"The Worst Kind of Slavery": Slave-Owning Presbyterian Churches in Prince Edward County, Virginia



life of service to his faith and wrote his autobiography. Hill spent part of his ministry at Briery Presbyterian Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia, between 1834 and 1836. In the autobiography, he recounted that his time at Briery was so brief because of "the state of slavery, as connicted with this cong'n. Their minister was supported by a fund which consisted of Slaves, who were hired out from year to year, to the highest bidder, which I considered the worst kind of slavery."' Briery Presbyterian Church had been an institutional owner of slaves since the 1760s. As Hill lamented, the congregation annually hired out its slaves at auction. This variant of slavery was particularly difficult for the Briery slaves because they were hired out every year of their lives, from birth to death, often to different masters; slaves owned by individuals were also hired out but rarely for their entire lifetime. Further, because the Briery slaves were owned by a congregation rather than an individual, they lacked the basic protections that a master's self-interest usually brought. In an era when many southerners—and the Presbyterian Church leadership in particular—vigorously defended slavery with images of benign slaveholders protecting the bondpeople, the slaves of Briery Presbyterian Church had no such paternal, identifiable master. Hill was not the only one to consider slaveholding by congregations "the worst kind of slavery." Many other Presbyterian ministers and church members felt uncomfortable about slave owning by their churches, even while defending slavery itself as an institution
' William Hill, Autobiographical Sketches of Dr. William Hill Together with His Account of the Revival of Religion in Prince Edward County . . . (Richmond, 1968), 98. The author is grateful to James Whittenburg, Carol Sheriff, Dale Hoak, Terry Meyers, and Margaret Bridges for commenting on earlier versions of this article. She is also indebted to the anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Southern History for their excellent suggestions for improving this piece.

Ms. OAST is an assistant professor of history at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Volume LXXVI, No. 4, November 2010



sanctioned by God as part of the natural, hierarchical order of human domestic relations. Slavery was, however, so deeply embedded in Presbyterian culture in the American South by the antebellum period that it was very hard for churches to rid themselves of the pracdce. Slave ownership by congregations was profitable; it paid the minister's salary and provided for other needs of the church. In many cases the slaves were the only endowment the congregation required. This freed members from the necessity of making financial contributions to their church—a substandal benefit. Slaves were a good investment; they often improved on the original outlay through childbearing, so that in a few generations, a humble purchase of a handful of slaves might result in a substantial endowment of forty or fifty slaves. Congregational slave owning made all members of the church beneficiaries of slavery whether or not they owned slaves themselves or even approved of slavery. For these reasons, slave owning by Presbyterian churches in antebellum Virginia created a paradox by simultaneously strengthening and weakening slavery. On the one hand, the practice strengthened the commitment of whites to the slave regime both economically and philosophically. First, it increased the number of individuals who were economic beneficiaries of slavery to include all the members of the congregadon. Second, it bolstered the members' willingness to accept slavery: if God prospered their church's investment in slaves and used slavery to promote the Presbyterian faith, could slavery be wrong? On the other hand, Presbyterian slave owning undermined one of the most significant defenses of slavery—the paternalist ideal of the caring master. Thoughtful church members recognized this contradiction. This study of Presbyterian congregations in Prince Edward County, Virginia, examines how the tensions evident in this paradox played out. After tracing the congregations' policies and somedmes contendous debates from the 1760s to the 1840s, the article details how hiring out affected Briery slaves in the 1840s. They succeeded in maintaining some family des in spite of separadon, high infant mortality, and frequent moves among hirers whose temperament and social class varied widely. Nevertheless, slave owning by churches could truly be called "the worst kind of slavery." Virginia Presbyterianism emerged as an important evangelical rival to Anglicanism—the established church—in the mid-eighteenth century. The Presbyterians of Prince Edward County were among the earliest "New Side" Presbyterians in Virginia, influenced by the Great Awakening and, more direcdy, by the preaching of the Reverend Samuel



Davies, who visited Prince Edward County in the 1750s.^ As there were few Presbyterian ministers in Virginia before the American Revolution, congregations competed with each other for the scarce supply of clergy. One way to attract a minister was to offer a competitive and stable salary, but coming up with the funds often proved difficult. In the decades before the American Revolution, religious dissenters like the Presbyterians were still required to tithe to their Anglican parish. The parish vestry employed these tithes to support the minister of the Church of England, maintain the parish churches, and care for the poor, but nothing was set aside to support dissenting groups. To find a solution to their church's financial constraints, Presbyterians, many of whom were slave owners, looked to their own experience as well as to the example of other early Virginia institutions that held slaves, such as the Anglican Church and free schools.^ In 1766, less than a decade after the congregation had coalesced in the late 1750s, the leaders of Briery Presbyterian Church decided to raise money through a subscription to purchase slaves. They expected that the annual hire of these churchowned slaves and their progeny would pay the minister's salary and fund other needs of the church, such as building maintenance.'' Neighboring Cumberland Presbyterian Church did the same one year later.^ When Briery chose to invest in slaves, the congregation appointed three trustees, each to serve seven years, to raise funds to purchase six slaves. The trustees were directed to buy three women and three men, "these slaves & their increase [to] be in the care of the Trustees to raise money forever hereafter, for the benefit of a regular Presbyterian minister."^ A list dated October 18, 1766, reveals that seventy-two individuals, most of whom were members of the congregation but a few of
^Herbert Clarence Bradshaw, History of Prince Edward County, Virginia: Erom Its Earliest Settlements Through Its Establishment in 1754 to Its Bicentennial Year (Richmond, 1955), 74-76. ' A discussion of slave ownership by the Anglican Church and free schools in Virginia is found in Jennifer Bridges Oast, "Forgotten Masters; Institutional Slavery in Virginia, 1680-1860" (Ph.D. dissertation. College of William and Mary, 2008), chaps. 1, 3. Other works that have looked at the intersection of religious institutions and their slaves include Jon Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763-1840 (Chapel Hill, 1998); and R. Emmett Curran, S.J., '"Splendid Poverty'; Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1805-1838," in Randall M. Miller and Jon L. Wakelyn, eds.. Catholics in the Old South: Essays on Church and Culture (Macon, Ga., 1983), 125-46. "Briery Presbyterian Church (Prince Edward County, Va.) Session Book, Vol. I, 1760-1840, p. 9, Accession 20586 (hereinafter cited as Briery Presbyterian Church Session Book), Briery Presbyterian Church Records, Church Records Collection (Library of Virginia, Richmond). 'Joseph Dupuy Eggleston, "Presbyterian Churches," in Today and Yesterday in the Heart of Virginia: A Reprint of the Edition of the Earmville Herald. March 29, 1935 (Farmville, Va., 1935), 314-^7, esp. 323. ' Briery Presbyterian Church Session Book, 9.



whom were not (but may have been adherents of the faith who had not yet been baptized), promised sums ranging from 10 shillings to £50; altogether, these seventy-two donors contributed £308.' According to the first extant list of the slaves bought using this fund, dated November 8, 1774, the first person the congregation purchased was Nell, a woman in her mid-twenties at the time she was bought for £67.10 on February 16, 1768, together with John, a one-year-old who was almost certainly Nell's son. A few months later, the trustees purchased Tom, a boy who was about eleven years old, for £55.00. The congregation subsequently purchased two more women, Agga and Atha, each judged to be about twenty years old in 1774.* Although the original plan called for the trustees to purchase three men and three women, these five slaves—three adult women, a youth, and a baby— were probably the only slaves the congregation ever purchased. From this small group, however, the Briery congregation reaped the profits of many dozens of laborers until slavery was abolished almost a century later. Briery was fortunate that its three slave women bore several children. The list of slaves from 1774, made only six years after the first bondpeople were purchased by the congregation, shows that the women had given birth to four sons during those half dozen years: London and Scipio in 1772 and Isham and Tom in 1774. Later notations document four more births in the following years: Bob in 1775, Amey in 1777, Nancy in 1779, and Jamey in 1781.' If these bondwomen were already being hired out annually, as their descendants would be, it would have been difficult for them to maintain stable relationships with their spouses, yet these women managed to have children. Their fecundity made Briery's investment profitable. The congregation received immediate income from the hire of its slaves, while at the same time the enslaved women, through childbearing, provided a sound economic base for the next generation of Presbyterian church members. Another sign of Presbyterian slave owning's profitability is that it was practiced by several Presbyterian congregations in Prince Edward County over a period of several decades. Besides Briery there was Cumberland Presbyterian Church, founded in 1754, whose congregation also oversaw the church at Hampden-Sydney College in the years after it opened in 1775. Just one year after Briery raised money to
'Ibid. 'Ibid., \l-\2. ''Ibid., 12.



