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Christian Ritual and the Creation of British Slave Societies, 1650-1780

Nicholas M. Beasley

Publication Year: 2009

This study offers a new and challenging look at Christian institutions and practices in Britain's Caribbean and southern American colonies. Focusing on the plantation societies of Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina, Nicholas M. Beasley finds that the tradition of liturgical worship in these places was more vibrant and more deeply rooted in European Christianity than previously thought. In addition, Beasley argues, white colonists' attachment to religious continuity was thoroughly racialized. Church customs, sacraments, and ceremonies were a means of regulating slavery and asserting whiteness.

Drawing on a mix of historical and anthropological methods, Beasley covers such topics as church architecture, pew seating customs, marriage, baptism, communion, and funerals. Colonists created an environment in sacred time and space that framed their rituals for maximum social impact, and they asserted privilege and power by privatizing some rituals and by meting out access to rituals to people of color. Throughout, Beasley is sensitive to how this culture of worship changed as each colony reacted to its own political, environmental, and demographic circumstances across time. Local factors influencing who partook in Christian rituals and how, when, and where these rituals took place could include the structure of the Anglican Church, which tended to be less hierarchical and centralized than at home in England; the level of tensions between Anglicans and Protestants; the persistence of African religious beliefs; and colonists' attitudes toward free persons of color and elite slaves.

This book enriches an existing historiography that neglects the cultural power of liturgical Christianity in the early South and the British Caribbean and offers a new account of the translation of early modern English Christianity to early America.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The research and writing that resulted in this book would not have been possible without the generosity of numerous institutions and friends. Teaching and research fellowships from the Department of History at Vanderbilt University were essential. I am also thankful for grants and intellectual stimulation from the Interdisciplinary Seminar in Social and Political Thought and the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt. ...

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CHAPTER ONE. Christian Ritual in British Slave Societies

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pp. 1-20

In 1627, the English began their colonization of Barbados and the creation of a British plantation world that would span the circum-Caribbean. They adapted to their new setting ably, creating a creolized English culture that celebrated metropolitan mores even as it made concessions to life in a tropical environment. That culture proved both durable and replicable. ...

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CHAPTER TWO. Ritual Time and Space in the British Plantation Colonies

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pp. 21-53

In the British plantation colonies, the legal establishment of the Church of England meant that locally elected vestries supervised the building of parish churches and chapels-of-ease, providing for everything from their exterior structures to the furnishings of their interiors. They purchased reading desks and pulpits for the reading of scripture and preaching, and communion tables and chancel appointments for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. ...

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CHAPTER THREE. Marriage and Baptism in the British Plantation Colonies

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pp. 54-83

The British plantation colonies were fertile in only one sense: as places where warm climates and rich soils produced exportable commodities that made some planters very rich. For Africans and Europeans and their descendents, Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina were often places of demographic decrease, where typical human reproductive activity usually failed to sustain population levels.1 ...

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CHAPTER FOUR. The Meanings of the Eucharist in the Plantation World

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pp. 84-108

Certain pastoral rites, especially those closely related to times of life-stage transition, seemed necessary to Christians in the British plantation colonies. Early modern people generally felt that couples needed to be married, babies had to be baptized, and the bodies of the dead had to be buried. Yet those seemingly necessary pastoral rites were not the sum total of ritual practice in the plantation colonies. ...

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CHAPTER FIVE. Mortuary Ritual in the British Plantation Colonies

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pp. 109-135

Regular worship, marriage, baptism, and the Lord's Supper all offered a sense of predictability in the religious life of the plantation colonies. At the same time death constantly disrupted colonists' best-laid plans. One of Jamaica's early historians insisted that "If Death is more busy in this Place than in many others, his Approach is no-where received with a greater Unconcernedness."1 ...

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CHAPTER SIX. Revolution, Evangelicalisms, and the Fragmentation of Anglo-America

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pp. 136-144

Speaking to South Carolina's general assembly in 1777 in favor of the disestablishment of the Church of England, Congregationalist minister William Tennent dwelled on the colonial government's material support for the worship of the established church. He complained that among the many denominations of early Carolina, the "law knows the Clergy of the One, as Ministers of the Gospel...


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pp. 145-188


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pp. 189-211


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pp. 213-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336053
E-ISBN-10: 082033605X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820333397
Print-ISBN-10: 0820333395

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 7 b&w photos, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900
Series Editor Byline: Richard S. Newman, Patrick Rael, and Manisha Sinha, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 593295505
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Christian Ritual and the Creation of British Slave Societies, 1650-1780

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Plantation life -- Jamaica -- History.
  • Plantation life -- South Carolina -- History.
  • Great Britain -- Church history.
  • Church of England -- History.
  • British -- America -- Religion.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- America -- Religious life and customs.
  • Barbados -- Church history.
  • Jamaica -- Church history.
  • South Carolina -- Church history.
  • Plantation life -- Barbados -- History.
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