The Allen A.M.E. Church, Jamaica, NY, 1834-1900; the Role of the Black Church in a Developing 19th Century Community

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The Allen A.M.E. Church, Jamaica, NY, 1834-1900; The Role of the Black Church in a Developing 19th Century Community

The black church, historically, has been the fundamental center of spiritual strength and community development in the black community. The Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church, is the oldest, existing black church in Jamaica, New York. This religious institution has been a major influence in the development of that community. It played a crucial role in the early development, 1834-1900, of Jamaica's disfranchised black community, by providing support to its people and being the initiator of change.

The earliest established churches in Jamaica were the Anglican churches: the First Presbyterian Church (1662) and Grace Episcopal Church (1699).(1) White church members who owned slaves often felt their chattels should be baptized, but not granted the same status as white Christians. The earliest baptism recorded at Grace Episcopal was of "James and Sarah, Negroes of Samuel Clowes," May 23, 1714.(2) However, concern grew over the "Dukes Law" of 1664, which stated "no christian shall be kept in Bond-Slavery."(3) Slaves upon discovering this law, sought to be baptized in hopes of being freed from bondage. Therefore, a law was passed in 1764 stating, "No negro slave who becomes a christian after he had been bought shall be set at liberty."(4) This law canceled "Dukes Law." Legal marriage of slaves was also opposed for fear it would fuel thoughts of manumission. Possibly this is why there are no records of marriages, of slaves, reported at the Anglican churches before 1827.(5) An Act of the New York State Legislature in 1817 ordered complete emancipation by July 4, 1827.(6) Blacks, after emancipation, were then baptized and married by Anglican ministers of the Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, and Dutch Reformed churches of their former masters. In some instances, they were allowed to become communicants of the particular church. Nevertheless, their status in the church was the same as outside of the church; one of inferior status, without the rights and privileges that the white citizenry enjoyed.

Due to the racial policy of the community, there arose a need for a black church. Shortly after emancipation, around 1834, blacks would meet in their homes on Sundays to worship.(7) As the number of worshipers grew, the need for a permanent "house of worship" became evident. There is evidence that possibly two African churches were established about the same time. There is reference made to a small membership of worshipers in the Jamaica community as the "African church" in 1840,(8) however, which church body it was is not mentioned. By 1842, a map of the Jamaica village indicates two African churches on Washington Street.

One church is noted as the African Episcopal Church and the other the African Methodist Church. It is speculated that the African Episcopal Church, located just south of Centre Street, was a branch of Grace Episcopal Church. It's minister was possibly Reverend Samuel V. Berry. Samuel Berry had been connected with Grace Church by being a teacher at their Sunday School for Colored. Later, Berry became principal of the St. Mark's School for Colored, on Washington Street(9) probably located at the church since there was no other building indicated.

Another church, the African Methodist Church, located just north of South Street was to become the Allen A.M.E. Church. Some time before 1842, a meeting was called by the worshipers of this church group for establishing and building a church. The outcome of this meeting resulted in the purchase of a site of land, from one of the worshipers, Mr. Christopher Atkinson.(10)

Building commenced on Washington Street (160th. Street) and 125 feet north of South Street (South Road), an 18' by 25' wooden structure was constructed on the site.(11) Completion of the structure is believed to have been about 1842.(12) The church, under a Certificate of Incorporation of Churches by the State of New York, received official status July 5, 1844. …