The Strawbridge Shrine in Maryland was the meeting place of the first Methodists in the New World. Robert Strawbridge formed the first Methodist class in America in about 1763. An African-American woman named Annie Sweitzer was a member of that first class. The fact that she was also a slave did not stop her covenant group from welcoming her.
(Locator: New Windsor, Maryland)
The Rev. James F.W. Talley: "Let's welcome another Strawbridge to the Strawbridge pulpit."
Helen Kemp, Curator, The Strawbridge Shrine: "The Methodist Movement has always been a movement of diversity. It was open to anyone who would come to listen. And Annie Sweitzer, 'Aunt Sweitzer' we call her, who was part of that meeting class that met at the John Evan's house, was a person of a very unique situation. Here was a slave woman of color who was invited to be as much a part of that class as any other member of that class. And the class that met there was what we would call a covenant class in that they not only studied the word of God, but they held each other accountable for how they were living out that word of God. And you even had to have a ticket to become a member of that class. If you missed more than twice, you had to turn your ticket in, and you were out of the class. So, to think of a woman in her setting being allowed to even be part of that class is very extraordinary, I think, for those times."
The Rev. James F.W. Talley, President, Strawbridge Shrine Association: "Of course we know Wesley was opposed to slavery from the very beginning. And Robert had to then to have preached that as part of his gospel preaching or else Anne would not have been welcomed there. But she was welcomed there. She was not there as a slave, as an African American. She was there as one more person opening her heart to Christ."
For more information, contact the Strawbridge Shrine at 410-635-2600.
Special thanks to the General Commission on Archives and History for collaboration on this story.
This story was posted February 12, 2015. Media contact is Fran Walsh, at 615-742-5458.