We’re all aware of the powerful tradition of preaching and teaching in black Baptist churches  This has been one of the major forces shaping American culture throughout its existence. In preparation for Black History Month, I decided to learn as much as I could about how this spiritual movement started. Boy, did I get an education!

The first separate Black congregation in the Colonies has been identified by most scholars as the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, located about fifteen miles down the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. In 1773 or 1774, a traveling evangelist held services on the plantation of George Galphin, and about thirty slaves accepted Christ. A slave preacher named George Leile came up from Savannah, baptized the converts and appointed David George, a gifted young man, as the church’s pastor. (I know, too many Georges. Also, this all takes place in the Colony of Georgia during the reign of King George III).

This was on the eve of the American Revolution. When the British attacked and took Savannah in 1778, the world of this little group of believers was turned upside down. Galphin, the white owner, was a Patriot, and he abandoned his plantation and moved away from the danger. The slave church members were free to decide their next step, and they chose to accept the British offer of emancipation in exchange for their loyalty to the Crown. They moved to Savannah and joined George Leile’s congregation, and the church became stronger during the next few turbulent years.

After the War ended in 1782, the British honored their promise of freedom, and some of the Silver Bluff Church group were among thousands of African-Americans relocated to British territories. David George was moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where he established another church and became a strong spiritual force among the refugee community there. Ten years later, in 1792, he and his family moved to the new British colony of Sierra Leone in West Africa, where he founded another church and continued his ministry.

For his part, George Leile was relocated to Jamaica. There he helped begin a Baptist church in Kingston, which became a center of evangelism on the island colony. George Leile is recognized as the first American overseas missionary.

Meanwhile, the portion of the church that remained in Georgia continued to grow. It has existed as a Baptist Church continually since that day. Currently, under the leadership of Rev. Marvin Morgan, a healthy congregation worships every Sunday in a beautiful modern sanctuary. Check out their website. You can read more about the church’s history.

I’m impressed by the resourcefulness and adaptability of this small body of believers. I’m also inspired by the accomplishments of two ministers of the Gospel who had little formal training, few worldly possessions and no power or influence in their world, yet became mighty spiritual leaders. And I’m encouraged that the first black Baptist church had a worldwide vision for the spreading of the Gospel. This congregation reminds me of  the first generation of believers after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Suffering severe persecution in Jerusalem,“the believers who had been scattered preached the word everywhere they went.” (Acts 8:4)

— Pastor George Van Alstine