Rev. George Leile--His Work in Savannah and Departure to Jamaica.
Rev. George Leile was born in Virginia about 1750; removed to Georgia and settled in Burke county some time before 1773. About 1773, after six months distress of mind and inquiring the way of life (or what we call "seeking the Lord"), he was happily converted, and was baptized by Rev. Mathew Moore (white). He was soon licensed to preach the Gospel, which he did with fine effect. His ordination followed very soon. From plantation to plantation he went bearing the olive branch of peace. Benedict says he preached at Brampton and Yamacraw, in the neighborhood of Savannah, for three years. He was owned by a Mr. Henry Sharp, who was very kind to him and gave him his freedom. One of the heirs undertook to rob him of his freedom after the death of his kind master, but God spared it to him. About 1781 he baptized Rev. Andrew Bryan, his wife, and two others. About this time the British armies were leaving our shore and Rev. George Leile decided to seek a home in the West Indies. He was led by the loving hand of a smiling Providence, though he knew it not. He had not the money with which to pay his passage, yet he was to plant the Gospel in Jamaica. God put it in the heart of Col. Kirkland to lend him the money. Led by the Spirit he sailed for Jamaica about the close of 1781 or the first of 1782. He put to work to pay back the money he had borrowed from Col. Kirkland just as soon as he reached Jamaica. In two years he had paid back the last cent. He was a farmer by trade. He had a wife and four children. He was busy preaching the gospel of Christ while he was making money to pay his debt.
In 1784 he had organized a church on the island and had gathered around him many anxious hearers. He is not content to organize a church, but he set to work to build a decent house for God. The Lord blessed his effort and some good Baptists in England were interested in his behalf, and by their contributions he erected a nice house of worship in that place. He organized the first Baptist Church in Kingston, Jamaica, and baptized the persons with whom the first Baptist Church of color was organized in Georgia. He is an important man, both in our history in Georgia and in the history of the Baptists in Jamaica. He was an able man of his day, if we may judge from his letters to Dr. Rippon, of London. In 1791 he wrote that he had baptized about 500 persons. He was very industrious, working with his own hands for the support of himself and family, either farming or driving a wagon hauling goods from one place to the other. He was a man of great practical judgment. He was neat in his dress and humble in his manners. He won the highest respect and admiration of the people of the island, white and black. The slaves loved him and their owners honored him. He was the friend of both. He handled skillfully the sword of truth and drew crowds after him wherever he preached the gospel. When he had established a church in the towns he made for the interior to unfurl the gospel banner to those who were sitting in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death. He never forgot his brethren in Georgia--frequent letters passed between them. He was anxious to know how the brethren here fared with whom he had labored, and some of whom he had led to Jesus and baptized. We subjoin a copy of a letter from Rev. Leile to Dr. Rippon which will show somewhat of the character of the man. It was written in 1791:
"I cannot tell what is my age, as I have no account of the time of my birth; but I suppose I am about 40 years old. I have a wife and four children. My wife was baptized by me in Savannah, and I have every satisfaction in life from her. She is much the same age as myself. My eldest son is 19 years, my next son 17, the third fourteen, and the last child a girl of 11 years. They are all members of the church. My occupation is a farmer, but as the seasons in this part of the country are uncertain, I also keep a team of horses and wagons for the carrying of goods from one place to another, which I attend myself, with the assistance of my sons, and by this way of life have gained the good will of the public, who recommend me to business and to some very principal work for Government. I have a few books, some good old authors and sermons, and one large Bible that was given me by a gentleman. A good many of our members can read and are all desirous to learn. They will be very thankful for a few books to read on Sundays and other days. I agree to election, redemption, the fall of Adam, regeneration and perseverance, knowing the promise is to all who endure, in grace, faith and good works to the end, shall be saved.
"There is no Baptist church in this country but ours. We have purchased a piece of land at the east end of Kingston, containing three acres, for the sum of ?155, currency, and on it have begun a meeting-house, 57 feet in length by 37 in breadth. We have raised the brick wall eight feet high from the foundation, and intend to have a gallery. Several gentlemen, members of the House of Assembly, and other gentlemen, have subscribed towards the building about ?40. The chief part of our congregation are slaves, and their owners allow them, in common, but three or four bits per week for allowance to feed themselves, and out of so small a sum we cannot expect anything that can be of service from them; if we did, it would soon bring a scandal upon religion; and the free people in our society are but poor, but they are all willing, both free and slaves, to do what they can. As for my part, I am too much entangled with the affairs of the world to go on, as I would, with my design in supporting the cause. This has, I acknowledge, been a great hindrance to the gospel in one way; but as I have endeavored to set a good example of industry before the inhabitants of the land, it has given general satisfaction another way. And, Rev. Sir, we think the Lord has put it in the power of the Baptist Societies in England to help and assist us in completing this building, which we look upon will be the greatest undertaking ever was in this country for the bringing of souls from darkness into the light of the gospel. And as the Lord has put it in your heart to inquire after us, we place all our confidence in you to make our circumstances known to the several Baptist churches in England, and we look upon you as our father, friend and brother. Within the brick wall we have a shelter in which we worship until our building can be accomplished.
"Your letter was read to the church two or three times, and did create a great deal of love and warmness throughout the whole congregation, who shouted for joy and comfort to think that the Lord had been so gracious as to satisfy us in this country with the very same religion with our beloved brethren in the old country, according to the Scriptures; and that such a worthy ...... of London, should write in so loving a manner to such poor worms as we are. And I beg leave to say, that the whole congregation sang out that they would, through the assistance of God, remember you in their prayers. They all together give their Christian love to you and all the worthy professors of Jesus Christ in your church at London, and beg the prayers of the churches in general and of your congregation wherever it pleases you to make known our circumstances. I remain, with the utmost love, Rev. Sir, your unworthy fellow laborer, servant and brother in Christ,
"P. S.--We have chosen twelve Trustees, all of whom are members of our church, whose names are specified in the title; the title proved and recorded in the Secretary's office of this island." *From Benedict's History of the Baptists.
This man doubtless has long since finished his labors and has entered the saints' rest. We have no date of his death, nor the latter end of his work. But he will be remembered, and his name honored, both here and in Jamaica while memory holds its place. Whatever the negro Baptists here and in Jamaica are, they owe it to his humble beginning. And whatever may be written of either of us, it cannot be complete if his name is left out. His record is here, there and in heaven. Nothing is known of any of his family--whether any are alive or not.
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