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Religion in the Colonies, Southern Colonies

In the southern colonies, brothers Cecilius and Leonard Calvert established a refuge in Maryland in the 1630s for Roman Catholics persecuted in England. The Calvert family declared freedom of religion for all Christians in their colony. In the rest of the colonial south, the Anglican Church was established by law. In general, however, southern colonists provided minimal support for their churches, which were often without ministers. After the middle of the 18th century, Baptist and Methodist ministers converted large numbers of settlers to their denominations, particularly the poorer ones and slaves.

The slaves the southern settlers brought into the colonies were usually non-Christian, although a few had been baptized as Roman Catholic. Colonists felt free to enslave Africans because they were not Christians. For the first century of slavery, from the early 17th century to the early 18th century, most Southern states made it a crime to baptize slaves, because slaveholders feared they would have to free slaves if they became their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the first half of the 18th century, missionaries from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts were able to baptize some slaves as Anglicans. Many slaves, however, became Baptists or Methodists rather than Anglicans like their owners. Because Baptists and Methodists did not insist on the freeing of slaves, plantation owners were persuaded to change laws forbidding the Christianization of slaves. Special Bibles written for slaves stressed obedience. Slaves created hymns and a theology of freedom, however, to counter the proslavery lessons of white preachers. Over time, separate black religions developed among slaves that combined some elements of African practice with Baptist and Methodist theology.

 

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