Jacob Albright was born May 1, 1759 to John Albright (Johannes Albrecht) and his wife, in the region of Fox Mountain (Fuchsberg) in Douglas Township (now Montgomery County) northwest of Pottstown, Pennsylvania and was baptized into the Lutheran Church. His parents were German immigrants from the Palatine Region of Germany, but sources disagree on when they immigrated to the United States. (Johannes Albrecht and his wife, Anna Barbara, both born in either Austria or Palatine depending on the source, came to America on the ship Johnson in 1732. There were seven children: Jacob, aged 5 among them. This Johannes and his family settled in Bern Township, Berks County where Johannes died in 1751 or 1752. His son, Jacob, left Berks County in 1760.) Jacob Albright was educated in a German school where he learned reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition to speaking the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, he spoke German and taught himself enough English so he could deliver a sermon in that language.
During the American Revolution, Jacob Albright served in Captain Jacob Witz's Seventh Company, Fourth Battalion, Philadelphia Militia as a drummer boy and later as a guard for the Hessian prisoners at Reading, Pennsylvania. Although uncertain, several sources indicate that he served through 1786.
In 1785, he married Catherine Cope and they had six (or nine) children. Only three children survived to adulthood: Sarah, wife of Noah Ranck; Jacob, who died childless; and David, married to Mary Riedenbach (Raidenbach or Raidabaugh), who had children. There are descendants of Jacob Albright through his son David living today. The young family moved to Earl Township, Lancaster County, and they lived near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, where the young Jacob took up farming and was in the business of manufacturing tiles and bricks.
A German Lutheran in his heritage, he was converted in about 1790 to Methodism, when several of his children died causing him to go through a religious crisis. Lutheranism did not give him comfort. He visited with several members of the United Brethren in Christ and later attended a Methodist class (a religious meeting held in a private home). He was called to take the message of Methodism to the German-speaking people. (George Miller wrote the first biography of Jacob Albright and it is available in two English translations, one by George Edward Epp and the other by James D. Nelson. Written three years after Jacob Albirght's death, Miller uses the preacher's words as remembered by followers in telling about his spiritual journey.) Although he felt that he was unfit to preach, contemporary records reveal that he was a powerful and moving speaker, converting many to Methodism. He was licensed by the Methodist Church but was not permitted to preach in the German language, so he set out on his own.
He began preaching in Pennsylvania and by 1800 formed three classes among his converts in the German settlements. Later several other classes were formed and a meeting was held for the classes in 1803, even though they had no formal name or any offical documents. There, Jacob Albright was ordained a minister by representatives from these classes. He was elected bishop at the first annual conference held by his followers in 1807 but he never really accepted the title. The Conference also adopted the episcopal form of government, articles of faith and a book of discipline.
Weakened and in poor health from exhaustion and tuberculosis, Jacob Albright fell ill while traveling from Linglestown, Pennsylvania, northeast of Harrisburg. When he reached Kleinfeltersville, in Lebanon County, he could go no farther and there he died, May 17, 1808, at the age of 49. He was buried there in the Becker family plot A chapel was built near the burial site and remains as a museum and memorial to Jacob Albright.
The movement did not take the name of Evangelical Association until after Jacob Albright's death. The family also changed their name to Albright. (Jacob Albright used the name Albrecht.) The church spread to various parts of the United States. In 1894 the Esher-Dubbs dispute occurred and 1/3 of the church left to form the United Evangelical Church. In 1923, most of the disputing congregations returned and the church was renamed the Evangelical Church. The remaining churches became the Evangelical Congregationl Church. The Evangelical Church united in 1946 with the United Brethren in Christ (New Constitution) to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church and that body in turn united with the The Methodist Church in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church.
The Evangelical churches have always believed in education for both men and women, forming educational institutions through the country. Two institutions have been named after Jacob Albright. Albright Seminary was established by the Pittsburgh Conference in Berlin, Pennsylvania in 1853 and lasted about 5 years. Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, formed by the merger of several Evangelical institutions, is a United Methodist affiliated school. One of the highest scholarships the college awards is the Jacob Albright Scholarship, which gives students a substantial stipend per year.
The main source for his life is a short biography written in 1811 by George Miller, an elder of the Evangelical Association. A biography of his evangelistic work, including experiences where he was rejected by his listeners, is entitled Jacob Albright: The Evangelical Pioneer written by Robert Sherer Wilson, A.B., Th.B., published by the Church Center Press of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Myerstown in 1940 at Myerstown, PA. Members of the Committee on Publishing Interests were, Rev. E. S. Woodring, Rev. H. E. Messersmith and Rev. G. A. Maurey.