First 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. George Liele, the Church’s founder, continued to evangelize and baptize both the free and enslaved black populations of the Savannah area during the rest of the Revolutionary War period. One of those enslaved people was Andrew Bryan. Liele baptized Andrew Bryan, who was born in 1737, and his wife Hannah in 1782.
When David George and George Liele, along with hundreds of blacks, evacuated Savannah with the British in July 1782, Bryan remained and retained spiritual leadership of the First Colored Baptist Church. Andrew Bryan was allowed to preach by his master, Jonathan Bryan of Brampton Plantation, and became an ordained minister on January 20, 1788. The First Colored Baptist Church became certified by the Georgia Baptist Association in May 1790 and pre-dated the establishment of the white Baptist Church in the city by five years. Andrew Bryan remained the church’s pastor until his death in 1812.
The fiery-militant David Walker was born on September 28, 1785, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His father was an enslaved African who died a few months before his son’s birth, and his mother was a free woman of African ancestry. Walker grew up to despise the system of slavery that the U.S. government allowed in America. He knew the cruelties of slavery were not for him and said, “As true as God reigns, I will be avenged for the sorrow which my people have suffered.” He eventually moved to Boston during the 1820s and became very active within the free black community. Walker’s intense hatred for slavery culminated in him publishing his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in September 1829. The Appeal was smuggled into the southern states, and was considered subversive, seditious, and incendiary by most white men in both northern and southern states. It was, without a doubt, one of the most controversial documents published in the antebellum period.
Walker was concerned about many social issues affecting free and enslaved Africans in America during the time. He also expressed many beliefs that would become commonly promoted by later black nationalists such as: unified struggle for resistance of oppression (slavery), land reparations, self-government for people of African descent in America, racial pride, and a critique of American capitalism. His radical views prompted southern planters to offer a $3000 bounty for anyone who killed Walker and $10,000 reward for anyone who returned him alive back to the South. Walker was found dead in the doorway of his Boston home in 1830. Some people believed he was poisoned and others believed that he died of tuberculosis.
Elizabeth Freeman was born into slavery in Claverack, New York in 1742. During the 1770s, she lived in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, a prominent citizen who at that time also served as a judge of the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Colonel Ashley purchased Freeman from a Mr. Hogeboom when she was six months of age. Upon suffering physical abuse from Ashley’s wife, Freeman escaped her home and refused to return. She found a sympathetic ear with attorney Theodore Sedgwick, the father of the writer Catherine Sedgwick. Apparently, as she served dinner to her masters, she had heard them speaking of freedom—in this case freedom from England—and she applied the concepts of equality and freedom for all to herself.
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.
Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); http://www.blackinventor.com/pages/jamesforten.html; http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASforten.htm.
Through hard work and persistence Jeffrey and his wife Susan achieved a modicum of stability but also suffered profound injustice. Susan had two children from a previous marriage who were forced by powerful white people to work in their households as indentured servants. Around 1802, when neighbors attempted to force the children that Jeffrey and Susan had together into indentured servitude, the family decided to sell their farm and move to northern Vermont.
Lemuel Haynes was born on July 18, 1753 in the home of his mother’s employer, John Haynes of Hartford, Connecticut. His father, an enslaved African, and his mother, a Scottish immigrant servant, abandoned him at birth. Fired after giving birth to him, his mother refused to speak to him when their paths later crossed. John Haynes indentured the unwanted infant at the age of five months to the family of Deacon David Rose in the farming community of Granville, Massachusetts, where Lemuel remained until the age of twenty-one. As a child he absorbed strong Calvinist theology and occasionally was permitted to attend local schools.