purchase slaves, the neighboring Cumberland congregation followed suit. In December 1767 its members gave a few hundred pounds to invest in land and slaves to support a minister.'" In addition. Colonel Samuel Venable and another church leader donated two young slave women for the congregation's benefit. Their enslaved descendants quickly grew to number in the dozens; Cumberland Church recorded forty-eight slaves between 1788 and 1823." Another nearby Presbyterian congregation, Farmville Presbyterian, was not organized until 1828, but it, too, followed the local custom of institutional slave owning. In a newspaper article celebrating the church's centennial. Judge Nat Watkins recalled that "Farmville Church owned two female slaves, who were donated by a rich gentleman of the vicinity, and they were hired out, with the price of their labor going to the church." The article also mentioned the African American members of the congregation: "the gallery ran across the rear which was reached by steps going up on the inside of the building and the slaves occupied this location."'^ Ironically, enslaved members of the Farmville congregation were in this small sense the indirect beneficiaries of slavery. Briery Presbyterian Church records also indicate that while several slaves were members of the church in the eighteenth century, in the nineteenth century many fewer blacks joined. Briery was not alone among Presbyterian congregations in this regard; by the nineteenth century many black Virginians were choosing Baptist and Methodist churches instead.'^ Only two of the slaves Briery owned became members of the congregation: Agnes, who joined the church in the late 1780s, and Eliz. Julia, who joined the church on October 12, 1828.'" Notably, though. Prince Edward County's Sharon Baptist Church had on its rolls several slaves owned by the Briery and Cumberland Presbyterian congregations.'^ Although the property of one denomination, these slaves were allowed the freedom to worship in another.

'" Eggleston, "Presbyterian Churches," 323.
"//bW., 346.

'^" 100th Anniversary of Local Presbyterian Church Is Held," Farmville Leader, November 28, 1928, clipping in Presbyterian Churches Folder, Box 54, Section 30, Eggleston Family Papers, Mss IEg396b (Virginia Historical Society, Richmond). "Charles F. Irons, 77ie Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill, 2008), 52, 76-77. "James W. Douglas, comp., A Manual for the Members of the Briery Presbyterian Church, Virginia (Richmond, 1828), 25, 41. "Bradshaw, History of Prince Edward County, Virginia, 282; Melvin Patrick Ely, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (NewYork, 2004), 318.



Presbyterians could not force the slaves they owned to worship only with their denomination (it was not at all practical given that the bondpeople were scattered through the hiring process each year and under the day-to-day supervision of hirers, not church fathers). However, the fact that only two of the slaves whom Briery held chose to worship with their institutional owners implies that the church members did little to promote the Presbyterian faith among these slaves. This fact stands in stark contrast with the message that Presbyterian leaders in Virginia put forth conceming the religious requirements of Christian masters. In the Virginia Religious Magazine, a Presbyterian publication that Douglas Ambrose calls "[p]erhaps the most forceful evangelical voice promoting patemalism in early national Virginia," the editors frequently took slave owners to task for neglecting the religious instruction of their slaves.'^ In 1804 the editors opined, "we would entreat parents and heads of families, seriously to consider the tmst committed to them; the injuries they may do to their children and servants, by neglecting their religious instruction, the guilt they will themselves contract by omitting their duty, and the strict account they must render of their stewardship.'"'' The slave-owning congregations, in doing little or nothing to promote the religious life of their slaves, were not living up to their own denomination's expectations of Christian slave ownership. While church-owned slaves provided economic security for Presbyterian congregations, slaveholding also brought philosophical division to Briery and other Presbyterian congregations in the nineteenth century. The existence of slavery in general distressed some Presbyterians throughout the nation, particularly some ministers; however, in the southem states like Virginia, most Presbyterians still wholeheartedly supported slavery. Soon after the close of the American Revolution, antislavery Presbyterians attempted to fight the institution within the church. In May 1787, for example, a committee at a meeting of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, the highest governing body for the Presbyterian Church in the United States during this period, urged "in the wannest terms to every member of their body and to all the Churches and families under their care, to do every thing in their power consistent with the rights of civil Society to promote the
"Douglas Ambrose, "Of Stations and Relations: Proslavery Christianity in Early National Virginia," in John R. McKivigan and Mitchell Snay, eds.. Religion and the Antebellum Debate over Slavery (Athens, Ga., 1998), 35-67 (quotation on 52-53). " Virginia Religious Magazine, 1 (October 1804), iv, as quoted in Ambrose, "Of Stations and Relations," 53.



abolidon of Slavery, and the instruction of Negroes whether bond or free."'* The committee's proposal, however, was deemed too strong. The statement on slavery that the synod approved was thoroughly watered down. While it saluted "the general principles in favor of universal Liberty that prevail in America; and the interest which many of the States have taken in promodng the abolidon of Slavery," it called on Presbyterians only to prepare their slaves for eventual freedom by educating them and to give those slaves who seemed capable of selfgovernment the opportunity to buy their own freedom "at a moderate rate." The revised statement concluded with a recommendadon that members "use the most prudent measures consistent with the interests & the state of civil Society . . . to procure eventually the final abolidon of Slavery in America."'^ Incapable of calling for an immediate end to slavery, the national Presbyterian Church struck a careful tone in its resoludon, attempting to appease both northern and southern members. In the late eighteenth century, the proslavery movement within the Presbyterian Church continued to strengthen, particularly in the South. For example, in 1795 the church leadership refused to discipline slaveowning members but rather admonished andslavery Presbyterians in Kentucky who did not want to worship alongside slaveholders to "live in charity and peace" with each other despite differences over slavery.^" The conflict was inevitable, though; many individuals, both inside and outside the South, had come to believe that slavery was wrong, due to the influence of Revolutionary rhetoric that said all men were equal, as well as Great Awakening ideas that the souls of all men and women were equally precious in the sight of God. The presence of slaves as church members also may have influenced many people to oppose slavery. Such feelings made slave-owning congregadons pardcularly offensive because opponents of slavery who freed their own slaves might still indirectly benefit from the insdtudon if slave labor sustained their churches. Even some Presbyterians who believed that slavery itself was acceptable argued that congregations should not own slaves because churches, as corporate bodies, could not provide adequate care for and supervision of their slaves the way a master presumably would.
"Guy S. Klett, ed.. Minutes of the Presbyterian Church in America, 1706-1788 (Philadelphia, 1976), 627. ^''Ibid., 629. See also Jewel L. Spangler, "Proslavery Presbyterians; Virginia's Conservative Dissenters in the Age of Revolution," Journal of Presbyterian History, 78 (Summer 2000), 111-23, esp. 112-13. ™ American Presbyterian Church, "Presbyterian Church History Lesson 7; The North-South Schism of 1861," http;//www.americanpresbyterianchurch.org/the_north-south_schism_of_1861 .htm (quotation); Spangler, "Proslavery Presbyterians," 113-14.



In 1818 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church adopted a statement on slavery that carefully walked the tightrope of sentiment between abolitionists and proslavery members of the church. On the one hand, the statement labeled slavery "a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves [Matthew 22:39] and as totally irreconcilable with the spirit and the principles of the gospel of Christ." It also called for the abolition of slavery and for improving the social and economic conditions of African Americans, both free and enslaved.^' On the other hand, in this statement the General Assembly also advised against the harsh censure or formal discipline of slave-owning church members. The resolution not only showed "a tender concern for the feelings of slaveholders" but also "sought to deal with the practical difficulties of slaveholders and expressed deep sympathy for them."^^ Concerned that immediate and total emancipation of slaves in the South would lead to chaos, the writers of the resolution also called for gradual emancipation and promoted the American Colonization Society (ACS) as a possible solution to the South's problem with slavery. The General Assembly, in adopting the resolution, sought to please both sides in this contentious national It is in this larger context of tension and indecision over slavery in the national Presbyterian Church that the slave-owning congregations of Prince Edward County experienced local conflict over slavery. Suggestively, the first record of Briery Presbyterian's discomfort with slaveholding appears in the church's session book on March 20, 1819, just months after the national church made its compromise-driven statement on slavery. At a meeting of church elders, "a motion was made to change the fund of the congregation by the sale of the slaves now belonging to it; and after some discussion it was determined to submit the subject to a committee."^"* The arguments for this proposed change in the church endowment were not recorded, but church members may have been influenced by the recent condemnation of slavery by the General Assembly. However, it is important to note that a motion was made to sell the church's slaves, not to free them. The church elders were not

^' James H. Smylie, "The Bible, Race and the Changing South," Journal of Presbyterian History, 59 (Summer 1981), 197-217, esp. 199-200 (quotation on 199). ^^ Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro—A History (Philadelphia, 1966), 26 (first quotation), 27 (second quotation). "^^ Ibid., 26-21. ^"Briery Presbyterian Church Session Book, 30.



