A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author
AN ACCOUNT OF FOUR BAPTIST CHURCHES OF AFRICANS IN GEORGIA, AND OF TWO IN THE WEST-INDIES; TOGETHER WITH SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS RESPECTING THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE AFRICAN SLAVES IN THE SOUTHERN AND WESTERN STATES.
A mysterious Providence has permitted a large portion of the sable sons of Africa to be transported from their native country to this western world, and here to be reduced to a state of absolute and perpetual slavery; but He who can bring good out of evil, has overruled this calamity for their spiritual advantage; and thousands of these poor, enslaved, and benighted people, we have very satisfactory reason to believe, have found gospel liberty in the midst of their temporal bondage, and are preparing to reign forever in the kingdom of God.
There are multitudes of African communicants, in all the Baptist churches in the southern and western States; and in Georgia there are four churches, wholly composed of them. Some brief sketches of their history will now be given.
FIRST COLORED BAPTIST CHURCH IN SAVANNAH
The origin of this church, according to Rippon's Register and Holcombe's Repository, was in the following manner. About the beginning of the American war, George Leile, sometimes called George Sharp, but more commonly known among his brethren and friends by the name of brother George, began to preach at Brampton and Yamacraw, near the city of Savannah. He had been converted about two years before the war by the preaching of a Baptist minister in Burke county, whose name was Matthew Moore; by this minister he was baptized, and by the church, of which he was pastor, he was approbated to preach. His labors were attended with a blessing among the people of his own color on different plantations, and many of them were brought, by his means, to a saving acquaintance with the gospel. When the country was evacuated by the British, George, with many others, removed from Georgia to Kingston, in the island of Jamaica. Here his labors were attended with great success, and by him a large church was soon raised up; in giving the history of which, we shall relate more at large the character and labors of this worthy man.
Previous to George's departure for Jamaica, he came up to the city of Savannah from Tylee-river, where departing vessels frequently lay ready for sea, and baptized Andrew Bryan and Hannah his wife, and two other black women, whose names were Kate and Hagar. These were the last labors of George Leile in this quarter. About nine months after his departure, Andrew began to exhort his black brethren and friends, and a few whites who assembled to hear him. Edward Davis, Esq. permitted him and his hearers to erect a rough wooden building on his land at Yamacraw, in the suburbs of Savannah. Of this building they were, in a short time, very artfully dispossessed. It appears that these poor, defenseless slaves met with much opposition from the rude and merciless white people, who, under various pretences, interrupted their worship, and otherwise treated them in a barbarous manner. Andrew Bryan, and his brother Samson, who was converted about a year after him, were twice imprisoned, and they, with about fifty others, without much ceremony were severely whipped. Andrew was inhumanly cut, and bled abundantly; but while under their lashes, he held up his hands and told his persecutors, that he rejoiced not only to be whipped, but would freely suffer death for the cause of Jesus Christ. The Chief Justice, Henry Osbourne, James Habersham, and David Montague, Esquires, were their examinants, who released them. Jonathan Bryan, Esq. the kind master of Andrew and Samson, interceded for his own servants and the rest of the sufferers, and was much grieved at their punishment. The design of these unrighteous proceedings against these poor innocent people, was to stop their religious meetings. Their enemies pretended, that under a pretense of religion, they were plotting mischief and insurrections. But by well doing they at length silenced and shamed their persecutors, and acquired a number of very respectable and influential advocates and patrons, who not only rescued them from the power of their enemies, but declared that such treatment as they had received would be condemned even among barbarians. The Chief Justice Osbourne then gave them liberty to continue their worship any time between sun-rising and sun-set; and the benevolent Jonathan Bryan told the magistrates that he would give them the liberty of his own house or barn, at a place called Brampton, about three miles from Savannah, and that they should not be interrupted in their worship. From this period, Andrew and Samson set up meetings at their master's barn, where they had little or no interruption for about two years. Such was the beginning of the first African church in Savannah, which, after having been the mother of two others, now contains about fifteen hundred members.
Not long after Andrew began his ministry, and his converts began to increase, they were visited by an aged Baptist minister, whose name was Thomas Burton, since deceased, who, on a credible profession of their faith, baptized eighteen of Andrew's black hearers. In 1788, they were visited by Reverend Abraham Marshall, of Kioka, who was accompanied by a young preacher of color, by the name of Jesse Peter. Mr. Marshall baptized forty-five more of the congregation in one day, and formed them into a church, and ordained Andrew as their administrator and pastor. This church, at first, consisted of upwards of eighty members, and from the time of its organization, under the successful ministry of its worthy pastor, it began to increase very fast; so that in the year 1792, their number amounted to two hundred and thirty-five; and besides these, there were three hundred and fifty, who had been received as converted followers, many of whom had not obtained permission of their owners to be baptized.
Towards the close of the year 1792, they began to build a place of worship in the suburbs of the city of Savannah, which, by the assistance of a number of benevolent gentlemen of different denominations, was finished in due time, and is 42 feet by 49. The plan of building this house, it seems, was projected by Messrs. Jonathan Clark, Ebenezer Hills, and others. The corporation of the city of Savannah gave them a lot for the purpose.
