The Christianizing of America 1750-1850

Did Jesus Keep Slaves?

Jesus Never Existed – The Christianization of the Americas


email the author
Kenneth Humphreys

 


25.10.11

Home       Section      Complete list of articles        Search   

 

 

Church apologises for slave trading!

2006: The General Synod of the Church of England apologises for its own direct involvement in the slave trade.

"We owned slaves, we branded slaves." – Rev Simon Bessant.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word "society" branded on their backs with a red-hot iron.

"When the slaves were emancipated in 1833, compensation was paid not to the slaves but to their owners."

In just one example, the Bishop of Exeter and three colleagues were paid nearly £13,000 in compensation for 665 slaves.

(BBC News 8 February 2006)

 

 

Noah's Bible Curse

"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, 'Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave'. " 

– Genesis 9.25,27.

 

 

 

 

Whole lot of loving going on

Biblical race theory (Genesis 10) has Noah's son Japheth the progenitor of the "people of the north" which included Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.

Brother Shem's brood included the Semites, Arabs, Lydians, and Armenians, while younger brother Ham sired Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans and Canaanites.

Makes you wonder who slipped out and fathered the Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Polynesians?

 

 

 

Slaves for God's Glory

"Never let them get above themselves. It should be their aim to be better slaves, for the glory of God ...

And they are NOT to set their hearts on gaining their liberty at the church's expense, for then they only become slaves to their own longings."

– St Ignatius Letter. to Polycarp, 4.

 

 

 

 

 

Contract

1713 Treaty of Utrecht ends the war over succession to the Spanish throne and awards England with the "asiento" (contract) to supply Spain's American colonies with African slaves for 30 years.

 

 

 

 

Hunting ground for Negroes

Equatorial Guinea and the Bight of Benin were a source of gold, ivory and slaves. The gold mines were, of course, worked by slaves.

 

 

 

 

Acquisition

European venal interests ensured 300 years of inter-tribal warfare as African slave raiders penetrated ever further into the interior.

Europeans offered guns, alcohol and luxuries in exchange for the captured human cargo.

Instability and war in the region today can be traced to the long experience of the European/ American slave traders.

 

 

 

 

Disposal

The first public slave auction of 23 individuals was held in Jamestown in 1638. The unit of the slave trade was the "peca", one male slave in peak condition (the equivalent of two women and a baby!).

 

 

 

"Choice Negroes" for Sale

Charleston newspaper 1780s (Library of Congress).

By 1750 the slave price in Virginia was £28 - £35.

By then the English Colonies had a slave population of 240,000, with over 200,000 living south of Pennsylvania.

Slaves comprised about 20% of the colonies' population but over 40% of Virginia's.

 

 

 

 

 

Land of Purity

All the American colonies, including the Godly settlements of New England, took African slaves.

A later generation of New Englanders preserved their finer Christian sensibilities by merely servicing the needs of the slave ships and trading with the slave states of the south.

 

 

 

 

Slave Republic – condoned by the Constitution

Slavery was an institution recognized by the original US Constitution.

"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

– Article I, Section 9.

The import of slaves was prohibited from 1808, which perhaps encouraged slave-owners to take more care of their property.

But slavery was not outlawed until the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865. Mississippi has never ratified this amendment.

 

 

 

Fashion statement

"Blackamoor" servant – height of fashion and titillation for 18th century society ladies.

Sure beat toiling all day among the sugar cane.

 

 

 

 

Land of Cotton

Cotton rescued the plantations after the soil had been exhausted by tobacco and increased the demand for a slave labour force.

The heartland of cotton agriculture move west into lands newly taken from the Indians, repopulating the territory with another despised race.

 

 

 

Cotton 'Gin

Before the development of the cotton en'gin'e in 1790, the South produced 4000 bales of cotton. By 1860 it was producing 4,500,000 bales.

To grow cotton and to pick, gin (remove seeds from the white fluff) and bale took a great deal of manual labour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slave price in Virginia about £40 by 1800.

