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The Difference Denominations Made: Identifying the Black Church(es) and Black Religious Choices of the Early Republic

  • Kyle T. Bulthuis


Scholars of African-American religious history have recently debated the significance of the black church in American history. Those that have, pro and con, have often considered the black church as a singular entity, despite the fact that African Americans affiliated with a number of different religious traditions under the umbrella of the black church. This article posits that it is useful to consider denominational and theological developments within different African-American churches. Doing so acknowledges plural creations and developments of black churches, rather than a singular black church, which better accounts for the historical experience of black religion. In this piece, I analyze four different denominational and theological traditions that blacks followed in the early Republic: the Anglican–Episcopalian, the Calvinist (Congregational–Presbyterian), the Methodist, and the Baptist. Each offered a unique ecclesiastical structure and set of theological assumptions within which black clergy and laity operated. Each required different levels of interaction with white coreligionists, and, although some tended to offer more direct opportunities for reform and resistance, all groups suffered differing constraints that limited such action. I argue that the two bodies connected to formalist traditions, the Episcopalian and Calvinist, were initially better developed despite their smaller size, and thus disproportionately shaped black community and reform efforts in the antebellum United States.



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The author wishes to thank Albert Raboteau, Yvonne Chireau, Christopher Cameron, Jacob Dorman, and Bryn Upton for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article.

1 Newman, Richard S., Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 1426, 63–68. Newman provides a comprehensive analysis of the break, including the range of Allen's possible motives and time frames that suggest a possible earlier departure. For an earlier account that, in part, attributes an early form of black liberation theology to Allen's motivations, see George, Carol V. R., Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760–1840 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).

2 Allen briefly affiliated with the Free African Society a second time, but again departed that group to raise funds for his own Methodist church, which took the name of Bethel. See Raboteau, Albert J., “Richard Allen and the African Church Movement,” in A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (Boston: Beacon Press 1995), 79102, esp. 84–89.

3 See, for example, George, Carol V. R., “Widening the Circle: The Black Church and the Abolitionist Crusade, 1830–1860,” in African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture, ed. Fulop, Timothy P. and Raboteau, Albert J. (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1997), 153–76. Larger religious history surveys that tend to adopt this position include Ahlstrom, Sidney E., A Religious History of the American People, 2nd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 710–13, 1071–76; Allitt, Patrick, Religion in America since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 4751.

4 Critics of the black church suggest that conceptions of the black church have privileged Protestant evangelical groups as normative, excluding the range of religious practices African Americans have joined outside such traditions. Such conceptions have further heightened essentialized conceptions of black religion as emotional and natural. They have found the church's actions to be, at times, not unified, and often not progressive. And they have suggested that the Christian orientation of church necessarily obscures the violence, cultural as well as physical, embedded in the story of the Middle Passage and conversion to Christianity. Examples of such critiques include Jawanza Eric Clark, Indigenous Black Theology: Toward an African-Centered Theology of the African American Religious Experience (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Barbara Dianne Savage, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us: The Politics of Black Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); and most provocatively, Eddie Glaude, Jr., “The Black Church is Dead,” Huffington Post, February 24, 2010,

5 In this essay I am, in part, applying suggestions made by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp in “The Burdens of Church History,” Church History 82, no. 2 (2013), 353–67. According to Maffly-Kipp, church history still works as a category because such categories mattered to historical subjects.

6 Leslie Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996).

7 Advocates of black church unity have operated under the shadow of the black theology movement, which has provided a clear and consistent formal theoretical background since the 1960s. On black theology, see James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970), and Cone, Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968–1998 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998). For historical works that present a united and uniformly proreform black religious front, see Craig Steven Wilder, In the Company of Black Men: the African Influence on African American Culture in New York City (New York: New York University Press, 2002); Margaret Washington, Sojourner Truth's America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009); Graham Russell Hodges, David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), esp. 8, n 14, n 15; Gary B. Nash, Forging Freedom: the Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1720–1840 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988). One prominent exception is Graham Russell Hodges, Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613–1863 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). Hodges divides black religious activity into Anglican (activist) and Dutch Reformed (quietist) poles, albeit with most discussion of black experience limited to the former. Scholars such as Nash and Hodges describe white attacks on black attempts at institutional autonomy, which necessarily tends to highlight similarities rather than differences within the black religious community.

