Preamble of the Free African Society
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The "Preamble" and "Articles" of the Free African Society (FAS) provide a succinct portrait of the organization, the first of its kind in Philadelphia, and probably the first in America.
Established by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and other free blacks in 1787, the Society's purpose was "to support one another in sickness, and for the benefit of their widows and fatherless children."
The Preamble, dated April 12, 1787, explains that the original intent of Allen and Jones was "to form some kind of religious society" for "the people of their complexion whom they beheld with sorrow, because of their irreligious and uncivilized state." However, the small size of the group, and the fact that they "differed in their religious sentiments," led to the formation of a religiously-oriented mutual aid society instead. Though not mentioned in the document, opposition from blacks and whites to the formation of a separate church was also a decisive factor.
The articles of the FAS, approved on May 17, 1787, called for members "to advance one shilling in silver Pennsylvania currency a month" for a year, after which they will aid "the needy of this Society...provided, the necessity is not brought on them by their own imprudence." Membership in the FAS required adherence to a strict code of conduct; in order to receive benefits, the widow of a deceased member was also required to "[comply] with the rules thereof."
Joseph Clarke, a white Philadelphia Quaker, was chosen as Clerk and Treasurer of the FAS, with the stipulation that "whenever another should succeed him, it is always understood, that one of the people called Quakers...is to be chosen...."
Portrait of Absalom Jones
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