First African Baptist Church located in the historic district of Savannah, Georgia, is recognized as the oldest African-American Baptist church in the nation. Although the official gathering place was not established until 1788, the original congregation had been meeting since 1773 by former slave George Leile, who was ordained in 1775.
Leile baptized two other local enslaved men, David George, and Andrew Bryan, to assist him with forming a congregation named the Silver Bluff Baptist church in Aiken County. Slaves were converted over the next few years. After the Revolutionary War began, Leile and George escaped to freedom in Canada, but Bryan stayed with the congregation.
Originally named the First Colored Baptist Church, the First African Baptist Church was recognized officially by the Rev. Abraham Marshall on January 20, 1788. Andrew Bryan was appointed preacher and sixty-seven people joined the church. By 1794, the congregation was able to erect its first structure, which was named First African Baptist Church.
The church served as the largest meeting place in Savannah for blacks and whites during the era of segregation. The original church steeple of the church extended 100 feet, but was destroyed during a hurricane in 1892. The church ceiling is the design of the “Nine Patch Quilt,” which is a reminder that the church was once a safe house for fugitive slaves. Beneath the lower auditorium floor is another sub-floor, evidence that the church was used as an Underground Railroad station. The holes in the floor are in the shape of an African prayer symbol, known as a “Congolese Cosmogram.” The church today still contains many of the historical elements.