Record of Manumission for Henry Harden granted April 8, 1816.

Record of Manumission for Henry Harden granted April 8, 1816. Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives.

Henry Harden, Minister

The First Great Awakening, a Protestant evangelical movement, brought powerful preaching and a message of equality to the American colonies in the 1730s. The revival movement downplayed ritual to foster a more personal connection to God and greatly increased the number of enslaved and free blacks who converted to Christianity. New religious denominations emerged including Methodism.

In 1787, two free black men, Calab Hyland and Jacob Fortie, founded an independent prayer group called the Colored Methodist Society in Baltimore after encountering segregation while worshiping at the Lovely Lane United Methodist Church. Henry Harden, an enslaved man held by Margaret Carroll, became a member of this prayer group. By 1797, the group, now called The African Methodist Bethel Society, had rented a building and Harden, a gifted preacher, was a church leader.

In 1815, Margaret manumitted the 42-year-old Harden. Her reasoning is not known, although she may have felt obligated to free a man of God. In similar situations, slave holders wished to remove exposure to such liberation theology from other enslaved workers.

Reverend Harden became the second pastor of the officially consecrated Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church  (Bethel A.M.E.), leading the congregation from 1818-1824. He also helped start Bethel AME churches in Pennsylvania and New York, traveling by horseback to preach at different congregations.


 Today’s AME Bethel sanctuary building was purchased by Bethel members in 1910. Public domain image.