Slave owners were free to sell their "property" as they saw fit, breaking up families in the process.

 

 
 

 

 

 

$360 bought you a slave in 1850, $500 in 1860.
 

 

 

 

Southern Comfort

The Big House. The plantation lifestyle.

It is no accident that many communities in the South are named Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, or that Greek-style columns were used in the white mansions.

Southerners fancied themselves as the heirs to Europe's classical, slave-owning, culture. Matters of honour were settled by duelling.

 

By a process of "mergers and acquisitions" the yeoman planter class of the 17th century was replaced in the 18th century by a planter aristocracy.

 

 

 

The South: a Christian Republic

Six of the first eight US presidents were slave owners, five from the South.

 

 

 

 

Abolitionists are Infidels?

" The teachings of abolitionism are clearly of rationalist origin, of infidel tendency, and only sustained by reckless and licentious perversions of the meaning of the Sacred text".

– Robert L. Dabney, Presbyterian theologian, Virginia, 1851

 

 

 

 

 

More Biblical nonsense on slavery: "holes in ears"

"And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever."

– Exodus 21, 2,6.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having laid claim to an entire continent and eradicated most of its native peoples, the Christian conquerors of North America came into possession of an immense land. The rapid exploitation of its potential required a vast labour force and, until a surge in European migration in the later 19th century, this was taken against its will out of Africa, leaving the demography of that continent permanently damaged. On the southern plantations of tobacco and cotton the captive labourers enriched an elite of white landowners who themselves provided trade and custom for the northeast and the Old World. Christianity, malleable as ever, morphed not only into the self-justifying ideology of the racist southern oligarchs, but also into the uplifting faith of freedom and salvation of the slaves themselves.

Quite some trick for the cult of a west Asian sun-god.

 

Slavery – Divine Law

Although the early Church drew support from slaves it never condemned the practice of slavery. On the contrary, Holy Scripture thoroughly endorses the enslavement of lesser races and assures us that the forced conversion of the heathen is a noble Christian purpose, saving souls for the true God. All are "equal before God" but for eighteen hundred years Christianity aided and abetted slavery and taught explicitly the barbarous notion that slavery was in accordance with Divine Will.

"As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from the nations that are round about you.
You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property.
You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness."

– Leviticus 25.44


The
shadowy writer Ambrosiaster of the 4th century, in commentaries on Paul's epistles, compounded the iniquity by concocting the racist notion that slavery originated with Noah's curse upon his son Ham, which actually fell upon his unfortunate grandson Canaan.

Why the curse?

Because at the end of the flood, Canaan's daddy caught sight of Noah roaring drunk and prancing about naked. Is that a sin or what?

Christian fablelizing equated the fearsome curse with the dark skin of Africans, rationalizing that Canaan had turned black before settling in Africa. In the true spirit of biblical justice, the curse was inflicted on all subsequent descendents. Thus the reality of centuries of enslavement and torment of millions of Africans found biblical justification in a yarn about drunken revelry.

And they call it a good book?

 

Slave-owning Church

"The prime cause, then, of slavery is sin, which brings man under the dominion of his fellow ... Moreover, when men are subjected to one another in a peaceful order, the lowly position does as much good to the servant as the proud position does harm to the master ... This servitude is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance."

– St Augustine, City of God (De Civitate Dei), XIX, 15.


By the time the Church came to power it was already a major slave owner, preserving at least one aspect of ancient Roman civilization. But what the Church rapidly jettisoned were pagan Rome's laws concerning the rights of slaves and the possible attainment of their freedom. Slavery in Christendom was for life.

As early as 340 the Church Council of Gangra (today's Çankiri in Turkey), in reaction to rival Manicheans urging slaves to free themselves, adopted as law a slave's "Christian obligation" to submit to the authority of the slave master "as if to God". The Council decreed:

"If anyone, on the pretext of religion teaches another man's slave to despise his master, and to withdraw from his service, and not to serve his master with good will and respect, let him be anathema."


