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SLAVE

RELIGION
The "Invisible Institution"
in the Antebellum South
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ALBERTJ.RABOTEAU

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS


Oxford New York Toronto Melbourne
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 97
Azurara took solace in the fact that these slaves benefited not
FROM THE very beginning of only spiritually but also materially from contact with Western
the Atlantic slave trade, conversion of the slaves to Christianity civilization.
was viewed by the emerging nations of Western Christendom as a
And so their lot was now quite the contrary of what it had
justification for enslavement of Africans. When Portuguese cara- been; since before they had lived in perdition of soul and
vels returned from the coast of West Africa with human booty in body; of their souls, in that they were yet pagans, without the
the fifteenth century, Gomes Eannes De Azurara, a chronicler of clearness and the light of the holy faith; and of their bodies, in
·their achievements, observed that "the greater benefit" belonged that they lived like beasts, without any custom of reasonable
not to the Portuguese adventurers but to the captive Africans, being-for they had no knowledge of bread or wine, and
they were without the covering of clothes, or the lodgement of
"for though their bodies were now brought into some subjection, houses; and worse than all, they had no understanding of
that was a small matter in comparison of their souls, which would good, but only knew how to live in bestial sloth. 2
now possess true freedom for evermore." 1
Pangs of guilt over the cruelty inherent in enslaving fellow Azurar~'s rationalization, stated in mid-fifteenth century, was to
human beings were assuaged by emphasizing the grace of faith be repeated for over four centuries by successive generations of
Christian apologists for slavery.
made. available to Africans, who otherwise would die as pagans.
Azurara's pity was aroused by the tragic scene of a shipload of
captives being divided and parceled out to their owners. Religfous Instruction
But what heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with England, no less than Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and
piteous feeling to see that company? For some kept their France, proclaimed missionary zeal as an important motive for
heads low and their faces bathed in tears, looking one upon
colonizing the New World. The duty of Christianizing slaves as
another; others stood groaning very dolorously, looking up
to the height of heaven . . . crying out loudly, as if asking ~ell as Indians was urged upon the Council for Foreign Planta-
help of the Father of Nature; others struck their faces with t10ns by Charles II in 1660. His instructions to the council read in
the palms of their hands, throwing themselves at full length part:
upon the ground; others made their lamentations in the man-
ner of a dirge, after the custom of their country. And though And you are to consider how such of the Natives or such as
we could not understand the words of their language, the are purchased by you from other parts to be servants or slaves
sound of it right well accorded with the measure of their may best. be invit~d to the Christian Faith, and be made capa-
sadness. But to increase their sufferings . . . those who had ble of bemg baptized thereunto, it being to the honor of our
charge of the division of the captives ... began to separate Crowne and of the Protestant Religion that all persons in any
one from another ... to part fathers from sons, husbands of our Dominions ~hould be taught the knowledge of God,
from wives, brothers from brothers. No respect was shown and be made acquamted with the misteries of Salvation. a
either to friends or relations, but each fell where his lot took
Instructions were sent out from the Crown to colonial governors,
him .... And you who are so busy in making that division of
the captives, look with pity upon such misery; and see how such as Culpeper of Virginia in 1682 and Dongan of New York
. they cling one to the other, so that you can hardly separate in 1686, to do all within their power to "facilitate and encourage
them. the Conversion of Negroes and Indians" to Christianity. 4 The

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98 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION 99

task was all the more important because England feared that lation. In 1664 the lower house of Maryland asked the upper
Catholic Spain and France were outstripping her in missionary house "to draw up an Act obliging negroes to serve durante
zeal-a serious weakness in the contest for empire as well as a vita ... for the prevencion of the dammage Masters of such Slaves
failure of the Protestant cause. 5 must susteyne by such Slaves pretending to be Christ[e]ned [;]
Despi~ the widely he~ustificatio~ of sla_yery a~a_~s of And soe pleade the lawe of England." 8 By 1706 at least six colo-
spreading the gospel, and despite proclamations of the duty of nial le~~lat11_r~~Ji_!!_cl__p_" ll~~__cl__!l__~!s__--d-eny_in_g_'thlifoaptism_ altered the I )
c?iiffit1~~ oE ~~!a_~-ll_~--t~__h1s bo_l]~~e o_r fre~dome." ~~~s JJJ
/ J fo:r!:~~:n~;~i~~~~~~~~~~g~~;::t~ts~:::~~n~:::h~;t~~fo~~:~ wliseyp1c~~£ the sta~~-~~~~ted ~.!Pf~~~ the hope "that
~JJl/ ~~;· the ·antip~thy--~i- the c~l~nists th~mselves. The economic diverse masters, freed from this dou_bt, may more c:;~fclly ende~­
p.!:.Q.fu.ability~qLhis_ s~~~s, E_()!_the_i!'__~~rist~~~.i~tio_E~~el~~p;:i­ v2Dir~iiiifoii.-=()_rchrlsiianity;•-among'tl:leir-slaves.9But
ority~foLJhe_c.ci!onial 1Jll111ter. Writing i~682, John Barbot noted there still r':~~i_~~~t~~!:_i_ll1p~dimerii:S}~J~e religiou;ins~~uctloii'
the indifference of slave owners to their Christian duty: of~s which were more difficult to re;Dove: -- · · ....
- -
"---~---1·-----~·-···----;-·------------.- ---
Even after colomal assemblies had declared baptism to be no
... Christians in America ... especially the Protestants ...
threat to a planter's legal right to hold Africans in perpetual bond-
take very little care to have their slaves instructed ... as if it
were not a positive duty incumbent on them, by the precepts age, the process of religious instruction which had to precede
of Christianity .... There, provided that the slaves can multi- baptism was seen by many slaveholders as an economic detriment.
ply, and work hard for' the benefit of their masters, most men For a slave to be catechized adequately took time. The _Rlantation
are well satisfied without the least thoughts of using their w~~e1aje:gave' t:fie- slave little leisure for rellgiou~~;
authority and endeavors to promote the good of the souls of
Sunday was the only feasible day for instruction. Yet one of the
those poor wretches. 6
conStailt~tsof missiOnane-s-was--thal:"slaves had to work
Morgan Godwin, an English divine who spent several years in on the Sabbath either for their masters or, when allotted individ-
Virginia, decried the priorities of the colonists in a sermon pub- ual plots, for themselves. A letter to the London secretary of the
lished in 1685 with the accusatory title "Trade preferr'd before Society for the Propagation of the Gospel from the Clergy of
Religion and Christ made to give place to Mammon." South Carolina in 1713 complained of "many planters who, to
On~ _()f_the_~al reasons for the refusal of English plant~s free themselves from the trouble of feeding and clothing their
.Jf t~!l?.w their slaves to receive instructions was the fear that bap- slaves, allow them one day in the week to clear ground, and plant
(/J t~would emancipate their slaves. The notion that if slaves were for themselves as much as will clothe and subsist them and their
baptized, "they should, according to the laws of the British nation, families." 10 The "one day in the week" allowed was usually Sun-
and the canons of its church" be freed w~ally vague but day. Even when slaves were not forced to work on the Sabbath,
widely believed. 7 Repeatedly, would-be missionaries to the slaves finding time for religious instruction was problematic, since the
complained that slaveholders refused them permission to catechize minister had "work enough from the white folk on his hands." 11
their slaves because baptism made it necessary to free them. Thus Moreover, the slaves frequently used whatever leisure time they
it seemed that the Christian commission to preach the gospelto had for visiting, dancing, and merriment-activities which
~ . . ~--··-- ~-----·--------~---------·----~--·------

all nat10nsran-dfrectiy counter to the economic interest of the seemed to the missionary to be profanations· of the Lord's day.
Ch~istian-slave·ownef .-This-aiforrima.-·w-as-soI-Ved. by-colonial legis- Exhorted by missionaries in America and instructed by officials in
-~--~
"THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 101

London, some governors urged colonial legislatures to pass bills suaded that Negroes and Indians are otherwise than Beasts, and
preventing masters from working slaves on Sunday or otherwise use them like such/' but "I endeavor to let them know better
blocking their attendance at Sabbath worship. 12 While legislation things.m 5 In a letter "To the Masters and Mistresses of Families
might have modified a planter's behavior, it did not necessarily in the English Plantations Abroad," published in 1727 and dis-·
alter his attitude against the instruction of slaves. tributed by the thousands in the colonies, Edmund Gibson,
Mast1;_i:.s_also_o_bJ~.s_ted to slave conversion because they believed bishop of London, exhorted colonial slaveholders "to Encourage
that Africans were t~';b~lsh"t-o-be in;i:~~~ted~-Inpart-thi;.

\
and Promote the Instruction of their Negroes in the Christian
oojedfo_ri_~as based "oiitlielingms~ c~lt~ral barners bi~-­ Faith" and "to consider Them, not merely as Slaves, and upon the
tween-AfriCall-oorn-{"Giiifiea") slaves imcf Engilsh. c~i;nials .. same Level with Labouring Beasts, but as Men-Slaves and
Evenmissiona~ies. despaired ·of over~~~ing the linguistic an~ cul~. Women-Slaves, who have the same Frame and Faculties with your-
I
tur-;;Jg;j;"!iilcrcHrected their attention primarily t~ chlldre~ and to . selves,. and have Souls capable of being made eternally happy, and
American-born slaves, whohad some facilityin English. To;~~d Reas.on and Understanding to receive Instruction in order to it." 1 6
the.end of the seventeenth century Col. Francis Nicholson, gover- Mbrgan Godwin argued the humanity of slaves on anthropo-
nor of Virginia, was instructed by London to recommend to the logical grounds: "Methinks that the consideration of the shape
Virginia Assembly that it pass laws ensuring the education of and figure of our Negroes Bodies, their Limbs and Members,
Indians and Negroes in the Christian faith. The Virginia House of their Voice and Countenance in all things according with other
Burgesses replied in 1699 to Nicholson that "tne.negroes-b(i_m_in Men's together with their Risibility and Discourse (man's pecu-
thf~-C-oq.~tIT··;;:~·-ge~~~ally -baptised.ililcn)rought up·i~-t~ .Chris- liar Faculties) should be sufficient conviction." 17 Cotton Mather,
t!ai.ieligf,_n-;b~t fu-n~groes imported hither, the gross bestiality in his tract The Negro Christianized (1706), with Puritan thor-
and rudeness of theirmariners; the variety and strangeness of their oughness ranged scriptural verse and logical argument against
!~
.•.
· Ialiguages; and·· the weakness and shallowness of their minds, " ' those who denied the Negro's humanity. "Show your Selves
render it in a manner impossible to make any progress in their .J'
/c;
;; Men," Mather challenged, "and let Rational Arguments have their
.: I
conversion." 13 ' :,~ l[· Force upon you, to make you treat, not as Bruits but as Men,
lj ·~;
Some planters went further than the Virginia legislators and ,, those Rational Creatures whom God has made your Servants."
(.)· arg~ed that the Africans were. iJ]_c;apabl~ of in~trucdon,-not only
i
2.
!•

