People & Events
First African Baptist Church of Savannah
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The First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia evolved from the very first black Baptist church to be established in America. It owed its formation to the work of three men -- David George, George Liele, and Andrew Bryan -- who were brought together by the American Revolution.
Liele was the first black Baptist in Georgia. In 1773, he was licensed to preach to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River, in Georgia and South Carolina. After his Loyalist master's death in battle in 1778, Liele made his way to British-occupied Savannah. Over the next few years, he built a congregation of black Baptists, slave and free, including David George and Andrew Bryan.
David George was one of eight slaves who were baptized and formed a congregation on a plantation in Silver Bluff, South Carolina. Under George's leadership, their number gradually increased to more than 30. In 1778, when their Patriot master abandoned the plantation under British advance, the whole Silver Bluff group fled to British lines, eventually joining with Liele's, who had preached to them on the plantation
In 1782, Liele baptized Andrew Bryan, born enslaved in 1737, and his wife Hannah. When hundreds of blacks left with the British later that year, Bryan, the only one of the three preachers to remain in Savannah, continued to preach to small groups outside of Savannah.
Although some planters (including Andrew Bryan's owner, Jonathan Bryan) advocated the evangelism of slaves by black preachers, most were fearful of uprisings by slaves who might hear the message of liberation in the Gospels.Despite the harassment, brutal whippings, and imprisonment inflicted upon Bryan and his members, he continued to preach and finally gained permission from the courts to hold services during daylight in a barn on his master's plantation.
In 1788 Bryan was ordained and his church was certified, predating the establishment of a white Baptist church in Savannah by five years; in 1794, Bryan erected a frame structure, naming it the Bryan Street African Baptist Church. By 1800, his congregation had grown to about 700, leading to a reorganization that created the First Baptist Church of Savannah and eventually the Second and Third Baptist Churches.
Fifty of Bryan's adult members could read, having been taught the Bible, the Baptist Confession of Faith, and some religions works; and three could write. The city's first black sabbath school was established at First African Baptist, and a school for Georgia's black children was operated by Henry Francis, who had been ordained by Bryan and was pastor of the first branch of the church.
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