The First African Baptist Church, located in Savannah’s historic district, is the nation’s oldest African-American Baptist church. Although the official meeting place was not established until 1788, former slave George Leile, who was ordained in 1775, had been leading the original congregation since 1773.
Leile baptized two other local enslaved men, David George and Andrew Bryan, to help him establish the Silver Bluff Baptist Church in Aiken County. Over the next few years, slaves were converted. Leile and George fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War began, but Bryan remained with the congregation.
The Rev. Abraham Marshall officially recognized the First African Baptist Church, formerly known as the First Colored Baptist Church, on January 20, 1788. Andrew Bryan was named preacher, and 67 people joined the church. By 1794, the congregation had built its first structure, which was known as the First African Baptist Church.
During the time of segregation, the church was the largest gathering place for blacks and whites in Savannah. The church’s original steeple stood 100 feet tall but was destroyed during a hurricane in 1892. The design of the church ceiling is based on the “Nine Patch Quilt,” which serves as a reminder that the church was once a safe haven for fugitive slaves.
There is another sub-floor beneath the lower auditorium floor, indicating that the church was used as an Underground Railroad station. The floor holes are shaped like an African prayer symbol known as a “Congolese Cosmogram.” Many historical elements can still be found in the church today.