The First African Baptist Church has a long and storied history in Savannah Georgia. It is thought to be the oldest African-American Congregation in the United States. The congregation was formed in 1733 by Reverend George Leile. The building which houses the Church was finished in 1859, almost 100 years after the land was obtained for the church. The man who oversaw the completion of the Church was Reverend William J. Campbell.
The First African Baptist Church holds tours on weekdays. While the hours are listed to the right we advise that you call the Church ahead of time to make sure that the tours and their starting times have not changed. If you are going to only tour one building while in Savannah, the First African Baptist Church is an excellent selection. The historical features inside of the Church are unbelievable at times. From the original 1832 Pipe Organ to the carvings on the ends of the Pews which were made by slaves, the Church has no short of hidden secrets to keep you wanting to explore.
The Underground Railroad and the First African Baptist Church
The First African Baptist Church was used as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For the safety of those who offered refuge, no records were kept of how many slaves used the Church on their way to the North. A unique feature in the Church which relates to the Underground Railroad are the holes in the floor in certain areas of the Church. These holes are arranged in a pattern known as a Congolese Cosmogram. This pattern represented life so it fits with the church. The real reason for these holes was breathing holes for slaves who were hidden beneath the floorboards.
A different design aspect of the Church also signifies it as a stop along the Underground Railroad. The ceiling of the Church is designed with what is called a Nine Patch Quilt. This design showed that this was a place of resting and safety for the slaves who used the Church. Of course, it was a hidden signal that only certain people knew about. Most people would have thought the Nine Patch Quilt simply a beautiful design.
To gain entry into the Underground Railroad area of the Church slaves would have entered through a tunnel. The location of where this tunnel remains a mystery to this day. Some people believe the tunnel went all the way to the River while others speculate that it may have been connected to one of the neighboring structures.
In the front of the First African Baptist Church is a bell tower going up two or three stories. What you see below is the bell that is in that bell tower. If you want to see the view of the interior of the church just follow this link: First African Baptist Church in Savannah.
When we were photographing inside of the First African Baptist Church I simply followed simple hand-made ladders up a few stories until I arrived at the top floor. You could tell that it has been some time since someone else was at the top of the bell tower. The dust was thick and evey where.
If you notice the ceiling, it is designed as a 9 patch pattern. This was done on purpose to resemble a quilt. During the days of slavery the Underground Railroad was used by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of slaves as they made their way north to freedom. The Quilt was a sign of safety and designated this place as a safe house along the Underground Railroad.
The Church Today
In present times the First African Baptist Church is still a place of worship. This is the main reason why tours of the Church are not given on the weekend. The First African Baptists Church is a leader in the community, helping out all who need it. The programs enacted by, and offered through the Church have surely changed the lives of many people living in Savannah Georgia.
Visiting the First African Baptist Church
The First African Baptist Church offers tours of their historic building. You can contact them at (912) 233-6597 for more information. They offer these guided tours on every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. Of course things could change so give them a call. We can highly recommend a tour of this great historic place in Savannah.
Getting to the First African Baptist Church
The First African Baptist Church is located on Franklin Square, directly west of the City Market area. You can park on the street on in the parking garage located underneath of Ellis Square for easy access to the First African Baptists Church.