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Evangelism and Resistance in the Black Atlantic, 1760-1835

Cedrick May

Publication Year: 2008

This study focuses on the role of early African American Christianity in the formation of American egalitarian religion and politics. It also provides a new context for understanding how black Christianity and evangelism developed, spread, and interacted with transatlantic religious cultures of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Cedrick May looks at the work of a group of pivotal African American writers who helped set the stage for the popularization of African American evangelical texts and the introduction of black intellectualism into American political culture: Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, John Marrant, Prince Hall, Richard Allen, and Maria Stewart.

Religion gave these writers agency and credibility, says May, and they appropriated the language of Christianity to establish a common ground on which to speak about social and political rights. In the process, these writers spread the principles that enabled slaves and free blacks to form communities, a fundamental step in resisting oppression. Moreover, says May, this institution building was overtly political, leading to a liberal shift in mainstream Christianity and secular politics as black churches and the organizations they launched became central to local communities and increasingly influenced public welfare and policy.

This important new study restores a sense of the complex challenges faced by early black intellectuals as they sought a path to freedom through Christianity.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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p. ix

I owe a debt of gratitude to many individuals and institutions for help, support, and input that have contributed to the completion of this book. First, I thank Carla Mulford, under whose supervision I began this project as a dissertation. I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend than Carla, who introduced me ...

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pp. 1-23

In 1778, five years after the slave Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, another writer, also a slave, sat down during a moment’s respite to begin penning a response to the younger and more well-known poet’s work. Now nearly sixty-seven, Jupiter Hammon, who had published ...

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Chapter One. Jupiter Hammon and the Written Beginnings of Black Theology

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pp. 24-48

Jupiter Hammon made important contributions to African American writing that present contemporary readers with many problems of interpretation, particularly in the area of slave resistance. Generally neglected by literary and historical scholarship, Hammon’s poetry and essays nevertheless can shed light on how ...

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Chapter Two. Phillis Wheatley and the Charge toward Progressive Black Theologies

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pp. 49-63

In May 1773, a young woman named Phillis Wheatley boarded a merchant ship named the London Packet that was sailing from Boston to London. Several Boston newspapers announced her journey, noting that she was being escorted by the wealthy owner of the ship and celebrating the young woman as an “extraordinary” ...

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Chapter Three. John Marrant and the Narrative Construction of an Early Black Methodist Evangelical

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pp. 64-82

On a cold winter morning, January 27, 1788, John Marrant departed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the final time, boarding a ship headed for Boston. For almost three years, he had preached to a dedicated and growing congregation of loyalist blacks who had immigrated there to escape British-American slavery. ...

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Chapter Four. Prince Hall and the Influence of Revolutionary Enlightenment Philosophy on the Institutionalization of Black Religion

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pp. 83-97

Jupiter Hammon, Phillis Wheatley, and John Marrant were black religious writers who worked contemporaneously to change the way black people viewed themselves in relation to religion. Hammon and Wheatley worked primarily as individuals, producing literary expressions of their piety and intellectual engagement ...

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Chapter Five. Richard Allen and the Further Institutionalization of Black Theologies

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pp. 98-115

Richard Allen was the founder of and the first bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the first independent black denomination in North America. Scholars generally believe that the African church movement began in 1792 or 1793, when the black members of St. George’s Methodist Church in ...

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Chapter Six. Maria Stewart and the Mission of Black Women in Evangelicalism

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pp. 116-126

As this book demonstrates, beginning with the chapter on Jupiter Hammon, late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century blacks adopted a range of intellectual positions concerning the proper theological schools of thought related to slavery and human rights. And while Phillis Wheatley, Hammon’s contemporary, was in many ways ...


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pp. 127-142


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pp. 143-152


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pp. 153-157

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336336
E-ISBN-10: 0820336335
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327983
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327980

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 593295517
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Evangelism and Resistance in the Black Atlantic, 1760-1835

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American evangelists.
  • Civil rights -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • African Americans -- Religion -- History.
  • Religion and politics -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Religion and politics -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Christianity and literature -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Christianity and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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