The Story: Life as a Slave

By the early 1800s, slaves were converting to Christianity in increasingly large numbers. Protestant groups like the Baptists and Methodists were more successful at recruiting new members than the Anglicans had been. They approached African Americans on a more equal footing, and held joint revivals for whites and blacks. Slaveholders were uneasy with this religious fervor. They worried that converting to Christianity would encourage their slaves to think of themselves as spiritual equals and demand better treatment or even freedom. Slave owners also resented the time slaves spent at religious services as time not spent working. Despite these objections from their masters, many slaves enthusiastically participated in religious services, which provided them some relief from work, time for fellowship with other slaves, and a way to express their spiritual faith.

"The slaves would have to devise many schemes in order to serve God. Of course they had church once or twice a month, but some white man would do the preaching, and his text would always be, "Servants obey your masters," But this was not what our people wanted to hear, so they would congregate after the white people had retired, when you would see them with their cooking utensils, pots and kettles, go into a swamp and put the pots and kettles on the fence, with the mouths turned toward the worshipers. They would sing and pray, the kettles catching the sound. In this way they were not detected. I did not learn until just before the war why they carried the vessels with them to worship."


- William H. Robinson, Wilmington, N.C.