In 1783, after fighting for several years in the American Revolution, Haynes married a white schoolteacher who proposed to him and over the next decades raised a family of ten children with her. He accepted a pulpit in a predominantly white Congregational Church in the west parish of Rutland, Vermont in 1788. Although Haynes felt that the color of his skin prevented his full acceptance in the white community, he served the Rutland congregation for thirty years. His power to inspire revivals helped the church to grow enormously. In 1818, however, he was dismissed from his Rutland parish due to his Federalist politics and criticism of Republicans’ policies in the War of 1812. Haynes went on to serve for three years at a congregation in Manchester, Vermont. Throughout his life he combined evangelical Calvinist fervor with staunch opposition to slavery and oppression. One of the first African Americans to be ordained and to publish, Haynes authored many eloquent sermons advocating interracial benevolence, liberty, natural rights, and justice.
The author of the first known work of African American literature (the poem “Bars Fight”), Lucy Terry Prince was kidnapped in Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island At the age of five, she became the property of Captain Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Around the age of sixteen Lucy Terry responded to a 1746 Indian ambush of two white families in a section of town known as “the Bars” by composing the ballad poem “Bars Fight,” which earned her local acclaim. She remained enslaved until 1756, when Obijah Prince, a prosperous free black man, purchased her freedom and married her.
In 1760 the Princes moved to Guilford, Vermont, where Lucy Terry Prince gained local renown as a storyteller and orator while educating her six children. A courageous, eloquent activist, Prince worked hard not only to survive economically but also to protect her family from racist harassment and vandalism. She agitated, unsuccessfully, for her oldest son to be admitted to Williams College. Widowed in 1794, Lucy Terry Prince moved to Sunderland, Vermont, where she died in 1821. Lemuel Haynes preached an antislavery sermon at her funeral in which he predicted that despots and racists, “tyrants and oppressors,” would “sink beneath” Terry’s “feet,” a witty reference to her poetry.
Prince Hall was an important social leader in Boston following the Revolutionary War and the founder of black freemasonry. His birth and childhood are unclear. There were several Prince Halls in Boston at this time. He is believed to have been the slave of a Boston leather worker who was granted freedom in 1770 after twenty-one years of service. He then opened a successful leather goods store, owned his house, was a taxpayer, and a voter. Hall supplied the Boston Regiment with leather goods and may have fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In 1775, fifteen free blacks, including Hall, joined a freemason lodge of British soldiers. They formed their own lodge, African Lodge #1, when the British left. However, they were not granted full stature by the Grand Lodge of England until 1784. The actual charter arrived in 1787, at which time Hall became the Worshipful Master. Even though they had full stature, most white freemason lodges in America did not treat them equally. Hall helped other black Masonic lodges form. Upon his death in 1807, they became the Prince Hall Grand Lodges. There are 46 lodges across the United States today.
The first black Baptist congregation in South Carolina was formed in 1773 on the Galphin Plantation near Silver Bluff, 14 miles northwest of Savannah, Georgia. The church was founded jointly by Rev. Wait Palmer, a white Connecticut minister, and African American pastor, George Liele. The first ordained, black minister in Georgia, Liele in turn baptized and trained David George, an enslaved trader owned by George Galphin. Despite his enslaved status George evangelized among slaves on plantations all along the Savannah River between present-day Augusta and Savannah. With David George as pastor, Galphin allowed his enslaved population to use an empty barn to worship. That congregation that met in the barn eventually became the Silver Bluff Baptist Church.
Edward Rose, also known by the names Five Scalps, Nez Coupe and “Cut Nose,” was the son of a white trader father and a Cherokee and African American mother. Little else is known about his early life including where he was born. He may have spent some years working on the Mississippi River between southern Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Born in Cape May, New Jersey, the early years of Jarena Lee were spent working as a domestic servant. In her twenties, she was converted, sanctified, and received a call to preach. When her request for approval to preach was rebuffed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she married an AME minister. His death within a few years of the marriage left Lee a widow with two young children. In order to support her family she renewed her request to the Rev. Richard Allen, the Bishop of the African Methodist Church who then granted her official church approval to preach.
