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.