ti
''· Later on in the same tract Mather forcifully argued:
because of cultural differences but because of racial distinctions. '
One Table of the Ten Commandments, has this for the Sum
·( The eminent philosopher Bishop Berkeley complained in 1731 of it; Thou Shalt Love thy Neighbour as thy Self. Man, Thy
· about the American colonists that their "ancient antipathy to the Negro is thy Neighbour. Twere an Ignorance, unworthy of a
Indians ... together with an irrational contempt for the Blacks, as Man to imagine otherwise. Yea, if thou dost grant That God
creatures of another species, who had no right to be instructed or hath made of one Blood, all Nations of men; he is thy Brother,
too.
admitted to the sacraments; have proved a main obstacle to the
conversion of these poor people." 14 Repeatedly the clergy had to At this point clerical apologists for the slave's humanity began to
remind their charges that black people were equal to whites in the converge on what the planter saw as dangerous ground. To urge
sight of God. Francis Le Jau, missionary to Goose Creek, South the slave's humanity was one thing; to declare his "equal Right
Carolina, reported in 1709 that "Many Masters can't be per- with other Men, to the Exercises and Privileges of Religion" was
102 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
103
another.1s The danger beneath the arguments for slave conversion
reasoning of my Neighbors. [W]hat, s[ai]d a Lady Considerable
which many masters feared was the egalitarianism implicit in
enough in any other respect but in that of sound knowledge; Is it
Christianity. The most serious obstacle to the missionary's acc~ss
Possible that any of my slaves could go to Heaven, & must I see
to the slaves was the slaveholder's vague awareness that a Chris-
them there[;]; a young Gent had s[ai]d sometime before that he is
tian slave would have some claim to fellowship, a claim that
resolved never to come to the Holy Table while slaves are
threatened the secunty of the master-slave hierarchy. Even after Rec[eive]d there. " 2 1
other fears had been removed by legislation or by"'iirgument, un-
ease with the concept of spiritual equality between master and Slaveholders feared that Christianity would make their slaves
not only prqud but ungovernable, and even rebellious. The Rev-
slave caused slave owners to reject the idea of Christianizing their
erend John Bragg of Saint Ann's Parish in Virginia, for example,
slaves. Peter Kalm, a Swedish traveler in America from 1748-50,
complained in 1724 that of the many Negro slaves in his parish
,~,!,
perceptively described the masters' fears that Christianity would
very few had been baptized during his fifteen-year tenure, "nor
disrupt their relationship with their slaves:
any mean1s used for their Conversion, the owners Generaly not
It is likewise greatly to be pitied, that the masters of these approving thereof, being led away by the notion of their being
and becomin.g worse slaves when Christians." 22~ In reply, almost
negroes in most of the English colonies take little care of their
spiritual welfare, and let them live on in their Pagan darkness.
There are even some who would be very ill pleased at, and ever a olog1st for the evan elization of the slaves felt obli ~
would by all means' hinder their negroes from being in- pr~hat Christianity would actually make better slaves. The
structed in the doctrines of Christianity; to this they are partly answer penneaoy the lnshop of London in 1727 was typical:
led by the conceit o.f its being shameful, to have a spiritual
brother or sister among so despicable a people; partly by And so far is Christianity from discharging Men from the
thinking that they should not be able to keep their negroes so Duties of the Station and Condition in which it found them
meanly afterwards; and partly through fear of the negr~es that it lays them under stronger Obligations to perform thos~
growing too proud, on seeing themselves upon a level with Duties with the greatest Diligence and Fidelity; not only from
their masters in religious matters. 19 the Fear of Men, but from a Sense of Duty to God and the
Belief and Expectation of a future Account. 2 a '
A continual complaint of masters was that Christianity would
Missionaries a ealed to the profit motive by pointing out that
ruin their slaves by making them "saucy,'' since they would begin
converted slaves "do better for their asters pro t t an ormer y
to think themselves equal to white folks. Bishop Thomas Secker,
foL_they are taught toserve Out of Christian Love and Duty." 2 ~
in an anniversary sermon preached before the Society for the
The missionaries !~bored to build a stout wall between ;piritual
Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) in 1740 or 1741, diagnosed
and temporal equality and to uphold the doctrine expressed in an
the basic cause of the planters' opposition: " ... some, it may be
feared, have been averse to their slaves becoming Christians, be-
~ft-q~ote? .pas~age: "The Scripture, far from making any Altera-
t10n m C1VIl Rights, expressly directs, that every Man abi.de in the
cause, after that, no Pretence will remain for not treating the~
Condition wherein he is called, with great Indifference of Mind con-
like Men." 20 Two white parishioners of St. James Church m
cerning outward circumstarfces." 25 Thus, as Winthrop Jordan has
Goose Creek, South Carolina, expressed their aversion to Chris-
aptly put it, "These clergy men had been forced by the circum-
tian slaves to Francis Le Jau, their minister. In a letter dated
stance ~f ra:ial slavery in America into propagating the Gospel by
711 Le Jau reported: "A few days ago I heard of some strange
presentmg It as an attractive device for slave control "26
"'
~
.
'¥- ~\t,S\b~~ S ~oi, ~~~ c1'l-wcv. r11\'f
~\J~ VV\o.\e_ u- 'oe.t-.\e r 5'\v..~e_
104 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
105
The opposition of slaveholders was not the only factor impair- a hundred and fifty miles apart. In 170 I "more than one-half of
ing the conversion of slaves; indeed, not all slaveholders opposed the 7,000 coloni~ts" of South Carolina "(to say nothing of the
conversion. In 1724 William Black, who had labored for sixteen ne~?es and Indians) were themselves living regardless of any
years as minister in Accomako, Virginia, informed the bishop of rehg10n, there being only one Church (at Charleston) no schools
London that he had baptized about two hundred slaves since his and few .di~senting teachers of any kind." Samuel Frink, an
arrival and had leave to "instruct them at their Masters' houses." 27 S.P.G. m1ss10nary, said of the religious condition of the Georgia
Ebenezer Taylor, missionary to St. Andrew's Parish in South settlers:
Carolina from 1711 to 171 7, praised the efforts of two of his
They se~m in general to have but very little more knowledge
parishoners: of a Saviour than the aboriginal natives. Many hundreds of
poor. people, both parents and children, in the interior of the
Mrs. Haige and Mrs. Edwards, who came lately to this Plan-
P.rovmce, hav~ n.o ~pportunity of being instructed in the prin-
tation [Carolina], have taken extra-ordinary pains to instruct a ciples of Chr1st1amty or even in the being of a God an ,
considerble number of Negroes, in the principles of the Chris- fuhher than nature dictates. 29 ' }
tian lleligion, and to reclaim and reform them. The wonderful
success they met with, in about half a year's time, encouraged In I :2~, Hugh Jones reported that North Carolina needed missi~
me to go and to examine those Negroes, about their onar1es not only for the Conversion of the Indians and Baptism of
Knowledge in Christianity; they declared to me their Faith in Negroes there, but for the Christening and Recovery to the Practi-
the chief articles of our Religion, which they sufficiently ex-
plained; they rehears~d by heart, very distinctly, the Creed, cal Profession of the Gospel great Numbers of English, that have
the Lord's Prayer, and Ten Commandments; fourteen of them but ~he bare n~me of G?d and Christ; and that too frequently in
give me so great satisfaction, and were so desirous to be bap- noth1~g ~ut vam Swearmg, Cursing and imprecations."3o While
tized, that I thought it my duty to do it on the last Lord's eccles1astical authorities undoubtedly overestimated the d f
Day. I doubt not but these Gentlewomen will prepare the rest Ch · · E . anger o
r1stian n.ghshmen reverting to paganism in the wilds of the
of them for Baptism in a little time; and I hope the good
example of these two Gentlewomen will provoke at least some
Nort~ Amencan frontier, it is true that the Southern colonists
were m need of missionaries.
Masters and Mistresses, to take the same care and pains with
their poor Negroes. 28 ~here ministe.rs were. present, they found themselves tending
~anshes of vast size. Besides long distances to travel, danger from
Their efforts were indeed extraordinary when compared with the Illnes~ and disease, and the unsettled character of colonial life, the
indifference of most masters. Part of the problem was the religious Anglican clergy were often dependent upon the local vestry, con-
milieu itself. In the Southern colonies, which had the largest con- trolled by the planter class, for their livings and status. The power
centration of slaves, the religious situation for white colonists was of the vestry can be seen from the frequent complaints of colonial
unsettled. Clergy were in short supply. Even in Virginia, where clergyme~' that they were refused induction into their livings. One
the established Church of England was perhaps on its firmest ~rote an Account of the State of the Church in Virginia" for the
footing, "in 1701 nearly half of the forty to forty-six parishes bishop of London in 1724 in which he outlined the situation: "I
containing 40,000 people, were unsupplied with Clergy." have never been inducted into my living th P . h'
. . . . e ans 10ners are
Though the colony of Georgia had been divided into eight par- very defective being ... adverse from ... committing themselves
ishes, by 1769 there were only two church~s built and they were solely to the care of one Shepherd, which may be informed from
L<ooo ' s zt_ -e" Cc(? l '-(
5 ("'""-!'€" 5 I
106 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
107
their ... dislike of Induction; so that Induction is very little pra~­
ticed here .... That hereby they would reserve to themselves this ministered to ~ilmington Parish in Virginia for over eight years,
handle of restraint on the Ministry, of not being bound to a ~bserve~ that without legal sanction the ministers' appeals carried
httle weight: "The Negroes ... cannot I think, be said to be of
Minister ... lest he should afterwards prove disagreeable to them,
in which case they might the more easily cast him off for another any Religion for as there is no law of the Colony obliging their
mo.re suitable to their humour .... " 31 Because the closest bishop ~asters or Owners to instruct them in the principles of Christian-
was in London, the established church was in no position to ity and so they are hardly to be persuaded by the Minister to take
execute its policy with regard to slave conversion in the colonial so much pains ~ith the,m, by which means the poor creatures
generally live and die without it."32
South. .
A contemporary attempt to determine the religious situation m Th: responses of colonial Maryland and Virginia clergymen to
the bishop of London's "Queries" indicate that their commission
the southern colonies, including the extent of instru~tion among
to catechize th~ heathen, "bond or free," was~~L~pered
slaves was undertaken by the bishop of London m 1724 by
means' of a series of "Queries to be Answered by every M'1mster. . " by_:th_~Jl!'.l_~!ers_ reluctance and_Q.ll!~~ce, by the size of
Among the questions was the following: "Are there any Infidels, t~hes, bY. the scarcity of clergy, by ~guistic arid::Ccltural
bond or free, within your Parish; and what mea~s are used for d1~lt1es with African~bo~slaves, by the absenc: of l~~al sup-
port, and by t~ sheer size of the task. It was clear that something
more than ordin~hlng-ail'dappeals to masters to instruct
their conversion?" Of the written replies extant, thuty clergymen
from Virginia and nineteen from Maryland attempted .to inform
the bishop about their efforts on behalf of the slaves. While several
t~ei~ sl~ves was necessary if slaves were to be brought to Chris-
t1amty m larger numbers in the colonial South.33
claimed some limited success in instructing slaves and a very few
reported that slave baptisms were common, the major~ty of the The diffi.culty of .persuading slaveholding colonists in Virginia
to take an mterest m the conversion of their slaves is reflected in
respondents were significantly vague about accomplishments,
an unusual proposal drafted in 1724, a proposal which in effect
proclaimed intentions of doing better, and offered ~.uch more
offered to masters a tax break for instructing their slaves and
information about the problems involved in catech1zmg slaves bringing them to baptism:
than about their own effectiveness. It appears from the responses
to the bishop's questionnaire that the only means used by. the A PROPOSITION for encouraging the Christian Education of
majority of the clergy to convert slaves was Su~day preachmg, Indians, Negroes and Mulatto Children
.. , coupled with an occasional meeting for catechism lessons a~d It being a duty of Christianity, very much neglected by
c appeals to masters to instruct their slaves at home, appeals which ·· ~asters. and mistresses of this country to endeavour the good
:t
iJ, too often fell on deaf ears. A typical response was penned by mstruct10n and Education of their Heathen Slaves in the
Christian faith, the said duty being likewise earnest!; recom-
George Robertson, for thi~ty years pastor of Bristol Parish, o~ the
mended by his Majesty's Instructions for the facilitating
upper part of the James River in Virginia: "I have several times thereof amongst the young slaves that are born among us (the
exhorted their Masters to send such of them as could speak En- old ones that are imported into the country by reason of their
glish to Church to be catechised but they would not. Some no~ understanding the Language being much more indocile).
masters instruct their Slaves at home and so bring them to bap- It Is_ there~ore humbly proposed that every Indian, negro or
tism, but not many such." John Brunskill, who in 1724 had mulatto child that shall be baptized and afterwards brought to
church and publicly catechised by the minister and in church
108 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
before the 14th year of his or her age, shall give a distinct 109
account of the Creed, Lord's Prayer and Ten Commandments s_toughton of Dorchester, Massachusetts, being well approved by
and whose master or mistress shall receive a Certificate from diversY~ars e~perience for sound knowledge and true godliness
the minister that he or she hath so done, such Indian, negro or was received mto the Church and baptized." John Eliot volun-
teered to i~struct slaves once a week if masters would only send
mulatto child shall be exempted from paying all levies till the
age of 18 years, but whatsoever Indian, ne~ro or mulatto ~hild
shall not be baptized nor give such pubhc account of his or them to him. Mather organized a Society of Negroes in 1693
her faith, nor whose master or mistress receives no such which met, with the permission of each slave's master, every Sun-
certificate as aforesaid shall pay levies at the age of 14 years for day evening. Mather drew up a rule of conduct for the society and
it is humbly supposed the advantage of 4 years' difference in on Su~day evenin~s the slaves heard a sermon and were taught to
levies will have great effects to this purpose. 34 pray, smg and recite the catechism. 3 7
In Puritan New England, where religious life was more settled A group of "ministers of the Gospel" petitioned the general
and where slaves might have come into contact with an environ- court of Massachusetts in May of 1694 to pass a bill denying that
ment of strong religious nurture, there were comparatively few baptis\n bestowed freedom to the slaves, though there is no record
slaves. New Englanders generally shared the attitudes of other that the legislature heeded their memorial. The General Assem-
colonists concerning conversion of their slaves. In Magnalia ?ly of the Colony of Connecticut was asked to deliberate two
Christi (1702) Cotton Mather found it necessary to criticize those '.ssues concerning baptism of slaves in 1738: first, "whether the
Puritan slaveholders who "deride, neglect, and oppose all due Infant slaves of Christian masters may be baptized in their
means of bringing their poor negroes unto our Lord." New En- m~ster's right, . provided they suitably promise and engage to
gland divines, such as Mather and John Eliot, who was a,:Uissi~n­ bnng them up m the ways of religion"; and second, whether the
ary to Indians as well as to Negroes, complained that the Enghsh masters were duty-bound to "offer such children [for baptism]"
used their Negro's but as their Horses or their Oxen, and that so and make the aforesaid promise. The Assembly answered yes to
both queries. 38
little care was taken about their immortal Souls." 35 Even though
the Christian Directory of the English Puritan theologian Richard In 1773 Rev. Samuel Hopkins of Newport, Rhode Island, hit
Baxter directed masters to "Make it your chief end in buying and upon a scheme to evangelize Africa with converted slaves from
using slaves to win them to Christ and save their souls," m.any America. Hopkins persuaded Ezra Stiles to participate in his plan
New England colonists seemed to be more Yankee than Puntan and they successfully sought funding. Two black members of
in carrying out the duties of their calling as slaveholders. In l 705 Hopkins' church--one a slave, named Bristol Yamma, the other a
the Athenian Oracle sarcastically remarked: "Talk to a Planter of freedman, John Quamino-were picked for training under the
the Soul of a Negro and he'll be apt to tell ye (or at least his tutelage of ~resident Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey.
actions speak it loudly) that the body of one of them may be The Revolut10nary
39
War and Quamino's death in 1779 frustrated
worth twenty pounds; but the souls of an hundred of them would this project. Those New England slaves who, like Phillis Wheat-
not yield him one farthing." 36 ley,. were regarded as members of the family, were included in
Some efforts were made, however. The first recorded instance family prayers, Bible reading, and religious instruction. One
of a slave's baptism in New England occurred in 1641, when, ~ethod of instruction consisted in the master or mistress examin-
according to John Winthrop, "a Negro woman belonging to Rev. mg a. slave about the previous Sabbath's sermon. In New England
meetmghouses the slaves listened to sermons segregated in gal-
110 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
111
Jeries, corners, or rear pews. When black Puritans died they were unlawful to make slaves of the Indians: and if so, then why the
still segregated from whites in graveyards. Black church members Negroes?" 42
were generally not allowed to participate in church government. In 1688 a group of Germantown, Pennsylvania, Friends passed
It is impossible to speak with accuracy about the number of slaves a formal remonstrance against slavery to the local meeting. "Is
converted, but the most detailed history of the Negro in colonial there," they asked, "any [among us] that would be done or han-
New England concludes: "Although relatively larger numbers of ~ed at this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the
tim_e of his li~e?" From these tentative beg!nnings the Quaker
slaves may have been Christianized in New England than in the 43

