The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South: A Study in Social Control

By Bertram Wilbur Doyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
ETIQUETTE IN THE CHURCH

IN THE church and in matters of religion relations between white's and blacks, beginning, no doubt, as early as 1619, have gone through an interesting series of changes. The first Negroes to arrive in Virginia were considered "strange creatures." So strange, in fact, that they could scarcely be classified as human. Even as late as the end of the seventeenth century it was held that "the Negro was not a man but a wild beast, hardly superior to the monkey in intelligence, and with habits far more debased." 1 Hence those, persons who might have been inclined to accept him as a human being still characterized him as a heathen. This classification placed him quite outside the pale of ordinary creatures.

Religion, however, was a matter of grave importance to early Virginians, who, it was said, maintained a system of religious observances quite as rigid as that of the Puritans. 2 As a reflection of these conditions, perhaps, there soon developed the practice of admitting a Negro to Christian baptism and, still later, of admitting one who had been baptized to a higher status, namely, to that of a Christian Negro.

When, however, it was found desirable and possible to reduce the Negro to slavery, a conflict occurred. A rather widespread opinion held that Christians could not righteously be enslaved. The problem then resolved itself into reconciling current religious beliefs and slavery.

Down to about 1641, while indenture for Negroes was developing into Negro slavery, baptism operated to release Negroes from slavery. But, after that time, the presumption was that baptism did not precede manumission. In 1664 the lower house of the Maryland legislature passed a law stipulating that Ne-

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