This is a picture of the original Arnett Chapel A. M. E. Church in Quincy, Florida that I obtained from the Florida Memory State Library & Archive of Florida which my great-great-great grandfather Allen Jones bn. 1809, MD along with his friend Dennis Wood bn. 1830, NC erected in 1865 immediately after slavery during the Reconstruction Era. Detailed information considering the works my great-great-great grandfather Allen Jones and other AME ministers in the state of Florida are written in the book titled, LABORERS IN THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD.pdf.
Allen Jones and Dennis Wood were joined by other like-minded emancipated ex-enslaved freed people; whose focus was on the establishment of churches which were to be used as central points of contact for uniting their people. Their goal was intended to form new black self-supporting communities with the church as a vessel. Two of my great-great-great grandfather Allen Jones sons, Washington Jones born 1852 in Florida (my great-great grandfather) and Uncle Moses Jones born 1858 in Florida also joined their father as ministers of the A. M. E. Church.
The works of these men and women started while they were still enslaved. If we look closely; it becomes evident that the Most High Creator YAH began to prepare them to accomplish His purposes early on. In spite of their being denied the right of learning to read, write and arithmetic.; many of them were skilled in various trades such as carpenters, masons, landscaping, shoe makers, farmers, cooks, semesters, nurses, midwifes, etc. for they had been involved in all aspects of the physical building, maintenance and managing plantations. Therefore, these ex-enslaved people were well equipped in organizing self-efficient communities for living a life free of bondage.
His son, Washington Jones, my great-great grandfather was first ordained as a Deacon in 1873, then serving in a pastoral assignment of the Island District, Orange Creek, Florida in 1876 and at the 1878 East Florida AME Conference at Palatka was one of seven presiding elders. Great-great grandpa Washington Jones became a vital part in the growth of the AME Church in Florida; as mentioned in the book, LABORERS IN THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD.pdf an excerpt states the following: “Of even greater importance than the new churches, many old congregations grew and prospered. As early as the spring of 1881 signs of rejuvenation had begun to sprout; at Micanopy, Henry Hamilton almost tripled his membership in a few months. Soon, Bulley Wiley reported overflowing
Sunday schools in the Osceola District. At Callahan members purchased land to erect their first church. “And at Tampa, Washington Jones boasted of the largest congregation and membership of any colored church in South Florida.”
Furthermore according to the book titled FLORIDA’S BLACK PUBLIC OFFICIALS, 1867-1924, these AME Ministers became organized and took an active role in the involvement of the political concerns and the advancement for the legal rights of their freed people. An important note of interest is how they were able to use their leadership which they gained within the Black communities through establishing churches throughout Florida. And, it mentioned that their churches developed a militancy which would provide the principle around which Florida’s most successful black leadership organized. And the church’s militancy would help to mold the lives and attitudes of thousands of Floridians, such as AME Minister James William Randolph and his better-known son, A. Philip Randolph. In this book it also stated, that my great-great-great grandfather Allen Jones held a political office of Gadsden County commissioner from 1870-1874 as well as his son, Richard Jones who was Fernandina Tax Assessor, 1883-1884.
Here are some more excerpts from the book “Laborers in the Vineyard of The Lord” which tells about the various people involved in the formation of the AME Church in Florida.
- Gadsden County served as home to a number of Civil War–era local preachers. The foremost among them, Allen Jones Sr., hailed from Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, where he was born about 1813. “Sold South long before the war,” according to Bishop Alexander W. Wayman, Jones lived in or near Quincy. Lauded for his style of preaching, he would draw praise as a minister throughout his long career. “He preaches ‘Christ and him crucified,’ as though he was upon Mount Calvary, when the spear pierced His side and the metallic spikes his hands,” observed one colleague. In 1865, Jones joined with Dennis Wood to erect a brush arbor church near Quincy’s Tan Yard Branch. It later would carry the name Arnett Chapel. After his death at Quincy on February 28, 1888, an admirer would describe him as “probably the greatest minister Florida ever had.”34
- The Reverend William Stewart, Florida’s first ordained AME minister. ..received into the AME fold the existing Bethlehem and Mt. Olive Churches, together with a new church called Springfield…The reverend thereafter worked his way eastward on the railroad toward Jacksonville, establishing churches where he found existing groups of black Methodists desirous of admission into the AME family. At Quincy, he joined Allen Jones Sr. and Dennis Wood in laying the organizational foundation for Arnett Chapel. Local pastor Robert Meacham had managed to raise sufficient funds to build a fine new sanctuary.
- Some of the ministers with which my great-great-great grandfather Allen Jones were Charles H. Pearce, who as presiding elder had dominated AME affairs in the late 1860s and 1870s, had passed away in 1887. His principal lieutenants—John R. Scott Sr., William Bradwell, and George W. Witherspoon—were gone. Of the seven bishops who had overseen the state from 1865 to 1895, only three survived, including Grant. Jabez Pitt Campbell had succumbed in 1891, with John Mifflin Brown, Daniel A. Payne, and Thomas M. D. Ward following within a few years. Alexander W. Wayman would die later in 1895. Thus, Miami’s Greater Bethel Church traces its origins to 1896, and AME lay leaders such as Alexander C. Lightbourn Sr. can be counted among the city’s founding fathers.
- Cornerstone-laying ceremonies at the Duval Street site had occurred on February 20 and had drawn a large crowd, including the region’s most popular black preacher, the Baptist James Page.
- From Tallahassee, Pearce and Stewart toured the nearby congregations already accepted by the deacon. In Gadsden County, Pearce met Allen Jones, Dennis Wood, and their followers. The elder described the occasion as he saw it. “On the 9th of March I arrived in Quincy; had an interview with the former members of the M. E. Church South and they readily agreed to join the AME Church,” he wrote, “and on the 15th I received 453 members and appointed the proper officers.”
Photo from: Florida Memory State Library & Archives of Florida