plantation colonies, it is likely that at the end of the colonial era in an~isia:ery_'Yl~!!~~grel'Lt!LlQud_and_~ations by
1776 a large proportion-possibly a majority--of the slaves in Fnends such as Ralph Sandiford, Benjamin Lay, John Woolman,
that section were still heathen." 40 and Anthony Benezet. However, very few American Negroes be-
Presbyterian, Ba ptist__a!l_~ J\!ethodi~--~!f()rt§_~~-_c:()~-~!_t the
slaves -were-primarify-.,-part of_ the __i:_~~ya_l!s~_fervo!:__2Lfue Great
c~me '.m~mbers of t~~Soc1et~f Friends. Part of the expl;ation JJJ
fo~h1s 1s_~'.:!_t_ the!!1.~~~~~~-~~sla'.'.:_i:y stance d~em-3"ccess
A-Wake~i~g -(~hich wil(b~ 9-iscussed later) . .Quakers, despite ex-
h;;rt;.t!Ons'fromGeorge-F~ i~-16srand William Edmundson in
t?_~aves. ~ec~u~e Qua.kers had a reputation forcOiiaernrnng slav-
ery, the V1rgmia Legislature in 1672 forbade Friends to admit
J
1676 to instruct and educate their slaves, showed no great zeal to
-- == N~groes to their meetings. Anoth~r re._a~n is _t_Q~_foi~ of t,
~o. Fox, in a tract entitled Gospel Family Order, remind.ed ~~':ds to proselyte slaves or freeblaCks. ltWas re orted th
slaveholding Quakers that "Christ died for all ... for the tawmes wh~n-ifCameto-reiigious· instr~~tio~:Quakers in D~aware le:
and for the blacks as well as for you that are called whites." Fox the~r slaves to "the natural light." The prejudice of some Quakers
concluded not only that slaves should be instructed but that agamst blac~ ca.ndidates for admission caused the Philadelphia
masters should "let them go free after a considerable term of Ye~rly Meetmg m 1796 to incorporate a rule into the Discipline
years," and with some compensation for their labor.41 Similarly, which stated that applications for membership ought henceforth
Edmundson in an open letter to Friends in America made a con- to be received "without respect of persons or color."44
nection between spiritual and temporal freedom that most seven- English bishops challenged the Protestant colonists to live up
teenth-century Christians did not admit: to the example ?f the Catholic missions in evangelizing the Indi-
And it would be acceptable with God, and answer the witness ans and the African slaves. Occasionally a missionary to the Brit-
in all, if you did consider their condition of perpetual slavery, ish colonies ~ame across slaves who had been baptized by a
and make their conditions your own, and so fulfill the law of French, Spamsh, or Portuguese missionary. An S.P.G. mission-
Christ. For perpetual slavery is an aggravation, and an oppres- ary to South Carolina reported:
sion upon the mind, and hath a ground; and Truth is that
which works the remedy, and breaks the yoke, and removes I ha:e in this parish a few negroe slaves and were born and
the ground. So it would do well to consider that they may baptized among the Portuguese, but speak very good English.
feel, see, and partake of your liberty in the gospel of Christ ... They can_ie to chur~h and are well instructed so as to express a
that they may see and know the difference between you and great desire to receive the communion amongst us. I proposed
other people, and your self-denial may be known to all. to t~em to declare openly their adjuring the errors of the
Rom1sh Church without which declaration I could not receive
In a postscript Edmundson asked: "And many of you count it them. · · · I require of them their renouncing of those particu-
"THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 113
112 r
. . which is praying to the Saints and that ' Carroll's complaint, except for the sentence accusing non-Catho-
lar pomts, the chief of h Po ish Worship in case they lics of bad example,' could have been written by any Protestant
they must not return to t ~ 45 p
shou'd be sent to Medera agam. cleric.
In the Catholic colo!!y_Qf_Louisiana, Bienville's Code Noir of
. .. ies of North America were not likely to
Slaves m the Bnt1,~h colo:r the Romish Church" unless they lived 1724-~-;;q~i;~d-~~~t~~; to instruct slaves in the doctrines of the
be exposed to the. errors l 'th a sizable Catholic presence. Church. But there is little evidence that the French planters were
in Maryland, the only co ony ~1 . Jesuits owned slaves. any more diligent about catechizing slaves than were their En-
Catholic settlers in Marylandb mcl:~I~~olic sla;es was made in glish counterparts. In 1724, the very year in which the bishop of
The first estimate of the num er o a . . in his London questioned his American clergy about slave instruction,
l]..M. by John Carrohll, supteriot t~~ t~~::e:~c:~;;:~;;~, States. Father Raphael de Luxembourg, superior of the Capuchin mis-
rt to Rome on t e sta e o l d f sio.ns in- Louisiana, reported a number of obstacles to missionary
repo 15 800 Catholics in Mary an o
/ Carroll related that there were , " l f all ages of Afri- work among the slaves. His report complained of conditions strik-
re than three thousand were s aves o ingly ~imilar to those described by-- th_t::~Anglk:.ui::a~rgy_of Vir-
t whom. ~o alled Negroes," and that in Pennslyvania there wer~
can ongm, c . " few of whom are negroes.
gfnlii~-The-i~di~~an~i'N~gro-mlssi~~ had been assigned to the
about seven thousand Catholics, very d bTtated by some of the C~~chins, but two years after their arrival in Louisiana in 1722
Catholic efforts to C()nv~!! slaves_~~~: ___ : ___I!________ h-- . ----~~d s of he stiJI did not h~ve missioQ_aries_enough_to ade_q1J11tclx_mi_nister to
- ----- ---- - ' ·- -- --- h th lack of clergy and t e attitu e
same diffic~L s_ll_~--~sh ___ pe . _t___ ._t_ -·--··At-- the time-;;£ Carroll's the French, let alone Indians and Negroes. According to Father
'--·L-~ r d b t e ro es an.s.
slaveuo1ders, iace ___y - -·-·---- ----- d fi
.
· p ...-.n ..vlvama Rapha~l~the·di~t~~~e-of pi:intaifons from missionary stations, the
·~----------- · t · Maryl:m_d an ~~
report, ni~eteen p~I!___ ~ th C tholic Church in the need for boats in order to travel the waterways to those planta-
constituted the entire cl-~-~IP'--~~-~---.!.--------h e of tions where slaves were most numerous, and, worst of all, the
u.~t~dStat~s-:·m-i:nese-twenty-four, twothwetreg:~~rC~r:o;g had general impiety of masters, some of whom forced slaves to work
- -- - ---- d h were "very near a a .
seventy an t ree more . . ther states "who are on Sundays and feast days severely restricted the Capuchin mis-
h d that there were Catholics scattered m o . . sion to the slaves. 4 1
ear deprived of all religious .mm1stry
utterly . . ..,, The Catholic laity came On the other hand, some Louisiana planters did cooperate with
under cnt1c1sm· · · c 1a1
1or r ·1·m g to instruct their slaves:
-------····--·-~
-----------·--·,-------·------~
the missionaries and at least could not object, as._9_kLthe_English
colonists, that baptism necessitated emancip11tion. It was by no
The abuses which have grown among the Catholics ~re
means uncommon for masters and .mistresses to stand sponsor for
chiefly those which result from unavoidable .intercourse! with
. nd the example thence derived: name y ... slave baptisms, and parish church registers of the colonial period
non- Cath o11cs, a · f their
n other things a general lack of care in mstruc ~n? indicate that baptisms of Negroes and mulattoes were frequent. In
a~o g
J d . . lly the Negro slaves in their rehgion; as
children an especia t
th e people are kept constant1y a wo ,
rk so that they rarely
d
the Capuchin missions Holy Saturday and the Vigil of Pentecost
were annual occasions for the baptism· of large groups of slaves
he:: any instructions from the priest, unless they can ~jen e; and free blacks. According to John Gillard, records of the St.
short time with one; and most of them are consequen \ vbe-
Lo..Uis pa._r_i§_l!__church list as many as seventy-five !!fl.cl _!_I hundred
dull in faith and depraved in morals. It ca~ sca~cely ~ of
lieved how much trouble and care they give t e pas or blacks baptized-in a-;ingk-d~y~ B~t-bapdsm was one thing, in-
souls. 46 struction
..,__ -··
another. The very method--;£ 1~i:g~..:sciie.~gl-.oJ.1p_pJ!pJ_i_~
'-- - - - - - - - - -
\ { ~

..
'.'..'.';: \, ,\cv< (:·

114 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"


CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION
115
calls into question the thoroug:hness of.j11~trl!~~i.2._~,J~.!11"-1kularly in
th;ruralareiis-I'eriiote-from churches__~!!<L:m:ies,ts. In l 789 the _, Church of E12_gland to minister to the colonists of America and
Spanish governm.ent issued orders that planters contribute to sup- alsoTo -li-1-stru~t-the-i~£aQ8-~in.dJ~ egf.oes:-HeadedbytneIJlshop of
port chaplains whose duties would in.elude instructi.on of slaves London, the society published tracts and sermons, sent out mission-
upon the plantations. Th~_planters_()PJ~_ct.~d that,_as 1t w,_as, there aries and catechists, sought funds in England to help support the
missions in the Americas, and even ran a plantation with over 300
were not enough clergymen to fill __~~e- vac~ll~ie_!l__in. the regular
parisiie-s-;il:la(they. could-not afforc(to support chaplains, a!!g th~t slaves in Barbados. Hampered by a lack of men and money, the
S.P.G. missionaries had their hands full ministering to the needs
L/(/ pla,pt;-tions _~_e_r~. t'?.~ !~!:...1\J~11~.t- ~Ol'_()l1e_p~rs()I1_~.?.-~erye_a~u;_hapla1~
f;r'Sevefalof them. As late as 1823, twenty years after the Amen- of the white settlers. N~vertheless, some missionaries found the
ca~-;;~q~i~iti~n of Louisiana, Father John Mary Odin, later .a~ch­ ti.Te and won the permission of slaveholders-to catechize-siaves
usuaiiy""Chiidren; but ~ith sm~ll success. 4 9 . . . . ·--·-----~-· '
bishop of New Orleans, complained that still "in Lower ~omsiana
the French for the most part, do not wish you to speak of mstruct- - ~rogre;s in b~pti~ing the. ~l~v-es w~s slow, not merely because
ing their slaves or of giving them the sacraments of matrimony; of t~ders>oojeruons bmalso because of the way in
they are often not even permitted to go to church." It was in the wh~ch th.e.PtQ.c~~~gff_hri-stlamzation was ~arried~~tby th;~j~~ion­
urban settlements that religious ~struct~l!__ for sfaves became ar(es. Th~<;-®r.c.J:u>J__E--;;gland-;tr~s~ed relibous-foSi:r'Uction in its
,_/(.,,(/~ore pl~_Il_tatio11s fo_!:.__3:~ime.
----,.___----------------·-··· ~
e1~()rts _!() 5.<?!1.Y~r! the slaves. An example of this catechetical
rr
feasible than it would be on the
method was described by'Francis Le .Tau in 1710:
TJ1e stahl~pr~~i;~~-~f ~f~~-g;-;~-~-~-th~!!.g£Jewj!!J11Imbe,r, t~e_
e~istence of ch_llr5:1_ies, an<.!__h_<?_l!~e_s_ of_E~-~gi_ou_s_ affor~d_,~re ~p­ Since it has pleased Almight God to bless me with health I
po!!~frk~..f.?I.Jhe.ur_ban_slay~ _t<?._ encoll.'1:t~U.?r~~l.!~:l1g]o~s m- have upon Sundays after our divine service, invited the ne-
struction. In New Orleans, the Ursuline nuns, who arnved m the groes and Indian slaves to stay for half an hour ... we begin
cit;-rn l 727, supplemented the efforts of the few priests to cate- and end our particular assembly with the Collect Preven-;;;; O
chize the slaves and the free blacks. It appears that under the Lord etc. I teach_!~e?1 t~: __C::_r~ed, t~e_ L_o~ff§_J'ti.iyer, and the
Co_lllll]aJ1_d!!J~.nts. I explam some portion of the catechism. I
leadership of a succession of sisters the Ursuline Convent served give them an entire liberty to ask questions. I endeavor to
as a center for the instruction of black Catholics in New Orleans proportion my answers and all my instructions to their want
and capacity. so
from 1730 to 1824. 48 Generally, h<:!~ey~_rLt~_e -~n~!:uct}on_ of
slaves on the plagtations ..of t:ath;li~Iouisiana .was_obstructed by
the -s~~-~i~~~~stances _that hindered.Jhe catechesis_oLslaves on
The carefulness with which the Anglican missionary admitted
slaves t';;-oapt1sm-was exempHfieal;iyLeTati's-practiffof continu-
the pl~~~~ti~~~-~f!'i~t~stantVirginia. .
ing catechumens on trial for two years. Le .Tau explained: "I could
While there were inQi_vidu~Lder:g)'.II1en ..w.ho_repnma1uJed the
easily multiply the number of slaves proselyted to Christianity but I
planters for neglectini_Qi_t'.__~l!!Y_3:t.ig_1.!__Qf_tl:iei~-~erv~d. who
put off their baptism and the receiving some persons to the holy
attempted to evangelize slaves when possible, it ;"3~()t until t~e
J 0 ;ganization ofth~- S?_ciety for the_Jlrop11gl!tfop_Q.f_thLG-9_~l m
table till we have a good testimony and proof of their life and con- .-~
\_j)JJ F~r~ifin?a·~~~~~aTan att~mpt ll}~c!~to.confront versation." Th:__~n&".!i:,an catechist beli!Yed that eventually reli- / · / I
51

