We'll soon be free,
We'll soon be free,
We'll soon be free,
When de Lord will call us home.
For almost eight decades, enslaved African-Americans living in the Antebellum South, achieved their freedom in various ways—one being religion—before the demise of the institution of slavery. It was “freedom, rather than slavery, [that] proved the greatest force for conversion among African Americans in the South” (94). Starting with the Great Awakening and continuing long after the abolition of slavery, after decades of debate, scholars conceptualized the importance of religion for enslaved African-Americans as a means of escaping the brutalities of daily life. Overall, Christianity helped enslaved African American resist the degradation of bondage and naturally transmitted into traditional religious practices that have since served as a pillar of African-American culture. Overall, this genuine faith created a common bond among enslaved African-Americans who forcibly scattered across fifteen of the twenty-six American States. According to 1860 U.S. census data, 3,953,000 occupied Southern and Border States--the largest number lived in Virginia, with Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina following respectively. Although long distances separated enslaved families and friends, a natural increase in the slave population preserved and transmitted religious practices which became truly “African-American”. Even though countless research and data proves that Christianity generally impacted slaves as a group, slavery had a wide variety of faces, which created differences among individual slaves. In the Antebellum South, enslaved African-American’s worked in rural and urban areas within the parameters of white slave-owners and fellow blacks. The diverse forms of slavery correlated mainly with the slave’s location in the south and not only impacted the slave’s day-to-day life but affected the religious landscape for African-American slaves.
Although the underlying concepts of Christianity created a mutual effect, the differences in demographic and cultural factors either hampered or influenced slave religion. This, in turn, presents a question: Did Christianity play different roles in the lives of African-American slaves depending on which section of the Antebellum South they resided? After reviewing numerous slave narratives, historical research, and scholarly dissertations, it is evident that location correlated with the religious landscape of African-American slaves. After examining distinct periods of the antebellum era, evidence is predominately shown by 1.) variations in plantation missions across the Southern states; 2.) differences black church participation throughout sections of the antebellum south, and 3.) numerous state legislation that impacted slave religion. The first understanding of slave religion began during the religious phenomenon known as the Great Awakenings, which caused an unprecedented spread of Christianity which coincided with dramatically increasing numbers of slaves converting to evangelical religions such as Baptist and Methodist faiths. This intense period of religious revivalism customized southern planters and slave-owners to the idea that slaves should be Christianized, which propagated the ideal plantation missions among the two largest African-American religions, as well as Presbyterians and Episcopalians throughout the South. The establishment of antebellum plantations missions showcases the first major variation in Christian-experiences among slaves living in different sections of the antebellum south.
At the peak of missionary zeal, the role of planation missions in the lives of black slaves differed between slaves concentrated in country areas and those centered in Southern cities. Some of the most insightful variations between rural and urban plantation missions are archived in the Library of Congress’s Slave Narratives. For example, Hagar McIntosh, a former...
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