The Story: Life as a Slave

One of the few escapes from the severity of slave life was participation in religion. During the early 1700s, few North Carolina slaves converted to Christianity. Many held on to the religious traditions they had brought with them from Africa. Christian missionaries feared and misunderstood these traditions, and wanted to convert the slaves, who they considered "heathens". Anglicans were the first group to try to convert slaves in North Carolina, but didn't achieve much success. The early colonial slaves were reluctant to give up their familiar and meaningful traditions, and saw no reason to adopt the religion of those who enslaved them.

"When the Rev. Mr. Pike came, there were some twenty persons present. The reverend gentleman knelt in prayer, then seated himself, and requested all present, who could read, to open their books, while he gave out the portions he wished them to repeat or respond to.  His text was, "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”…"

"The benediction was pronounced. We went home, highly amused at brother Pike's gospel teaching, and we determined to hear him again. I went the next Sabbath evening, and heard pretty much a repetition of the last discourse. At the close of the meeting, Mr. Pike informed us that he found it very inconvenient to meet at the friend's house, and he should be glad to see us, every Sunday evening, at his own kitchen…some of his members repaired to his house, and found that the kitchen sported two tallow candles; the first time, I am sure, since its present occupant owned it, for the servants never had any thing but pine knots. It was so long before the reverend gentleman descended from his comfortable parlor that the slaves left, and went to enjoy a Methodist shout. They never seem so happy as when shouting and singing at religious meetings. Many of them are sincere, and nearer to the gate of heaven than sanctimonious Mr. Pike, and other long-faced Christians, who see wounded Samaritans, and pass by on the other side."

Harriet Jacobs, Edenton, N.C.