willing to part wholly with their valuable endowment; their interest in selling the slaves would have been to remove the stain of slave ownership from the congregadon or perhaps to improve the slaves' standard of living and to promote their spiritual development by turning them over to Chrisdan masters. Whatever the modvation for the modon, it failed; nothing was done to change the situation of the church's slaves at that time. Four years later, Cumberiand Presbyterian Church was challenged by a larger controversy over slavery. In 1823 the Reverend John D. Paxton accepted the posidon of minister to the Cumberiand and College Church congregadons. Paxton later recalled, "The congregation owned a number of slaves, who were hired out annually, and the proceeds applied to pay the salary of their pastor. . . . [O]n finding that my support was drawn almost endrely from those slaves, for whose instrucdon very little was done, I felt more and more uneasy, and desired much to do something for them."^^ Paxton first tried—with no success—to organize a chapter of the American Colonizadon Society among the members of his congregation. His attempts to even raise money for the society were resented by members of his church, perhaps because one of his aims was to use the funds to free the church's slaves and send them to Africa, in keeping with the mission of the ACS.^*" Because of Paxton's goal for the liberadon of the congregadon's slaves, church members were suspicious when Paxton freed his own slaves and sent them to Liberia in 1826. He had become an unwilling slaveholder when his father-in-law gave slaves to Paxton's wife. Paxton kept the slaves just long enough to prepare them for freedom and then paid their passage to Liberia. H e wrote that he felt that it was hypocridcal for a minister to own slaves and that his congregants would feel jusdfied in owning slaves if he did. The freeing of his own slaves made it possible for him to speak out against slavery.^''

^' J. D. Paxton, A Memoir ofJ. D. Paxton, D.D., Late of Princeton, Indiana (Philadelphia, 1870), 73. See also Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South. Vol. I: 1607-¡86¡ (Richmond 1968), 337. ^'J. D. Paxton, Letters on Slavery; Addressed to the Cumberland Congregation, Virginia (Lexington, Ky., 1833), 11. The American Colonization Society, fonned in 1816, was created to assist free African Americans in moving to Liberia. The society attracted some free blacks, especially at first, as well as whites who opposed slavery but felt that integration was impractable or undesirable (either for whites or for blacks) and other racist whites who simply wanted to purge the South of its free black population in order to strengthen slavery. A recent study that emphasizes the organization's importance in nineteenth-century culture and politics is Eric Burin, Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society (Gainesville, 2005). "Paxton, Letters on Slavery, 4-5.




A few months after Paxton freed his slaves, he published an antislavery piece in a religious newspaper called The Family Visitor. This article was the beginning of the end of his pastoral work in the South. A few years later, in 1833, in a published letter to his former congregation meant to explain his part in the contention that followed, Paxton asserted that he preferred to publish his view on slavery rather than preach it from the pulpit because "[t]here were . . . usually a few slaves in our worshiping assemblies, and I thought such discussions not prudent before them." He further argued that few African Americans could read or would have access to The Family Visitor, making publication a safe and discreet way for him to share his antislavery argument with fellow Presbyterians.^^ However, many in his congregation were upset by the article, resulting in a request for his resignation. Paxton sold his land at a loss and moved north with his family, where he continued to serve as a Presbyterian minister until his death after the Civil War. George Bourne, a Presbyterian clergyman who was barred from ministry because of his own antislavery views, wrote that Paxton, "for complying with the recommendation of the General Assembly, was driven from his pastoral charge amid universal hatred."^^ "Universal hatred" was not entirely correct, though; at least one of Paxton's church members, a young Hampden-Sydney College student named Jonathan Cable, was looking on with sympathy. A New York native. Cable studied at Union Theological Seminary (then a part of Hampden-Sydney) between 1828 and 1831 and was there just when the Paxton controversy was at its highest pitch. Cable later wrote in detail about the slaves owned by the Cumberland and College Church congregations. His opening words echo those of William Hill:
The worst kind of slavery is jobbing slavery, that is, the hiring out of slaves frotn year to year. What shocked me tnore than anything was that the church engaged in this jobbing business. The college church which I attended . . . held slaves enough to pay their pastor . . . $ 1,000 a year. The slaves, who had been left to the church by sotne pious tnother in Israel, had increased so as to be a large and still increasing fund. They were hired out on Christmas day of each year, the day in which they celebrate the birth of our blessed Saviour[,] to the highest bidder. There were four other churches near the college that supported the pastor, in whole or in part, in the same way.'"

Cable felt that the worst part of the church's system of financial support was not slavery itself but the way the slaves were hired out
^'Ibid., 12. ^'George Bourne, Picture of Slavery in the United States of America (Middletown, Conn., 1834), 192, quoted in Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro, 98. "Eggleston, "Presbyterian Churches," 345.



from year to year. "Jobbing" slavery, as Cable put it, was particularly inhumane. Also in the 1820s, James W. Douglas, then the minister of Briery Presbyterian Church, reflected on some of his members' dissatisfaction with slave owning by their church. In December 1828 he published A Manual for the Members of the Briery Presbyterian Church, Virginia, which included an account of the church's early history. Conceming the founders' decision to invest its endowment in slaves, Douglas wrote, "In the appropriation of their funds many will think they erred; but it was the error of the age in which they lived, and their names and motives should be respected by their descendants."^' W h o were the "many" in 1828 who felt their ancestors "erred" in choosing to buy slaves for the benefit of the congregafion? Douglas must have been referring to members of his congregation—for whom this book was intended—who opposed slavery on moral grounds. Douglas called the initial purchase "the error of the age in which they lived," thinking back to the pre-Revolutionary era, a time before slavery was widely questioned and when the founders of the church had few doubts about the morality of using slavery to support their pious designs. By instructing his antislavery members to still respect the "names and motives" of their forebears, Douglas was following the example of the national church in trying to strike a charitable balance between opposing sides of this increasingly controversial issue. Douglas was followed in the pulpit by William Hill, who came to Briery Presbyterian Church in the mid-1830s when the question of slave owning by local congregations was still very contentious. Hill explained in his autobiography that one of the primary reasons he accepted the call to minister at Briery was his desire to "ameliorate the state of slavery, especially with those who belonged to Briery." He recollected that he spent half of every Sunday ministering specifically to slaves. He was not just concerned for the spiritual welfare of the slaves, however; Hill also tried to convince the leaders of the Briery congregation to free or at least improve the condition of their slaves. Hill recalled that he "used all pmdent exertions to induce the Elders to agree either to liberate them & give them up to the colonization [sic] Society to send to Africa; or to let them choose for themselves some humane master & sell them, that they might have some permanent residence which they might call their home. One of the Elders cheerfully agreed to liberate them & send them to Africa, but the Majority were bitterly opposed to making any change.
•" Douglas, comp.. Manual for the Members of the Briery Presbyterian Church, 3—4.



This, fixed my determination to remain there no longer." Hill felt that even if the church was unwilling to liberate its slaves (thereby destroying its endowment), the slaves would benefit if the church at least sold them to masters of their own choosing. In 1835, while WiUiam Hill was the minister at Briery, Cumberland Presbyterian did sell its slaves; Hill was on the committee that oversaw this process. He persuaded the committee to allow the slaves to choose their own masters, "much to the satisfaction of the slaves & the congregation."^^ William Hill was not an abolitionist, and he did not call for the slaves to be freed unless they were going to be sent to Africa through the efforts of the American Colonizafion Society. He understood slavery "as a Christian relation with particular duties and responsibilities" for both masters and slaves." Hill was a paternalist—he believed that slavery was ordained by God as part of the natural order of mankind—but he also worked to see that masters upheld their responsibilities to their slaves. William Hill and others who otherwise accepted slavery opposed institutional slavery precisely because it did not conform to the church's own standards for slaveholding. An event at Briery Presbyterian Church ten years later sheds light on Cumberland's motivation for selling its slaves. In 1845 the Briery congregation again debated taking the same step. A committee ultimately decided that the congregation would not do so. However, those committee members who disagreed with that decision submitted a "Minority Report to Briery Congregation" the following May in which they laid out the reasons they wished to see the congregation's slaves sold. In this remarkable document, penned by prominent local slave owner Asa Dupuy, the first argument against congregational slave ownership concerned the unstable family life of the slaves. Dupuy asserted that the state of "the slaves in the hands of good and humane masters would be better than it is, at present. We believe their present condition is unfavourable to their moral and religious Character, with their family Connections formed one year in One neighbourhood and the next be removed so far that they can but seldom visit (or be visited by) their families and in that way liable to have them broken up, and new Connections formed."^'' Because the Briery slaves (like many other institutional slaves) were hired out to the highest bidder every year, they frequently changed homes, making it very difficult to form lasting relationships. In particular.
'^Hill, Autobiographical Sketches of Dr. William Hill, 99. '^ Ambrose, "Of Stations and Relations," 49. '""Minority Report to Briery Congregation," May 15, 1846, Presbyterian Churches Folder, Box 54, Section 30, Eggleston Family Papers.