Pope Gregory I (590-604), reportedly, had been moved to describe English slaves as "Angels, not Angles" – but not "free those slaves and close down the slave market", markets which continued in a city otherwise rapidly decaying under papal rule. The attitude of Pope Martin I (649-653) was perhaps typical of later pontiffs when he ruled against "unjust slavery" which of course left open the door to a "just slavery" of heathen races and captives taken in war.

 

Monotheism and slavery

At no time after antiquity did the slave trade ever leave the Mediterranean. Christian Europe was aggressively seizing Muslim slaves with the same pitiless inhumanity that Muslim states were seizing Christian slaves.

"Muslim slaves were at work on the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in 1150, just as Christian slaves were working on the Mosque of Kutubiyya at Marrakesh." – (Thomas, p39).


Muslim traders
exported as many as 17 million slaves of all races to the ports of the Indian Ocean, to the Middle East and to North Africa. For three hundred years, raiders from the Barbary states of Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers ravaged the coasts of Italy and France, carrying off their human prey and extinguishing the last vestiges of "Roman" civilization. As late as the 17th century English captives, taken by Arab corsairs, were being sold in the slave market of Constantinople. In total, perhaps a million Europeans were enslaved by Muslims, most consigned to short and brutal lives in galleys, mines and quarries.

From a very early date, the peripatetic Jews established themselves as slave traders across Europe. After the Islamic conquests, Jews were uniquely placed to ship human cargoes between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Licensed by Christian princes, and recognized as "people of the book" in the lands of Islam, Jewish slave traders shipped Slav and Germanic captives south in exchange for the delights of Islamic crafts and science, much sought after in the Christian north.

All three monotheistic tyrannies especially prized black skinned "Ethiopians" for their perceived strength and docility, though warfare rewarded the victor with slaves of all races. The legitimacy of "just title slavery" was incorporated into the official body of Canon Law of Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241):

" It is certainly a matter of faith that this sort of slavery in which a man serves his master as his slave, is altogether lawful. This is proved from Holy Scripture. It is also proved from reason for it is not unreasonable that just as things which are captured in a just war pass into the power and ownership of the victors, so persons captured in war pass into the ownership of the captors. All theologians are unanimous on this."

– Leander, Quaestiones Morales Theologicae, Lyons 1668 - 1692,
Tome VIII, De Quarto Decalogi Praecepto, Tract. IV, Disp. I, Q. 3.


For centuries, the maritime empire of Venice, whose fleet sailed under the banner of the evangelist St Mark, dominated the Mediterranean slave trade. Africans bought in Alexandria were sold in European ports, whilst Slav captives taken from the shores of the Black Sea were sold to Turks and Arabs. Professed Christianity made no difference. Venetian merchants were as happy to sell youths of "heretical" Orthodox belief as those who were merely heathen. In the east, these young men were used as eunuchs and Janissaries, the young women as concubines and prostitutes. Many thousands of slaves also served on the patrician estates of Italy, on the galleys that protected the Venetian trade monopoly and on the sugar plantations of Cyprus and Crete.

The lucrative trade in human bondage which enriched Venice, along with the spices, was eventually challenged by other Christian states on the far west of Europe.

 

Christian adventurers

Soon after the Portuguese entered tropical waters in the 15th century the shipment of African slaves back to Europe began. In 1488, King Ferdinand of Spain sent a hundred Moorish slaves to Pope Innocent VIII, who passed them on as gifts to his cardinals and cronies. The papacy gave the trade its blessing and the monastic houses took their share of shackled humanity.

Before the century was out, the first European adventurers had reached the islands of the Caribbean and were cruising the coasts of the Americas. At opportune moments, they snatched unsuspecting Indios and took them back to Europe, where they were exhibited as exotic trophies and sold in the slave markets of Seville, Toulouse and Bristol.