Lee’s evangelistic meetings took place in her home city of Philadelphia and also throughout New England, Canada and west into Ohio. She recounted her meetings in her autobiography, the first to be published in the United States by an African American woman. In that autobiography, Lee frequently mentions the denominational and racial composition of her audience, which, in both cases, was quite inclusive. Between 1849 and 1857, there is no recorded history about her. The last known event in her life was a visit she made to the home of Rebecca Cox Jackson, a Shaker leader, on New Year’s Day in 1857. After that occasion, at the age of 73, nothing is known about her life or death.
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.
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.
Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street, New York City, New York, played an important role during the American Revolution. Originally built in 1719 as a home to a New York colonial leader, it was sold at an auction to Samuel Fraunces (1722-95), a merchant of French-West Indian ancestry in 1762. Fraunces converted the home into the “Queen’s Head Tavern.” Fraunces was popular with New York City’s elite and many patronized his tavern. In 1768, these patrons established the first New York Chamber of Commerce at Fraunces Tavern.
Ignatius Sancho was an African composer and author who grew up as a house slave in England. We do not know how Sancho left domestic servitude but according to historians by the time he was an adult he was an emancipated employee of the Duke and Duchess of Montagu. There, working as a butler, he flourished, reading voraciously, writing prose, poetry, and music.
Peter Hill, a clockmaker, was born on July 19, 1767 in the Burlington Township, New Jersey. He is assumed to be the son of slaves owned by a clockmaker named Joseph Hollinshead, Jr. Peter Hill grew up in the Hollinshead household and as he grew older was allowed to learn clock making from his master in order to assist Hollinshead in his store. In 1794, Hollinshead manumitted Peter who was 27. His freedom was certified the following year in an official court document.
Colonel Stephen Blucke led an all-black Regiment that fought for the British during the American Revolution. He settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia in 1783 and became a leader in the Black Loyalist community.
During the Revolutionary War, the most famous of the Black Loyalist Military units were called the Black Pioneers, which contained a small elite band of guerrillas known as the Black Brigade. The Black Brigade fought independently and later with the all-white unit Queen’s Rangers. The supplies they seized were vital to the survival of the Loyalists in New York. In a raid on a patriot militia leader, the Brigade and leader Colonel Tye were caught in a long battle. Their target was burned after Tye’s death and Blucke – a literate, free black from Barbados and officer in the Black Pioneers – succeeded Tye as Colonel of the Brigade.
Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006); http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/confederation/023001-2125-e.html.
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.
Chartered in 1672, the Royal African Company was a royally chartered company which had a legally based monopoly on English trade to West Africa until 1698. The monopoly specifically extended through five thousand miles of the western coast from Cape Sallee (in contemporary Morocco) to the Cape of Good Hope (in what is now South Africa).
The Royal African Company traded mainly for gold and slaves (the majority of whom were sent to English colonies in the Americas). Headquarters were located at the Cape Coast Castle (located in modern-day Ghana). The Royal African Company also maintained many forts and factories in other locations such as Sierra Leone, the Slave Coast, the River Gambia, and additional areas on the Gold Coast.
Alexander M. Zukas, “Chartered Companies,” in Encyclopedia of Western
Colonialism since 1450 ed. Thomas Benjamin (Detroit: Macmillan
Reference USA, 2007); K.G. Davis, Royal African Company (London:
Longmans, Green and Co., 1957); Robert Law, ed., The English in West
Africa 1691-1699: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company
of England 1681-1699 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).
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.
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
Henri Christophe was a military leader in the Haitian Revolution as well as president and later king of the young nation. Born into slavery in 1767, Christophe was brought to French colonial Haiti, known as Saint Domingue, most likely from Kitts. There he worked a wide variety of posts including sailor, mason, bartender, and billiard marker. Like many slaves and free people of color in Saint Domingue, Christophe was familiar with military matters from a young age, having accompanied the French expedition to Savannah, Georgia in 1779. By his early twenties, Christophe was able to purchase his freedom and joined the growing class of free blacks.
Founded in 1790, the Brown Fellowship Society is the oldest all-male Funeral Society in Charleston, South Carolina. It also provides a major historical example of how racism affected the African American community itself, in that lighter skinned African Americans in the Society considered themselves superior to darker skinned African Americans. Although still considered inferior by the white population, South Carolina's mulattos, octoroons (a person with one-eighth black ancestry), and quadroons (a person with one-quarter black ancestry), were often given their freedom while darker-skinned individuals remained in slavery.
