George Leile was born a slave in Virginia around 1750. He was led to Christ in 1774 in the church where his master, Mr. Sharpe, was a deacon. In 1778, Liele went to Savannah, Georgia, where he became the First African Baptist Church’s founding pastor–the 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 fled 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 blacks and whites, grew to over 350 members. One year later, Kingston’s First African Baptist Church grew to over 500 baptized converts. Three other congregations grew out of this body and 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 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. (some historical writings say he died in 1820)
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 the 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.