to his religious leadership, Allen was a prominent political and abolitionist activist.

This project has been generously supported by the Honorable Larry Farnese, PA Senator, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.


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