In order to study the amazing life of Jesse Peter we must begin with Wait Palmer, pastor of First Baptist Church North, Stonington, CT. Palmer was renowned for his regular and extended preaching tours into Virginia and North Carolina, but in 1773 he expanded his itinerary to include South Carolina. His travels took him to George Galphin's Silver Bluff Plantation which was located on the Savannah River about 12 miles from Augusta, Georgia. Palmer sought and obtained Galphin's permission to preach to his approximately 125 slaves. His preaching produced almost instant results. He baptized about eight converts including Jesse Peter.
Before Palmer departed, he organized the converts into a Baptist church with David George as pastor. The church under George's leadership grew from eight to 30 members. Both David George and Jesse Peter had committed their lives to preach the gospel. Both men preached to the Silver Bluff slaves and the slaves on other plantations up and down the Savannah River. The year 1773 was a memorable one in the lives of the Silver Bluff slaves. The British invaded and occupied Savannah and Augusta, Georgia. The British offered freedom and protection to any slave who would abandon their slave owners. David George and Jesse Peter and about 90 Silver Bluff slaves fled to Savannah in response to the British offer. Savannah was overflowing with runaway slaves and white loyalists.
Interestingly, there was in Savannah at this time four of the greatest black Baptist preachers in America - the renowned George Lilie, Andrew Bryan, David George, and Jesse Peter - these men helped shape black Baptist history. Jesse Peter was extremely active during this time, preaching in Savannah and the surrounding plantations.
In July 1782, the American forces retook Savannah. George Lilie, fearing he would be re-enslaved, fled with the British to Jamaica. David George and about 60 slaves sailed to British Nova Scotia; however, Jesse Peter and a number of Silver Bluff slaves chose to remain. Unfortunately, Jesse Peter did not explain his reason for this decision. It is highly probable that with the departure of David George, he felt a responsibility to minister to the scattered Silver Bluff congregation. Whatever his reason, one thing is certain - he was convinced that remaining was God's will.
In about 1783, George Lilie, writing from Jamaica to John Rippon of London, states that Jesse Peter had 60 members at Silver Bluff, "and a great work is going on there." Abraham Marshall, one of the most successful and highly esteemed pastors and evangelists in Georgia, described Jesse Peter saying, "His countenance is grave, his voice charming, his delivery good, nor is he a novice in the mysteries of the Kingdom." In 1793, Jesse Peter moved the Silver Bluff Church to Augusta, Georgia, and the name was changed to Springfield Baptist Church. The church under Jesse Peter's leadership experienced phenomenal growth. The records reveal that ten years after relocating in 1803, Springfield Baptist Church had 505 members.
The only insight we have into the thinking of Jesse Peter is gleaned from a letter he wrote in about 1798 to Baptist historian Isaac Backus. He expressed sorrow that his situation prohibited him from traveling and meeting his fellow ministers. In describing his situation, he states, "... though our burdens and responsibilities are great and our labors during the week are so burdensome that on Sunday we can hardly get to our appointment. But, thank the good Lord, though our troubles and sorrows be great, when we are weak, He is strong."
When you are discouraged with your situation, remember Jesse Peter, the slave who rejected freedom and chose slavery that he might serve the Lord in the place he believed God had called him. Jesse Peter exchanged his earthly burdens for heaven's freedom and glories in about 1806.
[From the Baptist Bible Tribune, November 2012, p. 18. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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