Originally named First Colored Baptist Church and located in Savannah, Georgia, First African Baptist Church traces its roots to December 1777 and is officially designated the oldest African American church in the United States. The roots of the black Baptist tradition can be traced to three men: George Leile, David George, and Andrew Bryan. Ordained May 20, 1775, George Leile is recognized as the first ordained black Baptist pastor in Georgia. He converted to Christianity in 1773.
It is believed that the first black Baptist congregation was formed in 1773 in Silver Bluff, South Carolina on the Galphin Plantation, 14 miles northwest of Savannah, Georgia, through the efforts of Rev. Wait Palmer (white founder of the First Baptist Church of Stonington, Connecticut) and George Leile. Galphin allowed his enslaved population to worship under the leadership of his slave, David George, in an empty barn on the plantation. David George was baptized and trained under the tutelage of Leile, who was evangelizing up and down the Savannah River between present-day Augusta and Savannah, Georgia. Under George's leadership, the congregation’s number gradually increased to more than 30. In 1778, when their Patriot master abandoned the plantation under British advance, the whole Silver Bluff group fled to British lines in Savannah.
Peter Salem was born a slave to Jeremiah Belknap at Framingham, Massachusetts about 1750. Belknap sold Salem to Lawson Buckminister some time before the Revolutionary War. Buckminister allowed Salem to enlist in the Massachusetts Minutemen. According to one story, his master freed him upon his enlistment. Another account states that Peter changed his name to Salem when he was freed. Some have attempted to link Peter’s last name with the Arabic “Saleem” (one who is peaceful); however there is no concrete evidence that this is the case.
Salem served at Concord, Saratoga and Stony Point. He is traditionally given credit for the slaying of British Major Pitcairn at Bunker Hill. Pitcairn had ordered the colonists to surrender. Salem shot him in answer. In the ensuing confusion, the Americans were able to take the field. Pitcairn died of his wounds. The gun attributed to Salem’s deed is part of the museum collection at Bunker Hill.
African American patriot Salem Poor of Andover, Massachusetts fought with distinction in the American Revolution. He purchased his freedom in 1769 for 27 pounds (about one year’s salary). Soon after, he married a freedwoman named Nancy by whom he had a son. In May of 1775 Poor enlisted in the Continental Army and distinguished himself at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Charlestown) where he was sent to assist in the building of fortifications. Six months later, white veterans petitioned the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to recognize Poor’s exemplary service at the Battle of Charlestown, citing that he had ”behaved like an experienced officer.” His comrades stated that in Poor “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” “To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious.” Of the thousands of American soldiers at Bunker Hill no other was given such recognition.
Prince Whipple fought at the battles of Saratoga and in Delaware during the War for Independence. He was also one of twenty enslaved men who petitioned the New Hampshire legislature for freedom in 1779. His owner, General William Whipple, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an aide to General George Washington. Although Whipple has been identified by some as the African American figure in the familiar painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River, it is doubtful he was present on Christmas Eve, 1776.
Colonel Tye was an escaped slave who fought with the British in the American Revolution. Challenging Patriot forces primarily in New York and New Jersey, Tye became one of the most respected leaders of the Loyalist troops during the Revolution, a respected and feared guerrilla commander.
Born in 1753 as Titus, ‘Tye’ was one of four slaves owned by Quaker John Corlies from Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, New Jersey. In November 1775, when Titus was 22 years old, Lord John Murray Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation that not only declared martial law, but also offered freedom to those slaves who would join the royal forces. Titus along with 300 other escaped slaves fled to join the British, assuming the adopted name of Tye and joining the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Here he quickly found respect and saw his first action at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, during which he captured a rebel militia captain.
Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: an Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2004); History 571: Colonial and Revolutionary America, Lord Dunmore and the Ethiopian Regiment, http://www.studythepast.com/history571/pam/ColonelTye.html; PBS.org Africans in America, Part 2: Revolutions, Colonel Tye http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p52.html.
The Black Loyalists were the approximately 3,000 African American supporters of the British during the American Revolution who were repatriated to British Canada at the end of the conflict. Most settled in Nova Scotia and established what would be for decades, the largest concentration of black residents in Canada and what was at the time the largest settlement of free blacks outside Africa.
The Black Loyalists who fought for Great Britain believed they were fighting not only for their own freedom, but for the ultimate abolition of slavery in North America. The British commitment to the these loyalists began when Virginia's Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation promising freedom to all Virginia slaves who supported the British and the white Loyalist allies.
Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions
(Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); James W. Walker, A History of
Blacks in Canada ( Ottawa: Minister of State and Multiculturalism
1980); John Demont, Reclaiming a Hard Past, Maclean’s 113:7 p.26
Charles Lewis was a sailor and soldier during the American Revolutionary War. Lewis was born sometime around 1760 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Bel Aire, the Lewis Family Plantation owned by John Lewis. John and a free mulatto woman, Josephine Lewis, were the parents of Charles and his younger brother, Ambrose. Lewis and his brother were born free but their mother was indentured to John Lewis.
On April 15, 1776, Charles Lewis and his brother entered into the naval service of Virginia when they served on board the Galley Page, a warship commanded by Captain James Markham. On March 20, 1778, they entered the Naval Service of the United States when they joined the crew of the USS Dragon commanded by Captain Eleazor Callender.
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