Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

By Heather Miyano Kopelson | Go to book overview

8
“In consideration for his raising her
in the Christian faith”

In several long-term indentures of African and mulatto children in midseventeenth-century Bermuda, the contracts specified that the master had use of a person’s labor “in consideration for” raising that person “in the Christian faith,” and perhaps teaching her or him a trade. Long-term indentured servitude with terms of thirty years for Bermudians of color persisted into the late seventeenth century and sometimes included an apprenticeship in a particular trade; in the healthier Bermudian environment these were not the life indentures that ninety-nine-year terms were. One of these bills even specified the type of Christianity in which the child was to be brought up. Before Francis Jennings left on a ship voyage in 1648, he gave the then unborn child of “Sarah, a Negro woman” to Thomas Hooper for his use. The condition of this grant was “upon consideration that the said Mr. Hooper do bring up and nurture up the same in the faith of Christ and in the principles of the true protestant religion.”1 In Massachusetts, instruction in Christianity was used to justify the mass indentures of Native children after King Philip’s War in 1675–76 led the English to try to contain what they increasingly identified as an unstable, dangerous element.2

The conjunction of bonded labor and religious instruction highlights the multiple connotations of faithful bodies, as sometimes obedient servants performing labor and as filled with faith, whether drawing from Christianity, African, Algonquian, indigenous Caribbean religions, a mixture of all, or perhaps none. Although it also points to the argument over whether faith-full Christian Africans and Indians could even exist,

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