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Wed Feb 11, 2015, 09:54 AM


Absalom Jones


Absalom Jones (1746 – February 13, 1818) was an African-American abolitionist and clergyman. After founding a black congregation in 1794, he was the first African American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States, in 1804. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints and blessed under the date of his death, February 13, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as "Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818".

Jones was born into slavery in Sussex County, Delaware in 1746. When he was sixteen, he was sold to a storeowner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the store's clerks taught him to write. While still a slave of Mr. Wynkoop, he married Mary King (slave to S. King who was a neighbor to the Wynkoops), on January 4, 1770. Mr. Duché performed the wedding ceremony. By 1778 Jones had purchased his wife's freedom so that their children would be free; creating an appeal for donations and loans, in another seven years he was able to purchase his own.[1]


After becoming the first slave raised to priesthood, and as the Constitution's deadline for abolition of the slave trade passed, Jones took part of the first group of African Americans to petition the U.S. Congress. Their petition related to the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, which they criticized for encouraging cruelty and brutality, as well as supporting continuing criminal practice of kidnapping free blacks and selling them into slavery. Rev. Jones used moral suasion:, trying to convince whites that slavery was immoral, offensive to God, and contrary to the nation's deal.[6] Although U.S. Representative George Thatcher of Massachusetts attempted to amend the Fugitive Slave Act accordingly, he was unable to convince colleagues to pass those necessary amendments.[citation needed]


Yellow fever repeatedly struck Philadelphia in the 1790s, until sanitary improvements suggested by Dr. Benjamin Rush were completed. In the meantime, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones assisted Rush in helping people afflicted by the plague, for black people initially were rumored to be immune, and many whites (including most doctors except for Rush and his assistants, some of whom died) simply fled the city. Allen and Jones' corps of black Philadelphians helped nurse the sick, as well as bury the dead. Jones in particular sometimes worked through the night, although their later reliance on bleeding as a medical treatment proved to be misplaced. Almost twenty times more black people helped the plague-struck than did whites, which later proved crucial in gaining the new black congregations social acceptance.[7]

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