away, and the 'Canaan land' of Exodus bore easy symbolic resemblance to the slaves' promised land, Canada.8
The relationship of Christianity to resistance movements of the enslaved has long been a subject of fascination and debate among historians. The most famous slave revolts of the nineteenth century all had strong messianic components. Among the leaders of Gabriel's Rebellion outside Richmond in 1800 and Denmark Vesey's plot in Charleston in 1822 were both African conjurors and Christian exhorters. Charleston's two African Methodist churches - several thousand members strong - provided fertile grounds for organising and recruitment, while Vesey patterned himself after the liberator-prophets of the Old Testament.9 In Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831, Nat Turner, an enslaved, literate Baptist preacher, read signs such as blood on the corn and hieroglyphic figures on leaves and foretold African-American liberation through apocalyptic violence: 'It was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.' In Jamaica, also in 1831, an equally important rebellion, the so-called Baptist War, was led by Baptist class leaders whose slogan was 'No man can serve two masters.' Some of those leaders were native Baptists, members of a separatist sect originated by George Liele and other black migrants from the USA after the American Revolution. All of these uprisings were violently suppressed and their leaders executed.10
For all its emphasis on the possibilities of human freedom, the slaves' Christianity might just as often have served less revolutionary ends. Perhaps, as some historians have argued, the eschatological otherworldliness of their faith served as more of a compensatory promise of freedom and salvation in the afterlife than a prescription for rebellion. Perhaps, to many, the figure of Jesus as ally and protector, as invoked in the song 'A little talk with Jesus makes it right', offered more immediate spiritual sustenance than Jesus the liberator or Moses the deliverer. Whatever the case, religion helped many thousands of enslaved people negotiate their responses to a hostile world by offering emotional and moral support in their daily struggle.11
North and west of slavery in the United States, black churches proliferated with the rapid growth of the free blackpopulation. Missionaries departed from
8 Lincoln and Mamiya, The black church in the African American experience, p. 350. See also Raboteau, Slave religion, pp. 212-88; Southern, The music of black Americans.
9 Harding, 'Religion and resistance among antebellum negroes'; Egerton, He shall go out free and Gabriel's rebellion; Genovese, From rebellion to revolution.
10 Nat Turner, 'Confessions', in Tragle (ed.), Southampton slave revolt of1831; Turner, Slaves and missionaries, pp. 150-4; Holt, The problem of freedom, pp. 13-17.
11 Genovese, Roll, Jordan, roll; Alho, The religion of the slaves.
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