This colored church, as it is generally called, (for no white person belongs to it) is now a large and respectable establishment. Many of its members are free, and are possessed of some estate. It was one of the three churches which formed the Savannah-river Association; and by its return to that body in 1812, it contained about fifteen hundred members, many of whom belong to the plantations in the neighborhood of Savannah, and some are a number of miles out in the country. But their masters give them liberty every Sabbath to meet with their brethren, and the poor creatures, with peculiar delight, go up to their Jerusalem to worship.
Andrew Bryan, the pastor of this church, is now an old man, and is spoken of by all who know him in terms of peculiar respect. He was born at a place called Goose-Creek, about 16 miles from Charleston, (S.C.) in what year is not known. He was a slave when he began to preach; but his kind master indulged him with uncommon liberties. After his death, he purchased his freedom of one of his heirs. His character was thus given by the judicious Joseph Cook of Ewhaw, in 1792: "His gifts are small; but he is clear in the grand doctrines of the gospel. I believe him to be truly pious; and he has been the instrument of doing more good among the poor slaves, than all the learned doctors in America."
Since writing the above, I have been informed by Mr. Johnson of Savannah, that this venerable man finished his course in October, 1812. He was supposed to have been about 90 years of age. His remains were interred with peculiar marks of respect. Addresses were delivered at the meeting-house by Reverend Mr. Johnson of the Baptist, and Dr. Kollock of the Presbyterian church. About five thousand attended him to the grave, where another address was delivered by Mr. Thomas F. Williams.
Although he was a slave when he began to preach, yet he left an estate worth about three thousand dollars. He is succeeded in the pastoral office by his nephew Andrew Marshall, who is now working his time out, (as they call it) and is said to be a man of promising parts.
SECOND AFRICAN BAPTIST CHURCH IN SAVANNAH
This church was formed in 1802, and now consists of upwards of three hundred members. This church has also a comfortable meeting-house in Savannah, 67 feet by 30. It is under the pastoral care of a very respectable black preacher, whose name is Henry Cunningham. He, like Andrew Bryan, was originally a slave, but is now free, having worked his time out.
THE AFRICAN CHURCH ON THE GREAT OGECHEE RIVER, COMMONLY CALLED THE GREAT OGECHEE COLORED CHURCH.
This body, like the last mentioned, originated from the African church in Savannah, under the care of Andrew Bryan; and was constituted in 1803. But it has not been so prosperous as the two others, and has diminished rather than increased.
AFRICAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA
This church appears to have been raised up by the labors of Jesse Peter, a black preacher of very respectable talents, and an amiable character. It was constituted in 1793 by elders Abraham Marshall and David Tinsley. Jesse Peter, sometimes called Jesse Golfin, on account of his master's name, continued the pastor of this church a number of years, and was very successful in his ministry. I find his character thus given by Mr. Abraham Marshall, in 1793, in Rippon's Register, Vol. I. p. 545: "He is a servant of Mr. Golfin, who lives twelve miles below Augusta, and who, to his praise be it spoken, treats him with respect. His countenance is grave, his voice charming, his delivery good; nor is he a novice in the mysteries of the kingdom."
Mr. Peter died about 1806. Their present pastor is Caesar McCridy, under whose ministry the church appears to flourish and prosper. They have a meeting-house at Springfield, in the upper end of the city of Augusta. This church was once upwards of five hundred in number; but it is now reduced, by various means, to a little less than four hundred, who walk together in harmony and love.
This church has belonged to the Georgia Association from its beginning. Abraham Marshall, the friend of black people, lives but a short distance from it; and to his fatherly care they are much indebted for many of their comforts.
There are multitudes of black people in all the churches in the southern States; but I know of no church of the Baptist denomination which is wholly composed of them, except those whose history has been related. Their white brethren generally do not encourage them to form churches by themselves. Such are their circumstances, their mode of life, and their want of knowledge to regulate church affairs, that it is altogether best, in the present state of things, that they should be connected with their white brethren, who are capable of guiding and instructing them.
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE AFRICAN BAPTISTS IN THE ISLANDS OF JAMAICA AND NEW-PROVIDENCE.
Jamaica. -- In this island there are now two Baptist churches. The first was planted by a black man, by the name of George Leile. This very respectable and successful servant of the Lord, went from Savannah to Jamaica, about the close of the American war. He was born in Virginia about 1750; his father's name was Leile, and his mother's name was Nancy. His master's name was Henry Sharp, who, some time before the war, removed and settled in Georgia. He was a Baptist, and a deacon of a Baptist church of which Elder Matthew Moore was pastor at the time of George's conversion. By Mr. Moore's preaching, this poor slave was awakened to a sense of his lost condition, about two years before the war. After laboring under great distress of mind, about six months, he was brought to rejoice in the truth, and was, not long after, baptized by Mr. Moore, and received into his church. He was soon discovered to have ministerial gifts, and accordingly the church gave him approbation to preach. He soon began to labor with good success at different plantations. Sometimes he preached on the evenings of Lord's days to the church to which he belonged, and for about three years he preached at Brampton and Yamacraw, in the neighborhood of Savannah. Mr. Sharp, his master, was kind to his servant and brother, and gave him his freedom not long after he began to preach; but he continued in the family until his master's death, who was killed in the war. George then went free; but some interested heirs, being dissatisfied with his liberation, threw him into prison; but by producing the proper papers, he was released; his particular friend in this business, was a Colonel Kirkland.
