David George (Baptist)

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David George (c. 1742–1810) was an African-American Baptist preacher and a Black Loyalist from the American South who escaped to British lines in Savannah, Georgia; later he accepted transport to Nova Scotia and land there. He eventually resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone.[1] With other slaves, George founded the Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina in 1775, the first black congregation in the present-day United States. He was later affiliated with the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia. After migration, he founded Baptist congregations in Nova Scotia and Freetown, Sierra Leone. George wrote an account of his life that is one of the most important early slave narratives.

Early life and escapes[edit]

David George was born in Essex County, Virginia, in 1742 to African parents John and Judith, as the slave of a man called 'Chapel'. George ran away after witnessing his mother's horrible whipping. He also personally experienced a traumatic severe whipping.[2] George received help to run away from some white travelers and worked for these men for some time. It was not until his master offered a reward for George that he ran away and worked for another white man whom he encountered (this time for many years). Because his master continued to pursue him, George migrated to South Carolina.

He was captured by a Creek Indian chief named Blue Salt. He considered George his prize and made him work. When George's owner found out that he was working for Blue Salt, he brought rum, linen and a gun to exchange for the slave, but Blue Salt refused to give him up. For several years, George worked for Creek and Natchez Indians.

George escaped and ran away again, this time encountering a Scottish trader named George Galphin (appears in some records as Gaulfin, Gaulphin), for whom he worked four years at Silver Bluff, South Carolina. Because of his close association with the Native Americans, Galphin had many slaves who had intermarried with the Creek.

George received help to read and write from the children of Galphin. He primarily used the Bible while learning how to read and write.[3]

Marriage and family[edit]

During this time, George met and married Phyllis, who was part Creek.[4] Together they had four children born in what is now the United States. They had two more children born while in Nova Scotia, and four more children born in Sierra Leone.


In 1773 George met an old childhood friend and former slave, George Lisle, who had been converted to the Baptist faith. During the Great Awakening, Baptist preachers had traveled throughout the South, converting both whites and blacks, free and slave. Brother Palmer was a white Minister that uplifted and spread the word of God to David George and other Black people. Palmer was the start of the Church in Silver Bluff.[5] Impressed with Liele's conversion, George, his wife and eight others were baptized at Silver Bluff. In 1775 George and eight other slaves formed one of the first African-American Baptist congregations in the United States.[6]

A somewhat different account of George during these years is presented by Mark A. Noll, American church historian:

"The first continuing black church was the Silver Bluff Church in Aiken County, South Carolina, where an African-American preacher, David George (1742-1810), established a congregation around 1773 or 1774. George’s pilgrimage marked him as one of the most remarkable religious figures of his century. After serving as a slave, he was converted through the influence of an-other slave named Cyrus. Soon George began to exhort his fellow bondsmen, an activity that led to his becoming, in effect, the pastor of the Silver Bluff Church. ... American patriots were trying to throw off the "slavery" of Parliament, but for those in chattel bondage like David George, the British were the agents who combated racial, chattel slavery."[7]

Three years later during the American Revolutionary War, the slaves escaped to Savannah, where they gained freedom behind British lines, as they had occupied the city. George continued to minister to a Baptist congregation.

Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone[edit]

As they had promised, in 1782 the British began transportation of Black Loyalist freedmen to Nova Scotia and other colonies. They transported George, his wife and three children (Jesse, David and Ginny) to Shelburne, Nova Scotia for freedom after the defeat of the British during the American War of Independence. This was part of an evacuation of nearly 3500 former slaves from the United States to Nova Scotia. George established a church in Shelburne and became the leader of the Baptist contingent of the African-American Loyalists, and he also attracted whites to his congregation. Some whites resented his influence in the community. His house and those of many of his followers were attacked and destroyed in July 1784 by racist mobs in the Shelburne Riots. George and his wife moved to the nearby Free Black settlement of Birchtown and became one of the influential African-American families at the center of black settlement.

Several years later, the George family chose to migrate with other Black Loyalists to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the British provided some assistance in setting up a new colony and settlement in West Africa.

William Gwinn, his wife and daughter also emigrated to Sierra Leone.[8] George founded the first Baptist church there. George was very influential; he was elected a tythingman, a position of power in the colony at that time. George wrote a memoir that is considered one of the important slave narratives. He died in Freetown in 1810.

His descendants are part of the Sierra Leone Creole people of the Western Area of Freetown.[9] Many of George's descendants belong to the Masonic Lodges of Sierra Leone. One of his descendants, also named David George, is a member of the organization Amistad Sankofa, working to educate students about international issues and bridge the racial divide.[9]

In August 2007, the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Baptist Convention had a joint convention and liturgy, to acknowledge earlier racism by the white convention, and seek reconciliation. They had had separate associations since the 19th century.[9]

George in film[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Black Loyalists", Atlantic Portal, University of New Brunswick, accessed 4 May 2010. Some historians criticize the term "Black Loyalist" because they believe there is not sufficient evidence to prove enslaved African Americans were loyal to the British.
  2. ^ "Biography – GEORGE, DAVID – Volume V (1801-1820) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography". www.biographi.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  3. ^ "Africans in America/Part 2/David George". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  4. ^ Simon Schama, Rough Crossings, Toronto: Penguin Group, 2005)
  5. ^ White, Deborah Gray; Bay, Mia; Martin Jr., Waldo E. (2013). Freedom on my Mind: a History of African Americans (Vol 1 ed.). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 144. ISBN 9780312648831.
  6. ^ Gleile[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Noll, Mark A. The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 56.
  8. ^ James Oliver Horton; Lois E. Horton (5 December 1996). In Hope of Liberty:Culture, Community and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. Oxford University Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-19-988079-9. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Wayne Adams, "Black, white Baptists bridge centuries-old racial divide"[permanent dead link], The Daily News, Halifax, Canada, 22 Aug 2007, reprinted on Amistad America, accessed 4 May 2010]

Further reading[edit]

  • Walter H. Brooks, The Silver Bluff Church: A History of Negro Baptist Churches in America (Washington, D.C.: Press of R. L. Pendleton, 1910)
  • James St G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870 (New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1976)
  • Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, 2nd ed. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997)
  • Pearleen Oliver, A Brief History of the Coloured Baptists of Nova Scotia (Halifax, N.S.: s.n., 1953)
  • Grant Gordon, From Slavery to Freedom: The Life of David George, Pioneer Black Baptist Minister (Hantaport, N.S.: Lancelot Press for Acadia Divinity College and The Baptist Historical Committee of the United Baptist Convention of the Atlantic Provinces, 1992).