Liele, George (c. 1750-1828)

First African American to be ordained and first Baptist to go as a missionary to any other land (Jamaica)

Born a slave in Virginia, Liele was taken to Georgia, where he was converted in 1773 in the church of his master, Henry Sharp. He soon became concerned about the spiritual condition of his fellow slaves and began preaching to them. In 1775 he was ordained as a missionary to work among the black population in the Savannah area. Like many other slaves, he sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, as did his master, who set Liele free in 1778.

In order to be evacuated with other royalists and British troops, Liele obtained a loan and accepted the status of indentured servant to pay the passage for himself, his wife, and his four children on a ship bound for Jamaica. Landing there in January 1783, he soon repaid the debt and secured permission to preach to the slaves on the island. Thus by the time William Carey—often mistakenly perceived to be the first Baptist missionary—sailed for India in 1793, Liele had worked as a missionary for a decade, supporting himself and his family by farming and by transporting goods with a wagon and team. Apparently, he never received or accepted remuneration for his ministry, most of which was directed to the slaves. He preached, baptized hundreds, and organized them into congregations governed by a church covenant he adapted to the Jamaican context. By 1814 his efforts had produced, either directly or indirectly, some 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica. At times he was harassed by the white colonists and by government authorities for “agitating the slaves” and was imprisoned, once for more than three years. While he never openly challenged the system of slavery, he prepared the way for those who did; he well deserves the title “Negro slavery’s prophet of deliverance.” Liele died in Jamaica.

Alan Neely, “Liele, George,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 400-1.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Bibliography

Digital Texts


Letters Showing the Rise and Progress of the Early Negro Churches of Georgia and the West Indies.” Comprised of “An Account of Several Baptist Churches, Consisting Chiefly of Negro Slaves: Particularly of One at Kingston, in Jamaica; and Another at Savannah in Georgia,” and “Sketches of the Black Baptist Church at Savannah, in Georgia: And of Their Minister Andrew Bryan, Extracted from Several Letters.” Journal of Negro History 1 no. 1 (Jan. 1916): 69-92.

Woodson, Carter Godwin. The History of the Negro Church. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1921.

Primary


Liele, George. “An Account of Several Baptist Churches, Consisting Chiefly of Negro Slaves: Particularly of One at Kingston, in Jamaica; and Another at Savannah in Georgia (1793).” In Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-speaking World of the Eighteenth Century. Edited by Vincent Carretta. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

_____. “The Covenant of the Anabaptist Church: Began in America 1777, in Jamaica, Dec. 1783.” 1796. British Baptist material, Angus Library of Regents Park College, Oxford, England, reel 1, no. 14.; Publication (Historical Commission, Southern Baptist Convention), MF # 4265.

Liele, George and Andrew Bryan. “Letters from Pioneer Black Baptists.” In Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness. Edited by Milton C. Sernett. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985.

“Letters Showing the Rise and Progress of the Early Negro Churches of Georgia and the West Indies.” Comprised of “An Account of Several Baptist Churches, Consisting Chiefly of Negro Slaves: Particularly of One at Kingston, in Jamaica; and Another at Savannah in Georgia,” and “Sketches of the Black Baptist Church at Savannah, in Georgia: And of Their Minister Andrew Bryan, Extracted from Several Letters.” Journal of Negro History 1 no. 1 (Jan. 1916): 69-92.

Secondary


Ballew, Christopher Brent and Moses Baker. The Impact of African-American Antecedents on the Baptist Foreign Missionary Movement, 1782-1825. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

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Christian History 18 no. 2 (April 1999). Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1999.

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Pugh, Alfred Lane. Pioneer Preachers in Paradise: The Legacies of George Liele, Prince Williams and Thomas Paul in Jamaica, the Bahamas and Haiti. Lauderhill, FL: Paradise Pub., 2003.

Pulis, John W. “Bridging Troubled Waters: Moses Baker, George Liele, and the African American Diaspora to Jamaica.” In Moving On: Black Loyalists in the Afro-Atlantic World. Edited by John W. Pulis. New York: Garland Pub., 1999.

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Akin, Daniel L. “The Cross and Faithful Ministry As Seen In The Pastoral and Missionary Ministry of George Leile: First Baptist Missionary To The Nations – Galatians 6:11-18.” Chapel sermon, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel, 24 August 2010. MP3 audio podcast.