By Lestey Gist, The Gist of Freedom
Absalom Jones and Richard Allen founded the Free African Society on April 12, 1787. Members of this organization like The African Mutual Aid Societies pledged to establish schools, attend the sick, bury a member decently if he had not left money for his funeral, to help the widow and children and to watch over one another in spiritual concerns.
Out of this society grew The African Church, organized on July 7, 1791.
Throughout the late 18th century, the FAS served as one of the city’s leading black philanthropic organizations. It’s members pledged to attend the sick, bury a member decently if he had not left money for his funeral, to help the widow and children and to watch over one another in spiritual concerns.
“Petitions by anti-slavery groups were sent to the newly elected Congress soon after it first met. On December 30, 1799, Reverend Absalom Jones and other free blacks of Philadelphia sent this following petition to Congress, saying that ‘We cannot be insensible of the condition of our afflicted Brethren, suffering under various circumstances in different parts of these States; but deeply sympathizing with them, We are incited by a sense of Social duty and humbly conceive ourselves authorized to address and petition you on their behalf.'” (go.usa.gov/gktH)
The FAS also extended its help to the city at large. The Society’s most famous contribution to the city was the help members provided during the yellow fever epidemic in 1793, which killed thousands of Philadelphians.
The FAS served as a catalyst for the establishment of other black mutual aid societies in the city during the mid-nineteenth century, when abolitionist organizing among Philadelphia’s free black population flourished.
Besides Jones, its members included notable African American abolitionist men such as Cyrus Bustill, James Forten, and William Gray. With the exception of Forten, most of the founding men were former slaves.
The organization functioned as both a mutual aid society and club where members of Philadelphia’s blacks could socialize and forge business relationships with one another. By 1794, the Society had become large enough to accomplish its original goal when members built their own house of worship, St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church.
The FAS served as a catalyst for the establishment of other black mutual aid societies in the city during the mid-nineteenth century,
1808- New York African Society for Mutual Aid,
1827 – African Educational Benevolent Society
1831- New Haven, Peace and Benevolent Society of African American
180? African Dorcas Society of New York
180? Moral Reform Society
180? Phoenix Society of New York