How Violent Was American Slavery? Colonial Slave Codes

Last week I wrote about the challenges colonial American missionaries faced when trying to evangelize slaves without fundamentally challenging the institution of slavery. Starting in the eighteenth century, growing numbers of Christians began to express concerns about the immorality of slavery, at least slavery as practiced in the Americas. But when they turned to Scripture, [Read More...]

Evangelizing Slaves and Colonial Christianity

I recently read Travis Glasson’s excellent book Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World (Oxford, 2012). This book details the complex relationship between enslaved people, slave masters, and the missionaries of the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), which began a major outreach effort to the North American colonies in the [Read More...]

Runaway Slave Ads and the Violence of Slavery

In research for my colonial America book, I recently came across a runaway slave ad cited in Ira Berlin’s masterful Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. The ad appeared in the Maryland Gazette in 1766, one of countless such ads seeking the return of runaways from southern farms and plantations in the [Read More...]

Antebellum African Missions and the Evangelical South

I recently read Erskine Clarke’s remarkable By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey, which tells the epic chronicle of John Leighton Wilson and Jane Wilson, antebellum southern missionaries to west Africa. Clarke is one of the most gifted historians of American religion, with particular mastery of the antebellum southern Christian mind. By the [Read More...]

Slavery: America’s Original Sin?

[This week's post is from my archives at Patheos.] The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a touring exhibit entitled “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.” At the front of the Smithsonian display stands a life-size statue of Jefferson, backed by a panel listing the known names of about 600 slaves who worked for Jefferson [Read More...]

The Bible, Slavery, and Sin

I have been reading Molly Oshatz’s thought-provoking new book Slavery and Sin: The Fight against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestantism. Oshatz argues that the theological difficulties surrounding antebellum slavery gave rise to beliefs that became “hallmarks of liberal Protestant theology: God’s revelation unfolded progressively through human history, moral action had to be considered in [Read More...]

The Evangelical Impulse Behind the Abolition of Slavery

Did you get a chance to watch The Abolitionists last night on PBS?  If you missed it, you can watch the first episode  here.  The series focuses on five nineteenth-century abolitionists–Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, and Angelina Grimke–and their fight to end slavery in America.  As I watched the show [Read More...]

The “Regulated Freedom” of James Henley Thornwell, Antebellum Southern Presbyterian

Sunday was the 200th birthday of James Henley Thornwell, the South Carolina Presbyterian pastor and professor whom Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese called the antebellum South’s “most formidable theologian.” Thornwell was a great champion of what he called the “regulated freedom” of antebellum slave society. Historian George Bancroft once described Thornwell as “the most learned [Read More...]

Preaching Bonhoeffer and the Uses of the Past

Anxious Bench blogger John Turner asked me to republish this piece here.  It originally appeared on November 8, 2012 at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  -JF Last night at Messiah College I heard Christian writer Eric Metaxas give a very entertaining, humorous, and inspiring lecture on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The lecture was [Read More...]

Slavery, Historical Heroes, and “Precious Puritans”

A fascinating controversy has erupted between the worlds of modern rap music and the early American Puritans, because of a song, “Precious Puritans,” by Christian rapper Propaganda. For brevity’s sake, I won’t explore all the commentaries on the controversy, but to catch the flow of it, pastor and blogger Joe Thorn discusses the song here with [Read More...]


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