The Evolution of Plantation Missions 3

After about two years of worship at Brampton, Rev. Thomas Burton, an elderly Baptist preacher, and Rev. Abraham Marshall visited this little slave church and gave them two certificates. The first certificate constituted this little plantation mission an official Christian church and read as follows:

This is to certify that upon examination into the experiences and characters of a number of the Ethiopians at and adjacent to Savannah, it appears that God has brought them out of Darkness into the light of the Gospel, and given them fellowship one with the other; believing that it is the will of Christ, we have constituted them a Church of Jesus Christ, to keep his worship and ordinances. January 19, 1788.

A. Marshall, V. D. M.

The second certificate gave Andrew Bryan the authority to do the work of a gospel minister including the right to administer the ordinances of a Baptist church and read as follows:

This is to certify that the Ethiopian Church of Jesus Christ at Savannah, have called their beloved brother Andrew Bryan to the work of the ministry. We have examined into his qualifications, and believing it to be the will of the great head of the Church, we have appointed him to preach the Gospel, and administer the ordinances as God, in his providence may call. January 20, 1788.

A. Marshall, V.D. M.

These certificates gave to this plantation mission a new status and vitality. Strangely enough, an unprecedented degree of freedom was granted.

America’s first slave pastor and congregation. Later, we shall see a drastic change in this policy throughout the nation, in general, and the South, in particular.

It will be remembered that Bryan’s church became a member of the old Georgia Association in 1790 and so continued as the only black Baptist church in that body for several years. Later, the association was split into the Upper District Georgia Baptist Association and the Lower District Georgia Baptist Association. The black Baptists remained with the association of white churches in their particular district.

We may note in passing that Andrew Bryan purchased his freedom, bought a lot in Yamacraw, and later built a residence near the original Sampson mission. After another brief period of struggle, the First Colored Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, was well established and grew rapidly.

By 1800, the membership of First Colored Baptist Church numbered eight hundred. Such growth was too rapid to be accomodated in the church edifice. Hence, the First Church concluded, in consultation with the Georgia Baptist Association, to organize new churches from its overflow membership. On December 26, 1802, the Second African Baptist Church was organized near Savannah.

Not only does the year 1800 reflect a new development in church growth in Georgia, but it also reflects a growing freedom on the part of Andrew Bryan. The growing freedom of his ministry was related to Dr. Rippon in one of the letters addressed in the year of 1800.

We enjoy the rights of conscience to a valuable extent, worshipping in our families, and preaching three times every Lord’s Day, baptizing frequently from ten to twenty at a time in the Savannah, and administering the sacred supper, not only without molestation, but in the presence, and with the approbation and encouragement of many of the white people.

As mentioned earlier, the black Baptists of South Carolina have also a claim to the distinction of being the first independent black Baptist movement. Dr. Miles Mark Fisher has advanced the primacy of South Carolina’s black Baptists. He believed that the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, Aiken County, South Carolina, was the first plantation church in America for Baptist slaves.

We observed earlier also that the Silver Bluff Baptist Church was organized by a convert of Rev. George Liele named David George. Initially, eight slaves were converted by George Liele, and David George was subsequently given the responsibility to manage and preach in this mission. This was about the year 1778. Strangely enough, these new converts later traveled to the Georgia plantation mission to worship.

Nevertheless, some of these slaves probably maintained an independent mission in South Carolina. Records show that the Silver Bluff Church lived again in Edgefield County after the revolutionary war. It was officially constituted in 1781 with Rev. Jesse Peters as its first pastor. Accordingly, tradition in South Carolina has maintained that the Silver Bluff Mission had a continued existence at Strombrance and Seven Springs. Later, the Seven Springs Church was located on a still branch of the Savannah River, called the Dead River.

In the light of the foregoing, we may readily understand why there is some discrepancy among historians relative to the establishment of the first plantation mission for black Baptists. The oldest tradition, however, seems to substantiate the primacy of the Georgia plantation movement.

 

Leroy Fitts, A History of Black Baptists (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1985)

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