Born into slavery in 1746 in Sussex County, Delaware, of African-American parents, Absalom Jones was sold at age sixteen to a shopkeeper from Philadelphia. As an industrious and hard worker, Mr. Wynkoop allowed Absalom to work independently at night and to study. Attending a free school during the evenings, Absalom learned to read and write. He had a particular fascination for the Bible, which he studied for hours. Married in 1770, he purchased his wife’s freedom by 1778 and then his own several years later.
A dynamic person, with the help of Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and Allen helped to establish a worshipping black congregation that assembled at Saint George’s, a Methodist Church. They were licensed as preachers by 1784. While some might have held at the time that it was forward thinking at for the established congregation to allow African-Americans to join at worship, some of the white congregants were uncomfortable, and a choice was made that persons of color were relegated to the upper gallery of the Church, where it was hoped that they might remain rather much out of sight and therefore out of mind. It is said that Allen and Jones were informed of this decision during a prayer, at which time an usher tapped them on the shoulder and told them to move to the gallery.
As a consequence, Allen and Jones and their followers left Saint George’s. Allen became known as the founder of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal Church; Absalom Jones became an Episcopal Priest. He established the first black Episcopal Church in the fledgling United States. Ordained Deacon by William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1795, and Priest on Saint Matthew’s Day,1802, Absalom Jones became the founder of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, a worshiping congregation that flourishes to this present day.
He and Allen continued to collaborate: they petitioned Congress and the State Legislature to abolish slavery in 1800; Absalom Jones was known as both an orator, but beloved for his skill and care expressed in pastoral care.
We celebrate Absalom Jones Day on February 13th, the day he departed this life in the year 1818.
This year we observed our first ever Absalom Jones Commemoration in the context of the Saturday Evening Mass, February 11th at 7 PM.