Andrew Bryan, a pioneer Baptist leader, helped found First African Baptist Church in Savannah, one of the oldest Black congregations in the nation.

Bryan was born enslaved in Goose Creek, South Carolina, in 1737 but later was transported to the Savannah area. During the 1770s Bryan converted under the preaching of George Liele, an African American Baptist in Savannah and former member of a South Carolina congregation. After Liele’s departure to Jamaica, Bryan assumed leadership of the nascent Savannah fellowship. Bryan’s brother Sampson also converted, and both men suffered severe beatings and imprisonments for their preaching. Jonathan Bryan, their enslaver, intervened with the authorities, thereby securing the Baptist movement some religious freedom, and provided a rice barn for meetings.

Andrew Bryan
Andrew Bryan
Reprinted by permission of the University Library, University of North Carolina

In January 1788 a white minister, Abraham Marshall, who arrived in Savannah with a Black colleague, Jesse Peters, officially recognized the Baptist group, baptized more than forty members, and ordained Bryan. Although believers still encountered opposition, news that Bryan had prayed for the person who had severely beaten him touched some whites and secured many Black converts. Bryan later purchased his own and his family members’ freedom, bought property for church construction in 1794, and began a hauling enterprise that made him a relatively wealthy small slaveholder.

First African Baptist Church
First African Baptist Church
Photograph by Carl Elmore. Courtesy of Savannah Morning News

First African Baptist Church grew steadily with 575 members in 1788, 850 in 1802, and 2,795 in 1831. Two satellite churches also emerged after 1800. Upon Bryan’s death on October 12, 1812, he was well known in both white and Black Baptist circles in the United States and in England.

Share Snippet Copy Copy with Citation

Updated Recently

Sea Island

Sea Island

9 hours ago
Alice Walker

Alice Walker

1 week ago
Christian Science

Christian Science

1 week ago

Explore Georgia’s rich music history

From blues and soul to classical and country—our Spotify playlists feature 130+ songs written and performed by Georgians.

Image

Andrew Bryan

Andrew Bryan

Andrew Bryan, born enslaved in 1737, was a founder and leader of First African Baptist Church in Savannah along with his brother Sampson. The congregation grew and established two satellite churches after 1800, despite opposition and threats of violence from the white community. This sketch of Bryan appeared in Savannah's Morning News Print in 1888.

Reprinted by permission of the University Library, University of North Carolina

First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church

First African Baptist Church, which was established during the 1770s, played an important part in the Savannah civil rights movement. The stained-glass windows in the current church building, located at 23 Montgomery Street in Savannah, feature prominent Black leaders.

Photograph by Carl Elmore. Courtesy of Savannah Morning News