8 One must caution that these institutional and theological imperatives were not final indicators in black religious experience. Black church members and leaders all shared the experience of being black in a society that did not recognize their citizenship and, often, their humanity.

9 Both groups would grow in visibility and significance later in the antebellum era, and exponentially so after the Civil War, so much so that their experiences often stand in for the black church as a whole. The standard scholarly definition of the black church is typically limited to such historically black denominations of Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal; see, for example, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Anne H. Pinn and Anthony B. Pinn, Fortress Introduction to Black Church History (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001).

10 One interpretation that stresses these trends is Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989). See also Mark Noll, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). On their applications to the black church, see Will B. Gravely, “The Rise of African Churches in America (1786–1822): Re-examining the Contexts,” in African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture, ed. Timothy P. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1997), 133–52.

11 This was usually the case, but not always. The Denmark Vesey conspiracy is the most prominent exception, as it involved connections with African Methodists, and Nat Turner's charismatic nondenominational (or Baptist?) rebellion was deeply imbued with religious motives. The general truism that denominationalism involved bureaucratic organization, and thus participation within the system, generally holds, however.

12 A definition of the dialectical model, laid out in sociological terms, is found in Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, 11–16. Lincoln and Mamiya's work provides a theoretical complement to the historical and theological argument I advance here.

13 For the more limited definition of black church, see the sources cited in note 8 earlier in this chapter. For my purposes here, the black church refers to any religious body at the congregational level in which a significant, usually majority, percentage of the membership identifies as African American or black. I also include black clergy, whether they minister to predominantly black churches or not, because their messages had ramifications for American blacks, whether part of that respective church or not, and for racial identity in America generally.

14 Here I follow the distinction created by Curtis Johnson, Islands of Holiness: Rural Religion in Upstate New York, 1790–1860 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 67–70; see also Noll, America's God, 175–76. Johnson called evangelicals formalist and antiformalist based on their connections to and support of transformative reform movements, but the distinction between groups that employed more visible bureaucratic institutional forms and those who downplayed them to call on charismatic forms remains useful outside Johnson's chronological and geographic focus.

15 Travis Glasson, Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Older treatments include Frank Klingberg, Anglican Humanitarianism in Colonial New York (Philadelphia: Church Historical Society, 1940); Carl Bridenbaugh, Mitre and Sceptre: Transatlantic Faiths, Ideas, Personalities, and Politics 1689–1775 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962); Frederick V. Mills, Bishops by Ballot: An Eighteenth-Century Ecclesiastical Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

16 A significant minority of Episcopalians were Low Church, and affiliated with evangelical Protestant groups. Because some of them were, like their fellow non-Episcopalian evangelicals, attracted to reform movements, they did interact with their black coreligionists. The High Church position is well developed in Robert Bruce Mullin, Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986). Evangelical Episcopalians are covered in Diana Hochstedt Butler, Standing against the Whirlwind: Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

17 See Mullin, Episcopal Vision; Butler, Standing against the Whirlwind.

18 This description applies specifically to High Church parishes, which tended to numerically dominate and appear to be the party both St. Philip's and St. Thomas (see note 20 ) belonged to.

19 Histories of both congregations can be found in Robert F. Ulle, “A History of St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church 1794–1865” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1986); and Craig D. Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). On the subsequent development of other black Episcopalian congregations, see George F. Bragg, The First Negro Priest on Southern Soil (Baltimore: Church and Advocate Print, 1909), 11–12, 24.

20 On Williams's early oration and its reception, see Kyle T. Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York's Early Republic Congregations (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 106–108. For the texts of his speeches, see Peter Williams, Jr., “An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade,” reprinted in Dorothy Porter, ed., Early Negro Writing 1760–1837 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), 344–45; Peter Williams, Jr., “To the Citizens of New York,” in Carter G. Woodson, ed., The Mind of the Negro as Reflected in Letters Written during the Crisis (1926; reprint, New York: Russell and Russell, 1969), 630–34.

21 William Douglass, Sermons Preached in the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas’ Philadelphia (Philadelphia: King and Baird, 1854)

22 On St. Thomas's composition, see Ulle, “History of St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church.” For St. Philip's, see Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color, esp. Appendix, “Parishioners of St. Philip's Church,” 199–202. More on St. Philip's social composition is available in Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Streets, 140–43, 147–54, 172–78.

