The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia

By Charles F. Irons | Go to book overview

Epilogue
EXODUS, 1861–1870

And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring
them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and
honey.—Exodus 3:8

Virginia’s African American evangelicals did not perceive the Confederate cause as a holy one. With the exception of occasional deeds of personal loyalty on behalf of their owners—modest acts, such as the protection of valuables, which whites celebrated far out of proportion to their frequency or meaning—blacks sought to retard the southern cause both ecclesiastically and militarily. The chief tool that black evangelicals used to combat the proslavery, pro-Confederate orientation of their white brethren was separation, both from slavery itself and from the white church. Almost half a million slaves from across the South fled from their owners during the conflict and sought succor behind Union lines.

Men and women in Virginia found it easier to reach the safety of federal lines than did enslaved people in other areas of the Confederacy, for the Union army maintained a presence on three sides of the state and made frequent incursions toward the capital city. By 24 May 1861, the first documented fugitive slaves of the war had already sought out Union troops at Fortress Monroe, near historic Jamestown, and had begun to work as military laborers.1 Enough black Baptists in the commonwealth took advantage of the relative ease of escape that the Rappahannock Baptist Association, in which black members outnumbered whites by a two-to-one margin, ruled that fugitives from slavery be expelled from church membership. As their justification for this punishment, whites cited only the “general sanction which the Scriptures unquestionably give to slavery,” forgetting the irony that white evangelicals had been among those questioning the teaching of scripture on the institution only a few generations before.2

Black evangelicals too far from the front lines to celebrate a “day of jubi

-247-

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