First African Baptist Church (Savannah, Georgia)

First African Baptist Church (Savannah, Georgia)

Infobox church
color =
name = First African Baptist Church
fullname =

img_size =
img_capt = Front view image of First African Baptist Church from "History of the First African Baptist Church, From its Organization, January 20th, 1788, to July 1st, 1888. Including the Centennial Celebration, Addresses, Sermons, Etc." by E.K. Love
landscape =
denomination = Baptist
diocese =
parish =
division = National Baptist Convention, U. S. A. Inc.
subdivision = General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc.
founded_date = 1777
founder = George Leile
architect =
style =
constructed_date = 1859
dedicated_date =
closed_date =
demolished_date =
bishop =
priest =
archdeacon =
dean =
provost =
rector =
canon =
prebendary =
curate =
chaplain =
vicar =
deacon =
abbot =
minister =
seniorpastor =
pastor = Thurmond Neill Tillman
address = 23 Montgomery Street
Savannah, Georgia
country = United States
phone = (912) 233-2244 / 6597
website = []
First African Baptist Church, located in Savannah, Georgia is thought to be the home of the oldest African-American congregation in North America founded in 1777 by the African American George Liele. This claim is contested by a church in Virginia and the Silver Bluff Church in Aiken County, South Carolina. The church also operates a museum which displays memorabilia which dates back to the eighteenth century.


George Leile founded the First Colored Church in 1777 in Savannah, Georgia. Liele, a slave, was the first African-American licensed to preach as a Baptist in Georgia in 1773. His initial ordination was to preach to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River, in Georgia and South Carolina. Upon the death in battle of his master (a British Loyalist) in 1778, Liele made his way to the British-occupied city of Savannah. Over the next few years, he built a congregation of African-American Baptists, slave and free, including David George (one of eight slaves who were baptized and formed a congregation on a plantation in Silver Bluff, South Carolina) and Andrew Bryan (the church's second pastor after Liele and his family sailed with the British to Jamaica in 1784). In 1802, the First Colored Baptist Church spawned two other congregations: Second Colored Church and the Ogeechee Baptist Church.

The First African Baptist Church was official recognized on January 20, 1788, at Brampton's barn, (approximately three miles west of Savannah), by Rev. Abraham Marshall (a Caucasuian minister) and Jesse Peter (an African-American). [cite news|first=Emanuel King|last=Love|url=|title=History of the First African Baptist Church, from its Organization, January 20th, 1788, to July 1st, 1888. Including the Centennial Celebration, Addresses, Sermons, etc.|publisher=The Morning News Print|date=1888| accessdate=2006-12-08]

In 1822, the First Colored Baptist Church and the Second Colored Baptist Church recombined and changed its name to the current name, First African Baptist Church. The church organized the first Sunday School for African Americans (endorsed by the Independent Presbyterian Church) on July 26, 1826. The congregation constructed a sanctuary facility on Franklin Square in Savannah, Georgia in the 1850s.


*George Leile (1775-1782)
*Andrew Bryan (1788-1812)
*Andrew Cox Marshall (1812-1856)
*William J. Campbell (1857-1877)
*George Gibbons (1878-1884)
*Emanuel King Love (1885-1900)
*James Wesley Carr (1901-1907)
*Willis L. Jones (1909-1913)
*Thomas Jefferson Goodall (1915-1922)
*Edgar Garfield Thomas (1924-1928)
*Mack T. Williams (1929-1931)
*J. Alfred Wilson (1931-1939)
*Ralph Mark Gilbert (1939-1956)
*Curtis J. Jackson (1957-1961)
*William F. Stokes II (1963 -1973)
*Lawrence McKinney (1973-1980)
*Thurmond N. Tillman (1982-present)

The Civil War and the Underground Railroad

The holes in the sanctuary flooring form a design meant to look like a tribal symbol. These were instead air holes for slaves who would hide in the church which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, the church housed runaway slaves in a 4-foot space beneath the sanctuary floorboards.

U.S. Civil Rights movement

Participants in the early Civil Rights Movement in Savannah held weekly meetings at the church.

The Facility

The current sanctuary facility is located in Savannah, Georgia in the National historic district on Franklin Square and was built in the 1850s (completed in 1859) by both free African-Americans and slaves. The builders made the bricks for the church and built the church after the slaves labored in the fields all day and upon its completion, the church gained the distinction as the first building constructed of brick in the State of Georgia owned by African-Americans.. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the Savannah Historic District.

The upstairs balcony contains some of the original pews made by the slaves and on the sides of the pews, tribal symbols of the slaves who made the pews can be found. The stained glass windows in the building date back to 1885 and depict African-American subjects.

The original bell tower of the church was destroyed by a hurricane in the early twentieth century.

The Museum

The church museum contains archives and memorabilia that date back to the eighteenth century.including memorabilia dating to the church's beginning in 1773. It also houses pictures of the church's seventeen pastors, written records (from the 1800s to present), communion sets dating back to 1814), and newspaper articles (from 1861 showing the dedication of the facility). Handmade quilts are also on display with the history behind the designs.

The museum is open to visitors daily during normal hours of operation (10:00 A. M. - 4:00 P.M. Monday through Friday) and by appointment at other times. Guests are given guided tours through the church facility and the museum. The church began offering tours to the public in the early 1970s and an estimated twenty to twenty five thousand visitors tour the facility each year.


National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.] The church is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (the second largest Baptist organization in the world, after the Southern Baptist Convention), and the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc.

ee also

*National Register of Historic Places
*List of National Register of Historic Places entries
*National Historic Landmark


External links

* [ First African Baptist Church - Official Internet site]
* [ University of North Carolina - History of the First African Baptist Church, from its Organization, January 20th, 1788, to July 1st, 1888. Including the Centennial Celebration, Addresses, Sermons, etc.]

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