institutional _lVas.
the task of slave con version in English_ c;olo!lial ;'\:1.1.1.~r~~..!!:__T~
giou~j~~~_t:!l<jiQ!!.§_hould_i__ncl!!ik_~_?ching the slaves to read. One of /Jv
thelirst S.P.G. missionaries sent toth-; ~~j~~k~~S~~-;:;~l Thomas (
s~ci~tl_~a~-f~~~d_ec!_~ ~-?n~on in l 701 a~-~~siD_ll!!.!"Y-~!!!!.Qf the
of Goose Creek, South Carolina (Le .Tau's predecessor), automati- W
c'
. \ ~; ,, I
i J ; ~ -
] oi!,....i
116 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 117
cally assumed a connection between Christian initiation and slave The aim of the CI_i!lrle,§!Q~~_r~__s_<:_hool was stated clearly by
literacy when he reported in 1702 that he had taught twenty slaves Commissary Garden in his letter of 1740: ·
to read while instructing them in the Christian faith. 52
The tende11cy of the S.P.G. to vi_~_J:b~El.~gious in.filnK.tion of As among us Religious Instruction usually descends from
Parents to Children, so among them it must at first ascend
J slav~~_in~ ~quivale~GQ.~~~~tio1!__k_c;ljLJ9_s_ponsm-_(in coop-
\./r'J eratf~~-~ith- ~-b~~-;;~olent society, the Associates of Dr. Bray) from Children to Parents, or from young to Old.
They are as 'twere a Nation within a Nation. In all County
./ several Neg_i:o scho~~-\~--~J::~-~?J~ies. The schools established in Settlen_ients, they live in contiguous Houses and often 2, 3, or
\Y Ch~~,-South Carolina, and New York City proved to be 4 Faimlys of them in one House, Slightly partitioned into so
among the more successful. In .!1 J~tt~-~ritt~Il-~~~hich many Apartments. They labour together and converse almost
wholly among themselves, so that if once their children could
proposed the possibility of a Negro sc}:i()()k&J~~l!n~_~r_Q~, the
rJ: bi~h~p-of Lond~n's'~~mmissar:y ill ~.?u~.h C:ar.oJirifl, suggested that
but read the Bible to them, and other Tracts of Instruction of
E~e'nin.gs & other spare Times, specially Sundays; would
inst;~cti·~~-be-cond~cted "by Negro Schoolmasters, Home-born, bt\mg m at least a Dawning of the blessed Light amongst
& equally Property as other Slaves, but educated for this Service, them; and which as a Sett or two of these children grew up to
& employed in it during their Lives, as the others are in any other Men and Women, would gradually diffuse and increase into
open Day.
Service whatsoever." 53
Following Garden's advice, the society purchased in 1742 two Obviously, this was a scenario that would take a long while to
black teenagers, aged fourteen and fifteen, to be ti;ained as develop, yet Garden optimistically predicted that if "this method
teachers. Both youths, Harry and Andrew, had been baptized as of Instructing the Young Slaves continued, in this or any other
infants. Garden had high praise for one: "He proves of an excel- Colony, but for the Space of Twenty Years, the Knowledge of the
lent Genius, & can now (in the Space of eight Months) read N. Gospel 'mong the Slaves of such Colony ... (excepting those
Testament exceedingly well." "In six more," Garden continued, newly Imported) would not be much inferior to that of the lower
1
"he will be throly qualified for the intended Service; & by that sort of white People." 58 The Charlestown school experiment
time, with God's Blessing, I shall have a Schoolhouse ready .. · & lasted until 1764, when Harry, the teacher, died. Andrew had
everything necessary prepared for his entering upon it here at "proved a profligate" and Garden had died in 1756. 59 Even when
Charlestown .... " 54 Garden's School for Negroes was opened on the school was successfully operating, its significance was more an
Sep!e_~~-~i:.J2, 1743..!.~ri~~iisted::-<JYei:-t~~n}y-year~i~e the example of a valiant effort than a statistically effective way of
fact that in 1740 the South Carolina Legislature, 111 react10n to converting a "nation within a nation." Richard Clarke, Garden's
the Stono Rebellion of 1739, had adopted a strict law against successor as commissary, placed the school in perspective when
teaching slaves to write. 55 In 1746 Garden informed the society he reported to the society in 1755 that the Negro school was well
that the school had already trained twenty-eight children and was attended but that there was a lamentable negligence on the part of
at that time instructing fifty-five more children during the day white people with regard to Negro education: there was not "so
and fifteen adults in the evening. 56 The type of education offered much as one Civil Establishment in the Colony for the Christian
can be inferred from Garden's request to the society for the fol- Instruction of 50,000 Negro Slaves." 60
lowing books: "100 Spelling Books, 50 Testaments, 50 Bibles, l!!!~~r__t~~-a_!:Jspi_c_es of_ the S.P. q., EliasNeau, a lay catechist,
and 50 Psalters with Common Prayer." 57 i~d a schooljnJi~JY. .¥.91:.t .9tY.J~I_?:.Q.4 ·f~r catechizing
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 119
"THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"
118
ner as I can the Meaning of what th
Negroes. By July of 1707 Neau was able to report over a hun- with them J mak D" ey repeat, & before I part
dred pupils and the next year more than two hundred. Neau's God, or th~ Life &e~eat~s~i~~: a:o:~~~ ;nd the Being of a
methods consisted of going "from house to house, persuading the some Event or Story, taken out of the . e ee~er, or upon
Discourse in Hand 6
2
Bible, smtable to the
owners to send their slaves every Monday, Wednesday, and Fri-
day at 4 P.M. to his house where he [taught] them the Lord's
Contending with the usual problems-vehemen . .
Prayer in English, and gradually [led] up to the Creed and Cat- from some planters who alleged " SI - . . t object10ns
echism." Of the slaves who came, "many who could not read, a Xn, than in his State of Pa an~sm~~~ IS t~~ times worse when
could yet by Memory repeat the History of the Creation of the with Af · I · g ' mabihty to communicate
. r1can s aves, Irregular attendance 0 I
World, the Flood, the giving of the Law, the Birth, Miracles and less reported "good S ,, b .h - tto enghe neverthe-
uccess y t e summer of 1752 In 1759 h"
Crucifixion of our Lord, and the chief Articles and Doctrines of work for the Associates and the s p G . . IS
Christianity." In 1720 Neau's school had eighty-four students, succ,ess Ottolenghe could I . . . . was ter~mated. Whatever
consisting of thirty-five women and forty-nine men. Four of the back~ of the Associates' ~:::: was at best hmit.ed. The draw-
women were free; the remaining eighty persons were slaves educating Negroes were all t d,l namely, foundmg schools for
b b , oo c ear to .Rev Bartholome z
owned by fifty-one different slaveholders. Thirty-nine had been er uhler, the rector of Christ Church in . ~ ou-
baptized and six were communicants. 61 The existence of the the Secretary of the A . . Savannah. Wntmg to
ssociates m 1758 z b b h
school was threatened in the aftermath of a slave insurrection in the necessity of itinerant catechists t , ou er u !er a~ued for j
1712 but managed to survive Neau's death in 1722 and lasted wh ,-..,.t-- ---·-----·;-·-·-·----- - o work among the slave , I
ere mey were--0n widely scattereci:-piantat!Ons·;----· s \j
until the War of Independence. ----··-----------
The S.P.G. and the Associates of Dr. Bray also supported a lay l have once proposed the erecting of a Publick Sch 1 B
catechist to instruct Negroes in Georgia after slaves were legally from the Observations, I ha e . oo , ut
labours of Mr. Ottolen h v hsmce _made, particularly on the
admitted to the colony in 1749. The catechist, Joseph Otto- ity of School Master : ~a:c~i :h1~st he acted _in the Capac-
lenghe, an Italian-born convert from Judaism, landed at Savannah great Care & D1"l1"g I s discharged his Duty with
ence, am now of 0 . . h
in 1751 and quickly announced a program of instruction. He foundation is not only too limited bu 1 pm10n t ~t such a
proposed to hold meetings for slaves three times a week, on Sun- Inconveniences This Pr . . t a so attended with many
· · ovmce 1s as yet b t th" 1 · h .
day, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings after the day's work was. consequently
. such a Sc oo 1 can only reauh m
h Y m ab1ted,
d" . .
done. Reporting to the Associates a few months after his arrival, Neighbours, & there are but few Ma
Negroes capable of a _.
c a
~
:w a Jommg
sters who will spare their
Ottolenghe described his teaching methods: . ny service to be taught in th D
T ime ... The best & a e ay
ing these poor Creat most e ecftual Method then of deliver-
ures out o the" D k
When we meet, I make them go to Prayers with me, having them Pertakers of the Light 0 f th Glf ar_ ness & to make
composed for that Purpose a few Prayers, suitable (I hope) to at their respective H b" . e ospel, is, to attend them
a 1tat10ns i t · .
the Occasion. Having thus recommended our Selves to the Fundamental Truths o· f Ch . t" . : . ns ructmg them m the
ns iamty And "ft
Protection of Heaven . . . I instruct them to read, that they properly qualified would d k . I wo or three Men
un erta e to be "f C .
may be able in Time to comfort themselves in reading the or Schoolmasters. They mi ht b d" I merant atech1sts
Book of God. After this is done, I make them to repeat the One District & the sam T? .e ispersed 2 or 3 Months in
Lords Prayer & the Belief, [Creed] & a short portion of the the whole Colony."sa e ime m another & thereby compass
Catechism, explaining to them in as easie & Familiar a man-
120 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS .AND CONVERSION 121
Thus Zouberbuhler recognize<!,_as_<!_Ld_.J_4_e_~~-!_!iodists of a drawn betw~n imported, o~Q_uine!l_,'' N_~g_roes an~ A~~an,
..
sliihtlr_ late_r_P._e!i~~-~~~ia~t!lg.t!~:~r itin.~.ra?cy in sp~~the ?r "native-born," slaves. Frequently the former never learned En-
//;J j G,el in the sparsely settled areas of the vanous Ame~n fron- gii~h we[~11_~~g:E~~o understand catechesis. The bishop of Lon-
J I/ tiers. N~t until6verseventy-yearsiaier;-when-the-·pi~!i!a~s­ don lamented this commun1cai1on'gap-in a pastoral letter of l 727
si~n was -p;~p;~t~~f ;~- ·~-;; ·i~(--m;~ld th_;;-· co~ceE!_~f carrying in which he stated that "they are utter strangers to our language
Chrlstf~fnst-;:-~~tion..,.---····-
---·------~-·"-~
to-~la_y~_S,_Qn_th!!_ll_ll!ntations
. -
SP!~a.ttent~()ll.. !l!ld .. effec;tjv~..Qrgani?:ation.
.
-·-··---·~~"-" ___
win wide- and we to theirs; and the gift of tongues being now ceased, there is
no means left of instructing them in the doctrines of the Christian
The Church of England was not alone in thinking of conver- religion,," The bishop encouraged his charges not to despair, how-
sion as a process of religious nurture which involved teaching the ever, for he had been informed that "many of the Negroes who are
slaves. (In Woodson's phrase, this was a "Religion with Letters.") grown persons when they came over, do of themselves attain so
Colonial Protestants, whether Anglican, Puritan, Baptist, or much of our language as enables them to understand and to be
Quaker, thought the Catholic emphasis on the efficacy of the undetstood, in things which concern the ordinary business of
sacraments ex opere operato was mechanistic and magical. The life." The bishop failed to understiind that the degree of fluency in
Reformed emphasis on an individual's relationship to God, on English necessary for an African slave to "get by" in the "ordinary
searching the Scriptures, and on discerning the workings of grace business" of plantation life may not have been high enough to
within one's heart tended to de-emphasize the mediative role of carry him very far in listening to an explanation of Christian
the sacraments. T~~ irr:porta11_<:~...9L!E~.!~.!!!!..~rd-and the doctrine. A catechist in New York had difficulties with slaves
sermonic words which explicated it-encouraged literacr..!!!!.~ reli- who were "bashful because, as yet, they pronounced the English
gious learning. Until the wave of revi~ls. kn~wn-as~the Great language very poorly."6 5
Awakening reminded American Protestants of the importance of Not all slaves who could understand religious instruction were J
the conversion experience, becoming Christian was seen as a pro- eager to accept Christianity. William Tibbs, of St. Paul's Parish,
cess of careful nurture and slow growth. 64 Baltimore County, Maryland, reported in 1724 that he had bap-
th J T_he hi~~r-~~:~: ..r.~~igi~u8. instr~ctio~_of_ s-~~e-~-~11,~-~y_ed t~ee tized and taught some slaves but that most refused instruction.
parties: planters, m1ss10nanes, and slaves. The slaves response to Some masters revealed to a missionary in Santee, South Carolina,
e'~~~-geliz~tion-vari~cCbutlt was --~i;;ys conditioned-f}y-·th~-cir­ that when slaves became Christian "all other slaves do laugh at
c~~st~nces o(slavery<'the~e was s~methi~-g-pec~liar about the them." 66 Bishop Secker suggested to the S.P.G. in a sermon,
w;y ·-African slaves were evangelized in America. Traditionally, delivered in 1741, two reasons for the aversion of some slaves to
"preaching the gospel to all nations" meant that the Christian Christianity-"the Fondness they have for their old Heathenish
disciple was sent out with the gospel to the pagans. In America Rites, and the strong Prejudice they must have against Teachers
the reverse was the case: the pagan slave was brought to a Chris- from among those, whom they serve so unwillingly." The bishop
tian disciple who was frequently reluctant to instruct him in the concluded, "it cannot be wondered, if the Progress made in their
gospel. The irony of that situation bore practical implications for Conversion prove but slow." 67
the interrelationships between master, missionary, and slave. Missionaries in the field complained that the "wicked life of
It is clear from the reports of S.P.G. missionaries that th9 had
t/!JV little su~ce-sS'~th-J\fric;~-_:b~~~ ~i~~;~~Sh-;;p--cli~tinctions were
.---·-·----·- ......... _ --- ""•··--------------···---·---· -~
Christians" was an obstacle impedh1g the conversion of the
68
infidel. And the slaves themselves were not insensitive to the
122 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION 123

hypocrisy of masters. Rev. Francis Varnod, minister to St. to Catechizing, taken opportunity to absent from their Masters
George's Parish in South Carolina, observed in 1724 that the service. many days." Rev. Charles Martyn, of South Carolina,
slaves were "also sensible that as we are Christians, we do not compla_m.ed that s~me baptized slaves "became lazy and proud,
act accordingly, upon which account a negro boy about 14 who ent~rtammg too high an opinion of themselves, and neglecting
has never been instructed, being blamed by his mistress (as she . their daily labour." 72
was going to church) for some things he had done amiss, was The hard-to-suppress belief that baptism resulted in manumis-
heard to say, My mistress can curse and go to church .... " 69 sion was not restricted to slave masters. Le Jau found it necessary
The brutality endemic to slavery gave the slaves much to be to draw. up a ~eclaration which adult slaves had to accept before
"scandalized" about. Francis Le Jau objected to "a very severe he would baptize them. Candidates for bap_tism...wer.e-required to
act" passed by the South Carolina Legislature in 1712 which assent to !h~fallo_wiug:
-----
threatened runaway slaves with mutilation and, for frequent vio- ~ ou declare in the presence of God and before this Congrega'-
lations, death. 70
One missionary, who took the time to inquire, discovered that a
~10nf that you dfofrnot ask for the holy baptism out of any design -. )J·J
o ree yourse1 om the Duty and Obedience that you owe to .
pagan slave's theology bore some resemblance to his own: your Master while you live, but merely for the good of Your
Soul and to partake of the Graces and Blessings promised to
I find that some of our negro-pagans have a notion of God and the members of the Church of Jesus Christ. 1a
of a Devil, and dismal apprehensions of apparitions. Of a God
that disposes absolutely to all things. For asking one day a That this was no public relations ploy for the benefit of the
negro-pagan woman how she happened to be made a slave, masters was demonstrated by a slave conspiracy aroused over this
[she) replied that God would have it so and she could not help very issue of baptism and freedom. On June 28, 1729, Rev.
it. I heard another saying the same thing on account of the J~m~s. Blair, official representative of the bishop of London in
death of her husband. And a Devil ... who leads them to do V1rgmia, wrote his superior that
mischief, and betrays them, whereby they are found out by
their masters and punished. 71
I doubt not some of the ~egro~s are sincere Converts, but the ~-l
The slaveholders' charge that religious instruction made slaves far greater part of them little mmd the serious part, only are in
hopes that t.hey will meet with so much the more respect, and
moreintractable
. ---·· . was--not wiihouffouiidai:iori: George-ROss,minis-
~·C··--· -----·--·----·-n~-·~~-,,_...__,,,.., that some time or other Christianity will help them to their
ter of Emmanuel Church in New Castle, Delaware, explained that freedom.
one reason for the "general indifference" of even churchgoing
planters to the instruction of their slaves was "the untoward Two years later Blair announced that his susp1c10ns had been
haughty behaviour of those Negroes who have been admitted into confirmed: " ... notwithstanding all the precautions which the
the Fellowship of Christ's Religion." Rev. Philip Reading, who ministers took to assure them that baptism did not alter their
began his work at Apoquinimick, Pennsylvania, in 1746 wished servitude, the negroes fed themselves with a secret fancy that it
"that the slaves themselves by their rebellious behaviour after did, and that the King designed that all Christians should be
baptism, had not given too much cause for such prejudices." Rev. made free. And when they saw that baptism did not change
James Whetmore, who succeeded Elias Neau as catechist in t~eir .status they grew angry and saucy, and met in the night-
1723, observed that "some [slaves] have under pretence of going time m great numbers and talked of rising." The threat of rebel-
124 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 125