the committee members were probably concerned about the marital relationships among the slaves. These marriages, though not honored by the law, were still promoted by many (especially sincere Christians) as morally important for slaves. All slaves were in danger of being separated from their spouses through the whim of a master, but slaves who were hired out yearly by an institution had to andcipate separation as an annual occurrence. What hope did those slaves really have of maintaining monogamous relationships when they knew they might never live in the same place twice? This problem put the church in the awkward situation of fostering marital infidelity among its slaves. The "Minority Report" also addressed the physical well-being of Briery's slaves. The committee members were concerned that the slaves were "but seldom so well attended to in sickness & frequently not well, clothing etc. as they would be by their own masters if kind and humane. With regard to increase they certainly have not increased in the same ratio that other negroes have which we think is probly [sic] owing to the want of attention which it would be the interest as well as the duty of masters to give to the Children of their Slaves."^^ This concern reflects what was conventional wisdom among slaveholders—that those w h o hired slaves did not take as good care of them as their owners did; hirers simply lacked the long-term financial interest to do so. In an 1852 court case regarding slave hiring law, a Tennessee Supreme Court judge concluded that "it is the interest of the hirer to get all the labor he can out of the hired slave, without regard to his comfort, or the effect upon his permanent health and value.''^*" English-born observer Frances Anne Kemble commented, "This hiring out of negroes is a horrid aggravation of the miseries of their condition; for if, on the plantations, and under the masters to whom they belong, their labor is severe and their food inadequate, think what it must be when they are hired out for a stipulated sum to a temporary employer, who has not even the interest which it is pretended an owner may feel in the welfare of his slaves, but whose chief aim it must necessarily be to get as much out of them, and expend as little on them, as possible."^' In other words, the more that hirers could skimp on food, clothing, and medical care for their hired slaves, the greater would be the return on the short-term investment in slave labor.

''Ibid. '^Bell V. Cummings, 35 Tenn. 275 (1855), quoted in Jonathan D. Martin, Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South (Cambridge, Mass., 2004), 87. " Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 (New York, 1864), 70-71.



Significantly, those who hired the Briery slaves likely were least interested in maintaining the welfare of the young children of the women they hired and in easing the workload of an enslaved woman who became pregnant or gave birth during the period of her hire. An individual owner of a new slave mother might have given her more food, more time to rest and to nurse an infant, and lighter dudes, looking forward to the long-term benefit of owning another slave; the shortterm cost in the lost producdvity of the woman would have been more than paid for by the future productivity of the child. However, for the person who hired a slave, there was no long-term interest in either the woman or her children; there was only the gain to be made that year and the financial requirement that the woman not only make back the money spent on her but also bring in as much profit as possible. An ordinary master probably would not have hired out a pregnant woman or new mother to begin with; the church, however, had no "home" in which to keep slave mothers and their very young children during this most vulnerable dme—all had to be put out someplace every year, from the youngest infant to the most elderly slave. The committee members worried that their slave women did not have as many children as other slaves did, and the churchmen attributed this deficiency to the lack of care that those who hired Briery's bondpeople provided. However, the women's lower fertility rate might also have been connected to the committee's other concern over family relationships. If an enslaved woman was separated from her husband for long periods of dme, it does indeed seem less likely that she would have many children, unless she was willing and able to form new "connecdons" (or they were forced on her). Thus, the church members were faced with two unpleasant alternatives when they hired out slaves separately from their spouses. If the slaves were unfaithful to their spouses and created new reladonships, the church was abetting adultery, but if the slaves stayed diie to their spouses, they would not have as many children, which was a financial disadvantage to the church. The remainder of the "Minority Report" examines the financial effects of selling the slaves and addresses some of the congregadon's worries on that point. The committee members argued in the report that the slaves at that dme earned the church about $450.00 per annum. The committee believed the slaves would sell for about $10,000.00 and that, therefore, if the church could lend the money at 6 percent interest, it would actually make a greater profit, about $600.00 per year. The committee also discussed what must have been a persuasive argument the previous year against the sale of the slaves: if the endowment




were turned into money, it would be easier for the trustees of the fund to dip into the principal, rather than just spending the interest. Slaves were more difficult to "spend" than cash, of course. The minority report countered this concern by arguing for strict oversight of the funds by a group of trustees.^^ The "Minority Report to Briery Congregation" is an important window into the minds of Presbyterians who were opposed to slave owning by their church. Unlike John Paxton, Asa Dupuy, the document's author, was not opposed to slavery but was, in fact, a substanfial slave owner himself. As the report's language indicates, Dupuy, like William Hill, believed that slavery was acceptable when the slaveholder was a "kind and humane" master. It was not slavery itself that concerned Dupuy but rather the significant problems connected with insfitutional slavery at his own church. Dupuy was a thoughtful and reasonable man. He was a trustee of Hampden-Sydney College and had served thirteen years in the Virginia legislature.^' He has been described as a "cool head during the Nat Turner crisis and friendly neighbor" to the free blacks of Prince Edward County. He wanted to preserve slavery but showed real interest and concern for slaves and free blacks; for example, historian Melvin P. Ely states that "Asa Dupuy stands out iimong white citizens in Prince Edward in recognizing slaves' surnames.'"*" Dupuy seems to have been a sincere paternalist. He believed in the morality—or at least the necessity—of slavery, but he was interested in the welfare of the African Americans around him. As a defender of slavery, however, he needed to find ways to justify it in his own mind as well as to the abolitionists who were steadily becoming more vociferous. One of the primary defenses of slavery was that slaves benefited profoundly from having a master rather than just an employer, because a good and reasonable master would have a personal financial interest in their welfare. This connection supposedly put slaves in a better condifion than the so-called wage slaves of the North to whom proslavery apologists so frequently referred. Yet how could Dupuy and other thoughtful southerners make this argument when they had examples like Briery right before them? The Briery slaves were in the hands of a committee with no personal stake in their well-being. In addition, they were hired out every year, with the troubling effects noted in Dupuy's minority report. Slave hiring was common in Virginia after
•""Minority Report to Briery Congregation." ''Bradshaw, History of Prince Edward County, Vtrginia, 157, 687. •""Ely, Israel on the Appomattox, 209 (first quotation), 300 (second quotation).



the American Revolution, but what made the Briery situation fundamentally different and ultimately more damning was that these slaves lacked an owner's self-interested desire to make certain that they were cared for by those who hired them. A committee of trustees (driven only by loyalty to the church, not self-interest) could not replace an owner. Jonathan D. Martin has described slave hiring in the American South as a three-part arrangement that slaves could sometimes use to their advantage when they played off the interests of their owner and their hirer."*' In the case of institutional slavery, the "owner" leg of this triangle was inherently weak, leaving institutional slaves in a more precarious situation than slaves who were hired out by individual masters. For all these reasons, the patemalist defense of slavery fell apart in the presence of slaves owned by the church. Men of conscience like Dupuy had to oppose slave owning by their churches if they were to defend the institution of slavery at all. Asa Dupuy's report on the Briery slaves offers valuable insight into the lives of the slaves owned by his Presbyterian congregation, as well as how some of the members of the church felt about this practice. Fortunately, there is additional evidence on the Briery slaves from the same period that further illuminates the lives of the Briery slaves and allows historians to examine the assertions made in the "Minority Report." No detailed record of the slaves owned by Briery Presbyterian Church survives for a fifty-year period after the Revolutionary era. Then, in the 1840s, the tmstees overseeing the slaves became particularly meticulous for an eight-year period. Beginning in December 1841, Briery began to keep detailed records of the slaves owned by the congregafion in its session book, including a list of all of the church's slaves, with their ages and some family connecüons. Also, the church maintained annual lists of who hired these slaves between 1840 and 1847 and for what price. These lists also contain a few annotations in the margins about the slaves' births and deaths. As the 1840s were the decade in which the congregation debated selling its slaves, perhaps the tmstees, in the midst of this controversy, were trying to determine whether the congregation's slaves were actually profitable. The result of this renewed attention is a wealth of information on the lives of those slaves.

"' Martin, Divided Mastery, 43-49. Another excellent source on slave hiring in the antebellum South is John J. Zabomey, "Slave Hiring and Slave Family and Friendship Ties in Rural Nineteenth-Century Virginia," in John Saillant, ed., Afro-Virginian History and Culture (New York, 1999), 85-107.