At the evacuation of the country by the British, he went to Jamaica with Colonel Kirkland, to whom he was then an indented servant, for money which he owed him. The company landed at Kingston, and Colonel Kirkland recommended George to General Campbell, the Governor of the island, who employed him two years, and when he left Jamaica for England, he gave him a certificate for his good behavior. About this time he had procured money enough to settle Colonel Kirkland's demand on him, and then he received from the vestry and Governor, a certificate of the freedom of himself and family; for he had now a wife and a number of children. As soon as he had thus established himself in the country, he set up a meeting in a small private house in Kingston, in September, 1784; he immediately had a smart congregation, and his preaching was attended with very good effect among the poorer sort, especially the slaves. In a short time he formed a church of only five persons, including himself. The people at first persecuted them, both at their meetings and baptisms. It must have been rude fellows of the baser sort indeed, whatever were their pretensions, who would thus disturb these poor defenseless people. But they found friends in the magistrates, who appear, by a number of accounts, to have treated George and his religious associates with much humanity and kindness. They, in the early stage of their proceedings, presented a petition to the Honourable House of Assembly, in which they "set forth their distresses, and desired liberty to worship Almighty God, according to the tenets of the Bible." The Assembly sanctioned their proceedings, by granting them the liberty they desired; upon which, opposition ceased.
From this small beginning, the Baptist cause prevailed very rapidly among the poor Jamaica negroes, so that in seven years from the formation of the church, viz. in 1791, there were, according to Mr. Leile's statement, about four hundred and fifty, who had, in a judgment of charity, been converted to Christ; four hundred of whom had been baptized. And together with well-wishers and followers in different parts of the country, he reckoned about fifteen hundred people.
About six years after this church was planted, Dr. Rippon of London was informed of the pleasing event, by Mr. Joseph Cook, of Ewhaw, (S.C.); and for the purpose of learning more of George Leile and his numerous converts, he immediately wrote letters to Mr. Cook, to Mr. Jonathan Clark, of Savannah, and to Mr. Wesley's people at Kingston; a number of communications were forwarded by different persons, the substance of which he inserted in his Annual Register, which he was publishing at that time, from which the preceding sketches have been selected; and from the same work I shall now transcribe the following letters; as they will furnish the reader with a better view of the character of Mr. Leile and his followers, than can otherwise be given. Previous, however, to introducing the testimony of others, it may be proper to insert the account which Mr. Leile has given of himself and people, which he communicated to Dr. Rippon, in answer to more than fifty questions which the Doctor had proposed to him:
"I cannot justly tell what is my age, as I have no account of the time of my birth; but I suppose I am about 40 years old (in 1791) I have a wife and four children. My wife was baptized by me in Savannah, and I have every satisfaction in life from her. She is much the same age as myself. My eldest son is nineteen years, my next son seventeen, the third fourteen, and the last child a girl of eleven years; they are all members of the church. My occupation is a farmer, but as the seasons in this part of the country, are uncertain, I also keep a team of horses and wagons, for the carrying goods from one place to another, which I attend to myself with the assistance of my sons; and by this way of life have gained the good will of the public, who recommend me to business, and to some very principal work for Government. I have a few books, some good old authors and sermons, and one large Bible that was given me by a gentleman. A good many of our members can read, and are all desirous to learn; they will be very thankful for a few books to read on Sundays and other days.
"I agree to election, redemption, the fall of Adam, regeneration, and perseverance, knowing the promise is to all who endure, in grace, faith, and good works, to the end, shall be saved.
"There is no Baptist church in this country but ours. We have purchased a piece of land at the east end of Kingston, containing three acres, for the sum of 156 pounds, [140 pounds currency is 100 pounds sterling] currency, and on it have begun a meeting-house, 67 feet in length by 37 in breadth. We have raised the brick wall eight feet high from the foundation, and intend to have a gallery. Several gentlemen, members of the House of Assembly, and other gentlemen, have subscribed towards the building, about 40 pounds. The chief part of our congregation are slaves, and their owners allow them, in common, but three or four bits [a bit is about five pence half-penny sterling] per week for allowance to feed themselves; and out of so small a sum we cannot expect any thing that can be of service from them; if we did, it would soon bring a scandal upon religion; and the free people in our society are but poor, but they are all willing, both free and slaves, to do what they can. As for my part, I am too much entangled with the affairs of the world to go on, as I would, with my design, in supporting the cause; this has, I acknowledge, been a great hindrance to the gospel in one way; but as I have endeavored to set a good example of industry before the inhabitants of the land, it has given general satisfaction another way. And, Rev. Sir, we think the Lord has put it in the power of the Baptist societies in England to help and assist us in completing this building, which we look upon will be the greatest undertaking ever was in this country for the bringing of souls from darkness into the light of the gospel. And as the Lord has put in your heart to inquire after us, we place all our confidence in you, to make our circumstances known to the several Baptist churches in England; and we look upon you as our father, friend, and brother.
"Within the brick wall we have a shelter, in which we worship, until our building can be accomplished.
"Your letter was read to the church two or three times, and did create a great deal of love and warmness throughout the whole congregation, who shouted for joy and comfort, to think that the Lord had been so gracious as to satisfy us in this country with the very same religion with our beloved brethren in the old country, according to the Scriptures; and that such a worthy -- of London, should write, in so loving a manner, to such poor worms as we are. And I beg leave to say, that the whole congregation sang out that they would, through the assistance of God, remember you in their prayers. They all together give their Christian love to you, and all the worthy professors of Jesus Christ in your church at London; and beg the prayers of your congregation, and the prayers of the churches in general, wherever it pleases you to make known our circumstances. I remain, with the utmost love, Reverend Sir, your unworthy fellow, laborer, servant, and brother in Christ, GEORGE LEILE.
"P.S. We have chosen twelve trustees, all of whom are members of our church, whose names are specified in the title; the title proved and recorded in the Secretary's office of this island."
The following letter, directed to Dr. Ripport, was dated Kingston, Jamaica, Nov. 26, 1791.
"Reverend Sir, The perusal of your letter of the 16th July last gave me much pleasure, to find that you had interested yourself to serve the glorious cause Mr. Leile is engaged in. He has been for a considerable time past, very zealous in the ministry; but his congregation being chiefly slaves, they had it not in their power to support him; therefore, he has been obliged to do it from his own industry; this has taken a considerable part of his time, and much of his attention from his labors in the ministry: however, I am led to believe that it has been of essential service to the cause of God, for his industry has set a good example to his flock, and has put it out of the power of enemies to religion to say, that he has been eating the bread of idleness, or lived upon the poor slaves. The idea that too much prevails here amongst the masters of slaves is, that if their minds are considerably enlightened by religion or otherwise, that it would be attended with the most dangerous consequences; and this has been the only cause why the Methodist ministers and Mr. Leile, have not made a greater progress in the ministry amongst the slaves. Alas! how much is it to be lamented, that a full quarter of a million of poor souls should so long remain in a state of nature; and that masters should be so blind to their own interest, as not to know the difference between obedience, enforced by the lash of the whip, and that which flows from religious principles. Although I much admire the general doctrine preached in the Methodist church, yet I by no means approve of their discipline set up by Mr. Wesley, that reverend man of God. I very early saw into the impropriety of admitting slaves into their societies, without permission of their owners, and told them the consequences that would attend it; but they rejected my advice; and it has not only prevented the increase of their church, but has raised them many enemies. Mr. Leile has very wisely acted a different part. He has, I believe, admitted no slaves into his society but those who had obtained permission from their owners, by which he has made many friends; and I think the Almighty is now opening a way for another church in the capital, where the Methodists could not gain any ground. A short time will determine it, of which I shall advise you. I really have not time to enter so fully on this subject as I wish, being very much engaged in my own temporal affairs, and at present having no clerk. The love I bear to the cause of God, and the desire I have of being any ways instrumental to the establishing of it in this land of darkness, has led me to write this; but before I conclude, I have some very interesting particulars to lay before you. Mr. Leile has, by the aid of his congregation, and the assistance of some few people, raised the walls of a church ready to receive the roof, but has not the means to lay it on and finish it; nor do I see any prospect of its going further, without he receives the aid of some religious institution from home. One hundred and fifty pounds, I think, would complete it; and if this sum could be raised, it would greatly serve the cause of God, and might be the means of bringing many hundred souls, who are now in a state of darkness, to the knowledge of our great Redeemer. If this could be raised, the sooner the better. Our family contributed towards the purchase of the Methodist chapel; nor shall our mite be wanting to forward this work, if it meets with any encouragement from home. I am a stranger to you, but you may know my character from Daniel Shea, Esq. and John Parker, Esq merchants in your city; or from Mr. Samuel Yockney, tea-dealer, in Bedford Row.
"Perhaps you may expect me to say something of Mr. Leile's character, he is a very industrious man, decent and humble in his manners; and, I think, a good man. This is my opinion of him. I love all Christians of every denomination; and remain, with respect and sincere regard, Rev. Sir, your friend and Servant, "STEPHEN COOKE."
In 1793, Mr. George Gibbs Bailey, of Bristol, England, then at Kingston, wrote as follows respecting our worthy brother George: "I have inquired of those, who, I thought, could give me an account of Mr. Leile's conduct, and can say, with pleasure, what Pilate said, "I can find no fault in this man." The Baptist church thrives abundantly among the negroes, more than any denomination in Jamaica; but I am sorry to say, the Methodist church is declining greatly."
The following Letter to Dr. Rippon was dated Kingston, Jamaica, May 18, 1792.
