The African Methodist Episcopal Church traces its roots to the founding of the Free African Society in 1787. In 1794, following confrontations between black congregants and officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Richard Allen led a small group in founding Bethel, the first AME church.
Prior to the Civil War, the AME church remained largely in major cities in the Northeast and Midwest, such as Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Detroit. During the Reconstruction period following the war, AME clergymen traveled into the South and recruited former slaves as church members. By 1880, AME membership surpassed 400,000 due to its Southern expansion. As of 2014, AME churches span 20 Episcopal Districts in 39 different countries on five continents.