The Slave Community

by John W. Blassingame

This file contains notes on nineteenth century slave communities in the United States.

John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the
Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979),

p63  Comparing whites enslaved by African Muslims, Blassingame
     wrote  that the degree to which they (whites) became
     Islamicized depended on "the length of their enslavement,
     treatment while in bondage, age, association with other
     slaves from their country, and the proselytizing zeal of
     their masters.  An impressive number ... were able to resist
     ... because their enslavement was so short.  They were among
     the fortunate whites who were ransomed."
          "Arican slaves brought to the Americas could not look
     forward to being ransomed. ..."

p63  African slaves had to change many things in order to adjust
     to live in a new world: language, culture, and ...
p64  Picture "Ransom of white slaves"
p65  ... religion.

p65  Compared to slaves in Latin America, American slaves
     retained relatively little of their African culture because
     slave imports ended much earlier (no reinforcement of
     AFrican culture by newcomers), and southern churches were
     much more active at prosyletizing Africans than the Latin
     American Catholic Church.  In large part, this was because
     the Latin American Church was so closely connected to the
     state that it had little room for independent action of any

p66  Latin American clergy were more likely to take part in the
     slave trade than their North American counterparts.

p66  Even those clergy who wanted to condemn the slave trade in
     Latin America faced the growing influence of colonial
     planters, who complained to the state that priests' sermons
     might foment slave rebellion.  

p67  "By the nineteenth century, Catholic humanism had lost its
     battle with colonial materialism."  Catholic priests
     preached obedience to slaves, and one claimed that
     "confession is the antidote to slave insurrection."

p68  African slaves faced another barrier to religious services
     in Latin America--they cost money.  Between 1820s and 1860s
     in Cuba, a baptism cost 75 to one dollar, and a burial cost
     $5.00 to $7.50.

p70  In the royal charters of the southern US colonies of the
     17th century, there were specific requirements to
     christianize the slaves.

p72  Many Africans had little trouble adopting Christianity
     because it preached many of the same beliefs that were
     central to African religions--supreme being, creation myths,
     priest-healers, moral and ethical systems.  Christianity's
     "life after death" was also attractive because it offered
     the promise that they would someday regain contact with
     their ancestors.  A Baptist missionary to the Yoruba of
     Nigeria in 1853 observed that they had words for
     monotheistic god, sin, guilt, ...
p73  ... sacrifice, intercession, repentance, faith, pardon,
     adoption; and they believed in heaven and hell.

p73  Muslim slaves had even more points of identification with
     Christianity, since they were used to a religion based on a
     written text, some of which was the same as that of
     Christianity (Old Testament).  An American minister reported
     in 1842 that Muslim Africans called God Allah, and Jesus
     Mohammed.  Acording to them, "the religion is the same, but
     different countries have different names."

p75  Most southern churches had to come to terms with slavery,
     and only the southern Quaker churches objected to it
     publicly.  As a result of the egalitarian notions of the
     American Revolutionary War and the Great Awakening, there
     was widespread abolitionist sentiment in southern churches
     between 1789 and the late 1820s.

p79  There is plenty of evidence that some southern planters were
     uneasy about owning slaves and made every effort to educate
     and manumit them.  

p80  During the 1820s, one group of white southerners arranged to
     transport freed slaves back to a colony on the West African
     coast in what became the independent country of Liberia.

p81  By the 1830s, in response to growing abolitionist pressures, 
     southern churches had become more pro-slavery.  Clergymen
     and even congregations owned slaves, and in 1836, most
     churches adopted the doctrine of the Hopewell Presbytery,
     "Slavery is a political institution, with which the church
     has nothing to do, except to inculcate the duties of Master
     and Slave, and to use lawful, spiritual means to have all,
     both bond and free, to become one in Christ by faith."

p81  Southern planters were not satisfied that the churches
     ceased with abolitionist teachings--they wanted support from
     the church. ...
p82  ... Slave-owning preachers responded by claiming that
     slavery in the abstract was a sin, but as it was practised
     in the South, it was not a sin.  They began to preach in
     favor of African colonization as an alternative to
     emancipating slaves (which caused fear among slave owners
     that the sight of free blacks would incite slaves to

p85  Typical sermons admonished slaves to be obedient, not to
     steal, and to remember that "what faults you are guilty of
     towards your masters and mistresses, are faults done against
     God himself, who hath set your masters and mistreses over
     you in His own stead, and expects that you will do for them
     just as you would do for Him."

p87  Books like Charles A. Jones, A Catechism for Colored People
     (Charleston, 1834), showed how the Bible was used in defense
     of slavery.  Ephesioans 6:5 "Servants be obedient to them
     that are your Masters, according to the flesh."

4. The Slave Family                                          p149

p154 When a white man pursued a slave woman, there was nothing
     she, her family, her friends or her husband could do about
     it.  The problem was especially bad when the man was a
     bachelor--instead of marrying, a white bachelor might rely
     on relationshjips with a succession of female slaves.  White
     owners offered slave women a choice of a gift for yielding
     willingly, or a flogging for resistance.

p155 Slave traders often took advantage of the women in their
     charge, and Moses Roper, author of A Narrative of the
     Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery
     (London, 1840), mentioned how a man for whom he had once
     worked always took advantage of the most beautiful black
     women that he purchased.

p155 Some white men sought more substantial relationships with
     black women.  Some purchased women for their concubines,
     fell in love, and then treated her as a wife.

p156 When the white man was already married to a white woman, the
     relationship with a black woman caused problems.  Often, a
     white man was forced to sell the black woman to remove her
     from the reach of the vengeful white wife.  For instance,
     when Moses Roper (mentioned on the previous page) was born,
     the white wife of his father tried to kill him when she
     found out who his father was.  His father had to sell him
     and his mother in order to protect them.

p156 There are enough court cases to document the fact that white
     women also had affairs with black male slaves.

Appendix III                                            pp344-345

This is a small extract from large tables for the slaves states
in 1850 and 1860, showing demographic figures and the number of
pastors and churches.  I include only those figures for Florida.

Item                      1850      1860    Change
White population        47,203    77,747    30,544
Slave population        89,310    61,745   -27,565
Free negroes               932       932         0
Clergymen                   83       159        76
Churches                   177       319       142
Church capacity         44,960    68,990    24,030
Total population        87,445   140,424    52,979
(NOTE: total population figures do not make sense)

p161 African and European attitudes towards sex and procreation
     were very different in the early nineteenth century. 
     Although different African cultures had different ideas
     about premarital sex, all saw sex as a sacred act that was
     essential to procreation, which in turn maintained the
     familiy lineage. ...
p162 ... On the other hand, African societies almost always
     forbade extramarital sex.  Because they valued children so
     highly, they did not understand the European concept of
     celibacy nor how they could conceive of sex as sinful or

p162 As an African became Americanized, s/he lost the
     understanding of the religious aspect of sex, but never
     acquired the European idea that it was sinful.