"Reverend and dear Sir, In answer to yours, I wrote the 18th December last; and as I have not received a line from you since, I send this, not knowing but the other was miscarried. Mr. Green has called upon me, and very kindly offered his service to deliver a letter from me into your hands; he also advised me to send you a copy of our church covenant, which I have done; being a collection of some of the principal texts of Scripture which we observe, both in America and this country, for the direction of our practice. It is read once a month here on sacrament meetings, that our members may examine if they live according to all those laws which they professed, covenanted, and agreed to: by this means our church is kept in scriptural subjection. As I observed in my last, the chiefest part of our society are poor illiterate slaves, some living on sugar estates, some on mountains, pens, and other settlements, that have no learning; no, not so much as to know a letter in the book; but the reading of this covenant once a month, when all are met together from the different parts of the island, keeps them in mind of the commandments of God. And by shewing the same to the gentlemen of the Legislature, the justices, and magistrates, when I applied for a sanction, it gave them general satisfaction; and whenever a negro servant is to be admitted, their owners, after the perusal of it, are better satisfied. We are this day raising the roof on the walls of our meeting-house; the height of the wall from the foundation is seventeen feet. I have a right to praise God, and glorify him for the manifold blessings I have received, and do still receive from him. I have full liberty from Spanish-Town, the capital of this country, to preach the gospel throughout the island. The Lord is blessing the work every where, and believers are added daily to the church. My tongue is not able to express the goodness of the Lord. As our meeting-house is out of the town, (about a mile and a half) I have a steeple on it, to have a bell to give notice to our people, and more particularly to the owners of slaves that are in our society, that they may know the hour on which we meet, and be satisfied that their servants return in due time; for which reason, I shall be greatly obliged to you to send me out, as soon as possible, a bell, that can be heard about two miles distance, with the price. I have one at present, but it is rather small. The slaves may then be permitted to come and return in due time; for at present we meet very irregular, in respect to hours. I remain with the utmost regard, love, and esteem, Rev, Sir, yours, etc. "GEORGE LEILE."
The next January, Mr. Leile wrote again to Dr. Rippon as follows:
"Our meeting-house is now covered in, and the lower floor was completed the 24th of last month. We suppose we are indebted for lumber, lime, bricks, etc. between 4 and 500 pounds. I am not able to express the thanks I owe for your kind attention to me, and the cause of God. The school, master, together with the members of our church, return their sincere thanks for the books you have been pleased to send them: being so well adapted to the society, they have given great satisfaction. I hope shortly to send you a full account of the number of people in our societies, in different parts of this island. I have baptized near 500.
"I have purchased a piece of land in Spanish-Town, the capital of this island, for a burying-ground, with a house upon it, which serves for a meeting-house. James Jones, Esq. one of the magistrates of this town, and Secretary of the island, told me, that the Hon. William Mitchell, Esq. the Custos, had empowered him to grant me license to preach the gospel, and they have given me liberty, to make mention of their names in any congregation where we are interrupted. Mr. Jones has given permission for all his negroes to be taught the word of God. The gospel is taking great effect in this town. My brethren and sisters, in general, most affectionately give their Christian love to you, and all the dear lovers of Jesus Christ in your church at London, and beg that they and all the other churches will remember the poor Ethiopian Baptists of Jamaica in their prayers. I remain, dear Sir and brother, your unworthy fellow-laborer in Christ, GEORGE LEILE."
The April following, one of Mr. Leile's associates thus wrote to the assiduous Doctor, who took much pains to learn the affairs of his sable brethren:
"Reverend and dear Sir. I am one of the poor, unworthy, helpless creatures, born in this island, whom our glorious Master, Jesus Christ, was graciously pleased to call from a state of darkness to the marvellous light of the gospel; and since our Lord hath bestowed his mercy on my soul, our beloved minister, by the consent of the church, appointed me deacon, school-master, and his principal helper.
"We have great reason in this island to praise and glorify the Lord, for his goodness and loving kindness, in sending his blessed gospel amongst us, by our well-beloved minister, brother Leile. We were living in slavery to sin and Satan, and the Lord hath redeemed our souls to a state of happiness, to praise his glorious and ever-blessed name; and we hope to enjoy everlasting peace by the promise of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. The blessed gospel is spreading wonderfully in this island: believers are daily coming into the church; and we hope in a little time to see Jamaica become a Christian country.
"I remain, respectfully, Rev. and dear Sir, your poor brother in Christ, "THOMAS NICHOLAS SWIGLE."
I find no account of the progress of this church, nor of the affairs of our African brethren in this island, for about nine years from the last-mentioned date, until the following letter was written, by which it appears that they were in a prosperous state.
"Kingston, Jamaica, May 1, 1802.
"Reverend and dear Sir, Since our blessed Lord has been pleased to permit me to have the rule of a church of believers, I have baptized one hundred and eleven; and I have a sanction from the Reverend Dr. Thomas Rees, rector of this town and parish, who is one the ministers appointed by his Majesty to hold an ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the clergy in this island, confirmed by a law passed by the legislative body. of this island, made and provided for that purpose.
