A Timeline of Black Christianity Before the Civil War

The first black pastor to lead a white congregation, the start of the AME, and slavery splits American denominations.

1619 Twenty slaves of African descent are sold in Jamestown, Virginia—the first Africans sold on American shores.

1701 The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) begins missionary work among Native Americans and, later, African slaves. Overall, this Anglican organization is not a success among either group.

1730 John Wesley comes to Georgia with the SPG as a missionary to the Native Americans and African slaves. When his missionary efforts prove ineffective, he returns to England.

1739-41 George Whitefield’s preaching tour of the colonies inaugurates the Great Awakening.

1758 The first recorded black congregation organizes on the plantation of William Byrd, near Mecklenburg, Virginia.

1773 Black Baptists found a church on the plantation of George Galphin, at Silver Bluff, South Carolina.

1773 Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral is published in London.

1775 War breaks out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies.

1776 Black Baptist churches organize in the Virginia cities of Williamsburg and Petersburg.

1776 The Declaration of Independence acknowledges “certain inalienable rights … life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

1780 The Methodist denomination requires all its itinerate preachers to set their slaves free.

1783 Jarena Lee (1783-185?) is born free in Cape May, New Jersey. Known for her powerful preaching and missionary work, she traveled great lengths to do so. In 1827, for instance, she traveled 2,325 miles and delivered 178 sermons.

1782 George Liele leaves for Jamaica

1783 The Revolutionary War ends September 3.

1784 The first General Conference (the Christmas Conference) of the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church forbids its members to own slaves.

1787 Absalom Jones and Richard Allen lead a small group of Africans out of Philadelphia’s St. George Church after being forced to give their seats to white congregants. (Some scholars argue this occurred in 1792).

1787 Philadelphia blacks, including Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, organize the Free African Society as a burial society and support organization for widows and orphans.

1788 Andrew Bryan, born a slave in 1737, organizes the first African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. By 1800 the church had 700 members. Bryan’s mentor was another slave preacher, George Liele, who had escaped slavery during the Revolutionary War, settled in Jamaica, and organized the first black Baptist church in the Caribbean Islands.