Most famously, taken from the shores of New England, was Squanto, a Wampanoag Indian captured by an English gang in 1614 and sold into slavery in Spain. Squanto actually got free of the monks who bought him, worked his way across Europe to England and joined a British ship bound for Newfoundland as an interpreter. From Newfoundland Squanto made his way back to Massachusetts, only to find that, in his absence, European diseases had wiped out everyone in his village. Pathetically, Squanto was able to greet the struggling Pilgrims that came ashore in 1620 in their own language. No Hollywood epic for this guy.

The Spanish pope, Alexander VI, made clear to his Iberian compatriots that they had

" .. full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities and other properties and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery."

– Bull Eximiae Devotionis, 1493.


Perpetual slavery did indeed follow for millions as the Spanish carved out their vast empire in the Americas. The
"Requerimiento", drafted in 1510, warned indigenous peoples that death or slavery was imminent if they did not immediately submit to Spain and Roman Catholicism. Of course, the guileless natives would not have understood a word of the imperial rescript declaimed by a priest as the Conquistadors sharpened their blades. Unfortunately, the natives of the Americas made poor slaves – they died at an alarming rate. But "black gold" would arrive to more than make up the loss.

 

SlavesWhite, Red and Black

With the conquest of the Americas, and the annihilation of its native peoples, a vast demand for labour was answered by ramping up supply from Africa. Tribal warlords ("Slattees") on the coasts of Senegambia and Guinea (the so-called "Ivory Coast", "Gold Coast", and "Slave Coast") waged aggressive war against tribes of the interior to service the insatiable export market.

"The Europeans found a more compendious way of procuring African slaves, by prevailing upon them to make war upon each other, and to sell their prisoners. Till then they seldom had any wars; but were in general quiet and peaceable. But the white men first taught them drunkenness and avarice, and then hired them to sell one another. Nay, by this means, even their Kings are induced to sell their own subjects."

– John Wesley, Thoughts Upon Slavery, 1774.


The profits to be made from African slaves , the "self-replicating black gold", attracted the avarice of all the maritime nations, not just Portugal and Spain (the major slavers) but also Holland, Denmark, France and England. In 1560 the enterprising English captain John Hawkins began slaving voyages to Spanish America, where he made illegal sales to the Spanish colonies.

Over the course of the next three centuries, 54,000 sailings would carry over eleven million enslaved Africans to the New World (for numbers, see Thomas). Perhaps as many that survived the sailings died in transit. Half a million captives would be sold into the settlements of North America where they became the foundation upon which first the colonial and then the republican economy was built.

 

The search for cheap labour

"Africans were enslaved not because they were black but because, being nearest to the plantations, they were cheaper to transport, were available in greater numbers and were accustomed to agricultural labour in a hot climate ... But .. it was easier to justify inhuman cruelty when it was employed against people that it could be alleged were a lower form of human life or not human at all." – Hart, From Occupation to Independence, p17.


At first, to tend the "cash crop" tobacco plants of Virginia, "indentured servants" were brought in from England as a source of cheap labour. Orphans were preferred, many of them kidnapped from the streets of London or other port cities of Europe, "servants" who in fact could be sold and traded.

Other, less than willing, migrants joined them: debtors and victims of the English courts, deposited in the "penal" colony of Georgia. In 1652, following the final defeat of the Stuart army at Worcester and the end of the English civil war, a stock of two thousand Scottish prisoners were sold to the plantations of Barbados and Virginia.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the Indian war in New England in 1675, enslaved Indians were transported by Puritan ship owners from Boston to the proprietary colonies of the South. The native Americans however easily escaped or succumbed to European diseases – but by then the African alternative had presented itself.

As early as 1619 the Dutch showed up off the coast of Virginia with a cargo of twenty Africans, which they traded for food, but the full potential of captive black labour was not immediately obvious:

"For the first two generations Africans were treated, it seems, much like other indentured servants. But after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the planters could no longer be blind to the opportunities suggested by the example of the Caribbean sugar islands, which now took African slaves in huge numbers with correspondingly huge profits." 
– (Brogan, p28)


From 1621 the Dutch West Indies Company began importing blacks for servitude in farms along the Hudson valley. But dominance of the slave trade soon passed to the English and by the end of the 17th century, England was leading the world in the trafficking of human cargo.

