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The Story of the Slave Who Founded the Black Baptist Church

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 15, 2024 3:01 am

The Story of the Slave Who Founded the Black Baptist Church

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 15, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina tells the story about David George, a man who would escape his bondage only to find himself with new captors, a newfound faith, and eventually...a new freedom in Canada.

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That's L-E-T-S-F to learn more. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Up next, a story about our fight for independence, our original sin, and a man who escaped it. His name was David George and his lasting legacy can still be found all across our country today. Here to tell his story is Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina.

Take it away, Woody. One of the lesser-known but more interesting facts about the American Revolution is that one in five Americans at the time were enslaved African Americans and many of them in this battle among whites found opportunity for themselves to become free. Nearly 10,000 fought on the American side. And Rhode Island had a whole regiment of black soldiers fighting for the freedom of the country, but also for their own freedom because that was the deal. And they fought for the freedom of the country because that was the deal.

But in the South, where 90 percent of African Americans lived, the patriots did not offer freedom to enslaved people. So the chance for them to get free in the South was by fighting for the British side. David George was from Virginia, born sometime around 1742, and had a terrible master, ironically the master's last name was Chapel, as in church, but he brutally whipped not only David George but his brothers and sisters, and worst of all for David George was watching his mother be whipped. And as he wrote in his narrative, Master's rough and cruel usage was the reason of my running away. So he did run, we don't know the exact year, but he escaped from Virginia, headed south. You know, you think of slaves escaping, following the drinking gourd, that is the north star, to freedom up north or freedom in Canada, but for him freedom lay to the south. And so he crossed the Roanoke River into North Carolina, spent some time working in South Carolina, but then was advised by his employers to head further south. So he crossed the Savannah River into Georgia and spent a couple years there, but then he heard his owner was still coming after him, so this was clearly a relentless owner, Mr. Chapel, trying to track him down. So this time David George decided the place that he had the best chance of remaining free was in the west, so he headed into what was then, now part of Georgia, but was then Muscogee country, or that is the Indians that the English called the Creeks. And they kind of enslaved him too, but certainly relative to what he'd experienced back in Virginia, they were pretty decent slave owners, but once again this relentless master reminds me of Javert in Les Miserables, tracked him down, he escaped and eventually persuaded his Native American captors to sell him to a white man named Goffin, who was very tight with the Native Americans of that area because he was a deerskin trader.

He would buy thousands of deerskins from Native Americans and in return supply them with guns and ammunition and alcohol and other things they needed. And as he wrote, I was with him about four years, I think, before I married. Here I lived a bad life and had no serious thoughts about my soul, but after my wife was delivered of our first child, a man of my own color named Cyrus, who came from Charleston, South Carolina to Silver Bluff, told me one day in the woods that if I lived so, I should never see the face of God in glory. And that apparently is what made the difference, this man Cyrus, but he says this was the first thing that disturbed me and gave me much concern.

I thought then that I must be saved by prayer. Okay, so David George was owned by and working for George Goffin, and his base was at Silver Bluff on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, where, having become converted to Christ himself, he helped another man named George Lyle form a Black Baptist church at Silver Bluff, South Carolina, on the South Carolina bank of the Savannah River. And that was the first Black Baptist church formed anywhere in the world.

And the Black Baptist church is one of the most vibrant churches in America today. It all began with David George and George Lyle, still both of them enslaved. Well, in 1778, the British captured Savannah, Georgia from the Patriots. Savannah was then the capital of Georgia, and it looked like the British were going to be able to capture that whole area. And so George Goffin ran away.

He was a patriot, and so he was worried that the British would imprison him. And so he took off, and that made David George free by default. And you're listening to Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina tell one heck of a story, the story of David George, the founder of the first Black Baptist church in America and the world.

More of David George's story, part of America's story, when Our American Stories continues. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Add life to cart. And we continue with our American stories and with David George's story. When we last left off, Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina was telling us about how David George escaped from bondage in Virginia, only to be enslaved again in South Carolina, where George would have a spiritual awakening in the woods due to the efforts of another African-American. He would go on to found the Black Baptist Church, and soon the British invasion of South Carolina would create new possibilities for enslaved people.

Let's get back to the story. His owner had run away, and so he was free. He eventually moved into Savannah.

By that time, he'd gotten married. He got by in various ways. He ran a butcher's stall. Yet another reminder of all of the things that enslaved people did besides work out in the field. A lot of them were merchants. He's now free, but a lot of enslaved people worked as merchants for their owners, giving most of the profits to their owners. He and his family moved up to Charleston, South Carolina, and were there in 1782 when the British agreed to evacuate Charleston at the end of the war. His family evacuated with many other people who had been loyal to the British crown, both black and white, and where they evacuated to was Halifax, Nova Scotia. So that was a place for him and thousands of other loyalists to the crown, both black and white, to take refuge after the war. On the one hand, we have to praise the British for issuing what amounted to emancipation proclamations that resulted in the freedom of thousands of African Americans. On the other hand, we don't want to put the British on a pedestal because they were not great allies. So, for instance, at one point, when David George was in Savannah, Georgia, and he really wanted to get up to Charleston, South Carolina, and he made the money he needed to pay for the ship passage for his whole family to go up to Charleston, but then a bunch of British cavalrymen came and stole all his money. So we certainly don't want to imagine that they were all great heroes who were sympathetic to African Americans, but they were all great heroes who were sympathetic to African Americans.

