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Black News and News Makers in History: Jarena Lee

African American news - Black News and News Makers recognizes Jarena Lee this week in Black history.Jarena Lee, born February 11, 1783 at Cape May, New Jersey to former slaves, is considered the first female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her maiden name is unknown and the year of her death is uncertain. At age seven, she was separated from her parents and went to live as a servant maid with a Mr. Sharp who lived about sixty miles from Cape May.

On February 14, 1804, Jarena answers the call to ministry after her conversion experience at a Presbyterian Church service while listening to Reverend Richard Allen.

In 1811, she married Joseph Lee, a minister of a Black church in Snow Hill about six miles from Philadelphia. Within six years, her husband died and she was left to raise two small children. She approached Reverend Allen, now a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, about preaching. He was not allowed to give permission for her to preach, but did approve her to extort. After one extortion during a service, around 1819, she was permitted to preach.

On February 14, 1819, Jarena begins ministry as an itinerant preacher. Her first stop was her home town where she visited her mother and arranged for her to care for her youngest child while she was traveling. To raise money, she opened a small school for 11 students and taught for many weeks. By 1821, she had enough money to return to Philadelphia.

Between February and November of 1822, she preached throughout New Jersey. She began preaching throughout Pennyslvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New York. She also traveled to Ohio at least twice to preach in Cincinnati, Dayton, Urbana, and Chillicothe. She preached to large and small congregations, at times to both white and black members, some Baptist, some Methodist.

Records indicate she also made an extensive trip to preach her way through Canada: "I commenced my journey of Canada, in 1832. From the second day of July to the fifteenth day of October, years following, 1833, I had preached 138 sermons, and travelled between 2,700 and 2,800 miles." Prior to leaving for Canada, she had helped with a Cholera epidemic in Newark, New Jersey.

In 1836, she published her autobiography, "The Life and Religious Experiences of Jarena Lee, a Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel."

In 1837, she returned to Cape May to visit her mother who was age 78. In 1842, Jarena returned to Philadelphia to find her granddaughter had just died. There is indication that Jarena was in ill health at the time, but preserving in order to continue traveling as an itinerant preacher.

Compiled from http://www.blackandchristian.com/blackchurch/ame.shtml and http://www.usgennet.org/usa/nj/county/capemay/Jarena.htm.