"Our church consists of people of color,* and black people; some of free condition, but the greater part of them are slaves and natives from the different countries in Africa. Our number, both in town and country, is about five hundred brethren, and our rule is to baptize once in three months; to receive the Lord's supper the first Lord's day in every month after evening service is over; and we have meetings on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout the year. The whole body of our church is divided into several classes, which meet every Monday evening, to be examined by their class-leaders, respecting their daily walk and conversation and I am truly happy to acquaint you, that since the gospel has been preached in Kingston, there never was so great a prospect for the spread of the same as there is now. Numbers and numbers of young people are flocking daily to join both our society and the Methodists, who have about four hundred. Religion so spreads in Kingston, that those who will not leave the Church of England to join the Dissenters have formed themselves into evening societies. It is delightful to hear the people, at the different places, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; and to see a great number of them, who lived in the sinful state of fornication, (which is the common way of living in Jamaica) now married, having put away that deadly sin. [* In most parts of the United States, the term people of color is intended to be a more respectful name for black people; but it is probable the writer here intends creoles.]
"Our place of worship is so very much crowded, that numbers are obliged to stand out of doors. We are going to build a larger chapel as soon as possible. Our people being poor, and so many of them slaves, we are not able to go on so quick as we could wish, without we should meet with such friends as love our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, to enable us in going on with so glorious an undertaking.
"I preach, baptize, marry, attend funerals, and go through every work of the ministry without fee or reward; and I can boldly say, for these sixteen years since I began to teach and instruct the poor Ethiopians in this island the word of God, (though many and many times traveling night and day over rivers and mountains, to inculcate the ever-blessed gospel) that I never was complimented with so much as a pair of shoes to my feet, or a hat to my head, or money, or apparel, or any thing else, as a recompense for my labor and my trouble, from any of my brethrens or any other person. My intention is to follow the example set before me by the holy Apostle St. Paul, to labor with my hands for the things I stand in need of, to support myself and family, and to let the church of Christ be free from incumbrances.
"We have five trustees to our chapel and burying-ground, eight deacons, and six exhorters.
"I had the pleasure of seeing MR. V. of his Majesty's ship Cumberland, in this town, who has been at my house and at our chapel, and has seen all my church-books, and the manner in which I have conducted our society. He has lately sailed for England with Admiral Montague, and when he sees you, he will be able to tell you of our proceedings better than I can write.
"All my beloved brethren beg their Christian love to you and all your dear brethren in the best bonds; and they also beg yourself and them will be pleased to remember the poor Ethiopian Baptists in their prayers, and be pleased also to accept the same from, Reverend and dear Sir, your poor unworthy brother in the Lord Jesus Christ, THOMAS NICIHOLAS SWIGLE.
"P.S. Brothers Baker, Gilbert, and others of the Africans, are going on wonderfully in the Lord's services in the interior part of the country."
The circumstance of Mr. Swigle's being in the care of the church at Kingston, led me to think that George Leile was dead. But I now conclude that he was then laboring in the interior of the country. I have lately learnt from Mr. Johnson of Savannah, and he received his information from the colored brethren there, that letters were received in Savannah, about 1810, from Mr. Leile, stating that he had met with great success in his ministry; that he had constituted a respectable church in the interior of the country, as a branch of the mother church; that the meeting-house in Kingston, with the steeple and bell, cost four thousand pounds.
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AFRICAN BAPTISTS IN PROVIDENCE, ONE OF THE BAHAMA ISLANDS.
In 1791, George Leile wrote to Dr. Rippon as follows." Brother Amosis at Providence. He writes me that the gospel has taken good effect, and is spreading greatly. He has about three hundred members." This Amos was a negro preacher, and probably went from Georgia with George Leile. It appears by Asplund's Register, that this church was gathered in 1788. I have also learnt from Mr. Johnson, that letters were received from Amos by the black brethren in Savannah, in the autumn of 1812, stating that his church had increased to eight hundred and fifty.
I know of no other Baptist churches in the West-Indies. The Methodists and Moravians have made numerous converts, and formed large establishments. In 1809, according to Lee's History of the Methodists, there were of that society, in all the West-India islands, upwards of twelve thousand.
The African Baptist churches in Philadelphia, New-York, and Boston, have been noticed under the heads of those respective cities.
We shall now close this chapter with SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE CONDITION OF THE CONVERTED NEGROES, AND THE SLAVES GENERALLY IN THE SOUTHERN STATES. We shall not enter into the merits of slavery, nor dwell much upon the arguments which are brought for and against it. We design to go no farther into the investigation of this unhappy policy, than to exhibit something of the circumstances of our African brethren, who are involved in it.
Slaves are the most numerous in Virginia, the two Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. There are some in a number of the other States; but in these six, the great body of them is found, and Virginia alone contains about three hundred thousand, almost one-third of its whole population. And I know not but the proportion is as great in the five other States. In all the States under consideration there are multitudes of black people and creoles, who are not slaves. Some are the descendants of manumitted ancestors; many who were born slaves have been liberated by benevolent and conscientious owners, and others have purchased their own freedom.
Multitudes of the inhabitants of these States have nothing to do with slavery; some from principle, and others for the want of means to obtain them.
The Quakers, who are numerous in some of the southern States, to their praise be it spoken, would never hold slaves.
The Methodists in some places set out on this principle: their ministers preached against slavery; many set them at liberty; but I believe at present their scruples are mostly laid aside.
The Baptists are by no means uniform in their opinions of slavery. Many let it alone altogether; some remonstrate against it in gentle terms; others oppose it vehemently; while far the greater part of them hold slaves, and justify themselves the best way they can.
