Absalom Jones might have been born into slavery in Sussex County, Delaware, on Nov. 6, 1746, but the ambitious man learned to read and write and eventually went on to found the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.
Jones' owner allowed him to work and keep his earnings and so by the time he was married, at the age of 38, he was able to buy his wife's freedom (and eventually his own) and buy houses, which he used for rental income. Shortly after, he befriended Richard Allen, with whom he became a preacher at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church and later formed the Free African Society to help freed slaves assimilate into their new lives. This later branched out into the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the first of its kind in the Methodist religion, and the congregation organized their community to give care to victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.
Jones eventually became deacon of the church, which was renamed as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas to mark its stance as an independent denomination. Nine years later, he became the first priest of African descent in America and in 1815 was elected as the First Grand Master of the First African Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.
During his time in the ministry, Jones founded schools and an insurance company, protested against slavery and supported those in need.
Jones died on Feb. 13, 1818.
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