Located near the South Carolina–Georgia state line, Silver Bluff Baptist Church is one of the oldest independent African American Christian congregations in the United States.
(Beech Island). Located near the South Carolina–Georgia state line, Silver Bluff Baptist Church is one of the oldest independent African American Christian congregations in the United States. Traditional accounts have dated the organization of Silver Bluff Church to around 1775, though some type of religious association among area slaves may have developed as early as the 1750s. Silver Bluff, as was the case with other black congregations, began in a context of the Revolutionary-era emphasis on the “rights of man” and evangelical revivalist preaching. Revivalist preaching during the era seemed most successful in attracting people, black and nonblack, to Christianity. Also, many evangelicals held antislavery sentiments, or at least were sympathetic to interracial ideals.
The Indian trader and planter George Galphin was a crucial element in the origins and growth of Silver Bluff because he permitted black and white preachers to minister on his plantation. George Liele, a Virginia native living in Georgia, was converted around 1773 and later manumitted so that he might preach to plantation blacks in the vicinity, including those at the Galphin plantation. A white New England minister, Wait Palmer, also preached in Silver Bluff around the same time and organized a church, eventually placing David George, a Virginia native and runaway slave, in charge. Church members were temporarily scattered during the Revolutionary War. Reunited, Liele and George ministered in the area. Liele eventually journeyed to Jamaica, where he established the first Baptist church on the island. He also converted Andrew Bryan, who established what is regarded as the oldest continuous black congregation in Savannah. George ultimately settled in Sierra Leone, where he established the first Baptist church on the African continent. Jesse Galphin (sometimes called Jesse Peters) reorganized the Silver Bluff church and then later moved with most of its members to Augusta, where they founded what would become Springfield Baptist Church. A smaller party remained in the Silver Bluff area. The current church building dates to 1873 and houses the Silver Bluff Missionary Baptist Church. In 2001 the congregation received a $250,000 grant to restore the site.
Billingsley, Andrew. Mighty Like a River: The Black Church and Social Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Brooks, Walter Henderson. “The Priority of the Silver Bluff Church and Its Promoters.” Journal of Negro History 7 (April 1922): 172–96.
–––. The Silver Bluff Church: A History of Negro Baptist Churches in America. Washington, D.C.: R. L. Pendleton, 1910.
Gordon, Grant. From Slavery to Freedom: The Life of David George, Pioneer Black Baptist Minister. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot, 1992.
Sernett, Milton C., ed. African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness. 2d ed. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.