These records help determine whether Briery's "Minority Report" was accurate. The first concern expressed in that document was that slaves were moved around frequently due to the hiring-out process and thus often were separated from their families. The records from the 1840s allow a partial reconstruction of this extended family of slaves, all presumably descended from the enslaved women purchased by the church in the 1760s. In December 1841 the trustees oversaw thirty-five slaves. Of this number, eight were adult men, ten were adult women, and seventeen were children. The names of the Briery slaves in 1841 support the supposition that all were part of an extended family stretching back eighty years. The repetition of names from the 1774 list is striking. For example, one of the slaves originally purchased by Briery Presbyterian was named Agga; in 1841 there were two adult women with similar names, Aggy and Aggy Woodson. A child born in 1842 was named Mary Agnes. Were all three women descendants of Agga? The surname Woodson is interesting but hard to explain. There was, in fact, a white Woodson family of Presbyterians in the area; it is possible that one or more of the slaves originally purchased in the 1760s by the congregation was purchased from a member of the Woodson family and kept Woodson as a surname. When Lucy, another Briery slave, had a child in 1845, she named the child Nancy Woodson.**^ The name Nancy also appeared on the 1774 list. One of the three women originally purchased by Briery Presbyterian gave birth to a child named Nancy in 1779. In the 1841 list, there are two adult women with that name or a similar one: "old" Nanny and a Nancy who was about twenty years old. Another name that appears on both lists is Amey. An Amey was bom to the Briery slaves in 1777; in 1841 there were two slaves named Amey (or Amy)—one a young adult and the other a two-year-old daughter of Vilet and Frank. Male names also were passed down between the generations: John, Tom, and Bob appear on the 1774 list, while two Johns, a Thomas, and a Robert are listed in 1841.'*^ While these are common names, and their repetition may be coincidental, it appears that Briery slave families, though lacking a permanent home, were able to maintain family ties well enough that the
""A List of negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation for the year 1841," pp. 16-17, Briery Presbyterian Church (Prince Edward County, Va.) Treasurer's Book, 1840-1847, Accession 23834 (hereinafter cited as Briery Presbyterian Church Treasurer's Book), Briery Presbyterian Church Records; Briery Presbyterian Church Session Book, 11-12. There are several African American families bearing the Woodson surname in the 1870 census of Prince Edward County. •""A List of negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation for the year 1841," pp. 16-17; Briery Presbyterian Church Session Book, 11-12.



same names were passed down over three or more generations in the family. Perhaps because they were hired out most often in two adjacent counties, the effects of the constant hiring did not destroy family ties but rather caused sustained suffering among the slaves. The most fragile of these family relationships—marriages—were probably most affected by the hiring-out process. Other family names on the list of 1841 do not hark back to the colonial-era list of Briery slave names but are repeated on the 1841 list. These naming pattems connect the men, in particular, to the extended family, even though the tmstees rarely noted how adult men were related to rest of the group. The one exception was the marriage of Frank and Vilet, which was recorded because they were sometimes hired out together with their young children. They may have been the only married couple owned by Briery Presbyterian. Their second son, Brister, shared his name with a forty-five-year-old Brister who otherwise had no stated connection to the rest of the family. Was he perhaps a brother of either Frank or Vilet? Jiney, a forty-year-old mother of six, named her first son Frank, implying a close family relationship there as well. Her other two sons were named Billey and Charles Anderson; interestingly, three men owned by Briery were Billey, age forty, and Charles and Anderson, who were both about twenty years old. Emily also gave birth to a son named Billey in 1844.''^ Naming practices among the Briery Presbyterian slaves demonstrate that these slaves were all part of an extended family, descended from a small number of slaves purchased by the congregation in the eighteenth century. In some cases, family connections are clearly stated in the records, particularly in the cases of women and young children. In other cases, they can be surmised from similar names. Historian Herbert G. Gutman investigated the naming pattems of a large group of antebellum slaves who lived on the Good Hope plantation in South Carolina. He found that the slaves there often named their children after members of their immediate and extended families. Gutman noted that "[n]aming practices linked generations of blood kin" and that "[s]uch naming practices reveal an attachment to a familial 'line' and suggest the symbolic renewal in birth of intimate familial experiences identified with a parent or grandparent.""^ Apparently, the slaves owned by Briery Presbyterian Church also frequently named their children after

""A List of negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation for the year 1841," pp. 16-17. ••^Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Eamily in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York, 1976), 93 (first quotation), 95 (second quotation).



members of their family, indicadng that they, like their contemporaries at the Good Hope plantadon, felt a connecdon to their extended family that withstood the destrucdve forces of slavery. This persistence is especially remarkable among the Briery slaves because they had to struggle even harder to maintain families ties than more traditional slaves did because the Briery bondpeople were always hired out to different men and women. These church-owned slaves were clearly one large extended family, and although they were hired out from year to year and separated from their children at tender ages, these naming patterns suggest that they nonetheless maintained strong connecdons to their family. Asa Dupuy raised several quesdons in the "Minority Report": were Briery slaves frequendy separated from their families though the hiringout process? Also, were they frequently hired to different households every year? The hiring records from the 1840s indicate that the hiringout process was as disruptive as Dupuy implied. Briery Presbyterian owned over fifty individuals between 1840 and 1847, though that number was constandy fluctuating due to births and deaths. Ofthat number, only twenty-eight individuals appear in the church records each year between 1840 and 1847 (the other slaves were either born after 1840 or died before 1847). A study of those twenty-eight slaves, therefore, provides the most reliable gauge of how frequently the slaves were moved from household to household each year. Table 1 indicates the longest stay in one household that each of the twenty-eight slaves experienced between 1840 and 1847.


Number of Years in One Household 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Number of Slaves (N - 28) 0 3 2 1 5 6 9 2

SOURCE; "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1847, pp. 3-11, Briery Presbyterian Church (Prince Edward County, Va.) Treasurer's Book, 1840-1847, Accession 23834, Briery Presbyterian Church Records, Church Records Collection (Library of Virginia, Richmond).



The first figure worthy of note is that none of the twenty-eight slaves was hired by the same household throughout the eight-year period. On the one hand, this statistic alone supports Asa Dupuy's assertion that the Briery slaves faced instability due to annual moves from one hirer to the next. On the other hand, only two of the twenty-eight slaves, Vilet and her son, "Little" Brister, had a different hirer every single year. Most of the slaves fell somewhere between complete instability and a more secure situation, though more of them came closer to the former than to the latter. Only six of the slaves were hired to one household for five or more years. Eleven of the slaves fell in the middle, hired to one master for three or four years in a row but living in other households during the rest of the eight-year period. Finally, the other eleven slaves worked in a single household only for one or two years before being hired to someone new. Thus, sometimes a master or mistress hired the same slave repeatedly over a series of years, but more typically a slave moved from hirer to hirer at least every two or three years."*^ The family of Vilet and Frank offers an interesting study of how Briery slaves were hired out. Vilet and "Little" Brister represent the extreme of instability: they were the two slaves who never lived in the same household two years in a row, but they also had the advantage of being hired with family members for many of these years. Vilet and Frank may have been cousins descended from the original eighteenthcentury Briery slaves, although perhaps one of them instead was bought later by the trustees. If the latter is the case, Vilet was likely the one purchased, because another Frank was listed among the children of other Briery slaves, while there were no other slaves named Vilet besides their own daughter. Frank and Vilet, both listed as "old" when the list of all the slaves' ages was made in December 1841, were recorded at that time with four children: Spencer, age seven; Brister, five; Catherine, four; and Amy, two. In 1842 Vilet gave birth to a little Frank; two years later, a little Vilet followed. Finally, an unnamed, short-lived child was bom to Vilet in 1845. Vilet must have seemed "old," but she was cleariy still in her childbearing years in the early 1840s.'*'' Vilet had the good fortune of living with her husband and children between 1840 and 1843. Though they worked for four different men during these years, the family members were hired together.

*"A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1847, pp. 3-11, Briery Presbyterian Church Treasurer's Book. •""A List of negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation for the year 1841," pp. 16-17; "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1847, pp. 3-11.



The Briery trustees clearly thought keeping this family together on hiring day was important. The trustees' rewards, beyond their own sense of doing the right thing, were the son and daughter born to Vilet in 1842 and 1844—the natural results, perhaps, of letting a husband and wife live together. Separation first hit the family on Christmas Day of 1843, when the trustees must have felt that Vilet and Frank's oldest known son. Spencer, was ready at the age of nine to be hired out on his own. He was hired by the Reverend Samuel D. Stuart for $4.00 for the year 1844. Stuart, the minister of Briery Presbyterian Church, already hired other Briery slaves and was particularly consistent in hiring the same slaves year after year. As a result. Spencer was relatively fortunate to go to a household with other Briery slaves who were part of his extended family. Spencer continued to be hired by Stuart for the next four years, when the record ends."*^ The following years included more separation for Frank and Vilet's family. In 1844 the family, other than Spencer, was hired by Creed Jenkins, but in 1845 Jenkins only wanted Frank. As a result, the family was separated; Frank returned to the Jenkins farm, while Vilet and her five remaining children were placed with John T. Merryman, who was compensated $10.00 to subsidize their costs. For the hiring year 1846, two more of Vilet's children were deemed ready to be hired as individuals: ten-year-old "Little" Brister and nine-year-old Catherine. Young Brister was hired to A. G. Green for $2.50, and his sister Catherine was hired to Thomas P. Fowlkes for $4.00. During that same year, Frank, Vilet, and the remaining three children were reunited in the household of William McCormack; however, in 1847 the spouses were hired to different masters and thus separated once again.^^ Tracing Frank and Vilet's family reveals how disruptive and unstable life could be for an institutionally owned slave. Both Vilet and her son "Little" Brister never lived in the same household two years in a row. The other family members tended to do only a little better, occasionally living in the same place for a couple of years. Though he was separated from his family. Spencer was hired for four years in a row by the same man. The history of this family also makes it clear that there was no guarantee that family ties would be respected at hiring time. The trustees seemed to make an effort to keep the couple together but could be persuaded to do otherwise when financial necessity and the whims of hirers intervened. Further, only the youngest children were hired together with