 

Out of Africa

The contact established between English mercantilism and the ports of Africa transformed slave trading from a limited aspect of inter-tribal warfare into a capitalistic enterprise of global dimensions. A few hundred British aristocrats, motivated by commercial gain, established and controlled a worldwide industry and from it amassed family fortunes. Their accumulated capital financed banks and trading houses and stoked the Industrial Revolution.

At first, the Royal African Company enjoyed a monopoly in the trade and shipped several thousand slaves annually at immense profit. But by 1698 other envious English merchants had persuaded the government to open the slave trade to all. The number of slaves transported on English ships jumped dramatically, to more than 20,000 a year.

Thousands of blacks were brought to Britain by the slave ships. Far from being hidden as a degrading traffic in inhumanity, the trade had an exotic public visibility. It became the height of fashion for aristocratic ladies to have a black page, footman or personal servant and the great households of 18th century English society often had a staff of uniformed black servants, brought back from the plantations by naval captains, colonial governors and merchants.

So well established were the English in the slave trade that early in the new century (in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713) the British won the "asiento", an exclusive license to ship black slaves from Africa to the Spanish controlled territories of the Americas. The golden age of slaving had arrived. British ships would transport nearly 3 million African slaves before the prohibition on British involvement in 1807. American slavers would continued their trafficking for another half century.

 

The Whip and the Gospel

Whilst part of the Christian "world mission" was to Christianize the conquered and enslaved races, the plantation owners of Virginia and the Carolinas from the first were hostile to such evangelism. They feared that if the slaves became Christians there would be a clamour for their freedom. But as the number of slaves grew from thousands to tens of thousands more voices spoke of the Christian duty to instruct the heathen multitude in the true faith.

In 1660 the English king, Charles II, pronounced in favour of teaching Christianity to slaves. The message from the pulpit was hardly revolutionary. Slaves were chastened by an assurance that their servitude was ordained by God himself, that they must work hard, be honest, humble, and above all else, obedient. Though every man might be equal before God, in this world the black man's fate was to serve the white man.

The Virginia Assembly remained cautious. In 1667 it enacted its own bill specifically disavowing that baptism granted freedom to slaves.  Nonetheless, in 1734 the religious fervour of the "Great Awakening" allowed blacks to join Methodist and Baptist Churches for the first time – with separate seating, of course – and in 1758 slaves in Lunenburg County formed the earliest black church in Virginia. The early years of the Republic saw a rapid Christianization of blacks, both slave and free.

George Whitefield, fierce Calvinist and founder of the school that would later become the University of Pennsylvania.

Whitefield – Evangelist for Jesus and Slavery!

English-born George Whitefield, was the father of American Evangelicalism. He campaigned not only for Jesus but for the legalization of slavery in Georgia in the 1740s (it was made legal in 1751).

Whitefield travelled repeatedly throughout the American colonies, preaching reputedly more than 18,000 sermons (or maybe one sermon 18,000 times).

On his death near Boston in 1770, Whitefield bequeathed his own slaves to Selina of Huntington, the wealthy English countess who had financed his career.

 

Slavery in the Christian Republic

The crops which would transform the impoverished southern colonies of the U.S. into enclaves of wealth and leisure – tobacco, cotton, and rice – required many hands. This predisposed the region towards slavery because none but slaves would endure the unremitting toil in an agrarian wilderness.

The Declaration of Independence may have talked grandly of "all men created equal" but the Constitution recognized slavery:

"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." – Article IV, Section 2, paragraph 3.


At first, the emerging industrial centres of the North also deployed slaves but, with the mechanisation of factories, mines and mills, a more flexible and adaptable wage economy became established, devoid of the paternalism of a slave society and tapping successive waves of cheap immigrant labour.

