Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named George Liele who became known as the Father of Black Baptists in America, after being extremely instrumental in the founding of the first Black independent church congregations in several countries. in the 1700s.
George Liele was born in the state of Virginia in the year 1750, enslaved to a man named Henry Sharp in Georgia who ended up emancipating him from enslavement, and this freed George Liele to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something that he felt he was called to do by God after giving his life to the Lord as a Christian.
Now free, George Liele went to the southern states of South Carolina and Georgia preaching the gospel. Some plantation owners would allow Liele to preach and others refused him. It was when he went to a church called Silver Bluff Church that he found himself a temporary church home, preaching there several times as a minister of the Gospel. The Silver Bluff congregation was mostly African American, and all were very impressed by Liele’s understanding and delivery of the Word of God. Of course, the news spread about Liele’s preaching, and this was when George Liele was asked to preach on plantations, for both white people and Black people, though the congregants in white churches would remain mostly African American.
Although George Liele was free to travel and preach, things were becoming very scary for Black people all around because of the Revolutionary war. He and other Black Christian preachers couldn’t travel as much to spread the gospel due to the British occupying the area of Savanah in 1782. This is when Liele had to stop preaching at Silver Bluff.
It was around this time that his ex slavers family made a strong attempt to re-enslave Liele. It is said that the thought to re-enslave Liele came from Liele’s pity for the British soilders he’d encountered which would have definitely offended some in the area. Enslaving Liele would have put a stop to whatever empathy or friendliness was being had.
George Liele & Family Flee the USA
Re-enslavement wasn’t an option for Liele, therefore, he borrowed $700 from a Colonel Kirkland to keep he and his entire family – wife and children (4) – from re-enslavement. In return, he would be an indentured servant for two years as pay back. From there, he went with a Colonel Kirkland to Jamaica, fearing that his free life was in danger in America. Before leaving, he went to Yamacraw, Georgia which is located in the city of Savannah. It was there the first Black Baptist independent church was founded on January 20th 1788 after he baptized and mentored four enslaved African American members – Andrew Bryan and his wife Hanna, Hager Simpson and Kate Hogg (all baptized in 1784). It was at this point that there was Black leadership and organization of a church, or in other words, African American church body, for the first time.
Andrew Bryan, one baptized and mentored by George Liele, is credited mostly with the founding of the actual church called First Bryan Baptist Church, and part of this congregation left to found the First African Baptist Church on the other side of Yamacraw. These churches are the beginnings of the independent Black church congregations in America, First Bryan Baptist Church being the first.
George Leile’s Black Churches in Jamaica
By the time the first Black Baptist church (called the First Bryan Baptist Church) was founded in 1788 by those four that Liele baptized in 1784, he was already in Kingston, Jamaica having received his manumission (freedom from debt servitude)as an indentured servant under the Colonel, and it was then he began spreading the gospel in Jamaica, co-founding the first Black Church on the Island of Jamaica. He and a few Black Christian converts bought three acres of land in and the church was built in 1793. From there, he was responsible for even more Black church congregations being formed in many cities around Jamaica, amassing over 8000 converts who were enslaved. George Liele loved to teach as well, founding schools for the education of Jamaicans, many in conjunction with the churches.
This church reached a membership of over five thousand people, and this led to a trip to Africa. It was this trip that he took with some of his church members that are recorded as being the first Black congregation engaging in missionary work on the continent.
Because of all the work George Liele did as the first ordained Black Baptist minister in both American and Jamaica, spreading the Gospel of Jesus and being so instrumental in the founding of what became known as Black churches, or Black Baptists, in other countries including his own, he earned the title the Father of Black Baptists in America. Liele was never paid a dime for his ministry, but he supported his family by providing wagon transportation. He only gained support for his ministry through funds donated to the cause, from Afro Europeans in England and others who agreed with his missionary work of spreading the Gospel.
George Liele is remembered in a book written by Caribbean author, Alfred Lane Pugh titled Pioneer Preachers in Paradise: The Legacies of George Liele, Prince Wiliams and Thomas Paul in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti, and other books as well.
George Liele’s Death
George Liele was buried in Jamaica at his death after a short stint in England, dying in 1826. The exact whereabouts of his final resting place in Kingston, Jamaica are unknown.
- The Atlanta Voice Atlanta, Georgia · Friday, October 19, 1984
- The Miami Herald 30 Jan 2004, Fri · Page 236
- Anderson Independent 17 Jun 1979, Sun · Page 21
- National Library of Jamaica