lion was squelched by patrols, whipping, and the execution of Le Jau had no way of predicting it, but apocalyptic imagery was
four conspirators. 74 to have an unsettling effect among Christian slaves for a long time
The clerical argument that Christianity made slaves more doc- to come.
ile was weakened in South Carolina in 1725, when some slaves Other converted slaves, however, were found to "behave them-
who had embraced Christianity participated in "secret poisonings selves very well, and do better for their master's profit than for-
and bloody insurrection." Rev. Richard Ludlam complained that merly." Le Jau had baptized some slaves who could be trusted to
thus they had "returned .... the greatest of evils for the greatest "Instruct one another" since they were "zealous, honest,'' and
good." 75 Rev. William Cotes, of St. George's Parish in Dor- "read wel~." Significantly, Le Jau added, "and by them I am
chester, South Carolina, interviewed a Christian slave condemned inform'd when there is any disorder among their fellows slaves
to death in 1751 for her part in poisoning slaveholders: that it may be remedyed." 78 Even after a slave had been cate-
chized, baptized, and sometimes married in the Church, there
One ~f Col. Blake's [slaves], who had been baptized, told me, remained a peculiar dimension to his Christian life-his slave con-
that notwithstanding what was alleged against her, she hoped 1
dition. The strictures of that state often led to practical problems
to be saved, because she believed in Christ (a vague phrase such as those which puzzled Rev. Adam Dickie of Drysdale Par-
much in use among our sectaries).
ish, in Virginia. Writing the bishop of London in 1732, Dickie
Arguing with her antinomian view of faith, Cotes "endeavored to inquired whether married slaves belonging to two different
show her the true import and meaning thereof, and at last she masters should be considered as separated if one master moved
made some kind of confession, and desired to be remembered in away or sold one of the slaves, "they being Effectually Separated
our prayers." 76 as by Death, not of Choice but necessity." Furthermore, should
The slaves' response to instruction and to reading was not al- slaves be allowed to stand as sponsors at baptisms for each other's
ways what the missionaries (and the masters) had hoped. Rev. Le· children, since few white people were willing to do so? Finally,
Jau described in a letter a disturbing incident: should Christian slaves be allowed all the Christian privileges,
such as the churching of mothers after childbirth? 79 The last two
The best scholar of all the negroes in my parish and a very questions reveal the limits which slave staus could place on Chris-
sober and honest liver, through his learning was like to create tian fellowship. The first of Dickie's questions presented a prob-
some confusion among all the negroes in this country. He had lem which was not to be solved until emancipation, namely, how
a book wherein he read some description of the several judge-
to maintain the permanence of Christian marriage within a social
ments that chastise men because of their sins in these latter
days, that description made an impression upon his spirit, and system which recognized no such thing for slaves. Thus, the mis-
he told his master abruptly there would be a dismal time and sionary could advise the baptized slave that the "Christian Reli-
the moon would be turned into blood, and there would be gion does not allow plurality of wives, nor any changing of them"
dearth of darkness and went away ... but when he spoke and demand that "you promise truly to keep the Wife you now
these few words to his master, some negro overheard a part, have til Death does part you." But frequently neither he nor the
and it was publicly blazed abroad that an angel came and
spoke to the man. He had seen a hand that gave him a book;
he had heard voices, seen fires, etc. As I had opportunities I
slave had .the fin.al s.ay about keepin.g or br.eak.ing the promise.
~in~-~:3!~!-~~n_t!:!!L~~-~~-l!!f_qf_~l.a.yJ~ry_iu_the_United
80
·

JJ\
I
77
took care to undeceive those who asked me about it .... ~ • •moll m;no,ity of •lav" t=iY<d_inruucTion in the ~
' ( \ , I , I '-
'YJ (.
0,·
,\.,J \..:
·~ \
) • '. <\. i ··; ' ' \. \ ·1 \ '

I JI~('.,',,- ( (
r--I~l-r·
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,,, 'I
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, I
"'')r
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,l_o. /I,,
c-
',' ; ,.!["'; ;,
·'
126 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" ATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 127

C~ith. The objections of slaveholders; the l!Esettled state The "inaccuracy" of the slaves' translation of Christianity would
of ~1!.J..~t~e_§<?__u!~t;.~n co_l?nies, which held the great majority be a cause of concern to missionaries for a long time to come.
of the slave population; the paucity__ of missionaries to catechize Because there is only sparse slave testimony from the colonial
slaves; linguistic and cultural barriers b~t;~~;;-i\rricanS";nd Euro- period, historians can only speculate about the ways in which
- - ------···-- >' "-·-··· -- • • • _;i
peans; the very way in _which conversion was -generally per- slaves during that period interpreted Christianity to fit the world
c~d-a~h;;;i~-:--;--ti~~-~o~s~ming. proc.ess-of reiigious in- views inherited from their African past. It is important to observe
struction-all_ the.se. fac;t()i:s .~n_s_~~~~--!J:i.11.t. Ghris!ia.~~!L!£1iched that on a very general level African religions and Christianity
m~_sl~~~s_indirectlx!Ll!t,all. There were, however, a few slayes (Protestant as well as Catholic) shared some important beliefs. A
who did accept Christianitt._and ~ere baptized into the Church basic Christian doctrine which would not have seemed foreign to
un~~-~:Uili~~~u~it~~-Bapti;t~Quaker;-lind..Morav~ very most Africans was belief in God, the Father, Supreme Creator of
few) a11spices. Some attained full if not equarcom-lllunion with the world and all within it. The divine sonship of Jesus and the
their whlte fellow Christians. divinity of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, would
Whatever the lack of numerical effectiveness, the religious in- have also seemed intelligible to many Africans accustomed to a
struction-ofSlaves-dunI1gtlieco19!ifarperiod still had a significant plurality of divinities. That there were only three divine persons
imp_act on the lives of m_~QY_ -slaves, ~i~~i~~ries, a~~ers. and that Jesus was the only begotten ~on of the Father would
What-was.irivofved in-th~- slav~;~··;,~~epta.;;c;;·of 'christianity, as all have seemed too limited a pantheon to some Africans. The notion
1 ~{,
<\
three parties to the interchange-missionaries, slaveholders, and of an afterlife where the evil suffer and the good prosper and the
slaves-dimly realized, was the slew process by which "Africans concept of sin as wrongdoing deserving of divine anger and pun-
be~-~~~~w,-N~groes}~~-;;-;;-~~tim;~l-pro7e~~-;~~i~gous (but ishment were also held in many African societies, though the
by no means-·identical) to that of other immigrant groups, it in- doctrine of man's depravity as a result of original sin would have
volved complex social and psychological adaptation on the part of been repugnant to most. That adoration and prayer were owed by
both black slaves and white colonists. Adapting to the foreign man to a god would have seemed obvious to Africans, for whom
culture of the Europeans meant for the Africansn~tt~total the essence of piety consisted in propitiating gods and ancestors.
a~a~~rr]~~~ihei~_-own ·«:osinologie'i'but:rathe~:-~process of Most centrally, the absence from Christian ritual of drumming,
i1!_~e_g~!!!J_gJh_~ new_ in_t,o_ t.J;;;1((0riil~;p~cting ..th;;~-nfamiliar by dancing, sacrifice, and possession would have been keenly felt by
reference to the familiar. Catechesis moved in two directions. The most Africans. The differences between Protestant Christianity
,,.j ,/! s!~-~~~!:.~Ja_yghtt_}~~ p~~Y~~ ~9~f.!l),ej,)1.n~ rit~§_()_f Christianit';, and African religious belief were, of course, much more numerous
but as the missionaries realized, the slaves had to so~eh~~ ~nder­
;
.j and much more important than the similarities, but there were
I. stand the meaningof Christian beliefandrlturulfinsfiuction was enough similarities to make it possible for slaves to find some
to~more-tll;~ ~e;e-parr~ti~~- A~d h~~~ .ih~:;hit~s.Jiad
i
common ground between the beliefs of their ancestors and those
oii1y_1.!!!1_i!~~ c;;Jt;~l.- Fo; the sl~ves brought their cultural past to of the white Christians. The theory that African acceptance of
the task of translating andlirtei:-prefingfue-doctrh1ai-;~;f; and Christianity required the adoption of a totally alien world view

JJJ ~~;i~~;:;~;;~~!L~~l~~i;~;.~~~r~~e.~~J -~t0~~n~~-trh:~~


the -~-~~e~ actually foun~ i?r,,_b:.!_t~!· made) were not tht;,_same.
needs therefore to be modified. 81

