First Coloured Baptist Church in Savannah

By KudzuVine – Own work, Public Domain,

The origin of this church, according to Rippon’s Register and Holcombe’s Repository, was in the following manner. About the beginning of the American war, George Leile, sometimes called George Sharp, but more commonly known among his brethren and friends by the name of brother George, began to preach at Brampton and Yamacraw, near the city of Savannah.… When the country was evacuated by the British, George, with many others, removed from Georgia to Kingston, in the island of Jamaica.…

Previous to George’s departure for Jamaica, he came up to the city of Savannah from Tylee-river, where departing vessels frequently lay ready for sea, and baptized Andrew Bryan and Hannah his wife, and two other black women, whose names were Kate and Hagar. These were the last labours of George Leile in this quarter. About nine months after his departure, Andrew began to exhort his black brethren and friends, and a few whites who assembled to hear him. Edward Davis, Esq. permitted him and his hearers to erect a rough wooden building on his land at Yamacraw, in the suburbs of Savannah. Of this building they were, in a short time, very artfully dispossessed. It appears that these poor, defenceless slaves met with much opposition from the rude and merciless white people, who, under various pretences, interrupted their worship, and otherwise treated them in a barbarous manner. Andrew Bryan, and his brother Samson, who was converted about a year after him, were twice imprisoned, and they, with about fifty others, without much ceremony were severely whipped. Andrew was inhumanly cut, and bled abundantly; but while under their lashes, he held up his hands and told his persecutors, that he rejoiced not only to be whipped, but would freely suffer death for the cause of Jesus Christ. The Chief Justice, Henry Osbourne, James Habersham, and David Montague, Esquires, were their examinants, who released them. Jonathan Bryan, Esq. the kind master of Andrew and Samson, interceded for his own servants and the rest of the sufferers, and was much grieved at their punishment. The design of these unrighteous proceedings against these poor innocent people, was to stop their religious meetings. Their enemies pretended, that under a pretence of religion, they were plotting mischief and insurrections. But by well doing they at length silenced and shamed their persecutors, and acquired a number of very respectable and influential advocates and patrons, who not only rescued them from the power of their enemies, but declared that such treatment as they had received would be condemned even among barbarians. The Chief Justice Osbourne then gave them liberty to continue their worship any time between sun-rising and sun-set; and the benevolent Jonathan Bryan told the magistrates that he would give them the liberty of his own house or barn, at a place called Brampton, about three miles from Savannah, and that they should not be interrupted in their worship. From this period, Andrew and Samson set up meetings at their master’s barn, where they had little or no interruption for about two years. Such was the beginning of the first African church in Savannah, which, after having been the mother of two others, now contains about fifteen hundred members.…

Towards the close of the year 1792, they began to build a place of worship in the suburbs of the city of Savannah, which, by the assistance of a number of benevolent gentlemen of different denominations, was finished in due time, and is 42 feet by 49. The plan of building this house, it seems, was projected by Messrs. Jonathan Clark, Ebenezer Hills, and others. The corporation of the city of Savannah gave them a lot for the purpose.

This coloured church, as it is generally called, (for no white person belongs to it) is now a large and respectable establishment. Many of its members are free, and are possessed of some estate. It was one of the three churches which formed the Savannah-river Association; and by its returns to that body in 1812, it contained about fifteen hundred members, many of whom belong to the plantations in the neighbourhood of Savannah, and some are a number of miles out in the country. But their masters give them liberty every Sabbath to meet with their brethren, and the poor creatures, with peculiar delight, go up to their Jerusalem to worship.

Andrew Bryan, the pastor of this church, is now an old man, and is spoken of by all who know him in terms of peculiar respect. He was born at a place called Goose-Creek, about 16 miles from Charleston, (S. C.) in what year is not known. He was a slave when he began to preach; but his kind master indulged him with uncommon liberties. After his death, he purchased his freedom of one of his heirs.…

Since writing the above, I have been informed by Mr. Johnson of Savannah, that this venerable man finished his course in October, 1812. He was supposed to have been about 90 years of age.…

Although he was a slave when he began to preach, yet he left an estate worth about three thousand dollars. He is succeeded in the pastoral office by his nephew Andrew Marshall, who is now working his time out, (as they call it) and is said to be a man of promising parts.

 H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1990), 587–588.

About the author

Austin Gardner is pastor of Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, GA. Previously he was church planting missionary in Peru for 20 years.

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