George Leile was born a slave in Virginia around 1750. He was led to Christ in 1774 in the church where his master was a deacon. His master, Mr. Sharpe, subsequently freed Leile. Mr. Sharpe died during the Revolutionary War and his children attempted to re-enslave Leile and eventually had him jailed. Liele was able to recapture his freedom by producing “free papers”. In 1778, Liele went to Savannah Georgia where he became the founding pastor of the First African Baptist Church – the very first permanent church building in America “built by blacks, for blacks.”.
In 1782 George Leile left with his wife and four children for Jamaica mainly to avoid being enslaved again – he left as an indentured servant, but began preaching the gospel as soon as he reached Jamaica. After two years – he had paid off his indenture and dedicated his life full time to the gospel. His venue; a race track in Kingston. He was soon able to gather a congregation, purchase a piece of land and build a church. By 1791 the new church, comprised of mostly blacks and a few whites grew to over 350 members. One year later the First African Baptist Church of Kingston grew to over 500 baptized converts. Three other congregations grew out of this body as well as a school for black children – both slave and free. As his influence and church grew, so did the persecution. In 1805 Jamaica enacted a law forbidding preaching to slaves. Because of the influence of George Liele, the Englishmen William Knibb and Thomas Burchell returned to England to campaign to end slavery in Jamaica. Liele would not live to see the resolution because he died in 1828 – 10 years before slavery was eradicated in Jamaica.
One of the remarkable aspects of Leile’s ministry is that he did not wait for the Emancipation Proclamation before taking the gospel to the world. George Leile is believed to be the very first black American foreign missionary, the first black person in the US to be ordained a Baptist pastor, likely the first black Baptist pastor in the world and he is also believed to be the first American foreign missionary to contextualize the gospel.