Colonial legislation and clerical declaration to the contrary, the


128 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 129
religious instruction of the slaves had implications beyond the Tennent described the result of his preaching in Charlestown,
spiritual-implications which would be revealed more fully in the Massachusetts: "multitudes were awakened, and several had re-
tumult of revivalist preaching under the impact of the conversion ceived great consolation, especially among the young people, chil-
experience. But even before that storm of revival broke, a begin- dren and Negroes." 86 An Anglican clergyman in Salem, Mas-
ning had been made. As one historian felicitously expressed it: sachusetts, reacted with disdain to the effects of the revival: "So
"The complete cycle of a sacramental progression from baptism to great has been the enthusiasm created by Wesley and Whitefield
burial, with the special training of each successive step between, and Tennent, that people talk of nothing but, 'renovating, regen-
including the learning of the white man's language, might not be eration, conviction and conversion ... ' Even children 8-13 as-
a legal emancipation, but was, nevertheless, a participation in the semble i~ bodies preaching and praying, nay the very Servants
white man's folk ways amounting to something like tribal adop- and Slaves pretend to extraordinary inspiration, and under the
tion."82 Though adoption on both sides was incomplete, the way veil thereof cherish their idle dispositions and in lieu of dutifully
had been opened for a kind of stepbrotherhood which would mindi~g their respective. businesses run rambling about to utter
occasionally result in situations of religious reciprocity. The im- enthusiastic nonsense." 87 Active participation by Negroes, as ex-
pact of revivalism and the experience of conversion would, for a horters, in the fervor of the Awakening was one of the charges
time at least, increase the visibility of the egalitarian implications leveled against the revival by critics like Charles Chauncy: " ...
within Christianity. chiefly indeed young Persons, sometimes Lads, or rather Boys:
Nay, Women and Girls, yea Negroes, have taken upon them to do
the Business of Preachers. " 88
Revival and Con version
In the Southern colonies the revival impulse continued to
The Great Awakening represented "the dawning of the new day" smolder and to flare up spqradically under the preaching of evan-
in the history of the conversion of slaves to Christianity. 83 In what gelical ministers. Pro-revival, or New Light, Presbyterians, as
might be termed the preliminary "showers of grace" before the well as pro-revival, or Separate, Baptists and Methodists contin-
deluge of the Awakening, Jonathan Edwards noted that the ued the work of the revival moving west with the frontier into the
Northampton, Massachusetts, revival of 1734-36 was affecting Old Southwest, where the conflagration would begin anew at the
black churchgoers as well as whites: "There are several Negroes turn of the century in the camp meeting revivals of Kentucky and
who, from what was seen in them and what is discernable in them Tennessee. 89
since, appear to have been truly born again in the late remarkable Presbyterian Samuel Davies, a leading New Light and future
season. " 84 When the full tide of the Great Awakening swept over president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), began his
the colonies, beginningiii1746;-bTacksw~~ among those lifted ministry to seven congregations in Hanover County, Virginia, in
t~ ne~ height-~ ofreligiou;~~citeme_nt-.-Whit~fi~Ta-;Tennent, and 1748. Along with his fellow New Light colleagues, John Todd
other. revivalists- noted with satisfaction the presence of black and John Wright, Davies experienced considerable success in his
pep pie s~~ll-l~-g-the-cr~~d~ -~ h~- flocked to -he;~th~i;:-p~;erful efforts to evangelize Negroes. Davies reportedly "had the pleasure
message ~fsalvatloll.-Whitefieid-recounted an--occasiorl-lii--Phila- of seeing 40 of them around the table of the Lord, all of whom
delphia in 1740 when "near fifty negroes came to give me thanks made a credible profession of Christianity, and several of them
for what God had done to their souls. " 85 In a letter to Whitefield, gave unusual evidence of sincerity, and he believed that more than
130 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION
131
1,000 Negroes attended on his ministry at the different places "the number of blacks that attend the preaching affects me
where he alternately officiated." In 1757 Davies wrote: "What much." A revival from 1773 to 1776 under Devereux Jarratt
little success I have lately had, has been chiefly among the ex- which covered fourteen counties of Virginia and two of North
tremes of Gentlemen and Negroes. Indeed, God has been remark- Carolina, was attended by "hundreds on Negroes ... with tears
ably working among the latter. l have baptized about 150 adults; streaming down their faces." One evangelist reported that "the
and at the last sacramental solemnity, I had the pleasure of seeing cha.pel was full of white and black"; another that "in general the
the table graced with about 60 black faces. They generally behave white people were within the chapel and the black people with-
well as far as I can hear, though there are some instances of ~ut." Moved by F~eeborn Garretson's preaching in Maryland,
apostacy among them." 90 Davies, with the respect for education hundreds both white and black expressed their love of Jesus."
characteristic of Presbyterians, emphasized the need for teaching Thomas Rankin figured that in 1777" Methodists in the colonies
the slaves to read, and had hoped to compose "a book with the includec;I "many hundreds of Negroes ... convinced of sin, and
combined purpose of teaching reading and Christianity"-a pro- many ,of them happy in the love of God."93
ject never completed. The evangelical heart of Davies' message to In h86, the first year in which Methodists disting~hite
the slaves, however, was not so much instruction as the experi- and black members in their_i:ecords, there were 1 890 black mem-
ence of conversion, as can be seen from his advice to prospective bers out of a total membe~hlp--~fi8;79i. .BY:"i7~o-th~~~~ber of
black converts: black Methodists had in~~~~~_t.2._l_l,_g_~g,_~icf in 1797.the black
You will say perhaps 'other negroes are baptized; and why not membership stood at 12,2_~_aj_il!.o_g_Qn~.::f~~h~t~ total
I?' But, consider some other negroes have been in great l\!_ethodist member~hip. TQe majority of black Methodists in
trouble about their souls; their hearts have been broken for
sin; they have accepted Christ as their only Saviour; and are
1!97~~~~~d in three ~aryiancr,-;it"hS,10~Vir-
gmia, with 2,490;aiiONo~arolina, with 2,071. South c;- _
Christians indeed; and when you are such, it will be time 0
enough for you to be baptized. 91 lina followed ~ith J!29, while Georgia had 148. 94 -
Unlike the Methodists, Baptf;t-;- k~pt -~parse records so it is
Davies' criteria for baptism demanded more than learning the
diffi~ult to gaug.e accurately the extent of their black me~bership,
Lord's Prayer, the _Apostles' Creed and memorizing parts of the
part1c~larly d~nng the early period of their expansion. O~ti­
catechism. He faced little opposition from slaveholders and could
~~~hat m 1793 the black Baptist membership was about
boast that slaves "are freely allowed to attend upon my ministry,
o~urthtlie totalmembership--~f73;47~b~t~~~~--i-8ooo
and some time my private instructions, even by such masters as
and l ~o. WilHamWa~;-swe~i-;i;t~dt~;t-th~;e-;;e 17 '644
have no religion at all, or are Bigots to the Established church." 92
black Baptists in the South in 1795. According to Charles ~ol­
More than the Presbyterians, the _Separate Baptists an<L_the
cock Jones, the black membership of the Baptists increased from
Methodists reaped a revival harvest of bl;ck--and \Vhite members
about 18,000 in 1793 to about 40,000 in 1813. 9 5 While these
in-the--Soi.lth.-By-ij~~-;n-d-~fthe century-these two denominations
-were in the ascendancy in the South. Slaves_~~_c!_free -~Jack_L:were
a~ong th~~elli~g-th;B~p!i~t_!l~<!~~!~_()dJ_st_ ranks. Meth_Qfl-
figures are probably inflated, there is no doubt that the growth in
bl~ck as well as wh~te membersh'.p among the Baptists and Meth- j
ist--itir1~;n-t~-frequentl"y-~~-~~ented on the pre_sen_~e__<Jf_!>~sks in od'.st.s was astoundm?". The -~~-~ur --~~-~~-~ _gr.?.~!!! -~~s the
rehgi~us -~e_:~i:_ of revival. For example, Baptists in. the Savannah
JJ
their-c~ngregati~ns. Joseph Pilmore W-r~te-to Wesley in 1770 that
Ge;rgia, area, through "fre~~-extensive" .1.'~_vjv.al.s,~_spe~
132 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTIONn CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 133
ci~l~l!ffiOng_the..coloure.c!pgpµl::i!i_o.n," in 1812 "received by bap- t~rama_,0f_sip and salvation, of damnation and election. The
tism about fifteen hundred persons." 96 Anglican usually-t~~gii thesla~e~-th~-· T~n-C~mm-a~dments, the
The revivalist impulse of the Great Awakening broke out anew Api~!les•:C::rt;t;q .l!i:i:d .the Lord's Prayei; the revivalisCpreacher
on the frontier in 1800. The Great Western Revival, inaugurated heiped them to feel the weight ~f sin, to _imagi~~-the-·a1;eats of
by the Gaspar River and Cane Ridge camp meetings in Ken- H~H~ and to-~cep!__QriSfas]hefr:.91-iI~~or. T~~-:~~t~m of
tucky, embraced blacks, who eagerly participated in the tumultu- the camp meeting, as excessive as it seemed to some churchmen,
ous exercises which became characteristic of frontier revivalism. was- triggered by the personal, emotional appeal of the preacher
The camp meeting proved to be a powerful instrument for accel- and supported by the common response of members of his con-
erating the pace of slave conversions. gregation: The]evivalists tended, moreover, to minimize comylex
The increase in conversions of Neg'!'.oes under the impact of exr,I.a~:a_ti9_'!.~~!.d0c!!I.n_~~rhe heightened emphasis on conversion '
'.) revi~iSm;-~~-<l~-=:t9_.i;;y_~;~Ct~S:i~;~. -·Th;-;~;~gclical religion le(t littl~ room for elaborate catechesis. The plain doctrine and JJ
/'h s"i1read byth;-;~~ivalists initiated a religiou;ren~ in the heavy ~motion of r~vivalist sermons ap~aled as much to the-~lack
L'.J South as a somnoJe;rt' religious consciousness was awakened by sl~ to the white farmer. The experience of John Thompson,
revivalist preachers. The revival itself became a means of church born as a slave in Maryland in 1812, is illustrative:
@ el5.te~~~'?-~-~o~ Presbyterians and, paI_!L~ularly, for Method~ts and
My mistress and her family were all Episcopalians. The near-
6) ::!~~~y-r:;fe t~~Q=j~:-~;~~~:;;~!;~~!~i~d~!t~;h:n~:~is :~~
1
est church was five miles from our plantation, and there was
no Methodist church nearer than ten miles. So we went to the
conditions of the rural S~ui:fi:-1n-the-lieat of religious fervor, Episcopal church, but always came home as we went, for the
planters-became··1ess indifferent about their own religious involve- preaching was above our comprehension, so that we' could
ment and, potentially, about that of their slaves. understand but little that was said. But soon the Methodist
The individualistic emphasis of revivalism,_~itlijts i~nse con- religion was brought among us, and preached in a manner so
plain that the way faring man, though a fool, could not err
vGJ ~:1$-~:a:~ ·~:;~~~~~i~ft[n~J~!ff~~~~-~~r~~~:?~::it:~i~: therein. This new doctrine produced great consternation
among the slaveholders. It was something which they could
pr~ach- the necessity-of conversion to racially ni1xea·-c:ongrega- not understand. It brought glad tidings to the poor bondman;
tio~~:ReVi~allsf i:Jreachersl1aa-mue-do~bt=~a;~~Cii;y ·~ere en- it bound up the broken-hearted; it opened the prison doors to
/,(1. / thu~iasti~~ab~~t-Qi~~~~P.a~itf orslii\::ei
t<:>_~~ar,e_!he :e.~_e:erience of them that were bound, and let the captive go free. As soon as
it got among the slaves, it spread from plantation to planta-
convers10n.
tion, until it reached ours, where there were but few who did
'St~~~~ex£_erienc_~_i-~_s_!_~~_<?f the _E~ess of not experience religion. 97
/tJv religi~_s_~?_stri:~!~?~ ~ad~-C~ristianity more a:~e~~~~-~illiterate
· sfave-s and slaveholders alike~- Eviii:igelicals-were as concerned as
Angllcans;i;·~~t ~b~~;~~g the rui~;-of Christian conduct after
conversion, but it was the experience of conviction, repentance,
The Baptists and Methodists did not insist on a well-educated
cJ~. A converted-hearfand a gifted"tongu~-w~re more-impO'r-J1 I
tant than the amomrt-Ofthe~logi~-~ft~;i~ing ~~c~i~~d. If a con- \)
J
and regeneration ;hlch-·occupied-the ..• attentio_Jth-;;former. verted slave showe~~- talent for -~xhor1:ing, he exhorted ~;GIJt
tN/ Wbile ..th~_AQglic~n clergyillan tended to -~-eQ.kJaf.tii:_~d moralis- ~nly to ~~~JCaudien~~s.-'fil~ · tend~n.cy~[;Y:;i;"gelical~I~~n to
\\' tic, the Methodi~t-~~-Baptist ~xhorte~-~is~alized and pe~ized
. .... . .. .. . ··--
levef]he souls of all men before God became manifest when awak-
.... ' " ' . , , ' ' ' " ·-·--·-· --------·------------------'
in
~I ;

134 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION'' CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 135


ened black!_P_I_eac_~ed to unconverted whites. ~n. 1766 an. S.P.G. Kentucky Association "did not consider it proper to ordain him,
m~ named Barnett in Brunswick, Virgmrn.' was disturbed in form," though they were willing to give him "the right hand of
because "New light baptists are very numerous m the souther~ Christian affection and directed him to go on in the name of their
parts of this parish-The most illiterate among them are their Common Master." Captain proceeded without ordination to ex-
Teachers even Negroes speak in their Meetings." 98 During the amine and baptize those who came to him. 102 John Chavis,
1780s a slave named Lewis preached to crowds as large as four another free black, was appointed by the Presbyterian General
hundred in Westmoreland County, Virginia, "on the theme of the Assembly in 1801 to work in Virginia and North Carolina "as a
state man was in by nature, urging that his hearers must not missionary .among people of his own color." Licensed to preach,
remain in an unconverted state but come and accept Christ by Chavis did not confine his ministry to Negroes. In 1808 he op-
faith .... " Harry Hosier or "Black Harry" traveled with Method- ened a school in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the instruction of
ist ministers Asbury, Coke, Garretson, and Whatcoat and was white children by day and black children at night. In 1832 Cha-
reportedly an excellent preacher. After the resignation in ~ 79.2 .of vis was \barred from preaching by a North Carolina law which
its pastor, the mixed congregation of the Po~smouth, V1rgm1a, forbade slaves and free Negroes to exhort or preach in public. 10 a
Baptist Church "employed Josiah (or Jacob) Bishop, a black man
"Uncle" Jack, an African-born slave and a Baptist convert,
of considerable talents to preach for them." The Portsmouth con-
preached in Nottoway County, Virginia, in 1792. Jack impressed
gregation thought so much of Bishop that it purchased his free- some white church members enough to make them purchase his
dom and that of his family. 99 In that same year the Roanoke freedom and settle him on a farm. Jack continued to preach for
(Virginia) Association purchased a slave named ~i~on an~ set forty years and had the satisfaction of converting his former
him free to exercise his gifts because they thought him ordamed master's son.
104
Henry Evans, a free man and shoemaker by trade,
of God to preach the Gospel." Another black man, William ~­ was licensed as a local preacher by the Methodists toward the end
mon, pastored a white Baptist church in Glouc~ster Cou~ty, _vir- of the eighteenth century. Evans was responsible for "the planting
ginia, at the turn of the century. A color-consc10us Bap~ist histo-
of Methodism" in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Originally preach-
rian explained that Lemon, "though not white, ~s to. his natural ing to black people only, he attracted the attention of some promi-
complexion, had been purified and made white, m a better
nent whites, and ironically "the white portion of [his] congrega-
sense." 100 tion increased till the negroes were crowded out of their seats."
In 1798 a free Negro, Joseph Willis, who was a duly licensed
Evans was displaced by a white minister but continued as an
Baptist preacher, began his work in southwest Mississip;i. In assistant in the church he founded until his death in 1810. 1 os
1804 he moved to Louisiana and in 1812 formed that states first
The oq:a§i2_nal preach~g__Qf black preachers to white congrega~
Baptist church at Bayou Chicot, where he served as pastor. ~e
tio~f less ;ig;iifi~~nce for~~-~~n--VerSionSih.aiitlie factthat
helped to organize several other churche~ i~ the area, an.d m
ffaCk preachers; licensed or not, preached to slaves. Eapt1st mfnis-
te;-J<:dmund Botsford of W~ish- Neck, South Carolina, noted with
1818, when the Louisiana Baptist Assoc1at10n was orgamzed,
"Father" Willis was its first moderator. 101 pleasure that during a revival in 1 790 several black members of
In Lexington, Kentucky, a slave named "Old Captain"
his congregation did "go to the plantations, and preach to their
gathered a church in 1801 which eventually included over three
hundred black members. When he sought ordination the South
own colour on Lord's-day evenings, and at other times when we
have no services in the meeting-house." 106 More than any other
JJ')
~
~-
~ \.)J\1,_,,-q/
<(C\~~<_i<t,
136 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 137
denomination_the_ B~:e~~s~s gave leeway to their ~lac~_members to mediators between Christian belief and the experiential world of
p'te;d~:~·One historian of the-Baptists-fa~ded the anonymous but thesiaves:1n effect they were helping to shape the development of
~ffective ministry of black preachers: " ... among the African a~lira! s~n~hesis, an Afro-American culture,. by nurturing the
Baptists in the Southern states there are a multitude of preachers birth of Christian communities among blacks, slave and free. In
and exhorters whose names do not appear on the minutes of the this sense the sociologist Robert Park was right when he co;=-
associations. They preach principally on the plantations to those m~at '.'.i!Jt~.--~~~ap.e_earll!1~c:,_o!_!~ese men, the Negroes in
of their own color, and their preaching though broken and illiter- Amenca ~ease~_ to f)e_a lJ1issi()1!_J~_e9ple. Afj~_a!!Jroin this-time on,
ate, is in many cases highly useful." Black ministers were active in th~ovem..$!1!_.JYf!lLQ_n_ <_>f_ its own momentum:-more~and~~re
the cities as well. One outstanding example was the biracial First lar¢ uQ.der 1he_d_itecti@_()fN~g_i:()_ lea~-~rs.-Li!~ro -congre-
Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, "which had a large slave gations, under_~~-~__!e_adership of Negro preachers, s@.~-. up
membership" and "at one time included five Negro preachers and wnerev~e.L~(!~_e tol_eflil:_ed. Often i:neywerensuppr~;ed, more
seven black exhorters." 107 often they were privately encouraged. Not infrequently they met
. \,I
Qn.ti.Lstwer.al-Stat~legislatur_es passed laws restricting Negroes m secret. n at least two towns, Petersburg, Virginia, and Savan-
from _ereaching, the B~ptl~t--~h;~~h~~1lcensecfanci ~rdaineei black .nah, Georgia, black Baptists organized churches before white
~~~-~h~ ·re-Itthe ..ca1Ct<l-rreacli-art-;;th~y- demon~t~a~cfili~ifgirts Baptists did so.110
and evidenced their faith before a committee of the church. Slave ~black converts into Baptist and Methodist
preachers-~er~-ail~wed-t~p;~;;ch~nly with permission from their · churches led to mix~fio~glCsegregated, ~O:~gr~g-;tions. Ne-
owners and normally were restricted to the area of the local par- groes usually sat in gallerie~ or in back-pews. It wis riot unusual
ish. The duties of black preachers included conducting funerals fo?lneblack-membership-iil"ii"churcnto-far exceed that of the
and sanctifying marriages for slaves. 108 whites. When Negroes became too numerous, separate services
Among the Methodists many black men served as lay preach- were held for them, or sometimes, particularly in cities, white
ers. As such, they could not celebrate the sacraments but 'were members withdrew, leaving black members to form a separate
allowed to preach and to discipline black members within a re- church. Usually these splits were amicable. Generally, slaves !n
stricted locale .. Even when the practice was illegal, the Methodists rural ~~- ~tte~ded church, if the.L!lttended at all, with whites,
sent out black assistants with their itinerant preachers in a few and the church ~as ~nder white controC Blacks -in -t;;r;s -and
instances. William Capers, of South Carolina, recalled sending out cities enjoyed more frequent: '~cc~s; to religi~us' privil-;ges'!'lil A.
eight black preachers to work with the slaves in 1811, though it fe~icatrBaptisn:Qlirches spraffg-up;80rnToefore-1800, which
was forbidden by civil and ecclesiastical law. Methodist~ski~~ed were independent to the extent that they called their own pastors