23 The aim of education was prominently emphasized in nearly every black religious body in America; it was the province of no single denomination. Black Episcopalians, however, were among the earliest and most prominent supporters, and, alongside black Presbyterians, the most forceful voices.

24 C. Peter Ripley, ed. The Black Abolitionist Papers, vol. 3, The United States, 1830–1846 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 189, 195–96, 337–38, 471, 473.

25 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 96, 188, 195–98, 224–25, 472.

26 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 24–26, 190, 195–98, 401–402, 405, 472.

27 Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color, 53–58, 97–98; Ulle, “History of St. Thomas,” 238–39, 341–42.

28 This was the case at St. Philip's, St. Thomas, and St. James in Baltimore. See Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color, esp. 98–107; William Douglass, Annals of the First African Church, in the United States of America, Now Styled The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia (Philadelphia: King and Baird, 1862), esp. 118–33, George F. Bragg, The First Negro Priest on Southern Soil (Baltimore: Church and Advocate Print, 1909), esp. 19–34.

29 In his volume of sermons, William Douglass, Sermons Preached in the African Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Thomas’, Philadelphia, offers a series of messages that are highly literate, beautifully composed, and completely silent on political issues of the day. Douglass's frequent condemnations of sin and sinfulness, however, may have served a clearer message to his black parishioners.

30 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 56, 198, 350–51.

31 Wilson Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Ripley, ed., Black Abolitionist Papers, 286, 401–402; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Of Alexander Crummell,” in Souls of Black Folk (1903; reprint, New York, Simon and Schuster, 2005), chapter 12.

32 On Black Atlantic Calvinism, see anthologies by Joanna Brooks and John Saillant, eds., “Face Zion Forward”: First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785–1798 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002); Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould, eds., Genius in Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001); Vincent Carretta, ed., Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003). See also James Sidbury, Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the English Black Atlantic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). For biographical examples of black Presbyterians and Congregationalists, see David E. Swift, Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy before the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989).

33 On Calvinism in America, see E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003); see also Mark Noll, America's God, esp. 253–68. On reformist Calvinists generally, see Leo P. Hirrel, Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998).

34 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 439. On black interaction with such theology, see Christopher Cameron, To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2014); Swift, Black Prophets of Justice, 8–9. On abstractions in preaching, one observer noted that Presbyterian minister Andrew Harris, of Philadelphia, was “more a discriminating logician than a fanciful poet.” Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 296–97.

35 Christopher Cameron, “The Puritan Origins of Black Abolitionism in Massachusetts,” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 39, no. 1–2 (Summer 2011), 79–107.

36 Congregational demands for a just community mitigated the atomizing forces that a Congregationalist-based polity might create; in general, New England Congregationalists acted in more concert than, for example, Baptists, whose decentralization often meant less action on the national level.

37 Swift, Black Prophets of Justice, 15, 17.

38 On Marrant's nationalism, see the introduction in Brooks and Saillant, eds., “Face Zion Forward”; For Haynes, see Cameron, “Puritan Origins,” 90, 92; John Saillant, Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753–1833 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). For the radical implications of Haynes's preaching, see John Saillant, “Lemuel Haynes and the Revolutionary Origins of Black Theology, 1776–1801,” Religion and American Culture 2, no. 1 (Winter 1992), 79–102, esp. 91–93. Ripley, ed., Black Abolitionist Papers, 218–19; James W. C. Pennington, A Textbook of the Origin and History of the Colored People (Hartford, CT: L. Skinner, 1841) and Pennington, The Fugitive Blacksmith, or, Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, Pastor of a Presbyterian Church in New York, 2nd ed. (London: Gilpin, 1849).

39 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 17, 177, 187, 199, 454–45, 466, 477, 482.

40 David Swift, Black Prophets of Justice; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 95, 187, 218–29, 336, 343, 439, 466, 477. See, particularly, Henry Highland Garnet, Memorial Discourse, Delivered in the Hall of the House of Representatives, Washington City D.C. on Sabbath, February 12, 1865 (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1865).

41 Cameron, “Puritan Origins,” 80–82, 92–94; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 50.

42 Mechal Sobel, Trabelin’ On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), 134; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 212, 199.

43 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 23, 187, 296–97; Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1840 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1969).

