Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pioneer Black Baptist Missionaries: George Lisle and Lott Cary


George Lisle (sometimes spelled Leile), an African-American, was the first known Baptist foreign missionary from America, and perhaps, the first Baptist minister to carry the Gospel to any foreign country. He preceded the famous Baptist missionary William Carey by 15 years or more.

Lisle was born a slave, about 1750 in Virginia.. He was set free by his owner, a Baptist deacon named Henry Sharpe, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel. Lisle was baptized on May 20, 1775. He became the first black ordained Baptist minister in America. He established a Baptist church in Savannah, Georgia as early as 1777, which merged with another Baptist group originally from Silver Bluff, South Carolina, pastored by David George, and founded by an itinerant preacher Brother Palmer. The merged church became the African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia.

When Deacon Sharp died, Lisle went to Jamaica, at least in part to escape re-enslavement by Sharpe's heirs. He served as an indentured servant to repay money he borrowed for the journey to Jamaica.

During eight years of preaching he baptized 500 Jamaicans and established a strong Baptist church there. He also sent urgent appeals to the British Baptists to send missionaries to Jamaica.

The emancipation of the slaves in Jamaica on July 31, 1833, was another result of this missionary work, and can be directly correlated to another, later Baptist missionary in Jamaica, William Knibb.


Born into slavery near Richmond, Virginia in 1780, Lott Cary (some books use the spelling Carey) turned to Christ in 1807. He became a member of the First Baptist Church of Richmond.

From the balcony of the church his heart was set afire to preach to his own people. He learned to read the Bible and was licensed to preach. With money he had saved as a craftsman he, in 1813, bought freedom for himself and his family.

In 1815 he helped found the Richmond African Missionary Society. It was a time of "growing interest in world missions." It contributed to missions through the American Baptist Union. Lott Cary, and Colin Teague, an assistant minister at First African Baptist Church in Richmond and a fellow craftsman who purchased his freedom from slavery, were both primary leaders of the society. The first president, however, was a white man, William Crane, Lott Cary's mentor. This society was an auxiliary of the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination of the United States of America for Foreign Missions, organized in 1814, and was to become known as the Triennial Convention.

When the American Colonization Society was organized in 1816, Baptists raised funds to send freed blacks as missionaries to Liberia, in conjunction with the African Baptist Missionary Society and the Triennial Convention. Lott Cary, with Colin Teague, also a Baptist, sailed January 16, 1821 to Liberia from Norfolk, Virginia on the ship Nautilus, a full generation after Lisle went to Jamaica. Cary established the first Baptist church in Liberia, the Providence Baptist Church of Monrovia, the capitol city. He set up schools for children in and around Monrovia. He established the Monrovia Baptist Missionary Society, serving as its first president. The society's goal was primarily to evangelize the local indiginous tribes, which it did successfully.

Cary was a godly leader, and a great missionary and statesman. He was a founder of the nation of Liberia, based, as its name implies, on principles of freedom. He also had the distinction of being the first Baptist missionary to Africa from the U.S. He died in an accident in 1828, seven years after sailing for Africa.

The Lott Cary Baptist Foreign Mission Convention was organized in 1897 at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. in honor of Lott Cary. It was an independent outgrowth of the National Baptist Convention organized three years earlier in 1894. In this mission organization, named for Lott Cary, the "learned and unlearned walk hand in hand" in "love and service" as they promote God's mission in the world.


Adams, C. C. and A. Marshman Halley, Negro Baptists and Foreign Missions, Philadelphia, 1944.

Cole, Edward B., The Baptist Heritage, Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1976, 205 pp. forward, preface, appendix containing " Chronological Review of Important Dates for Baptists."

Fitts, L., Lott Carey, First Black Missionary to Africa.

Jacobs, S. M., editor, Black Americans and the Missionary Movement in Africa.

McBeth, H. Leon, The Baptist Heritage, Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1987, 850pp., preface, bibliography, index. See especially pp. 777-782.

Moreau, A. Scott, editor, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2000. Article on "Lott Carey" by Richard D. Callenberg.

Puritan Pulpit, Summer 1989 (Volume 1, Number 2) and Fall 1989 (Volume 1, Number 3), Ron E. Davis, editor. Articles : "George Lisle and Lott Cary" and "George Lisle, Pioneer Black Baptist Missionary to Jamaica: His Own Account."

Shick, T. W., Behold the Promised Land: A History of the African-American Settlers in Nineteenth Century Liberia.

Torbet, Robert G., A History of the Baptists, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 3rd edition, 1975, 1978 (earlier editions staring in 1950) See pp 353-355.

Wood, James E., editor, Baptists and the American Experience, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1976.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I will share this information at my church. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is just what I needed to know.

Thanks for you research.