between colonial and imperial powers from 1775 to 1815, during the 'Age of Revolution'. These contexts and trends, however, would have had very different consequences for the history of antislavery if they had not been accompanied by much broader movements for spiritual revival within certain Protestant communities during the last half of the eighteenth century. The evangelical revival instilled within particular individuals and groups a commitment to seek religious purity in this world, to campaign vigorously against earthly sins. To long-standing inert antislavery impulses, the revival brought an inclination to act. In the context of a history of Christianity, Anglo-American abolitionism may be understood as one part of the much broader effort during the evangelical revivals to give religion greater sway over both public and private life. At the same time, in that attempt to extend the influence of Christianity, abolitionists would invite, inadvertently in many instances, the radical reinterpretation of Scripture by Africans and their descendants, who would find in the Christian tradition a message of liberation that their erstwhile guides had feared or had failed to see.
Moral objections to human bondage in the Americas surfaced not long after the establishment of colonial slavery and the opening of the Atlantic slave trade. In most instances, denunciations came from Catholic priests who had spent several years in the colonies ministering to exiled Africans. Typically, the target was the Atlantic slave trade, and not slaveholding itself. The ideal of Christian servitude, sanctioned by both custom and Scripture, could insulate the institution of slavery from attack. It proved far more difficult to justify the kidnapping of Africans (man-stealing in biblical terms) that clergy knew produced captives for the middle passage. As early as 1555, the Portuguese Dominican Fernando Oliveira described the Atlantic slave trade as piracy and a sin. This was also the view of Tomas Mercado, a Spanish Dominican who fourteen years later published a meditation on the ways the morals of European traders had been corrupted by New World riches: the slave trade, by encouraging in Africa wars and raids for innocent captives, represented only the most egregious example. Miguel Garcia, a Spanish Jesuit serving in Brazil, lost his teaching post in 1583 for refusing communion to Portuguese slaveholders. These slaveholders all lived in sin, Garcia insisted, since they had partaken in the injustice of the slave trade. The Jesuit Alonso de Sandoval of Cartagena stopped short of condemning the Atlantic slave system as a whole. But after having spent a half-century tending to the involuntary migrants disembarked in the South American port, he made clear his contempt for the slave trade in 1647 by graphically describing in print the horrors of the Atlantic crossing.4
Was this article helpful?