By the early 1800s slavery had become a phenomenon primarily of the South but the northern economy continued to benefit both from the products of the South and from the needs of the southern economy, a symbiotic relationship recognized by a federal law as late as 1850 which required that runaway slaves, even those who had escaped to the North, were to be returned to their rightful "owners". Slave laws defined slaves as chattel, the same category assigned to horses and cows.

The opening of the southwest frontier after the Louisiana purchase and the War of 1812 rejuvenated the southern slave economy as the cotton belt spread from Alabama through to Arkansas and Texas. Some 400,000 slaves were traded and shipped from the upper to the deep South. Output of cotton soared from half a million bales in 1820 to more than four million by 1860, some 75% of the world's raw cotton output and earning over fifty per cent of U.S. export income (Rice, et al, p166). Slavery was not only Christian: it was highly profitable.

 

Spirits in the Sky – Jesus becomes a homie

"When I starts preachin' I ... had to preach what massa told me and he say tell them niggers iffen they obeys the massa they goes to Heaven but I knowed there's something better for them, but daren't tell them 'cept on the sly.

That I done lots. I tell 'em. iffen they keeps prayin' the Lord will set 'em free." – Black preacher.


The forced relocation of Africans to North America, with its cross mixing of tribes and language groups, effectively extinguished their worship of traditional African gods. Indeed, enslaved Africans lost rights not denied to slaves even in pre-Christian Europe, like speaking their own language and retaining their own names.

Yet enforced conversion must have disguised true sentiments. First encounters with Christians took the form of whip-bearing overseers and slave owners. Those not totally crushed by their incarceration must have retained vestiges of ancestral religion and fused the white man's Christianity with elements of traditional belief. For some, this meant Islam: merchants, travelling across the Sahara, had established a Muslim presence in Ghana, Senegal and Mali as early as the 12th century. Thus coastal tribes, slave-raiding into the interior, would have carried off Muslims.

In their land of exile, confronted by evangelical missionaries, Muslim slaves may have recalled stories from their own version of the Old Testament. They would have recognized a religion based on a written text, with creation myths, priest-healers, and an ethical system. To the enslaved, the promise of "life after death" had an obvious palliative value. And when in Church, they were not working. Though slave codes prohibited teaching slaves to read and write, reading the gospel was the path to literacy and the hope of eventual freedom.

Thus the slave, as well as the slave owner, found something useful in the fable of Christ. The story of the Israelites' successful flight from bondage, and the agony of Jesus "crucified but triumphant", were readily expropriated as messages of freedom. With the religious meeting the only form of organized activity permitted the slave, the Black church had value as the one institution that slaves could call their own. Not surprisingly, Black preachers led the earliest slave revolts – notably the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831 – and independent black churches led the struggle for liberty and civil rights of slaves and free blacks alike.

 

Jesus frees his Slaves?

In the latter half of the 18th century the rationalism of the Enlightenment began to permeate even the cloistered world of theology. Thoughts of "liberty, equality and fraternity" would soon cause convulsions in France. Even during the American Revolution property owners, whilst seeking liberty from the English king, feared "the mob". A whole race held in subjugation did not bode well for the future.

A minority of Christians – drawn mainly from the ranks of non-conformist movements in the North (Mennonites, Quakers, etc.) recognized that even though slavery was condoned by many passages in the Bible, it was profoundly immoral and contrary to the spirit, if not the words, of scripture. Distressed by the suffering of slaves (particularly during shipment), which now offended their Christian sensibilities, a movement began for the abolition of the trade and the institution of slavery.

Besides, in the fierce competition for memberships, congregations could be built from the lost black sheep. The Baptists, whose lack of educational requirements or complicated procedures for ordination made it especially easy for blacks to become ministers, quickly won a following among the black population. Free Blacks, no longer slaves but subject to fierce discrimination, themselves formed independent Methodist churches: the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Union Church of Africans; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

 

The Confederacy – the Last True Christian civilization?

"On the lawfulness of holding slaves ... the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example."

