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Liele, George (c.1750–1828)

  1. Roswith Gerloff

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc0804

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Gerloff, R. 2011. Liele, George (c.1750–1828). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

Abstract

The African American/Jamaican George Liele (or Lisle), called the “Negro prophet of deliverance,” is a key figure in the pre-emancipation period, the Christianization of slaves, and the unfolding of a black theology of liberation and interculturation, both in North America and in the Caribbean. Born a slave in Virginia, but in 1773 set free by his master to exercise his spiritual gifts, he was ordained in 1775 and licensed to preach and sing salvation to the oppressed. He was, besides the Baptists William Byrd, Andrew Bryan, and David George, and the Methodists Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, one of the first African preachers and pioneers of independent Baptist churches in North America. His church in Silver Bluff in South Carolina and the Yamacraw Baptist Church in Georgia were the first in a string of well-organized congregations under black leadership along the Savannah River which, distinct from mission stations, schools, or mere permission to attend camp-meetings, became the social and cultural home of thousands of freed slaves after the Civil War. To avoid reenslavement, he escaped with 400 white families and 5,000 freed blacks and slaves on an army ship to Jamaica, where he founded the first “Ethiopian Baptist Church” at Kingston Race Course in 1784. In a sermon on Romans 10:1, he compared the fate of the slaves with Israel's bondage in Egypt who needed to be set free, and referred to the God of the bible as the God of the African cosmos who would turn suffering into victory — a first synthesis of African traditions and historical experience with the biblical message. In the Covenant of the Anabaptist Church, Begun in America, Dec 1777, and in Jamaica, Dec 1783, he placed the Baptist work formally under the protection of “King, Country and Law” and allowed into membership of the church only those who obtained permission from their masters. Thirty years before the arrival of the British Baptists, he with other American exslaves laid the foundation for overt African expressions of the Christian faith and the “freedom of the African soul.” They called for support from the BMS in London, motivated by lack of finance and the need to counteract mounting persecution and tightened legal restrictions and to channel the mission into more orderly Baptist patterns. From 1814 British Baptists rendered assistance not oversight.

Keywords:

  • Liele, George (c.1750–1828);
  • African American/Jamaican, “negro prophet of deliverance”;
  • christianization of slaves;
  • “freedom of the african soul”;
  • abolition of slavery and independence