And it's not like they're ready for freeing their own slaves. They tended to make these offers only to people like David George, who were owned by patriots. And in his case, he didn't have to escape Galfin because Galfin kind of ran away from him. His owner ran away from him, but Nova Scotia remained loyal to the crown. And so that was a place for him and thousands of other loyalists to the crown, both black and white, to take refuge after the war. And one of the sad parts of David George's story is that even though blacks and whites had taken refuge there together, the whites were terrible to the blacks. You know, they were used to, a lot of them had come from places where all 13 of the original colonies that rebelled had slavery, and so many of them were former slave owners themselves.

They were not used to seeing blacks as equals, and they refused to treat them as equals. And David George had an additional liability, and that was by this time, as I mentioned, he had become a Baptist preacher. And the Baptists as evangelicals were really on the outs with the rest of English speaking people, and that is people in the British Empire, because the official Church of England, which today in America we call the Episcopal Church, they still call it the Anglican Church in England, you know, they had an official government church, as did most of the English colonies in America. The church was the state, and the state was the church, and they really oppressed evangelicals, including Baptists.

And so, for instance, a crowd of veteran retired British soldiers pulled down David George's house to punish him for all the preaching that he did. He once baptized a couple named William and Deborah Holmes, a white couple, and another reminder that there was tremendous cooperation between blacks and whites, and the evangelical churches were really one of the real locations of that. That is, people took seriously the passage in the Bible about in Christ there is no East nor West, that we're all one, and so there was a tremendous amount of interracial cooperation. So he had this white couple that wanted to be baptized, and, you know, they went down to the river, and as he wrote, their relations, that is, their relatives who lived in the town were very angry. They raised a mob and endeavored to hinder them being baptized.

Mrs. Holmes's sister, especially, laid a hold of her hair to keep her from going down into the water to be baptized. The persecution, as he said, only increased, and in fact, some African Americans, I'm sad to say, joined in the persecution, again, because it was a religious battle rather than an ethnic or racial battle. Because of all that persecution, they really grasped an opportunity the British left them. The British had just established a new colony on the west coast of Africa called Sierra Leone. The capital was called Freetown, which is a pretty good omen, and so 1200 of these African Americans who had first taken refuge in Nova Scotia after the war, they now were offered this new opportunity in 1791 of becoming refugees again and going to Sierra Leone in Africa, and David George caught at that opportunity. The first day they landed, he preached. Obviously, they had no building already, so he preached under a sail, continued to until they got the church built. But they did make a go of it in this settlement called Sierra Leone.

Their descendants are still there today, but those first few decades were really rough. One of the ways that the British approached it was to build a building that had been built for the first few decades were really rough. One of the ways that the British oppressed these African colonists, African American colonists, I should call them, one of the things the British did to them was levy really heavy taxes, and some of them actually rebelled against these taxes, and one of the leaders of that rebellion was a man named Harry Washington, who had been owned by George Washington and had escaped from George Washington and joined in the same exodus. And what did Harry Washington do there?

He did just what his owner, George Washington, had done, which was he took a lead in a rebellion against taxation without representation. One last thing to say about David George is that as a leading Baptist minister, he was very interested to go meet the Baptist in England, and they agreed to finance his trip. And so that's why we have an account of his amazing journey is that while there, they asked him to write up his pilgrimage, as he called it, for one of their magazines.

And so we don't know much about his life after that, but we do have this account that he wrote up. And I'll be honest with you, I'm not a super religious person myself, but I'm so grateful for these guys' faith because, and again, different faiths have different attitudes about this, but many faiths are really into having people write down their religious pilgrimage. And it's been a real boon for historians. David George was the guy who founded the first, who founded the Black Church in America, would be another way of looking at it. And a terrific job on the production and storytelling by Faith Buchanan and Monty Montgomery.

And a special thanks to Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina. And my goodness, without God, the story is not possible. Of course, the founder of the first Black Church in America. A man of my own color told me if I lived so, and he was not living well, I would never get to see the face of God or his glory. I must be saved by prayer. Thus started the spiritual journey of David George, and thus started this remarkable transformation.

His life's journey, his story, David George's story, the founder of the first Black Church in America, here on Our American Stories. Now, with NFL Plus, stream the entire NFL postseason and catch Super Bowl 58 live on phone and tablet. That is unbelievable. Plus, stay connected throughout the offseason with special content of the NFL scouting combine, NFL draft, and more, all in one place.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-15 04:29:16 / 2024-01-15 04:36:48 / 8

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