– Rev Richard Furman, President, Baptist State Convention. Charleston, 24th December, 1822.


Article XXXII: That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
North Carolina’s 1776 constitution.



The Big House. The plantation lifestyle. The "Old South" was a world apart, a society of affected gentility and opulent leisure. In great white mansions "well-bred Christian gentlemen" drank, brawled and gambled whilst their wives and daughters idled away their lives in elegant Christian virtue. And beneath the surface a darker world, of pitiless exploitation and brutal white overseers, of whippings and lynchings, of masters taking sexual advantage of their slave women, and poor white sharecroppers venting their frustrations on a race and a class even more despised than themselves.

In response to the stinging rebukes of northern abolitionists, southern Christians rallied to the defence of their world. Their interpretation of scripture clung tenaciously to a literal understanding of the words – and the words were very clear. God endorsed slavery.

Indeed, Genesis 9.25,27 could be given a powerful new prescience. Shem was held to mean "dusky" as opposed to Japheth meaning "fair", thereby rendering "Japheth shall be enlarged and dwell in the tents of Shem" into a biblical prophecy of white displacement of the "red Indians". Completing this divine revelation was the subsequent enslavement of the black African descendents of "Ham"! The Bible was thus shown to be true in a literal sense and southern society validated as completely in accord with God's design.The slave owner thus felt certain that he was carrying out God's plan by buying and using slaves.

Christianity adapted to southern slave society like a domestic tabby cat reverting to a feral scavenger. White evangelicals moved from radicals on the margin to mainstream conservatives. They were established, they were respectable – and they were racist.

 

The Birth of  Biblical Fundamentalism

" The Negroes thus imported were generally contented and happy ... Careless and mirthful by nature, they were eager to find a master when they reached the shore, and the cruel separations to which they were sometimes exposed, and which for the moment gave them excruciating agony, were forgotten at the sound of their rude musical instruments and in the midst of their noisy dances.

The great Architect had framed them both physically and mentally to fill the sphere in which they were thrown, and His wisdom and mercy combined in constituting them thus suited to the degraded position they were destined to occupy. Hence, their submissiveness, their obedience, their contentment."

– Thomas R. Cobb, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America, 1858


Scripture itself provided ample justifications for slavery but there were practical arguments as well. As a "child race" the Negro needed a paternal guiding hand. By nature, lascivious and indolent the Negro needed stern moral guidelines, which Mosaic Law and the Abrahamic Covenant provided. By the institution of slavery, the African's rude disposition was both restrained and corrected. The South remained free from the strange new sects spawned in Northern and border states in the wake of the second "
Great Awakening".

" Few of the remarkable religious "isms" have taken root among us. We have been so irreverent as to laugh at Mormonism and Millerism, which have created such commotions farther North; and modern prophets have no honor in our country. Shakers, Rappists, Dunkers, Socialists, Fourrierists, and the like, keep themselves afar off".

– James Hammond, Governor of South Carolina, 1845. "Hammond's Letters on Slavery," The Proslavery Argument, 117; Q. in Peterson, 15.


Christian "issues" like temperance and benevolence, which so easily led to an anti-slavery stance, were viewed with disdain. While the new Christian movements convulsed the North, the South secured itself within a conservative, "fundamentalist" framework, interpreting the Bible as a literal guide not merely to faith but also to political, domestic and personal life. It was a world-view of Christian patriarchy, implacably hostile to modernism, rationalism and liberalism, all perceived as snares of the Devil.

Methodist and Baptist churches, which had hitherto straddled the "North-South" divide, were torn apart. The Anglican communion alone was able to survive the slavery debate without schism.

 

Slavery under threat

"New York had become a thieve's market where pirates disposed of loot taken on the high seas ... The British navy was refused permission to search any American slaver ... most slave ships, in the 1850s, not only flew the American flag but were owned by American citizens."

– Chomsky, p21.


