Answer: Absalom Jones.
After Absalom Jones (1746-1818) purchased his family's freedom in the 1770s, he began working at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church (located on North 4th Street) with fellow religious leader Richard Allen. As an abolitionist and progressive African American, Jones co-founded the Free African Society (FAS) with Allen in 1787 and eventually left St. George's due to racism in the church. Allen left the society in 1789, and Jones became its leader.
In 1791, the FAS began holding religious services, and in 1792 Jones expanded the Free African Society into The African Church. Meanwhile, the FAS adopted a resolution to purchase property and construct a church building. After the organization proved successful, the Episcopal Diocese allowed Jones to join, and the church was renamed St. Thomas Episcopal Church. It was the first African American Episcopal Church in the country. Absalom Jones was ordained as a deacon in 1795 and as a priest in 1804.
The original church building at 5th and Adelphi streets no longer stands, but the congregation continues its worship as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, located at 6361 Lancaster Avenue, Philadelphia.
HSP holds a number of manuscript items related to Absalom Jones in the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers (#490). We have the Annals of St. Thomas Episcopal Church (UPA/PH BX 5980 .P5 S8 1862), which includes the texts of sermons delivered at the church’s dedication. HSP also holds records on microfilm of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (#2017) that was led by Richard Allen.