Freetown is the capital, principal port, commercial center, and largest city of Sierra Leone. The city was founded by British Naval Lieutenant John Clarkson and freed American slaves from Nova Scotia. Freetown was part of the larger colony of the Sierra Leone which was founded by the Sierra Leone Company (SLC) in 1787. The SLC, organized by British businessman and abolitionist William Wilberforce, sought to rehabilitate the black poor of London and former slaves of North America by bringing them to the settlement in Sierra Leone where they would stop the African slave trade by spreading Christianity through the continent.
The first groups of blacks, about 400 Londoners, arrived in Sierra Leone in 1787 and established Granville Town, named after British abolitionist Granville Sharp. When the settlement was destroyed by the indigenous inhabitants in 1789, British abolitionists sent a second, larger party of 1,100 former American slaves who had been resettled in Nova Scotia at the end of the American Revolution. These settlers established Freetown in 1792. In 1800, 500 Jamaican Maroons were landed by the British.
The slave ship, Zong, departed the coast of Africa on 6 September 1781 with 470 slaves. Since this human chattel was such a valuable commodity at that time, many captains took on more slaves than their ships could accommodate in order to maximize profits. The Zong’s captain, Luke Collingwood, overloaded his ship with slaves and by 29 November many of them had begun to die from disease and malnutrition. The Zong then sailed in an area in the mid-Atlantic known as “the Doldrums” because of periods of little or no wind. As the ship sat stranded, sickness caused the deaths of seven of the 17 crew members and over 50 slaves.
Increasingly desperate, Collingwood decided to “jettison” some of the cargo in order to save the ship and provide the ship owners the opportunity to claim for the loss on their insurance. Over the next week the remaining crew members threw 132 slaves who were sick and dying over the side. Another 10 slaves threw themselves overboard in what Collingwood later described as an “Act of Defiance.”
Alan Gilbert, University of Denver political scientist and anti-racist activist, is the author of Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, one of the few works that examines the free and enslaved blacks who joined the American Patriots and the British during the American Revolution and the anti-racist whites who supported them. In the account below he describes the book and why he wrote it.
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.
It was these energetic young black members of the New Lights, as they were called, who assumed leadership roles and formally established First African Baptist Church in 1774 near Lunenburg, Virginia, on the William Byrd III plantation. Free members of the congregation later moved to Petersburg and changed the name to the First Baptist Church when the Byrd plantation meetinghouse succumbed to flames.
Emboscada is a small city located in the Cordillera region of Paraguay. In 2002 the city had a population of 13,500 people. The overwhelming majority of them have African ancestry due to the presence of slaves and free blacks in the area during the Spanish colonial period. Emboscada is located approximately 34 kilometers (21 miles) north of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay.
The three-fifths clause was part of a series of compromises enacted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The most notable other clauses prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories and ended U.S. participation in the international slave trade in 1807. These compromises reflected Virginia Constitutional Convention delegate (and future U.S. President) James Madison’s observation that “…the States were divided into different interests not by their…size…but principally from their having or not having slaves.”
José María Morelos y Pavón, statesman and Roman Catholic priest, was one of the greatest insurgent military commanders during the Mexican War of Independence. Morelos was born into a poor “pardo” (Afro-Mexican) family in Valladolid, Mexico on September 30, 1765 to José Manuel Morelos y Robles, a carpenter, and Juana María Guadalupe Pérez Pavón. In his youth Morelos performed many menial jobs, including farming and mule skinning. In 1790 he studied philosophy, rhetoric, ethics and Latin grammar at the Colegio de San Nicolás, operated by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, and in 1795 Morelos entered Tridentine Seminary, becoming a full-fledged priest by age 32 in December 1797. He administered in several areas throughout New Spain, including Carácuaro and Churumuco.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.