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

By Charles F. Irons | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B
Distribution of Virginia Evangelicals in 1860,
by Denomination and County

In 1860, the Bureau of the Census recorded the number and affiliation of churches within each county, as well as the estimated total accommodations and property values of those churches. The “number of chairs” that the Bureau of the Census counted does not enable the historian to calculate membership or adherence with any precision, but it does provide a good general estimate of numbers and a sense of proportion about which denominations were strongest in which counties. It is worth noting that the Baptist Church seems to have fewer chairs than the estimated number of adherents for that denomination would suggest, while the other denominations seem to have surplus capacity. This could suggest flaws in the way that historians calculate total adherents from members. But there are two factors that may partially explain this discrepancy. First, African American Virginians who attended a Baptist church sometimes met in the same building as the whites, but at a different time, effectively multiplying the use of a fixed number of seats. This was the case in Charlottesville, for example, when the black members first began to declare their ecclesiastical independence.1 Second, the black church membership grew faster than some churches could hold, and there are accounts of black Baptists listening outside the churches during the services because there was not enough room for them inside. Horace Tonsler, who was only a child when the war came, remembered crowded churches. “When we git to de church, de white folks would go inside, an’ de slaves would sit round under de trees outside. Den de preacher git de white folks to singin’ an’ shoutin, an’ he start to walkin’ up an’ down de pulpit an’ ev’y once in a while he lean out de winder an’ shout somepin’ out to us black folks. ’Twarn’t no room inside fo’ us.”2

-265-

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