•""A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1847, pp. 3-11.



their mothers. By the time a child was about nine years old, he or she was considered ready to be treated as an individual, despite the pathetically small amount the children earned for the church. In contrast, a few Briery slaves enjoyed a great deal of residential stability from 1840 to 1847. Although none of them lived in the same home for the entire period, three lived in one home for seven of the eight years. One hirer, the Reverend Samuel D. Stuart, was responsible for providing stability to two of those three slaves, just as he came to provide a stable home for Spencer when the boy first went on the auction block alone for the year 1844. Stuart was a twenty-six-year-old clergyman when he first began hiring Briery slaves in 1841; that year he hired Lucy and the older Brister. He continued to hire these two every year through the end of the period covered in the records. For the year 1844, Stuart added Spencer and continued to hire the trio with equal consistency. Lucy was about eighteen years old when Stuart first hired her, and during the seven-year period, she bore children in 1843 and 1845. The pregnancies and the time needed to nurse and care for infant children would have reduced the amount of work Lucy was able to do, but Stuart continued to hire her every year nonetheless—at reduced rates, of course.^" The Reverend Stuart's willingness to consistently hire the same Briery slaves raises questions about his motives. As a Presbyterian minister, he might have wanted to help support his congregation through hiring its slaves, but if that had been his primary motive, then there would have been no need to hire the same slaves every year. Other men who frequently hired Briery slaves had no compunction about hiring different ones every year. It is plausible, then, that the minister felt morally compelled to help a few of the slaves by hiring them every year to provide them with some degree of stability. Like other Presbyterian ministers, he was, perhaps, trying to balance the demands of his conscience with the realities of life in antebellum Virginia. By hiring the same slaves regularly, he may have been attempting to model Chrisfian mastery to the members of his congregation. The third Briery slave to live in the same household for a seven-year stretch was Pamelia, a young orphaned child who lived in the household of Isaac Duffie during the years 1841-1847, Her mother, Aggy Woodson, was hired out with two of her three children, including her youngest, two-year-old Pamelia, to Creed Jenkins in 1840. Unfortunately, Aggy Woodson died in March of that year. In 1841 Pamelia and her older




brother, John, were sent to the home of Isaac Duffie. By 1842 John, who was about eight years old at the time, was hired out individually, but Pamelia remained in Duffie's household through 1847. Duffie appears on the hiring lists of Briery Presbyterian during every year the records were kept, but he rarely paid to hire a slave. Rather, he took in the "expensive" slaves and tried to make a small profit from providing them with the necessifies of life for less than what the tmstees paid him for his service. Besides Pamelia, he also took in slave women and their very young children whom he was paid to care for or who worked "at par," meaning that he paid nothing for them but expected them to eam their food and clothing. Other times, he paid a pittance for a family of slaves, indicating that he expected to make very little profit from their work. For example, Jiney and her three children, Frank, Mary, and Billey, were hired out to Duffie in 1840 for only $5.00. The low value of this family reflected that the three children were quite young, ranging from three to seven years of age. Jiney would have needed to spend some of her work hours caring for them. More important, Duffie assumed the extra cost of feeding and clothing the unproductive children. The following year, Duffie maintained the family even as Jiney had a baby in April, and he also added little Pamelia to the group. Instead of charging him, the Briery tmstees paid him $10.00." Isaac Duffie was also involved in caring for elderly slaves belonging to Briery Presbyterian. In 1841, for example, he was given "Old Nanny"; the record states that he bought her for $0.00. In other words, the tmstees made an agreement with Duffie that they would give him all future rights to her labor if he would maintain her in her old age. This transaction reveals how the tmstees dealt with the tricky problem of supporting slaves who had passed the age of profitable work. Other older slaves like Mary, who was designated as "old," worked for only their "victuals and clothes"; in those instances, the church eamed no money from these slaves but simply placed them with a master who would feed and clothe them in exchange for their limited work.'^ With no home plantation on which the slaves could grow old, an institution that owned slaves had few options for dealing with superannuated bondpeople. Giving away elderly slaves, however, was a serious abrogation of the responsibilities of a patemalist slave master and set the congregation at variance with Presbyterian teachings on the treatment of slaves by Christian owners.
''Ibid. "Ibid.



Another way to measure family disruption among Briery slaves is to look at how often they were hired out alone, without other Briery slaves. Although it is impossible to know whether slaves hired singly were out of reach of other family members, this information can provide insight into how often these slaves were separated from their families. For those same twenty-eight slaves who were hired out each year between 1840 and 1847, being hired out alone was very common. Twenty-one were hired out singly somedme during those eight years. The seven who were not either were mothers with muldple children who always had at least one young child with them or were very young children who were bom close to the 1840 mark and had not yet been hired out separately. The majority of Briery slaves, however, were hired out individually and often did not live in the same household with other Briery slaves. Of the twenty-one slaves who were hired out alone, eight were hired out alone between four and seven times in the eight-year period, another ten were hired out alone two or three times, and three were hired out alone just once.^^ This evidence supports the assertions of the "Minority Report" that the Briery slaves were moved around frequently from household to household, were often hired out singly, and were habitually separated from their families as a result. A rare few were able to have one home for more than two or three years in a row. While changing hirers did not always split families, the hiring-out system often separated parents from children and husbands from wives in the 1840s. The reladonships between Briery slaves and their spouses, children, and other family members who did not belong to the congregadon are more difficult to gauge. The women who were bearing children in the 1840s had partners somewhere; likewise, surely some of the male slaves owned by the congregadon found wives among women not owned by Briery. As the "Minority Report" hints, one of the committee's greatest concems was that the Briery slaves were making and breaking "connecdons" frequently because they were being separated from their spouses through the hiring process.^'* This separadon from spouses gamered attendon from the committee because in their eyes it led to sin, but Briery slaves were separated just as often from their children, parents, grandparents, and siblings as well. The second concem raised by the "Minority Report" was that the Briery slaves did not receive medical care and clothing equal to those of
"Ibid. '''"Minority Report to Briery Congregation."



slaves who belonged to individual masters and mistresses. It is impossible to quantify how well the Briery slaves were fed, clothed, and attended in sickness; these necessities were all provided by the hirers, rather than the congregafion, although the tmstees occasionally noted that they supplied certain slaves with hats, blankets, or bedding.'' Thus, each slave was treated differently based on the wealth and custom of the person who hired him or her. Some were probably provided with a decent material standard of living, while others may have been terribly neglected. However, one element of the slaves' welfare, child mortality, can be roughly determined from the records kept by the Briery tmstees in the 1840s. In the "Minority Report," Asa Dupuy stated that the Briery slaves faced a higher level of child mortality than ordinary slaves. Dupuy noted that "[w]ith regard to increase they certainly have not increased in the same ratio that other negroes have which we think is probly [sic] owing to the want of attention which it would be the interest as well as the duty of masters to give to the Children of their Slaves."'^ Dupuy, as a slaveholder himself, probably was a good judge of whether the Briery slave children were surviving infancy as often as the children of other slaves. Fortunately, church records again can help answer this important question about the overall well-being of these insdtufional slaves. In December 1841 the tmstees made a list of all the slaves owned by the congregation and noted some of their family relationships and their rough ages. Unfil sometime in 1846, someone updated these records with birth and death information, making it possible to determine the mortality of very young children during this period. Children who died at the age of two and under are included in the mortality rate; the two older children who died during this same period—Mary, age ten, and Louisa, age twelve—have not been included. Ideally, only children who died before their first birthday would be counted to make statistical comparisons easier, but the available data does not allow for such careful determinations of age in most cases." In the years 1842-1846, fourteen children were bom to the women owned by Briery Presbyterian Church. Of that number, six died before reaching three years of age. Thus, about 43 percent of children born during this five-year period died at a very young age, assuming that the

" "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1847, pp. 3-11. ""Minority Report to Briery Congregation." ""A List of negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation for the year 1841," pp. 16-17.