Slavery in the British empire came to an end after the 1831 Jamaican rebellion. The sedition had been led by a slave and Baptist preacher, Sam Sharpe, whose original plan had been the use of non-violent resistance to force abolition. In the event, violence took over and Sharp himself was hanged.

With the end to their own slave trade, the British were forced by economic necessity to press other nations to follow suit. A special fleet, the West Africa Squadrons, policed the coast of Africa searching for slave ships. Brazil was intimidated into compliance by the Royal Navy.

The greatest challenge came from slave ships flying the American flag. That nation would tear itself apart resolving the issue of slavery in the 1860s. Jesus fought on both sides, of course.

 

Sources:
Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade – The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Picador, 1997)
Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
Andrew Sinclair, A Concise History of the United States (Sutton, 2000)
A.Rice, J. Krout, C. Harris. United States History to 1877 (HarperCollins, 1991)
Steve Martin, Britain and the Slave Trade (Channel 4, 1999)
Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents – The Indian Story (John Murray, 1992)
Richard Hart, From Occupation to Independence (University of the West Indies, 1998)
Divine, Breen, et al, America – Past and Present (Longman, 1998)
Noam Chomsky, Year 501 - The Conquest Continues (Verso, 1993)

 

Related articles
Home
The Christianizing of the Americas
 
1500-1600 New Spain – Old Horrors
 
1600-1700 Christ in the Colonies
 
1700-1850 Birth of a Nation
 
1850-1950 The Americanising of Christianity
 
Jesus loves a winner! Shaking Down the Sheep
 
1950-2005 Jesus Jihad
MAJOR SECTIONS
Do you really think it all began with a sanctimonious Jewish wonder-worker, strolling about 1st century Palestine? Prepare to be enlightened.
  Jesus The Imaginary Friend

Still holding to the idea that some sort of holy man lies behind the legend? Better check out...
Godman – Gestation of a Superhero

A closer look at the glib assertion that the Jesus story "got off the ground quickly and spread rapidly."
What DID the Early Christians Believe?


Many currents fed the Jesus myth, like streams and tributaries joining to form a major river.
Sourcing the legend – The Syncretic Heritage of Christianity


Much of the mythology of Christianity is a rehash of an older and even more transparent fabrication – Judaism.
Jew Story – The Way of the Rabbi


Human ingenuity and cunning is matched by mankind's equally monumental credulity and wishful thinking.
Christianity's Fabrication Factory


Church organisation, authority and membership preceded rather than followed the justifying doctrine. As the organisation and its needs changed so has the ‘Testament of God’ adapted accordingly.
Dogma – The Word in all its Savage Glory

From religious policeman to grandee of the church, from beast fighter in Ephesus to beheading in Rome, Paul's story has more holes than a swiss cheese.
 St Paul the Apostle Dead in the water?


Orchestrated by ambitious Christian clerics, a cancer of superstition, fear and brutality was imposed across Europe.
Heart of Darkness – The Criminal History of the Christian Church


The Christian Heaven may have been a vain folly but the Christian Hell has been real enough.
Hell on Earth – A Brutal Superstition Spreads Across the World


Raised to the status of State religion the Christian Church reigned over the destruction of civilization. As the centuries passed religious barbarism grew ever more vicious.
Winter of the World – The Terrible Cost of "Christendom"

For two millennia Christianity's anti-sexual, puritanical doctrines have inflicted untold damage on the mental, emotional and physical lives of countless millions of people.
Those SEXUALLY hung-up Christians – Loved-up for Jesus


With a Jewish father (stern patriarch) and a Christian mother (obsession with guilt and heaven) it is not surprising that Islam grew up a bit of a tartar.
Islam's Desert Storm – 'Christendom' Reaps a Whirlwind

Heaven help us. The richest, most powerful nation in history has a psychotic infatuation with Jay-a-sus the Lawd!
The Christianizing of the Americas
 
 

 

 



 

 

Some fifty articles are now available as a book. For your copy order:

 

 

'Save' a friend e-mail this page

 

Copyright © 2005 by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no material herein is sold for profit.