_____
. legal restrictions against black preachers by simply licensing them
as-.:_exlici~rs:-strictlyspealang;-exliorte~ were. -assi~~a_n_!~, but
black
... exhorters ;;;~___"in--facf-known-t"~;ct
, ,,_ ... -- a~-p~t~;;-;;f their -;;-wn
people.109 Th~jmP.Q.r.:t.l\nce_of these early black preacher~ in the_
and officers, joined local Baptist associations with white churches
and sent black delegates to associational meetings. Much of th~
early autonomy of these separate black churches was short-lived .
Bl_!he 1820s blac~~h~r_c:!_le_s_ weEe under the supervision of white
conVefsfon of slaves to Christianity has not been sufficiently ap- pastors. 1,'he shift in situations was reflected by two decisions
p;:eCiated.--E~e~ging in ~_llfC:::oLthe.ilgi}J~~n~-a~_d -the ~a~~ t~_irtY=foITr)reiirs_:apaft;~by!_1_i~~8-a~_~l!gi11i~--~~aptist orga~
early decades 'Of1lieil~neteenth centuries, they. acted as crucial l!!~on. In 1_!94 the Portsmouth Association discussed the ques-
- ~--o- -••- -----. --~----- - --.
"THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 139
138
tion: "Is it agre_e_ableJQ_the Word of God !£_~.enci..2J!:e_e black !nan who, sitting with him, received such as offered themselves·
a'dci;gat; to the Ass'n?" And answer;;-d: "We can see nothing Gowan baptized them, and was moreover appointed their pas'.
tor; some of them knowing how to write, a churchbook was
w7ong-i~il1Ts:A church may send any one it chooses." I_~ 18.28 kept; they increased to a' large number; so that in the year
the Portsmoµth Association rule_cl_!hat "whereas the constitution l 791, when the Dover association was holden ... they peti-
o~l~;;d~nt~11d-colored Zh~ches, ,in thi~.'--~~d~~ r~p­ tioned for admittance into the association, stating their num-
resentation in this body, involves a pomt of great dehcacy, - or~~k ber to be about five hundred. The association received them
ch~r~h;--~u;tb;~~-i-~~ented in the association "thro~j~~te s? far, as to appoint persons to visit them and set things i~
men~re cases, however, where the control of white order. These, making a favourable report, they were received,
and have associated ever since.11 4
p~stors over black churches was nominal. The white mi~ister .in
charge of the black Baptist Elam Church, in Charles City, Vlf- T~~stinctiQ!J._QLb~ing __~~e first separate black church in the
ginia, thought his duty fulfilled after he had "sat in the most s~~-~~Il_d_t~~_()rth_2o ho~ever,-bei~ngedio the Baptist chu~h
comfortable seat to be had, listened to sermons by some of the founded between l 773_and
""._._...j.--.----·---~-· -~ _,.. -..____
Fns·fosiiver Bluff' South Carolina-
~

colored brothers, drew his one dollar for attendance, enjoyed a across the Savanrr_a~ River from Georgia. T1lelll1portance-;;Tthe
good dinner such as colored people can cook, and quietly Sirver BluffChurch lies not only in its chronological priority but
sauntered back to his ... home."
113 in its role as mother church of several far-flung Baptist missions.
Though the separ~~urch w~rimaril)'_~~.1!.:_~an phe- This church owed its. beginning to the preaching of a white Bap-
nomenon, it drew_upon surrounding rural areas for its member- tist minister named Palmer who preached to the slaves of one
ship, ;-hich con~isted _of ~o!~ free ans! slave blacks. S2~la~k George Galphin at Silver Bluff. David George, George's wife,
churches were not created by segregation from previously biracial Jesse Galphin (or Jesse Peter), and five other slaves were con-
c~-ng;~g~tion~ but, rather, arose ~ndependently fr()TI1 the start. verted and bapHzed by Palmer at Galphin's mill. These eight
S~~h ~-~birch was the African Baptist Church of Williamsburg, formed the nucleus of the Silver Bluff Church. David George had
Virginia, which flourished despite initial attempts to stamp it out. a talent for exhorting and was appointed to the office of elder on
The origins of this early black church were described in 1810: the recommendation of Palmer. When the American Revolution
began, white ~inisters were no longer allowed to attend the
This church is composed almost, if not altogether, of people of slaves "lest they should furnish ... too much knowledge"-about
colour. Moses, a black man, first preached among them and Governor Dunmore's proclamation freeing all slaves who would
was often taken up and whipped, for holding meetings. After-
support the British. Due to the lack of a regular minister, David
wards Gowan, who called himself Gowan Pamphlet, ... be-
came popular among the blacks, and began to baptize, as well George assumed the responsibility and "continued preaching ...
as to preach. It seems, the association had advised that no till the church ... encteased to thirty or more, and till the British
person of colour should be allowed to preach, on the pain of came to the city Savannah and took it." The British occupation of
excommunication; against this regulation, many of the blacks the city in l 778 disrupted the Silver Bluff Church. Galphin, a
were rebellious, and continued still to hold meetings. Some patriot, decided to flee, and his slaves took refuge in ·Savannah
were excluded, and among this number was Gowan .... Con-
tinuing still to preach and many professing faith under his
behind British lines. When American forces reclaimed the area,
ministry, not being in connexion with any church himself, he David George elected to gain his freedom by emigrating to Nova
formed a kind of church out of some who had been baptized, Scotia in 1782. There he preached to other biack emigres and
140 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION 141
, founded a Baptist church at Shelburne. In 1792 George migrated George Liele, before he sailed for Jamaica in 1782, had con-
again, this time with a colony of blacks to Sierra Leone, where he verted a slave named Andrew Bryan (by preaching on John 3:7,
planted yet another Baptist church. 115 "Ye must be born again"). After Liele's departure Bryan began to
George Liele, a childhood friend of David George, had been exhort blacks and whites. When he and a few followers started
converted by the preaching of a white Baptist minister, Matthew gathering in a suburb of Savannah for worship, they were harassed
Moore, around 1773, and he began to preach a few years later in by white citizens, "as it was at a time that a number of blacks had
the area of Silver Bluff. When the British evacuated their J:<!!<::es abscon.ded, and some had been taken away by the British." An-
from Savannah, Liele left tfle~countryforJamruca; wherein 1784 dre~ Bryan and his brother Sampson were hauled before the city
h;-0rganizedatKlrigston- the· first Bae_tG.t ~rch-OiQheT~i~!ld ~agi~trates for punishment. "These, with many others, were twice
with''foiir-brethren from -America." Soon Liele's "preaching took l';llpnsoned, and about fifty were severely whipped, particularly
v~ry good-~ffect withthe~poorer ;ort, especially the slaves,'' and Andrew; who was cut, and bled abundantly." Reportedly Andrew
by 1791 there were "nigh three hundred and fifty members," "told ~is persecutors that he rejoiced not only t~ be whi~ped, but
including a few white people. In a letter to the editor of the would freely suffer death for the cause of Jesus Christ." Finally, the
English Baptist Annual Register, Liele recounted his endeavors parallels to the Acts of the Apostles must have become too embar-
with a trace of justifiable pride: rassing to local officials, who examined and released them with
permission to resume their worship, but only between sunrise and
I have deacons and elders, a few; and teachers of small congre-
gations in the town and country, where convenience suits
sunset. Andrew's master permitted the congregation to use his
them to come together; and I am pastor. I preach twice on the barn at Brampton, three miles outside of town, as a meeting place.
Lord's Day, in the forenoon and afternoon, and twice in the I~ 1788 the white Baptist minister, Abraham Marshall, accompa-
week, and have not been absent six Sabbath days since I m~d by Jesse Galphin, visited the Brampton congregation, exa-
formed the church in this country. I receive nothing for my mmed and baptized about forty people, and licensed Andre~
services; I preach, baptize, administer the Lord's Supper, and
Bryan to preach. After his master's death Andrew obtained his
travel from one place to another to publish the gospel and to
freedom and eventually owned eight slaves himself "for whose
settle church affairs, all freely. 116
education and happiness" he provided.11 s '
Meanwhile the Silver Bluff Church had reorganized under the In 1790 Bryan's church numbered 225 full communicants and
ministry of Jesse Galphin, one of its eight founders. He also sup- about 350 converts, "many of whom" did not have their masters'
plied "three or four other places in the country, where he permission to be baptized. By 1800 Bryan was able to inform
[preached] alternately." According to a contemporary's descrip- Rippon that his church was no longer persecuted but met "in the
tion: "His countenance is grave, his voice charming, his delivery presence, .and with the approbation and encouragement of many
good, nor is he a novice in the mysteries of the kingdom." The of the wh~te p~opl~.'' An ?ccasional white minister served as guest
membership of the church had grown to around sixty by 1793, preacher m this First African Baptist Church of Savannah. It was
when it appears that the congregation, having long since out- estimated that "fifty of Andrew's church" were able to read, "but
grown Galphin's mill, moved to Augusta, Georgia, twelve miles only three can write.'' Bryan was assisted by his brother Samp-
from Silver Bluff, and formed the First African Baptist Church of son, who had remained a slave. Andrew Marshall, Bryan's
that city.11 7 nephew, succeeded him as pastor of the First African Church. In
CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION 143
"THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"
142 newly formed Gillfield Church with 270 black members was ad-
mitted to the Portsmouth Association. 120
The independence of black churches and black ministers in the
South was always threatened by restrictions. It was not only the
civil authority which curtailed the ministry of black preachers.
Officers of the Baptist Church in Cedar Spring, South Carolina,
for example, decided in 1804 to allow brother Titus, "to sing,
pray and ~xhort in public, and appoint meetings in the vicinity of
the church," with the understanding that "all his acting ... be in
Subordination to his master, and that his master council him in
particular cases as his prudence may dictate." Titus was sus-
pended\ a few months later for behavior contrary to the commit-
tee's stipulation. The realities of slavery continually circumscribed
the religious authority of Southern blacks, slave or free. 121
Fear of slave rebellions haunted Southern whites and hindered
attempts to convert the slaves, for the same egalitarian tendencies
within revivalism which helped to bring the slave to conversion,
could, if pushed too far, deny him access to religion-as the
Methodists quickly discovered. The founders and early leaders of
Methodism--John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and Thomas Coke-
were opposed to slavery. In 1780 a conference of seventeen Meth-
. d fr E K Love History of the First African odist divines at Baltimore took up the question of slavery, cogni-
Andrew Bryan. Reprmte om . . '
zant of the rapid growth of Methodism' in the American South.
Baptist Church (Savannah, Ga., 1888).
The conference deciqed that traveling preachers who held slaves
had to promise to set them free and declared that "slavery is
contrary to the laws of God, man, and nature-hurtful to society;
· d from members of contrary to the dictates of conscience and pure religion, and doing
1803 a Second African Church was .orgamze . b in Both of that which we would not others should do to us and ours." These
the First, and a few years later a Third cam~1~to e g. declarations proved less than effective, and other conferences in
the new churches we~e led ~y black ~~::o:~~rches also came into 1783 and 1784 had to broach the subject again. A definitive
As mentioned ear her, African Bap . Th Gillfield stand was taken at the Christmas Conference of 1784, when it
existence by separating from white congregatio~s: e art of a was determined once and for all "to extirpate this abomination
Baptist Church of Petersburg, Virginia, was ongma~y p .d f
mixed congregation with a black majo.rity. Locatbe outs1
. . l h h oved mto town etween
l;:s from among us." Any member who failed to comply with rules for
emancipation was given twelve months to either withdraw or be
Petersburg, th~ ongma c urc l~ l ng racial lines. In 1810 the excluded from Methodist societies; slaveholders were to be admit-
and 1809 and m the process sp I a o
144 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION 145
ted to membership only after they had signed emancipation t~is: besides,_ the blacks are deprived of the means of instruc-
papers. Brethren in Virginia, however, were given special consid- twn; :Who will take the pains to lead them into the ways of
eration due to "their peculiar circumstances,'' and were allowed salvatwn, a~d watch over them that they may not stray, but
the Methodists? Well; now their masters will not let them
two years to comply. Buying and selling slaves for any reason come to hear us.
except to free them was banned. That these rules were going to
be very difficult to execute became immediately clear from the The _answer to Asbury's dilemma of conscience was at hand: Em-
experience of Thomas Coke in Virginia. When he preached phasize the results of the slave's conversion' "Our t b I .
crowd"d · h . · a ernac e 1s
against slavery in 1785, Coke was threatened by a mob and was e ' a~am: ~ e mmds of the people are strangely changed;
served with indictments in two counties. One irate woman offered and the md1gnat10n excited against·us is overpast: the people see
a crowd fifty pounds to give Coke one hundred lashes. Later that and confess that the slaves are made better by re1·1g10n;
. an d
same year the Baltimore Conference suspended the rules against wonder. to. hear the poor Africans pray and exhort."12a There
slavery, because, as Coke stated: "We thought it prudent to sus- were ~apt1~ts ~nd Presbyterians who also opposed slavery, but
pend the minute concerning slavery, on account of the great op- because their witness was not institutionally promulgated as were
position that has been given it, our work being in too infantile a those of the Methodists and the Friends, their denomina;ions did
state to push things to extremity." Though the conference reiter- not "~rouse the ire of slaveholders" to the extent that the latte .
two d1d.124 r
ated its principle, "We do hold in deepest abhorrence the practice
of slavery; and shall not cease to seek its destruction by all wise T~ :gali~til!_n__!rend in evan~~licalism which drove some
122 Methodists Bantists d p b ··-~--~--·----·-··--~----·-
and prudent means,'' in fact it had to admit failure. ---~---'"'--.:F~.1.1-~ .•-.r~~.X~~r1~ns to condemn slavery
In 1798 Bishop Francis Asbury complained about slavery to foundered on the mtransigency of th t :·. ''"-·• ..--.,·-------'· ....
·::---...~-:---·-~------- ·--~ __1n_~!!tu~10n m the South.
his Journal:" ... my mind is much pained. O! to be dependent on 1:hose _evan_gehcals wh~~~ndemned slavery f~~nd themsel~es
slaveholders is in part to be a slave and I was free born. I am def:ndmg slave ~~:~":!:~Lq_1_1JoE_0'aklrig-slave;'''b~t!:;;-~;i-wEich-w;s
brought to conclude that slavery will exist in Virginia perhaps for ~~ _tr_al]sp_o~_e.~ 1~to fl1~kin~ "better slaves:." Baptists, Method-
ages; there is not a sufficient sense of religion nor of liberty to 1s~s, and Presbytenans appointed-black "watch·-=,_ . '" -· .
destroy it; Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, in the highest ~e:rs'_~!_<_> .o_bserve_ tile be!liivioroTSI~;;-;~ber;~~~~t1~:~
flights of rapturous piety, still maintain and defend it." Eleven m need of discipline. Slave members were subiect to th d" . 1·
-·h· -- - . - J e 1sc1p me
0 f t e congregat10n anasometifu---,.h---d· ·-·--1-- . ··-·.
years later he was lamenting the fact that the antislavery reputa- " - -.. . ' es L e 1sc1p me extended to
tion of the Methodists was keeping them from gaining access to upli?.ld1ng _the - institution of slavery itself" For e 1 h
G"llfi Id B . . ·.· - xamp e, t e
the slaves: I e ap~~urch of Petersburg, Virginia, a separate black
c~ more than once expelleoS!aVemernbers-for----·-----'
f h · · runnmg away
We are defrauded of great numbers by the pains that are taken r_o~ t. ~1r mastersrTfiFSighTOT-~arateolack"COngr~gation
to keep the blacks from us; their masters are afraid of the d1sc1plmmg_!!_~ves f~king the slave cockmus~ly' have
influence of our principles. Would not an amelioration in the a_epeaied to slll.Eh.olders.12s --------------·---.,
condition :ind treatment of slaves have produced more practi-
cal good to the poor Africans, than any attempt at their eman-
However, slaveholders were not easily convinced that religion
cipation? The state of society, unhappily does not admit of always supported slave docility, for there was ample proof that
146 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CATHECHESIS AND CONVERSION
147
C~.as a_!wo-edg__:~_s_~<?.!d. ~m of ~!~~e gatherings they were attacked and th
rebelliousness was the act of running away. It is clear from adver- sheriff requested state assist . rown _out of a window. The
In 1800 ance m restormg law and order.121
t~e9t~ f~;""-illua1iii~_ila~;;~-ihaCrel!!;i1ms_cniiv~rSl~..-not
. an eY.!:.q!_oc~~~:~--~~ich had a wides read effe
make aJL~l~~s "better." One disgruntled slave owner complained white fear of slavemsurrecti d---~~-------·-~---P .... ---~ ct on
in the Virgi_ni~·c;~;;ue of Williamsburg, March 26, 1767, that his version-G b · I' R .-...~n -~n~twn against slave con~
a fie s ebeluon a sfa · ~~-------~----..
Richmond Virgi"ni·a R 1. . ' . ~1!~planned against
escaped slave woman Hannah "pretends much to the religion the
Negroes oflate have practised." Thomas Jones, advertising for his
,~-.,.._...:'_;_.:::..!? .
discussions of the rebelS "P -h·
1
e 1g10n p ayed a 1 . h ------
~o e m t e attitudes and
. - . reac mgs,' or religiou ..
escaped slave Sam in The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Adver- s~rved as occasions for the recr~t- f1· -~-s~~!!,ngs,
·. . - men o s aves and for nJott'
tiser of June 14, 1793, warned: "HE WAS RAISED IN A FAMILY OF an d orgamzmg the insurrect' (}~-.-·-;--- --·-------...c.:2:_mg
the plot's 1 d ·----·__ .IQn. a~!el s brother Martin, one of
RELIGIOUS PERSONS, COMMONLY CALLED METHODISTS, AND ea ers, was known as a nr -=r H . _ ~-
HAS LIVED WITH SOME OF THEM FOR YEARS PAST, ON TERMS OF argue that th ' J ~ eaCQer. e USeolfie-nibJe to
eir P ans would succeed ·
bers In one d1"sc . f even agamst superior num-
PERFECT EQUALITY; the refusal to continue him on these terms, . ' USSIOil 0 the reb u·10 M .
the subscriber is instructed, has given him offence, and is the sole "th · 1_ • • e n artm contended th t
e1r cause was similar to th I
.
1· "
e srae ites, and that in the B'bl
a
cause of his absconding .... HE HAS BEEN IN THE USE OF IN- G0 d had promised "fi f 1 e
STRUCTING AND EXHORTING HIS FELLOW CREATURES OF ALL hundred a thousa· nd ofve o you ~hall conquer an hundred & a
our enem1e " s· 'fi
COLORS IN MATTERS OF RELIGIOUS DUTY .... " From Jones's gious beliefs were also " d ~· igm candy, African reli-
re1erre to m the c ·
point of view, his slave had been ruined from imbibing Methodist nizer, George Smith, proposed that he tra onsp1ra~y'. 0 ~e orga-
notions of equality; from Sam's point of view, spiritual freedom to enlist the "Out! d' h vel to the p1pemg tree"
an 1s people" (b ·
had carried over to the temporal order. Sam's case was not an had the ability "to deal 'th w· orn outside this country) who
isolated one. In The Maryland Gazette, January 4, 1798, James [would be] useful in Armi:I to tel;tches and Wizar_ds, and thus
Brice advertised for "a negro man named JEM," twenty-eight to befall them " The t t" when any calamity was about
· es 1mony of a t d ·
years old, an artisan who "IS OR PRETENDS TO BE OF THE SOCI- all whites were to be cap ure Insurrectionist that
massacred, except Quake M h d'
ETY OF METHODISTS, HE CONSTANTLY ATTENDED THE MEET- Frenchmen who "w t b rs, et o 1sts, and
' ere 0 e spared on ace t f
INGS, AND AT TIMES EXHORTED HIMSELF .... " From the same friendly to liberty " h di h oun · · · o their being
1
paper, September 4, 1800, edition, Thomas Gibbs of Queene Quakerism) among' V~r .Y. elped the cause of Methodism (or
1rgm1a save holders 12s R .
Anne County advertised for his slave Jacob, thirty-five years of were quick to foll f . eact10nary laws
ow news o the plot South C I'
age, and revealed "HE PROFESSES TO BE A METHODIST, AND HAS la~ that same year which forbade Ne . aro ma passed a
BEEN IN THE PRACTICE OF PREACHING OF NIGHTS." Finally, whites present betwe groes to assemble, even with
• en sunset and sun · "~ h
Hugh Drummond, in the same paper, advertised a runaway slave, mental instruction or rel1' o-i h" rise, or t e purpose of
.,.OUS Wors I " V' ' · .
Dick, about forty, "HE IS A METHODIST PREACHER." 126 law two years later. Both laws had t~· 1rg1ma passed a similar
A different kind of rebellious act took place in King William sure from "religious socief " h be amended, due to pres-
" ies, so t at nothing in th h I
County, Virginia, in 1789. An appeal to the governor from the prevent masters taking th e1r I
. saves to places 0 f 1· . em s ou d
county sheriff stated that Methodists and Baptists had been meet- conducted b a re . re 1g1ous worship
Rebell' y d gul~~ly ordamed or licensed white minister."129
ing after dark several times a week with slaves in attendance. wn an doc1hty were not th 1 I
When "paterrolers" tried to arrest the slaves at one of these r!!ifionship between m t d e on ).'. a tern~_?_!__the
---"--'='-"-'=~!!a~s~e~r:_.!!_an~~s~~ve. Evangelical religion sup-
(AV O~ J\r''t-t:r:t\ \Y X,.,_~ \ 1U)- 0 ) ~A Ct ( <;, l 1Afvi_( /-..iv 1r"'l:f::'v
1