tmstees kept complete records.'* This estimate compares unfavorably with broader estimates of slave child mortality. The infant and child mortality rates among American slaves in general are extremely hard to quandfy. Economic historians have examined plantadon and census records and reached estimates ranging from 150 to 350 deaths per 1,000 births. The great disparity stems from dme period and location; for example, slave children bom on large plantadons in coastal Louisiana suffered a higher rate of mortality than those bom on smaller farms in the upper South.^' More recent work using the 1860 census of Virginia asserts that in late antebellum Virginia, the infant mortality rate (of male slaves) was closer to the lower esdmate, or about 159 deaths per 1,000 births. Thus, about 16 percent of Virginia slaves died in the first year of life, compared with about 43 percent of Briery slaves who died before the age of three. While the figures do not compare flawlessly, the child mortality rate of Briery slaves apparently was considerably higher than average for slaves in antebellum Virginia.* Several factors influence child mortality rates. The first relates to maternal health before and especially during pregnancy. The diet of the mother-to-be and the amount of work performed during pregnancy— particularly labor requiring long periods of standing—affect the health and the birth weight of the infant. One reason for the Deep South's higher infant mortality was that the work on sugar, rice, and cotton plantadons was more onerous and labor scarcer; as a result, pregnant women were forced to work harder there than in the upper South.^' The same phenomenon may have been at work among Briery Presbyterian's pregnant slaves (and by extension, all pregnant slaves who were hired out). Because the hirer of a pregnant slave had no long-term interest in the welfare of the woman or her infant, the temporary master would have been less likely to give the woman adequate rest and the nutrition necessary to a healthy pregnancy. On the contrary, the hirer would have been prone to annoyance at a pregnancy that would have limited the slave's producdvity. Recognizing this, the Briery tmstees occasionally made notations in the hiring records promising to recompense the hirer if the slave gave birth during the year. On the list of 1842 hires they noted
^'Ibid. 5'Richard H. Steckel, "A Dreadful Childhood; The Excess Mortality of American Slaves," Social Science History, 10 (Winter 1986), 427-65, esp. 427, 437. "Howard Bodenhom, "Early Achievement of Modern Growth; Height and Health of Free Black Children in Antebellum Virginia," paragraphs 13-14 (paper delivered to the Cliometric Society at the annual meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations, January 5, 1999), http;// cliometrics.org/conferences/ASSA/Jan_99/bodenhorn.shtml. " Steckel, "Dreadful Childhood," 429-31, 437, 455« 12.



that Creed Jenkins would pay $25.00 for Martha and her child, Clem, but "if she has a child during the year $10.00 to be deducted."^^ This deduction was meant to compensate the hirer not only for productivity lost during pregnancy, of course, but also for the recovery fime needed after the birth and for the fime spent nursing and tending a newbom. While the return of part of the cost might assuage the hirer, it would not do away with his or her desire to profit from the bondwoman. In this respect, being hired out by an insfitution was palpably different than being hired out by an individual owner. In his study of slave hiring, Jonathan Martin has found that concems about how pregnant women and infants were treated by hirers "led owners, who had vested interests in protecdng slave women's reproduction, to hesitate before renting out such women to other people." In fact, MiU"tin emphasizes that slave women somefimes fimed their pregnancies to show in the winter in order to avoid being hired out at all—it was a way to resist the hiringout process.*^ However, pregnant women who were owned by Briery Presbyterian had to be put out somewhere every year, and even if the church paid someone to take a pregnant slave, the temporary master sfill expected some work from the woman and likely cared for her and her child in the cheapest way possible. A second factor that affects the health of an infant is how he or she is treated in the weeks and months after birth, including how often the mother breast-feeds her child. On large plantafions, children were often passed on to older women or young girls during the day while the mothers, whose labor was too valuable to be spent nursing an infant, worked in the fields. As a result, the infants tended to be weaned early and fed supplementary food by these other caregivers at an earlier age than was desirable. This reduced the infants' immunity to illnesses.^ Logically, many hired mothers were expected to hand off their infants to others as well. Their labor was too necessary to the hirer, whose most important consideration was earning back the money expended on the hired slave. While many enslaved mothers were forced to tum the care of their newborns over to others, it can be deduced that masters who had the most interest in the short-term producfivity of the mother, as well as the least interest in the well-being of the child, would have been most likely to insist on this transfer as early as possible, to the detriment of the infant.

" "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1842, p. 6. "Martin, Divided Mastery, 55-56 (quotation on 56). '^Steckel, "Dreadful Childhood," 432.



Finally, infant health was affected by the amount of medical care available to the child. In the "Minority Report," Asa Dupuy specifically noted that hired slaves were "but seldom so well attended to in sickness & frequently not well."''' One reason the mortality rate of slaves in general was so high—in Virginia, twice as high as that of whites and free blacks—was that enslaved infants did not receive equivalent medical care for potentially nonfatal afflictions. For example, slave children were much more likely to succumb to neonatal tetanus, which can result from improper care of the umbilicus, than were free children of either race. Infant slaves were also more likely to die of respiratory diseases like scarlet fever, whooping cough, and pneumonia. Other frequent killers were intestinal worms such as flatworms and tapeworms, which were much more likely to lead to death among black infants than white ones.''*' If the slave children owned by individual masters with a vested long-term economic interest in their survival were less likely to receive the medical care needed to overcome these illnesses, then slave children who were, with their mothers, hirelings belonging to a church congregation likely received even poorer care. Thus, the information in the Briery church records from the 1840s concerning child mortality supports the assertions made in the "Minority Report" of 1846 about the health and well-being of the congregation's slaves. Briery Presbyterian Church's hiring records from the 1840s provide insight into an additional area of inquiry not directly related to the "Minority Report": the identities of the hirers. This information, combined with U.S. Census records and slave schedules from 1840 and 1850, allows for a good sketch of the economic situations of those who hired slaves from Briery Presbyterian Church. The sixty-five individuals who hired slaves from the congregation in the years 1840 through 1847 came from nearly all the socioeconomic classes of central Virginia. They ranged from the richest men in the area to the surprisingly poor. Only twenty-eight of them appeared on the slave schedules that were made in 1850, a number that included both those who owned slaves and those who had only hired slaves that year. Nearly all the hirers lived in Prince Edward County or in neighboring Charlotte County. Finally, church membership rolls from the period indicate that fewer than twenty of the hirers were members of Briery Presbyterian Church, so most of the prospective hirers must have been compelled more by
""Minority Report to Briery Congregation." "Bodenhorn, "Early Achievement of Modern Growth," paragraph 15.



a need for a good deal on slave labor than by a philanthropic desire to promote the local Presbyterian church.*^ The economic and social background of the hirers of Briery slaves is relevant to two issues. First, the wide divisions of wealth and social class among the hirers support the theory that insfitufional slaveholding by the Presbyterians benefited a wide range of whites who otherwise might not have had access to slave labor. Anytime whites benefited from the slave system, their commitment to maintaining slavery was strengthened. In this way, institutional slavery, as pracficed by the Presbyterians as well as other groups, helps explain why poorer whites were willing to support the secession of Virginia from the Union in 1861. Many historians have suggested that nonslaveholding whites fought in the Civil War for honor and glory or to uphold the system of white supremacy from which they derived higher self-esteem and a sense of connection with those in higher social classes.*^ These historians make important points, but it is also plausible that some of these men were willing to fight for the continuation of slavery because they and their families were the beneficiaries of slaveholding by their church and other insfitufions. The second reason to investigate the hirers of Briery slaves is that greater insights can be gleaned about the lives of the slaves themselves by getting a better picture of the households to which they were hired. Members of the white working class usually hired the least expensive of Briery's slaves, children who were just beginning to be hired separately from their mothers. For example, William H. Flowers, a Prince Edward County shoemaker, had no real or personal property worth valuing in the 1850 census. In 1843 he hired nine-year-old John "at par," meaning he paid nothing for the child. John was old enough to earn his keep and nothing more. Perhaps John helped Flowers in small shoemaking tasks, but Flowers must have felt that John was not worth
""A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1842-1843, pp. 6-7; Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Population Schedule (hereinafter cited as 1850 LI.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop.), National Archives Microfilm Series M-432 (hereinafter cited as NAMS M-432), reel 970; Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Charlotte County, Virginia, Population Schedule (hereinafter cited as 1850 U.S. Census, Charlotte County, Va., Pop.), NAMS M-432, reel 940; Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Slave Schedule (hereinafter cited as 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Slave Pop.), NAMS M-432, reel 992; Manuscript Census Returns, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Charlotte County, Virginia, Slave Schedule (hereinafter cited as 1850 U.S. Census, Charlotte County, Va., Slave Pop.), NAMS M-432, reel 985. " Recent studies that touch on why nonslaveholding whites fought for the Confederacy include Joseph T. Glatthaar, General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (New York, 2008); Anne Sarah Rubin, A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868 (Chapel Hill, 2005); and Wiley Sword, Southern Invincibility: A History of the Confederate Heart (New York, 1999).



