by her overseer and filed charges against a slaveholder who had murdered her slaves. Such patronage, from the perspective of slaveholders, represented just one instance ofthe more general threat posed by missions to the slaves. By treating enslaved men and women as members of the faith, by training black cate-chists, holding separate worship services, and allowing for the development of a black religious leadership, the Jesuits seemed to undermine the perpetuation of social distance and racial difference upon which slavery depended.11 Similar anxieties arose among landholders in the Chesapeake region during the evangelical revivals that commenced in the mid-eighteenth century, as black men and women attended open-air meetings with whites, sharing with them the love feasts and prayers that bound together the community of believers seeking salvation.12

This nascent sympathy for the enslaved and the persistent obstruction by the planters drove some missionaries to open criticism of the slaveholding elite. True Christians, these sceptics decided, would not force their workers to labour on the Sabbath. Nor would they block efforts to bring plantation life more closely in line with the ideal of Christian servitude. The slaveholders, according to these critics, had assumed a place that rightfully belonged to God. Rather than obedience to the Lord, they demanded submission to the lord of the estate. In practice, moreover, slavery too frequently left captives unable to choose virtue over vice, to live free from sin. Too often, they had neither the guidance nor the freedom to live and die as Christians. In many colonial societies, slaves were not permitted to marry. Left in spiritual darkness because of slaveholder neglect, they were allowed or even encouraged to violate the Sabbath. In this way, the institution ofslavery, ifnot sinful in itself, had become a source of vice. It also seemed to corrupt the slave owners themselves, encouraging arrogance, pride, and cruelty, and setting the conditions that allowed for the sexual exploitation of enslaved women. More than a few missionaries in every plantation colony in the Americas decided that the slaveholders were worse heathens than their slaves. Too often these masters of women and men held religion in contempt and treated enslaved Africans like beasts of burden. This 'rustic theology', the Portuguese critic Manoel Ribeiro Rocha wrote in 1758, was 'the reverse of Christian theology'.13 The obsession with profits had displaced the true Christian's obligation to practise charity, humility, justice, and piety. In this way, a critique of human bondage emerged from a concern with the fate of Christianity in plantation societies.

The solution, a small few concluded, lay in reforms that would improve colonial slavery. In crucial respects, these amelioration proposals, which surfaced as early as the late seventeenth century and became more common by

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