In the six States we have named, there are now about ninety thousand Baptist communicants; and I conclude as many as forty thousand of this great number are negroes. Many of them it is true are free, but the greatest part of them are slaves. Thousands of them are owned by Baptist masters, and others by other people. The owners of slaves have generally been loaded with reproachful invectives for their practice. They have been all, without discrimination, charged with a want of both principle and feeling, with tyranny, cruelty, and oppression. But "to discriminate is just." Many must be blamed, but others ought rather to be pitied. Many of the best of masters have slaves, who are idle, thievisly stupid, and suspicious, and every way calculated to vex their feelings and mar all their enjoyments: and whatever may be said of the condition of their slaves, all must allow that the masters' is more wretched than theirs. Many I have seen are heartily sick of having slaves about them, and think that the people at the northward, who are free from the incumbrance of this troublesome property, are far more happy than they.
In traveling to collect materials for this work, I spent about five months in the six States now under consideration. I set out with a determination to say nothing on the subject of slavery; but people would converse upon it. Some were very curious to learn the minds of the northern people respecting slavery; others wanted to know how we could do our work without negroes; and many were anxious to clear themselves of the unjust aspersions, which, in their opinions, had been cast upon them. There is a class of people, (though I am happy to say I do not find many in it who profess religion) that entrench themselves around with their laws, their customs, and their wealth, and spurn with indignity any scruple of the lawfulness of holding slaves. There is another class, who are so amazingly suspicious that you are about to censure them, that it seems really cruel to mention one word against the slave-holding policy. But by far the greater part of those brethren, who are concerned in slavery, converse upon the subject with much frankness, and the following are the principal reasons which they assign for their practice:
1st. They had no hand in bringing them into the country; but since they are brought, somebody must take care of them.
2d. They cost them much money, generally from three to five hundred dollars apiece, and sometimes more; if they set them free, all this must be sacrificed.
3d. Others observed they had inherited their slaves as a part of their patrimonial estate: they came to them without their seeking, and now they know no better way than to find them employment, and make them as comfortable as their circumstances would permit.
4th. Some mentioned that the Romans and other nations had slaves; that they were numerous at the introduction of Christianity; that neither Christ nor the Apostles, nor any of the New-Testament writers said any thing against it; that if it were contrary to the spirit of the gospel, it is strange that it is no where prohibited. The last of these arguments has just about as much weight as those which are brought in support of infant baptism; the others I shall leave without any comment.
The fact is, most of the people under consideration, awoke into being surrounded with slaves, and now they must make the best they can of their situation.
But it is a well-known and pleasing fact, that the evils of slavery are yearly diminishing. Worldly policy has done something towards ameliorating the condition of this numerous class of pitiful beings; but religion has done much more.
Anxious that these strictures should be made with candor and correctness, and give a true, impartial representation of the business of slavery, as it is practiced among our southern brethren, I addressed a number of ministers on the subject, and requested their assistance towards forming this article.
But few, however, seemed inclined to say much about it. But Mr. Botsford of Georgetown, South Carolina, entered cheerfully and ingenuously upon the subject, and the following is a part of his communication.
"I have now been in this country upwards of forty-six years, as I arrived in Charleston from England in 1766, then something more than twenty years of age, and had never heard much respecting the negroes, or had seen more than four or five. I had every prejudice I could have against slavery. I must confess to this day, I am no advocate for it. But it does not appear to me in the same light it did on my first arrival. It is true, the slaves have no hope of freedom, and it is also true, they have no proper idea of the nature of freedom. Many in their own country were slaves, and many who were not, were miserable. Several with whom I have conversed, have really preferred their present state in this country to their own country, though in that they were free. It is more than probable, however, were the slave-trade abolished, their own country would be more desirable. I will give you an anecdote of a middle aged woman, who came to me a few weeks ago, to tell me the good things God had done for her soul. Among other things, she very heartily thanked God for bringing her into this country, to hear the blessed gospel. "Well but," said I, "You are a slave." She replied, "O, Massa, I am a slave for true, but I have a good massa and missis. I wish all my countrymen and women were here to hear this blessed gospel." "What, and be slaves too?" said I. "O Massa," said she, "my own country too bad; this the best country for poor negro, too much if he get good Massa." She is not the only one I have heard express themselves in much the same manner."
Mr. Botsford observes that there are but few plantations in South-Carolina, which have not an opportunity of attending worship, either among themselves or at some public place. Some masters, it is true, discourage all kinds of worship among their slaves; but many, who are not religious themselves, are yet willing that their slaves should attend to religion, and suffer them to go to places of worship, and permit exhorters to come on their plantations, etc.
Mr. Botsford has a few slaves in his possession, and his reasons for holding them are as follows: "Providence has cast my lot where slavery is introduced and practiced, under the sanction of the laws of the country. Servants I want; it is lawful for me to have them; but hired ones I cannot obtain, and therefore I have purchased some: I use them as servants; I feed them, clothe them, instruct them, etc.; -- as I cannot do as I would, I do as I can."
