In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Reed through the Bybell”Slave Education in Early Virginia
  • Antonio T. Bly (bio)

“The Chilldann of Issarall”: An Introduction

August 4, 1723, weeks after the Church of England appointed Edmund Gibson the bishop of London, a group of anonymous slaves in the Virginia colony wrote the chaplain (Figures 1–3). Judging from their letter, Gibson’s commission inspired the slaves to write.1 News of his appointment probably filled the streets in tidewater Virginia. By word of mouth, reports about the bishop could have made their way into the Piedmont, farther westward into the Appalachian Mountains and into the sparsely populated south and eastern shore countrysides. News of the bishop’s appointment could also be heard echoing about the tabby plastered walls of the local parish, where clerks and sextons talked and where parsons were sure to keep their congregations, which included slaves, apprised.

However they may have learned of Gibson’s appointment, the anonymous slaves demanded relief. Written in their best hand,2 they entreated the service of the “Lord arch Bishop of Lonnd.” They also beseeched “Lord King George” for assistance. By their own account, they were misused by their colonial masters, much like “the Egyptians was with the Chilldann of Issarall.” Virginia slave owners, they went on to report, “doo Look no more up on us then if wee ware dogs which I hope when these Strange Lines comes to your Lord Ships hands will be Looket in to.” At once bold and deferential, they asked for immediate intervention. “Releese us,” they demanded, from “this Cruell Bondage.”3

Most striking, the anonymous slaves also demanded education. “Wee … do humblly beg the favour of your Lord Ship,” they explained, “… [to] Settell one thing upon us which is … that our childarn may be broatt up in the way of the Christian faith.” In their minds, that meant teaching them “the Lords prayer, the creed, and the ten commandments,” the basic texts by which children were first introduced to the Anglican faith. But that was not sufficient for the bishop’s correspondents. They also implored [End Page 1]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Page 1 - Anonymous Slave Petition to the Bishop of London, Fulham Papers at Lambeth Palace Library, London, World Microfilm, Reel 9, Volume 17: 167.

[End Page 2]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Pages 2 - Anonymous Slave Petition to the Bishop of London, Fulham Papers at Lambeth Palace Library, London, World Microfilm, Reel 9, Volume 17: 168.

[End Page 3]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

Page 3 - Anonymous Slave Petition to the Bishop of London, Fulham Papers at Lambeth Palace Library, London, World Microfilm, Reel 9, Volume 17: 168.

[End Page 4]

the church official to put their slave children “to Scool and Larnd to Reed through the Bybell.”4

Since Thomas Ingersoll’s discovery of this passionate plea by Virginia slaves in the bishop of London’s papers, historians have offered little in the way of context with respect to the letter specifically and the subject of slave education/literacy during the early colonial era in general. Except for John C. Van Horne’s account of the Bray schools in British North America, Terry Meyer’s recent history of the Bray school in eighteenth-century Williamsburg, E. Jennifer Monaghan’s recent study of reading and writing in colonial America, Janet D. Cornelius’s and Heather Andrea Williams’s monographs on slave literacy in the antebellum era, and John K. Nelson’s and Joan R. Gundersen’s works on the Anglican Church in Virginia, the subject of slaves achieving literacy and letters, particularly so in the early period, has garnered modest attention.5 In other words, although Van Horne’s, Meyer’s, and Monaghan’s studies have given us useful histories of the Bray schools and of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in Foreign Parts, none address the other work with slaves done by the Church of England in the colonies during the early period. In a similar vein, Nelson’s and Gundersen’s works make little use of the church’s efforts with slaves prior to 1740, which marked the establishment of...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1499
Print ISSN
1098-7371
Pages
pp. 1-33
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-31
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.