keeping, because 1843 was the only year that Flowers hired a slave from Briery Presbyterian. Flowers did not own slaves in either 1840 or 1850, so it is likely that in 1843, young John came to a new home where he was the only black person. This must have been a hard position for the boy, whether he was treated as one of the family at the Flowers home or overburdened with work as the only servant in the house.*' However, John might have been better off than the Briery slaves hired by Susanna Cox between 1840 and 1843. In 1840 Cox was a sixty-yearold who worked in "manufacturing and trade," according to the census for that year. That same year. Cox hired seven-year-old Mary for the cost of her food and clothing—again, "at par." The following year Cox paid $5.00 to the church to keep the child. The next year, however, Mary's value had surpassed what Cox was willing or able to pay, so she hired a different young Briery slave, Martha, for $5.00. She hired Martha again in 1843 for $10.00 and then ceased to do business with Briery Presbyterian Church. Cox's own decline in health and financial security may have been the reason she stopped hiring slaves, because by the 1850 census the seventy-year-old Cox was living in the poorhouse and was listed as a pauper. Cox's impending poverty makes it easy to imagine that young Mary and Martha may not have had the best standard of living when placed in her care.^° Several middle-class farmers and professionals also hired Briery slaves. For example, James A. Allen Jr. hired two young Briery slaves in 1845: Fred for $5.00 and Louisa for $6.00. When Louisa died in Febmary ofthat year, Allen received a refund. Allen, a farmer in his early sixdes when he hired the slave children, was worth $825.00 according to the 1850 census and owned several slaves. The value of his property put him in the category of a small but respectable farmer.^' Another man who was eminently respectable but not rich was the Reverend Samuel D. Stuart. He had property worth only $100.00 in the 1850 census, but as a minister he received a substantial annual salary. He does not appear in the records as having owned slaves himself, but his income made it possible for him to hire the same few slaves from the congregadon
" "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1843, p. 7; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 970, frame 102. ™"A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1843, pp. 3-7; Manuscript Census Returns, Sixth Census of the United States, 1840, Prince Edward County, Virginia, Population Schedule, National Archives Microfilm Series M-704, reel 574, frame 211; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 970, frame 29. " "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1845, p. 9; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 970, frame 82; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Slave Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 992, frame 567.



every year between 1841 and 1847.^^ Another middle-class professional who hired Briery slaves was Dr. John Peter Mettauer. Of all the individuals who hired slaves from Briery Presbyterian Church, Mettauer left the greatest legacy. A Prince Edward County native, he founded the Medical Department of Randolph-Macon College and is widely considered the founding father of plastic surgery in the United States.^-' The wealthiest men in the local counties also appeared at hiring time when they needed additional labor for their plantations. One prominent example is William M. Watkins Sr. of Charlotte County. In 1850 his land and property, including seventy-nine slaves, were valued at $22,000. Watkins was able to afford to hire the most highly valued slaves owned by Briery Presbyterian Church. In 1840 alone, for example, Watkins hired Jacob ($45.50), Coleman ($60.00), Anderson ($92.50), and Cbarles ($102.00) for a total of $300.00. This amount was nearly half the total income brought in by all the Briery slaves during that year. This made men like William Watkins extremely important to the financial well-being of the church. When hired by someone with a large plantation, as were Jacob, Coleman, Anderson, and Charles, they joined a small village of slaves. They undoubtedly worked with the field hands for the year and lived in the slave quarters. They surely felt that living in a community of other slaves was an advantage, even when the work was hard. It is certain, however, that Watkins could afford to properly feed, clothe, and provide medical care for the slaves he owned and hired, assuming he was inclined to do so.'''' The wealth of the master was not, of course, a measure of the treatment of the slaves under his control. Temperament was the more reliable gauge of how a slave would be treated, whether the hirer was as poor as Susanna Cox or as rich as Hilery Richardson, who hired three of the adult men previously mentioned, Coleman, Jacob, and Cbarles, in 1847. In 1850 Richardson was listed in the census as a merchant with property valued at $25,000, including fourteen slaves. He was the wealthiest man in Prince Edward County when he died in 1861; his property, including over forty slaves, was worth $115,000. The circumstances of Richardson's death show that he was as cruel as he was rich. In July

""A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1841-1847, pp. 4-11; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 970, frame 77. " "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1845-1846, pp. 9-10; Bradshaw, History of Prince Edward County. Virginia, 833-34. ""A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1840-1842, pp. 3-6; 1850 U.S. Census, Charlotte County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 940, frame 76; 1850 U.S. Census, Charlotte County, Va., Slave Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 985, frames 437-38.



1861 he was attacked by one of his own slaves whom he had just beaten savagely. Richardson's injuries led to his death, and the slave, William, was tried for his life. A case of a slave who killed his owner would appear to have had an inevitable outcome, but many whites and blacks tesfified in William's favor during the trial. Hilery Richardson had a long history of bmtish behavior. When William was taken into custody after the attack, his jailers noted that he was in as bad a condifion as Richardson was. Doctors who were called in recounted that William's back had been virtually skinned off in many places, that both his eyes were injured so badly that he could hardly see, and that he was missing some of his teeth. Richardson's slaves came to the stand with horror stories about the whippings they received and about Richardson's pitiless habit of pulling healthy teeth from his slaves as a mode of punishment. The Prince Edward County community all seemed to recognize that Richardson was the worst of masters and felt justified when William was declared guilty of only second-degree murder and was transported out of Virginia rather than executed.^' Despite Richardson's terrible reputation for abusing his slaves, when he came to the Briery slave auction with a pocketful of money, he was permitted to carry three of the congregation's slaves home with him. The cruelty of Hilery Richardson sums up why the lives of slaves who were hired out every year were so insecure. Moving from one household to another year after year, they never knew if they would be in the same household twice or if their master would be kind or abusive. Children who were hired out alone, in particular, often ended up in the homes of poor whites, who may have been most likely to scrimp on providing necessities to the children and to overburden them with work better suited to adults. However, the case of Hilery Richardson also shows that being hired to a well-heeled master might not mean better treatment. In short, the slaves could hardly guess what their situation would be any given year. In conclusion, the picture of slavery in Virginia is complicated by the phenomenon of slaveholding by Presbyterian churches in Prince Edward County. These congregafions supported themselves through endowments of slaves, but not without costs to the consciences of some in their congregations. Besides those who opposed slavery in general

" "A list of hires of the negroes belonging to the Briery Congregation," 1847, p. 11 ; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 970, frame 45; 1850 U.S. Census, Prince Edward County, Va., Slave Pop., NAMS M-432, reel 992, frame 521; Ely, Israel on the Appomattox, 281, 407-10.



terms, like the Reverend John D. Paxton, there were some members, like Asa Dupuy, who upheld the rectitude of slavery in general but felt that institutional slavery was a peculiar evil. Dupuy represents all those thoughtful slaveholders who recognized that their justifications of slavery based on the ideals of paternalism fell apart in the presence of slaves owned by an institution. If slaves were supposed to be better off than the free poor of the North because they had a master with a long-term financial and moral obligation to look after their welfare, where did that leave church-owned slaves who were hired out every year to individuals with only a short-term desire to squeeze as much profit from them as possible before the year was out? Further, it is hard to imagine that Virginia Presbyterians would ever have supported the early, halfhearted efforts of the national church to end slavery when the financial wellbeing of the church was so intimately tied up in the ownership of slaves. While the schism between the northern and southern branches of the church did not occur until the eve of the Civil War, some of the seeds for it were planted before the American Revolution when congregations began to invest in slaves. Yet at the same time that slave owning by the Presbyterians was undermining one of the chief excuses for slavery and widening the ideological differences between northern and southern Presbyterians, it was strengthening the commitment of some whites to their slave society by widening the circle of beneficiaries of slavery to include all the members of the congregation as well as community members who hired church-owned slaves each year. With so many slaves of all ages available, a white person of any economic background in Prince Edward County could enter the ranks of temporary mastery at small cost. Finally, church ownership of slaves surely had a psychological impact on southem whites and their views on slavery. If a church was willing to own slaves and if God's work could be furthered by slave labor, how could slavery itself be morally wrong? For all these reasons, church ownership of slaves must have made many whites more accepting of slavery, even when they were not slaveholders. Institutional slavery was most significant, of course, to the slaves who lived under this less common form of slavery. The hiring records of Briery Presbyterian Church are especially valuable in examining in closer detail whether these slaves were more ill-treated than ordinary slaves as a result of being the property of an institution. Of course, many individual owners hired out some of their slaves from time to time, but what made institutional slave hiring different is that all the slaves had to be hired out every year, no matter the slave's age or health. There




was no "home" for insfitutional slaves to tum to when they were ill or ill-treated by a hirer. There was no master to decide that a pregnant slave would not be hired out in a given year. Although the slaves were usually hired out in a limited geographical area, there was no one a slave could ask when he or she wanted to be hired out with or at least near loved ones. Instead, there was only a group of tmstees who had no personal economic stake in the health and well-being of the slave and who hired slaves out at auction to whomever would pay the highest price. Thus, institufional slaves were in a precarious situation indeed; they were under the control of a hirer with no long-term interest in their welfare, and their "master" was mostly indifferent. The records of Briery Presbyterian in the 1840s confirm this bleak assessment. From the tangle of figures emerges a picture of frequent moves between households, high child mortality, and general insecurity: a picture of "the worst kind of slavery."

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