Andrew Bryan was a pioneer Baptist leader who helped founded First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia, one of the oldest black congregations in the nation.
Bryan was born enslaved in Goose Creek, South Carolina, in 1737, but was later transported to the Savannah area. He was converted under the preaching of George Liele, an African-American Baptist in Savannah and former member of a South Carolina congregation.
Liele and hundreds of other black residents left with the British later that year, but Andrew continued to preach to small groups outside of Savannah. With the approval and encouragement of his master, he built a shack for his small flock, which included a few white residents. Although he brought hundreds into his church, 350 members could not be baptized because of their masters’ opposition.
Masters in Georgia usually forbade their slaves from listening to Andrew’s sermons. Slaves who passed by Andrew while he was carrying out one of his sermons were stopped and whipped. Some blacks were even jailed. Bryan was eventually imprisoned, but even after his time behind bars, he continued to preach out of a barn on the Bryan plantation.
In 1794, Bryan raised enough money to erect a church in Savannah, calling it the Bryan Street African Baptist Church — the first black Baptist church in Georgia (and probably the United States), as well as the first Baptist church, black or white, in Savannah. Bryan died in 1812 as a free man with his own house and property.