David George was born into slavery in Virginia in 1742, but ran away to South Carolina where he hid for several years — first as a servant to Creek chief Blue Salt, then to Natchez chief King Jack, who sold him to a plantation in Silver Bluff, South Carolina, near the Georgia border.
Between 1773 and 1775, George, his wife, and six other slaves owned by George Galphin were converted to Christianity and baptized by Joshua Palmer, a white Baptist itinerant minister. Following Dunmore’s proclamation, white ministers were prohibited from preaching to slaves “lest they should furnish…too much knowledge.” Upon Palmer’s recommendation, George took on responsibility for the Silver Bluff group.
With help from Galphin’s children, George learned to read and write by using the Bible. The Silver Bluff church grew under George’s leadership, gradually increasing in number from eight to more than 30. George Liele, the first black Baptist in Georgia, occasionally preached to congregation.
In 1778, when their Patriot master abandoned the plantation as the British advanced, the whole Silver Bluff group fled to British-occupied Savannah. There, George “kept a butcher’s stall” while his wife took in laundry for the British troops. George continued to preach in Savannah, and was once again baptized, this time by Liele.
With borrowed money, George and his wife made their way to Charleston. When the British evacuated over 5,000 blacks from the city in 1782, most of them to slavery in the West Indies, they were among the handful who found their way to Nova Scotia.
George settled in Shelburne, where he quickly became one of the leading black preachers, founding what was the first Baptist Church in Shelburne and the second in Nova Scotia. His powerful preaching attracted both black and whites to his camp meetings and mass baptisms.
Since the arrival of the British refugees, tension had been building over competition between blacks and whites for scarce jobs and resources. In 1784, riots erupted when George attempted to baptize two whites. His July 26 diary entry records, “Great riot today. The disbanded soldiers have risen against the free Negroes to drive them out of the town.” A few days later, “Riot continues. The soldiers force the free Negroes to quit the town — pulled down 20 of their houses.”
The soldiers entered George’s church, beat him, and drove him into the swamps. He wrote; “forty or fifty disbanded soldiers…turned oer my dwelling house…I continued preaching til they came one night, and stood before the pulpit and swore how they would treat me if I preached again.”
George and his family fled to Birchtown, where he was required to obtain a preaching license that restricted his ministry to blacks. He also faced opposition from black Anglicans, forcing his return to Shelburne, where he gained a widespread following.
George’s ministry sparked many independent congregations in Nova Scotia (over the next thirty years making Baptists the majority among blacks); he himself established seven Baptist churches and trained a number of other black preachers. His work, along with that of other black religious leaders, created the first movement of black churches and benevolent organizations in North America.
Eventually, after a decade of persecution in Canada, George left to become a founding father of Sierra Leone and of the first Baptist Church in West Africa.
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