44 Some church historians of Europe or of an earlier era might be surprised at this connection, because in the colonial era, Episcopalians and Presbyterians were often political and theological enemies; see Patricia U. Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 198–99. After the Revolution, however, their similarities were greater than their differences, especially when facing large numbers of new religious movements who challenged those groups’ traditional authority. Such is the general point of Hatch, Democratization.

45 Swift, Prophets of Justice, 17. In this connection between Episcopalians and Presbyterians, I borrow from Curtis D. Johnson, whose work, Islands of Holiness, makes the distinction between formalist and antiformalist groups, pp. 67–70.

46 Cornish quote in Ripley, Black Abolitionists, 15. The concept of uplift is the central focus of Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), esp. 119–56. See also Dickson D. Bruce Jr., The Origins of African American Literature, 1680–1865, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001); Stephen G. Hall, A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

47 On African identity, see Sidbury, Becoming African in America.

48 On Methodism, see John Wigger, Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Dee Andrews, The Methodists in Revolutionary America 1760–1800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).

49 Methodism contained ecclesiastical hierarchy in part because it began as a movement within the Anglican church; hence the title of the white-run church included the phrase Methodist Episcopal, and of the black churches, African Methodist Episcopal. The development toward greater hierarchy in the black churches is described in Henry H. Mitchell, Black Church Beginnings: The Long-Hidden Realities of the First Years (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's, 2004) 104–15.

50 These tensions are dealt with in a number of works; see, for example, Andrews, Methodists, 93–95.

51 On Barsary, see Bulthuis, Four Steeples, 66; for Truth, see Margaret Washington, Sojourner Truth's America; Lee's autobiography is conveniently reprinted in William L. Andrews, ed., Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black Women's Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

52 Newman, Freedom's Prophet, 229–34; Sojourner Truth with Olive Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time (1878; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1968), 79–81.

53 Sobel, Trabelin’ On, 143; Daniel Alexander Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years, 93–94, 80–81; see also Clarence E. Walker, Rock in a Weary Land: The African Methodist Episcopal Church during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982).

54 Newman, Freedom's Prophet, 7, 38–39; Mitchell, Black Church Beginnings, 108–109; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 296–97; Hodges, David Ruggles, 7, 110; Payne, Recollections, 233–41.

55 The Doctrines and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: John H. Cunningham, 1817), 87, 76–77; The Doctrines and Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in America, Established in the City of New-York, October 25, 1820, 2nd ed. (New York: Joseph M. Marsh, 1841), 55.

56 Hodges, David Ruggles, 112–13; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 176, 180, 285–86.

57 See, for example, The Doctrines and Discipline, 2nd ed., p. 23.

58 On Methodist prominence in the early Republic antislavery movement, see, for example, Donald G. Mathews, Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780–1845 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965); for early immediatist efforts beyond 1830 and Methodist involvement, see Howard Holman Bell, ed., Minutes of the Proceedings of the National Negro Conventions 1830–1864 (New York: Arno Press, 1969). One prominent Methodist example of the emphasis on sanctification over reform is that of George White, whose narrative is reprinted in Graham Russell Hodges, ed., Black Itinerants of the Gospel: The Narratives of John Jea and George White (Madison, WI: Madison House, 1993). See also Walker, Rock in a Weary Land.

59 Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (1893), reprinted in Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Library of America, 1994), 913–14; Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 96, 259–60, 359–60, 452, 455. Thus, black Episcopalian James McCune Smith worshipped in a nominally biracial church, but supported segregated political action; African Methodist Frederick Douglass worshipped in a black church, but supported integrated social institutions. In some cases religious identity could spur action different from the immediate institutional or environmental imperatives.

60 Even this statement requires some qualification; within any religious affiliation in the colonial and early Republic eras, black groups, even those most localized, displayed interaction with larger bodies. David George's narrative, for example, was initially published via white English Baptist channels; this narrative has been reprinted in Vincent Carretta, ed., Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003).

61 Jewel L. Spangler, “Becoming Baptists: Conversion in Colonial and Early National Virginia,” Journal of Southern History 67, no. 2 (May 2001), 243–86; Johnson, Islands of Holiness, 67–70; Sobel, Trabelin’ On, 80–90; Eugene D. Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 283. Some Ohio black Baptists, however, were among the first to form antislavery societies.

62 Cameron, To Plead Our Own Cause; Ripley, ed., Black Abolitionist Papers, 270, 316. Again, the Baptist example includes exceptions that allowed for interracial cooperation; see Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 268, 317–19.

