Thursday, February 07, 2008

God made men. Men made slaves.

(The following is an article I wrote that came out today in our local newspaper, The Murphy Messenger.)

“Remembering a Pioneer”

In honor of Black History Month, we examine a pioneer in the realm of the black church and Christian missions.

George Leile was born a slave on a plantation in Virginia around 1750. He would later belong to a Baptist deacon in Georgia. After his dramatic conversion to Christianity in 1773, Leile was set free to become a traveling preacher. Ordained May 20, 1775, Leile is recognized as the first ordained black Baptist pastor in Georgia. In Savannah, he founded the first “African Baptist” church in North America, which is still in existence today.

The English Baptist William Carey is commonly known as the “Father of the Modern Missions Movement,” but George Leile predated him by a decade. In 1783, Leile was forced to leave his homeland and wound up in Jamaica, where he started the first Baptist church on the island.

In 1888, biographer E. K. Love wrote: “When he had established a church in the towns he made for the interior to unfurl the gospel banner to those who were sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death.”

The details of his death are uncertain, but his legacy is not. His name is not well known, though it should be.

Love wrote: “This man doubtless has long since finished his labors and has entered the saints' rest. We have no date of his death, nor the latter end of his work. But he will be remembered, and his name honored, both here and in Jamaica while memory holds its place. Whatever the negro Baptists here and in Jamaica are, they owe it to his humble beginning. And whatever may be written of either of us, it cannot be complete if his name is left out. His record is here, there and in heaven.”
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From a letter George Leile wrote to Dr. Rippon of London in 1891:
"I cannot tell what is my age, as I have no account of the time of my birth; but I suppose I am about 40 years old. I have a wife and four children. My wife was baptized by me in Savannah, and I have every satisfaction in life from her. She is much the same age as myself. My eldest son is 19 years, my next son 17, the third fourteen, and the last child a girl of 11 years. They are all members of the church. My occupation is a farmer, but as the seasons in this part of the country are uncertain, I also keep a team of horses and wagons for the carrying of goods from one place to another, which I attend myself, with the assistance of my sons, and by this way of life have gained the good will of the public, who recommend me to business and to some very principal work for Government. I have a few books, some good old authors and sermons, and one large Bible that was given me by a gentleman. A good many of our members can read and are all desirous to learn. They will be very thankful for a few books to read on Sundays and other days. I agree to election, redemption, the fall of Adam, regeneration and perseverance, knowing the promise is to all who endure, in grace, faith and good works to the end, shall be saved."

More about Leile from Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age (2007):
“He often preached on Sunday evenings at the Kiokee [Baptist] Church, and his preaching was received by black and white alike. Leile was hesitant about seeking church membership because of his color, but his master encouraged him and was in fact even more delighted to discover that he seemed to have a gift for preaching.” (p. 585)
“George Leile was a gifted evangelistic preacher who knew how to present the gospel in the language of his people.” (p. 586)

Related Information:
History of the First African Baptist Church by Rev. E.K. Love (1888)

First African Baptist Church (Savannah, GA) - “The Oldest Black Church in North America”

Jamaica Baptist Union
"The JBU traces its beginning to George Leile, a 'free black slave' from Atlanta Georgia who came to Jamaica in 1783 and started preaching in Kingston. His work grew and spread to other parts of the island. The Baptist Missionary Society (UK) was invited to support the work, and in 1814 they sent the first missionary to the island. The ministry continued to grow and expand under the British."


At 07 February, 2008 16:48, Anonymous Lionel Woods said...

Nice. I am going to have to do some research on this guy!

At 07 February, 2008 16:55, Blogger GUNNY said...

Obviously, I could only give the Cliff's Notes version in the newspaper, but he's a bit of a stud.

To think, the existence of Black Baptist churches in what became the US and in Jamaica owe their existence (in part) to him ... that's pretty impressive.

AND his relocation to Jamaica predating William Carey's move to India by a decade?

... well, that got my attention also.

At 07 February, 2008 21:05, Anonymous Chris said...

Thanks Gunny. Very encouraging. I especially appreciated his summary of his beliefs at the end of his letter.


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