I was scanning through a book, Readings in Baptist History by Joseph Early Jr., and came across a man by the name of George Lisle. He peaked my interest and since I had never heard of him that brought on a little research. Here is some Baptist Heritage history.

George Lisle was the first black Baptist in Georgia, and the first black Baptist churches in America resulted from his evangelism.

George Lisle (or Leile or sometime George Sharp) was born in Virginia around 1752 but lived much of his life as a slave in Georgia. He was lead to the Lord and baptized by Matthew Moore, an ordained Baptist minister. (Matthew Moore led in the founding of the Old Buckhead (Baptist) Church in Jenkins County, Georgia, before the Revolutionary War.) When Lisle felt the call to preach he was encouraged by his master, Henry Sharp, a Baptist deacon and Loyalist. Lisle was licensed to preach around 1773 and for two years he preached to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River, in Georgia and South Carolina.  

Sharp freed Lisle sometime before the Revolutionary War began. After Sharp's death in battle in 1778, Lisle made his way to British occupied Savannah where Sharp's heirs would have re-enslaved him had it not been for the intervention of a British officer. Over the next few years he built a congregation of black Baptists, slave and free. This group became the first black Baptist Church in Georgia (and possibly in America) and predated the establishment of a white Baptist church in Savannah by five years. One of Lisle's converts, Andrew Bryan, continued the work in Savannah after Lisle and his family sailed with the British to Jamaica in 1784. 

At the close of the Revolutionary War, Lisle went to Jamaica as the indentured servant of an English officer, Col. Kirkland. Lisle arrived in Jamaica with his wife and four children, three boys ages 12, 10, 7 and a girl 4. 

Upon arriving in Jamaica he preached at the race tracks and on the street, but later hired a room at his own expense and organized a little Baptist church consisting of four people. In about seven years he had baptized 500 converts and by 1791 the church purchased three acres of land at the east end of Kingston for $775. A building was built by 1793, the first dissenting church (that is, not of the established Anglican church) in Jamaica, which subjected him and his followers to insult and persecution. Lisle was thrown into prison for preaching "sedition," loaded with irons and his feet fastened in stocks, not even his wife or children were permitted to see him. He was imprisoned more than once and at one time was tried for his life, but acquitted. One of his contemporaries, whose name is not known, was hung for preaching and baptizing. In spite of a rigidly enforced law in Jamaica from 1805 to 1814 that forbad preaching to slaves, souls continued to be saved and churches established.

Like the Apostle Paul, Lisle supported himself, as he preached the Gospel, by labor with his own hands. In his own words he wrote in 1791, "My occupation is a farmer, but as the seasons of this part of the country are uncertain, I keep a team of horses and wagons for the carrying of goods from one place to another, which I attend myself, with the assistance of my sons, and by this way of life have gained the good will of the public, who recommended me to the business and to some very principal work for the government."

Lisle appealed to the Baptist churches in England to send missionaries to Jamaica and in 1814 Baptists in England did send missionaries who found the people ready to greet them and cooperate in their work. That the work of these missionaries was successful is evidenced by the fact that it not only became self-sustaining, but in 1842 forty-five missionaries left for Africa to take the gospel back to their brethren. Someone said of them, "Perhaps you will be made slaves by the heathen if you go." Their prompt reply was, "We have been made slaves for men; we can be made slaves for Christ."

A Jamaican Baptist by the name of Keith sold what he possessed, bought a few clothes, and leaving his wife for two years, "worked his way to Africa and preached the gospel on the very spot where he had been stolen."

By 1887 the number of Jamaica churches had grown, from the first church organized by Lisle, to 142 with a membership of 31,000. 

George Lisle has been rightly called "The Black Apostle."


by Raymond McAlister
  July 2008