The existence of slavery in a country is calculated to awaken all the propensities of human nature, whether good or bad. Those who are so disposed, have abundant opportunities to play the tyrant, and to vent all their merciless and angry passions upon a set of poor, defenseless fellow beings; while those who are inclined to tenderness and compassion, may always find occasions for displaying these noble virtues. The following anecdotes will exemplify these remarks. A planter in the upper part of Georgia, went down to Charleston to purchase slaves. A cargo had just been landed -- they were set up at auctions -- declared to be sound in wind and limb, and were struck off to the highest bidder. This planter purchased his complement, and the driver conducted them off. On the way to Augusta, one of the women accidentally saw the man who had been her husband in Africa; the dissevered pair immediately recognized each other, and their feelings at this unexpected meeting may be conceived by those, who are acquainted with conjugal affection. The owner of the husband was moved at the scene, and proposed either to sell or buy, that the poor creatures might live together on the same plantation. But the other, hard-hearted man! would do neither. They of course were soon parted; the woman was conducted up the country, and soon after died with grief. I spent a night with a Baptist minister in Georgia, who had a plantation of about fifty slaves. By his request I took the lead in the devotion of the evening. A large company of negroes assembled in the hall. Their attention was solemn and devout, and their singing melodious. At the close of the exercises, the master exhorted his servants in a very affectionate manner to attend to what they had heard, among them was a very aged man, to whom he spoke in the tenderest manner, and inquired respecting his spiritual enjoyments, and so on. His answers were broken, but sensible. After the negroes had retired, my worthy brother gave the following account of the pious old Jack, who was supposed to be at least a hundred years old. He had belonged to a neighboring estate, which had been divided and run down, and the old worn-out servant was left without support. He went to another plantation among his kindred, but they treated him unkindly, and he concluded to go out into the woods and die. Mr. -- one day returning from Savannah, found him wandering in the road: he inquired who he was and having heard his melancholy tale, took him into his carnage, carried him home, and had kept him a number of years, without any reward, or ever expecting any.
This old African was an example of piety, and had a striking discernment in spiritual things. One day he said to his master, "Massa, me no like dat a man who pray here and talk to us lass night." "Why, Jack, why you no like him? " "O, me dont know, Massa, he pray and tell well enough; but me no get hold of him." Soon after, it was found out that the man was an impostor.
I was at the house of a Baptist minister in Virginia, who had many slaves, and among them one, who was a brother in the ministry. He was a sensible man and a very acceptable preacher. He had a wife and family all comfortable and happy. He had a good horse, had money at interest, and was called abroad to preach oftener than his master. And here I would observe, that among the African Baptists in the southern States, there are a multitude of preachers and exhorters, whose names do not appear on the minutes of associations. They preach principally on the plantations to those of their own color; and their preaching, though broken and illiterate, is in many cases highly useful.
The following anecdote affords a cutting reproof to all whom it implicates. A poor ignorant negro came to a minister with a melancholy and dejected look, and desired him to come and baptize his master again. "Why, Sambo," replied the minister, "what is the matter of your master? " "O, my massa been one good massa when you baptize afore; but now he forget all his religion, and scold, and vex, and whip poor negro."
I saw a man in Virginia, who was bred in Massachusetts: he went to Virginia with all the prejudices of a New-England man against slavery, and was determined at all events he would never traffic in human flesh. He soon found it difficult to get servants. That class in society who cheerfully serve in New-England are above the business here. He hired his neighbor's slaves; but they were miserable help. At length a fine looking black woman, of about thirty years of age, came to him and begged him to buy her. She had a ticket from her master, signifying that she was for sale. She informed him that her master lived twenty miles off -- that she had lost her husband -- that she had two children, which her master intended to keep; but his affairs were such that he must sell her, and had given her leave to find a master for herself, a thing very common in these countries. She furthermore added, that a man stood ready to buy her, who wanted to carry her down the Mississippi river; and in case she was sold to him, she must be parted from her children forever. She wept and begged him to buy her, so that she might live near her children. The man knew not what to do, for he found his principles, his interest, and compassion, all thrown into immediate collision; but as interest and compassion were both on one side, they overpowered his principles, and he bought the woman. She has proved a faithful servant: he permits her to go twice in a year to see her children; and she is happy and contented, and blesses her master for making her his slave.
These anecdotes are absolutely matters of fact, without any fiction or coloring, and they are specimens of what is every where met with throughout the land of slaves.
African converts are numerous among the Methodists as well as Baptists. The Methodist church in Charleston, a few years since, consisted of about eighteen hundred members. It was supposed that fifteen hundred or more of them were negroes.
But after all we can say of the kindness of masters and the comforts of slaves, it must be acknowledged that thousands of these wretched beings are sunk beneath an enormous load of oppressive misery. But the rich grace of God, which has within a few years past been so remarkably diffused in these States among both masters and slaves, I hope, and am inclined to believe, will be the salt of this part of the earth, and preserve it from those dreadful calamities, which many have feared. Were it not for this, I should really fear that oppressed humanity would one day collect its energies to a point, and revenge itself in acts of terrible retaliation on the authors of its weighty woes.
Those, who may wish to gain further information of the religious negroes, may find many interesting accounts in Holcombe's Letters lately published, and in a little piece entitled Sambo and Toney, published not long since by Mr. Botsford.