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Dr. Joesph Early speaks on first Black Baptists in America

Dr. Joseph Early, professor of theology at Campbellsville University, said in 1780, African Americans made up only 10% of Baptists in American. By 1790, that number grew drastically to 97%. (Campbellsville University Photo by Gerard Flanagan)

By Simon Baker, student news writer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky– Dr. Joseph Early, professor of theology at Campbellsville University, spoke on the historical fight African Americans made to be able to worship how they desired despite racism and discrimination in the United States, during a presentation titled, “The First Black Baptists in America: 18th Century Beginnings” recently in the BASC Atrium on campus.

The presentation was made as part of Black History Month.

Early described how the first African Americans in the United States had no interest in Christianity, but over time, Baptist evangelicals began to witness to slaves in the South.

He shared there is little information about the earliest known Black Baptists in America. A Black Baptist named Jack was described as “a colored man and a slave,” and was listed in the membership rolls of First Baptist Church of Newport Island in 1652. Peggy Arnold is the first free Black Baptist on record.

Early said before 1745, “only six Black Baptists appear on record books of all Baptist churches in America.”

In 1780, African Americans only made up around 10% of Baptists in America, but by 1790, that number drastically grew to 97%.

Early described how over time, African Americans were granted the right to own a Bible and to worship. However, they were placed under many limitations.

Slaves could not preach from certain passages such as Galatians 3:28, where Scripture states, “There is neither … slave nor free.” However, they were required to mention Colossians 3:22: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

 Also, an overseer had to be present, and the services could not conflict with their work.

“After the Nat-Turner rebellion of 1831, white Evangelists would come down and preach and check the slaves’ Bibles, to make sure they were using the ‘slave version’ of the Bible.”

The “Slave Bible” removed over 90% of the New Testament and 50% of the Old Testament. It excluded all references, parables, sayings, and stories that could empower the slaves, such as the story of Moses, where he proclaimed, “Let my people go.”

Silver Creek is also one of the first Black Baptist churches in America. It’s now known as Silver Bluff.

There is debate if Silver Bluff Baptist Church, in Aiken, South Carolina, founded in 1773, was the first all-African-American church.

Silver Creek was founded by “Brother Palmer,” an itinerant minister who preached in Aiken. One of the eight slaves that became Christian and was baptized by Palmer was David George.

George eventually fled to Savannah, Georgia, and formed the African Baptist Church of Savannah and later founded Baptist congregations in Nova Scotia and Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Early shared that Andrew Bryan, a former slave, organized and became pastor of the African Baptist Church of Savannah in 1788 and led them to erect their first building in California, likely the first building built to form a Black church in America.

By 1800 the African Baptist Church of Savannah, Ga., had over 800 members. Such significant crowds frightened the white people, Early said.

As a result of the large crowds, Bryan and his brother were beaten, imprisoned, and forbidden to preach by their masters.

African Americans were often “sold, their families were broken up, and their churches were often destroyed as well,” Early said.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students. The university offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, masters, bachelors, associate and certification programs. The website for complete information is