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The Baptism of Early Virginia

How Christianity Created Race

Rebecca Anne Goetz

Publication Year: 2012

In The Baptism of Early Virginia, Rebecca Anne Goetz examines the construction of race through the religious beliefs and practices of English Virginians. She argues that the seventeenth century was a critical time for the development and articulation of racial ideologies. Paramount was the idea of “hereditary heathenism,” the notion that Africans and Indians were incapable of genuine Christian conversion. In Virginia in particular, English settlers initially believed that native people would quickly become Christian and would form a vibrant partnership with English people. After those hopes were dashed by vicious Anglo-Indian violence, English Virginians used Christian rituals like marriage and baptism to exclude first Indians and then Africans from the privileges enjoyed by English Christians—including freedom. Resistance to hereditary heathenism was not uncommon, however. Enslaved people and many Anglican ministers fought against planters’ racial ideologies, setting the stage for Christian abolitionism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using court records, letters, and pamphlets, Goetz suggests new ways of approaching and understanding the deeply entwined relationship between Christianity and race in early America.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Early America: History, Context, Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

A friend recently reminded me that all good scholarly work is the result of collaboration. In remembering how within a decade this book went from humble seminar paper to dissertation to actual book manuscript, I am astounded at all the people who helped and infl uenced me. In the History Department...

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A Note on Terminology

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pp. xiii

In the initial chapters of this book I often refer to English settlers, but later I refer to the English inhabitants of Virginia as Anglo-Virginians. The change in wording indicates that, after the initial decades of settlement, white Virginians...

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Introduction: Potential Christians and Hereditary Heathens in Virginia

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pp. 1-12

When the Reverend Morgan Godwyn arrived in Virginia in the mid- 1660s, he was one of the rare Church of England ministers willing to shepherd a colonial parish. Godwyn’s later writings suggest a combative personality; appalled by Anglo-Virginians’ refusal to proselytize their enslaved property...

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1 English Christians among the Blackest Nations

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pp. 13-34

Like many financially struggling English gentlemen with literary am - bitions, William Strachey believed he could recover his failing fortunes abroad. Strachey worked for the Levant Company in Constantinople, and he might also...

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2 The Rise and Fall of the Anglo-Indian Christian Commonwealth

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pp. 35-60

The Virginia Company’s founding documents emphasized the importance of converting Indians. In its 1606 charter, the crown endorsed “propagating of Christian religion to suche people, as yet live in darkenesse and myserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worshippe of god.”1 This English...

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3 Faith in the Blood

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pp. 61-85

Writing a history of English Virginia in 1705, Robert Beverly gave pride of place to two early marriages in the colony. The first, between John Laydon and Anna Burrows [Anne Burras] in 1609, he described as “the first Christian Marriage in that Part of the World: and the Year following...

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4 Baptism and the Birth of Race

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pp. 86-111

Late in September 1667, Virginia’s burgesses passed legislation governing a serious matter of bondage and freedom and of religious inclusion and exclusion. The act began by exploring a critical question: “Whereas some doubts...

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5 Becoming Christian, Becoming White

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pp. 112-137

In 1667 Governor William Berkeley wrote a letter to King Charles II on the challenges of governing Virginia, asking him to “consider us as a people press’d at our backes with Indians, in our Bowells with our servants . . . and invaded...

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6 The Children of Israel

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pp. 138-167

In late summer 1723, one or more anonymous enslaved people from Virginia wrote a letter to Edmund Gibson, the newly consecrated bishop of London. The letter writers implored the bishop, who oversaw Anglican affairs in the colonies, for assistance. “[T]here is in this Land of verJennia a Sort...

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Epilogue: Christian Abolitionism and Proslavery Christianity

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pp. 168

In 1770 an anonymous Englishman who had traveled in Virginia published a tract admonishing his colonial planter friend’s refusal to baptize his slaves. “What a reproach, what an Infamy and Disgrace is it to Christians to suffer Thousands of Heathens and Idolators to swell among them, and...


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pp. 192-227

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 228-233

The county court records of seventeenth-century Virginia form the backbone of this book. I used records from Accomack, Northampton, Surry, and York counties because they have relatively complete seventeenth-century runs. Other counties with some seventeenth...


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pp. 234-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408743
E-ISBN-10: 1421408740
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421407005
Print-ISBN-10: 1421407000

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 halftone, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Early America: History, Context, Culture