Info

character of Caribbean slavery by requiring baptism, by encouraging slaves to marry, and by insisting on the keeping of the Sabbath.7

State support for missions to the slaves would be supplemented by activities organized by the several religious orders and societies competing for influence in the Americas during the eighteenth century. The Dominicans, Jesuits, and Capuchins had been active in South America, the Caribbean, and New Spain before 1660. Several Protestant missions would develop in the century that followed. Both Puritans and Quakers showed some interest in converting enslaved men and womento Christianity duringthe initial phases of settlement in both the West Indies and New England. An English philanthropic society, 'The Associates of Dr Bray', was instituted in 1723 with the primary mission of instructing slaves in Christianity. Both the Associates of Dr Bray and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel would find particularly energetic workers among recent Huguenot settlers in North America, who had experienced their own exile and persecution. The impact of these initial attempts sponsored by the Church of England, however, would pale in comparison to the influence of the evangelical revivals that began in the 1740s and returned in sporadic bursts into the nineteenth century. Methodists, Moravians, Baptists, and New Light Presbyterians proselytized among enslaved Africans across North America, and in the Chesapeake and the Carolinas in particular, during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. Missions to the slaves would revive with even greater intensity in the two decades after American independence, as tens of thousands of men and women of African descent came to embrace Christianity. The evangelical movement had only the most limited impact on the British West Indies before the American Revolution. It would have a profound influence thereafter, however, as Methodist and Baptist preachers, both black and white, laboured assiduously and successfully to win new converts in the British sugar colonies.8

These missions to the slaves aimed to improve slavery, not overthrow it. In key respects, they sought to place colonial slavery on a more secure moral footing. The clergy told the enslaved that salvation lay in Christ, not in liberation on earth. And they explained that obedience to established authorities in the household and on the plantations was God's will. A yearning for liberty, in this way of thinking, could be cast as a vice. Across the Americas, political elites enacted laws or rendered judgements during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that ruptured the customary tie between Christianity and liberty. The French government, for example, directed Catholic priests in the Caribbean to discourage wrongdoing among the slaves by threatening eternal punishment for those who committed crimes. If before, Christians could not

0 0

Post a comment