Eight-seven-year-old Sarah Bass Allen died this date, July 16th, in 1849 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was born enslaved in Virginia and in 1794 at approximately 20 years old is listed in The Philadelphia directory and register, 1794″ as living as a free person at 13 Shippen Street in the Southwark district of the county. Ms. Bass reported her occupation as “washerwoman.” She married the Reverend Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church, on August 12, 1801. The Allens had six children Richard L., James, John, Mary Ann, Peter and Sarah. (1)
Sarah Allen is revered in the AME Church as “Mother Allen” and “First Mother. She is hailed for her vigorous support of her husband and other AME ministers in their mission to spread the doctrine of the Church. She is also known for her courageous nursing service during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. (2) In addition, she is reported to have been an active conductor on the Underground Railroad. (3)
It appears Sarah Allen was initially buried at Bethel Burying Ground instead of ground around Bethel Church because of ongoing construction. At some point, her remains were buried on church ground and in 1901 was placed next to her husband’s remains in a crypt in the basement of the church. (4)
(1) Aaron Goodwin, “The Richard Allen Family,” Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, vol. 47 (2011), 215-47.
(2) J.M. Powell, Bring out Your Dead, p. 101.
(3) Jessie Carney Smith, Freedom Facts and Firsts, p. 237.
(4) Carol V. R. George, Segregated Sabbaths; Richard Allen and the emergence of independent Black churches 1760-1840