David George was born a slave in Sussex County, Virginia, around 1743. He died a world away, a free man, in Sierra Leone, West Africa, not quite seventy years later. Along with David Liele, Andrew Bryan, Jessie Peter, Hannah Williams, and others, George is best known as one of the progenitors of an Afro-Baptist faith developed and articulated across the British Atlantic world by a cadre of black Christians in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For his part, George established and nurtured pioneering Baptist congregations in South Carolina, Georgia, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone. His missionizing and institution building during the Revolutionary period—when Christianity was of little real consequence to most blacks in British America—foreshadowed the later development of the black church and of black evangelicalism as formidable social and cultural forces in African-American life.
George was born to African parents and spent the first nineteen years of his life as a slave on the Chappell plantation in southeastern Virginia. He ran away from the property before his twentieth birthday, and in an odyssey illustrating many of the complexities of colonial American life and society, he spent the next two or three years trekking farther into the Deep South, straining desperately to stay ahead of a thirty-guinea reward that his former master had offered for his capture and return. During this long flight George worked for a succession of white traders on the Pee Dee and Savannah Rivers, was for a time enslaved by a Creek headman in the Georgia interior, subsequently sojourned among the Natchez Indians, and just as the son of his former master finally tracked him down, arranged to have himself purchased by a frontier merchant, Indian trader, and planter named George Gaulphin.
George eventually settled at Gaulphin's Silver Bluff property in the South Carolina upcountry. There he married, began a family, and moved, as he put it, from having "no serious thoughts" about his soul to distressing constantly over where he might spend eternity. Ultimately, George became one of eight blacks on the Gaulphin property to be baptized, a rite performed by a white preacher who occasionally visited the plantation. Sometime between 1773 and 1775 this band was formed into a congregation and the Silver Bluff Baptist Church became, quite likely, the first black church in North America.
During the American Revolution George and other members of the church sought refuge, and their liberty, behind British lines in and around Savannah, Georgia. As the tide of the war turned against the British, George and others joined successive British evacuations and settled eventually with thousands of other Loyalists, black and white, in Nova Scotia in late 1782. During the next seven years George planted and watered Baptist chapels throughout the British Maritime colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. As did other black immigrants to Nova Scotia, however, George suffered mightily from white violence and discrimination, which joined with a harsh physical environment made life in the Maritimes nearly unbearable. When British philanthropists and the British government—responding to agitation from blacks in Nova Scotia—offered to resettle dissatisfied black Nova Scotians to Sierra Leone, George threw his considerable influence behind the scheme. David George joined a Maritime exodus of more than a thousand blacks and arrived in Sierra Leone in 1792. Except for a subsequent trip to London, George lived the rest of his life in West Africa, continuing the pioneering missionary efforts that had defined his life. During the last years of his life, though, George's close associations with British officialdom in Sierra Leone worked to lessen his influence among the larger black emigrant community who over time came to see the kinds of broken promises and equivocations that had defined their Nova Scotia experience make themselves manifest at Sierra Leone as well.
Brooks, Walter H. "The Priority of the Silver Bluff Church and Its Promoters." Journal of Negro History 7, no. 2 (1922): 127–96.
George, David. "An Account of the Life of Mr. David George, from Sierra Leone in Africa; Given by Himself in a Conversation with Brother Rippon of London and Brother Pearce of Birmingham." In Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the 18th Century, edited by Vincent Carretta, pp. 333–350. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
Gordan, Grant. From Slavery to Freedom: The Life of David George: Pioneer Black Baptist Minister. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press Limited, 1992.
Sobel, Mechal. Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979.
Walker, James St. G. The Black Loyalists. New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1976.
Walker, James St. G. "David George." In Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Available from <http://www.biographi.ca/EN/>.
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