63 Mark Noll, America's God, 148–49.

64 Mechal Sobel, Trabelin’ On, representative examples throughout the work, but see esp. 140–44; see also Michael A. Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). An earlier articulation that emphasizes black religious difference from white, some of it attributable to Africa, is Eugene D. Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll, esp. 232–84.

65 One argument that minimizes African cultural survivals in detailing this process is Winthrop S. Hudson, “The American Context as an Area for Research in Black Church Studies,” Church History 52, no. 2 (June 1983), 157–71. See also Hatch, Democratization, 102–13, for a work that largely assumes democratic parallels between white and black religious experiences, even as it acknowledges white racism and black church separation. Hudson's article clearly minimized anthropological findings that have grown in significance the past three decades. I suggest that the two developments—African cultural survivals and parallels with white religious practices—are not mutually exclusive. A fine study that includes both is Mechal Sobel, The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). See also Gravely, “The Rise of African Churches in America,” 133–52.

66 The example of the Moravians serves as a sort of forerunner to the Baptists in their racial inclusivity; on the Moravians, see Jon F. Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). See also Jon F. Sensbach, Rebecca's Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). For early Baptist support of interracial worship, see Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982). See also Sobel, Trabelin’ On, 363; Sobel, World They Made Together. Examples of Baptist interracialism also occur in James B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, series II (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1859), 109, 124–27, 396, 440–41.

67 Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll, 263; Mitchell, Black Church Beginnings, 115; James Sidbury, Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel's Virginia, 1730–1810 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Randolph Scully, Religion and the Making of Nat Turner's Virginia: Baptist Community and Conflict, 1740–1840 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008).

68 Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, Series II, 56, 192–94, 474–76; Morte's story is recounted in Raboteau, Albert J., Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (1978; rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 316–17.

69 Ripley, Black Abolitionist Papers, 304, 447.

70 Mitchell, Black Church Beginnings, 116–17, 119–20.

71 On the birth of the Pentecostal church, see Mitchell, Black Church Beginnings, 177–79. Nathan Hatch invoked Pentecostalism as an example of continued populist impulses in American religion; see Hatch, Democratization, pp. 214–19. The leadership of black Baptists in the Civil Rights movement is covered in a range of works; among them, see Clarence Taylor, Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the Twenty-First Century (New York: Routledge, 2002).

72 For a brief recapitulation of these positions, see note 5.

73 Scholars’ tendency to limit the black church to the historically black denominations of Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal has often been accompanied by assumptions of natural affinity or essentialist identification. A southern folk saying suggests “if a nigger ain't a Baptist, someone has been tampering with his religion”—see Sobel, Trabelin’ On, 79. This generalized stance has been attributed to Booker T. Washington's more refined “if a black man is anything but a Baptist or a Methodist, someone has been tampering with his religion”; cited in Harold T. Lewis, Yet with a Steady Beat (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press, 1996), 1, 14; and Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color, 38–40. As historians of black Episcopalianism, Lewis and Townsend work in the shadow of the much more numerous black Baptist and Methodist bodies.

74 I have extrapolated some inferences on numbers from the appendix of Roberts, Kyle, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783–1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 273, Appendix A.5. Roberts's emphasis on evangelicalism arrays the Presbyterians alongside the Methodists and Baptists, against the comparatively few black Episcopalians. My emphasis here on formalist versus antiformalist denominational structures renders a slightly more equal, but still highly imbalanced, fissure. These numerical differences parallel those among American Christians as a whole; see Finke, Roger and Stark, Rodney, The Churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).

75 One should account for individual choice within these larger structures. Black Episcopalians were not uniformly quietist, even though that denomination's liturgical tradition generally encouraged reflection and literacy as primary tools. Episcopalian clergy were largely hamstrung by limits placed on them by church hierarchy. Perhaps as a consequence of these limits, seeing their minsters rendered silent, black Episcopalian laity such as George T. Downing and James McCune Smith offered striking acts of resistance with pen and tongue. In similar ways, each denominational body created a range of possibilities that individual believers and church leaders alike acted upon. No church affiliation mandated a simple and definite political trajectory, although tendencies did appear.

76 Examples of such include Brown, Karen McCarthy, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, rev. ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001); Curtis, Edward E. IV, Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960–1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Dorman, Jacob, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Matory, J. Lorand, Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

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  • Kyle T. Bulthuis


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