v
/f\'- "/ 1iJ 5l 4
u-.J-f v1 -C.\(-e"' c:: cv.J .Je,( .-\)
148 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION" CA THECHESIS AND CONVERSION 149
ported both, but it also fostered a more subtle relationship, that of
as~.'.1.~L~f~ica~s:'_ wen~-- "brought into Jh~__United States .. ,_as
religious. reciprocity. When white sinners were awakened by during the previous hundred and sixty years of the U.S. involve-
black exhorters when ~e
__.,,.-__- ~-~- --·-,'---,------.·----o- ---- ·--. - -
coni@:fcl::_oY.~JlHC@1ging,
------~- • m~iles1~y~t_r~de,~'tfi~_gr_2_wtli__in "co~ntrybor~" slaves "was
shouti~·g, and praying of tlielf.-slave~1-~h~g__w_hite__c_?~g!~!·?~1~~s '1'_far~~re ~~g_!l~i::a_11__t_."_130 The inc~easi~-g nu!Tlbers of second-,
werep;lstored-~y- _bi~Zk-p~-;;~he~-s~th_e logical extre_fl1~_?f re\Ti vaJ~:__ third-, and even fourth-genenrtion slaves born a~d--raise·cr-Jn
tic.-religion ;;s reached:- Certainly these incid.:_i:~~!!:.!~_:_~~t Ame!1ca -~~a_nr·marili.e- Iinguisfk. and -cuffu~~j b~;:ie~~-~f earlier
thafthey ~~~urre~ !1.~~llj~~jc~~~""J~rmanner in_ which r.elig~ous ~~a~~'_\'"~e_ 11__0 l()!Jger ~a-overwhelming. Moreove~-;-~~-~~t~<li;;the
reclprocitywa~ -able to bend the seemin~lX_ill_~~~jMe ~~ti_o_ns of last chapter, there were situation~-which allowed for cultural ;d-
m-;;t~r~ai1d~8T;~;.~--~--~~-~ __...~ _ - --
ju~t ~terpretatlO;-The _p~~;;f~l~~ti~~li;~: ec_-
/ -1'Ilere\iiya1ism of the Great A wakening, spread ove~ ~ill1e and static behavior, a11cl_._3)__1_1_g_r~gational response--ofthe.re~l~~i\~ere
spac;by evan~E;~£.h~;-~ci~~~~~t:~~=~~~i~~~~f<?£.large- a_menable to t~e_Afri_s:a12 reliii~~~~~~rit~g~-~ftil;sEives, ;ncfforms
scale conv~rsion of the slay~s. By rev1tahzmg the rehg~1ety of
of Afri~12__s!i!~<!_!o_11__g__rioll!ai~clill_~tli~-~h~utfilld spirlt)}jls.of
th~--S~utl1 tl;e - Aw~Ji~;ing( s)_ stirred an interest in C()n_versiOn
~-'"- ---- -- -- -
which was t~r-;;;d toward the slaves. By heavily emphasizing the
-- - - -- Afro-American co11__ve~~s_ to evangelical Protestantism. In addition
the slaves'richheritage of folk belief and folk expr~ssion was no~
i~~-Con~-;;sion-- experience~ -the-Awake~~-: destroyed but was augmented by conversion.
ph3.S!Zetheout;;~dstatusofmen;allc1tocause01ac!f"and white
The majority of slaves, however, remained only·- minimaJly
~Iik~-to feel personally that Christ had di~d_ for them as individu- touch~g_j-)y _Christianity. by .!h_<e se._c:ond: d~~A<i~--:9fti1elli~~t~~-~th
als. Evangeli~al religion had a universalistic dimension which en- c.i:_ntm:y. Presbyterian minister Cha~les Colcock J~~~~;--~ J~~di~g
couraged preaching to all men, embracing rich and poor, free and advocate of the mission to the slaves and an early historian of the
j\. slave. The emotionalism and plain doctrine of revivalist preaching
appealed to the masses, including slaves. Black exhorters and
religious instruction of Negroes, evaluated efforts to convert slaves
during the period 1790-1820: "On the whole . : . but a minority
ministers were licensed -~_i:_e_ach__~nd did preach the gospel of of th: Neg!o~~:__a_~~-~hat·;·;maH on~;-;tt<;nd~-~f~~g-;;Ia~iy=th~ hquse
s~l_f!ee_Q_()fl1_ t_()_s_i_a_}:'_~s, who were sometimes gathered int.a o(~oa, an,d- taking the111 as a _class, their religious instruction was
, their own black churches. N~gQ_e~~~~Y.~3_11~ f~~_". 1_~!;.Q_}eVI­ extens!Veiyand most seriously neglected." Jon~s gav~--a~lue as to
'\v~gs or Sabbath services and joined Methodist ~d Bap-_ theclassofsfavesm;;;t--lik~ly to be i:~nve__rted: "'Growingup under
tist churches in n!:J_!!l__9g_§_l}_Q_L~.c:;f.I_l~fore. The ;:_ery fact that~re t~_er.~ ans!_jn_the _fam.ilies of owners, t~ey became--more -att-~~hed
were in~;;;;~i~{0iumbers of ~l1t~~-~~ij~!_i_a11s -~11!!ermi~E.d the old to thefi2i..._"".,e!,e ,,~den~ifi~d __ in !l~!! _h()useh~~ds-_inci_;~i:omp~nied
-noti~~-;~;;:Ong-whltes-that ~~ange!!zati?n __o~ th~ ~~~e~~s impos- t~_:~~-ch:urch." 131 The slaves who had most opportun-ity- to
sible.. or anomalous-:---sm1; i:hei:e was widespread opposition on the
p;rt."of slaveholders, especially during periods of reaction to acts of ----
become church members were household servants slave artisans
. -- '
a11_ci._yr~an~sl~ves. Slaves in remote rural areas had less opportu-
- - '
rebellion by Christian slaves. n~~~~.~~"~t~e_i:~ _churc~,~wiilch---did not ~ean, howe~e~:· that they
Demographic and cultural factors, as well as the revivalist phe- were totally ignorant of Christlanity. Slaves could ha~e-hea~d the
nomenon, helped to increase the chances of slave conversion by r~nts of"C~ri~tia11i!i~ \\'ithout re~h;riy-~ahending-ch.~r~h.
the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth Jones'Smenfion- of religious instruction and church membership
centuries. In spite of th~fac!._!E~~e_!_~~!'.,1!_1]_~~~-:~~-?~~~bout ~:nt_~~ethey sugge;tili~!i;;-i~~vali;;~-The
-·--·-------------~-------~-·~---·-----<---
150 "THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTION"

critics of revivalist enthusiasm had admitted that a "season of


awakening" produced a large number of converts, but they ques- 4
tioned the depth and sincerity of these conversions. When the
revival ended, many recent converts "backslid." At issue was the
The Rule of Gospel Order
perennial alternation in Christianity between revival and "declen-
sion." R;~ their very nature are temporary_a~i__s_EQ!adic.
Peak experiences ofreligiOus-fervor·mayreoccur;-but they are not
constant. AtterreviValcomefl:nufC!Pii'ganizatioii;--after--conver-
siofn:omes religiousnl'irture.- Co~verslon e~perlenc~- and7e"ligious
instru~tion~ihe experient~l and the noetic, are complementary in
the Christian life. The revivalist impulse helped to bring slaves to Servants, be obedient to them that are
flesh, with fear and trembl' . . your masters according to the
conversion in large numbers. Jones ;nd-others--reaf!zed- th~t-tl;~ Not with eyeservice, as me~~~~~e~~g~eness of your heart, as unto Christ;
n~xf step was m;;;;;ru;;y~treach.-i~as ~~~sary-to b~i;g r~li­
0

the will of God from the he!t· Wit~ ut as t~e se~vants of Christ, doing
gi~-;-;;-;~-ctio_n,onto-i:he-piant;tion. -Now th;;tili;-;;i1:Wii8 rir~­ Lord, _and not to men· Knowi~ ti t go~d will domg service, as to the
paredby~th~-lritetmitterff showe~s of revival, and the se~d-pl~~t~"d doeth, the same shall h. e . g f1a w atsoever good thing any man
receive o the Lord I h h .
byeVallgel~hi~;-~hat wa~ ~o~t-~~eded-togain_a_b~u~ti­ And, ye masters, do the same th1·n
· gs un
t h' w iet er e be bond or free.
o t em t be -
knowmg that your Master I - . h ' ore armg threatening·
fuLharvest was systematic, Institutional effort_:.:::_which was~x;;tly persons with him.
a so ism eaven· 'th .
' nei er is there respect of
.
wh;tthe--pia-~tati~~-~-i~;i-~~-~~-;aesigned to ~tippiy:·----
EPHESIANS 6:5-9