Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870

Article excerpt

Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation: African American Slaves and Christianity, 1830-1870. By Daniel L. Fountain. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010, Pp. xi, 159. $36.00.)

Many books have been written about slave Christianity in the antebellum South. In Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation, Daniel L. Fountain challenges much of what historians thought they knew about the topic. In a first chapter based on the statistical analysis of the available primary sources - largely post- 1830 slave autobiographies and the WPA slave narratives - Fountain argues that historians have substantially overestimated the population of slave Christians, suggesting that perhaps twenty-five percent of slaves had converted before the Cavil War. This claim, according to the author, is the most important in the book: "that most slaves did not accept Christianity as their belief system" (39). Nonetheless, Fountain also points out that given the barriers to conversion and the inadequate missionary efforts undertaken by southerners, "it is a wonder that as many African Americans converted as did" (93).

Women were more likely to join the church than men, younger people more than older people (with most Christian slaves not reaching the age of forty), and slaves in urban areas more than those in rural areas. The latter fact is likely in part based upon the significantly larger religious presence in cities than in the countryside in the antebellum period. Occupation had little impact on a slave's decision to convert to Christianity, with field slaves, house slaves, and skilled slaves all joining the church at comparable rates. Most slaves did not convert to Christianity until after the Civil War brought freedom and the "predicted Christian deliverance" from slavery.

One of the most impressive facets of Slavery, Civil War, and Salvation is the discussion of alternatives to Christianity in the slave community. Fountain argues, in fact, that many more slaves practiced religions other than Christianity, that the slave community was one of incredible religious diversity. …

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