House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Absalom as a Model for Our Work in Times Like These

Byron Rushing

In this difficult time, I have been reading the histories of epidemics and pandemics in the United States. And remembered the history of the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia and the work of the Free African Society and our own Absalom. The Free African Society and its leaders, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, William Gray made the decision to stay in the city and nurse and care for and bury the mostly white sick and dying who were not able to escape the city. At the time many erroneously believed Africans were immune (probably because so many were immune from smallpox—but that’s another story). It was not true and at least 240 members of the Society died doing this work.

“As the weather cooled, the disease subsided, and the deaths stopped. Then accusations began against the black citizens who had worked so hard to save the sick and dying. The attack was led by Mathew Carey, whose pamphlet attacked many in the black community. A response to the pamphlet was published by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.”

I offer this revision of the collect for Absalom for our use at this time:

Set us free, heavenly God, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that—honoring the steadfast courage of the Free African Society of Philadelphia and your servants Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and William Gray, in their aid to all the suffering people of Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793—we will now today in these times show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one Trinity, now and for ever. Amen.

Take care. Follow Jesus.





Vice-President, House of Deputies

Read more:

A good source for this history is, “‘To Arise Out of the Dust’: Absalom Jones and the African Church of Philadelphia, 1785-95” in Gary B. Nash, “Race, Class. and Politics”

Other sources:

PBS: Africans in America: The Yellow Fever Epidemic 1793

A narrative of the proceedings of the black people, during the late awful calamity in Philadelphia, in the year 1793 : and a refutation of some censures, thrown upon them in some late publicationsby Absalom Jones and Richard Allen