the Bible. In 1773 a slave, George Liele, founded Silver Bluff Baptist Church in South Carolina, the first black congregation in North America; in 1782 he was evacuated with British troops to Jamaica, where he founded the First Baptist Church of Kingston in 1784, thus creating an African-American evangelical link between North America and the Caribbean.2

After the American Revolution, the promise of spiritual egalitarianism faded as southern white evangelicals suppressed antislavery sentiment in the churches and as white northerners, increasingly disdainful of black coreligionists, sought to exclude them from worship. These developments spawned an independent African-American church movement. A key moment took place in Philadelphia in 1787, when, after enduring humiliating discrimination by white congregants, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones organised the Free African Society and withdrew from the interracial St George's Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1794 the Free African Society became St Thomas African Episcopal Church with Jones as pastor, while Allen founded Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which became known as Mother Bethel. Similarly, Free African societies gave rise to AME or other black Methodist churches along the Atlantic seaboard within a few years, including an offshoot denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church. The era also saw the proliferation of black Baptist churches in both North and South. Andrew Bryan, a disciple of George Liele's, formed the First African Church of Savannah in 1788, which comprised largely enslaved members, and by the end of the century black Baptist churches arose in Williamsburg, Petersburg and Richmond. In 1800, there were an estimated 25,000 African-American Baptists, and free black northerners founded the African Baptist Church in Boston in 1805, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York in 1808, and the First African Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1809.3

At the same time, the Caribbean was a fertile mixing ground for African and Christian religious traditions. Many enslaved Africans arriving from Congo and Angola in the eighteenth century were already Christian, having been baptised in their homeland by Portuguese and Italian missionaries. In the greater French and Spanish Caribbean, including Louisiana and Florida, thousands more received Catholic baptism. In the French colony of Saint-Domingue, a blend of Catholic and African religious practices, including voodoo, gave potent spiritual inspiration to the rebels who overthrew their masters, defeated

2 Raboteau, Slave religion, pp. 128-41.

3 George, Segregated Sabbaths; Frey, Water from the rock, pp. 243-83; Sobel, Trabelin' on.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment