Rev. Peter Randolph: The “Gospel” of the Slave Master and the “Benevolence” of Slavery


In his autobiography, From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit, Rev. Peter Randolph (1825 – 1897) answers the claim that slavery was good for the African, freeing him from the bonds of paganism, bringing him to Gospel salvation. To be sure, there was a “gospel” preached to them; but was it the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, or a truncated facsimile, bastardized for the sake of exploitation?

MANY say the Negroes receive religious education—that Sabbath worship is instituted for them as for others, and were it not for slavery, they would die in their sins—that really, the institution of slavery is a benevolent missionary enterprise. Yes, they are preached to, and I will give my readers some faint glimpses of these preachers, and their doctrines and practices.

In Prince George County there were two meeting-houses intended for public worship. Both were occupied by the Baptist denomination. These houses were built by William and George Harrison, brothers. Mr. G. Harrison’s was built on the line of his brother’s farm, that their slaves might go there on the Sabbath and receive instruction, such as slaveholding ministers would give. The prominent preaching to the slaves was, “‘Servants, obey your masters’. Do not steal or lie, for this is very wrong. Such conduct is sinning against the Holy Ghost, and is base ingratitude to your kind masters, who feed, clothe and protect you.” All Gospel, my readers! It was great policy to build a church for the “dear slave”, and allow him the wondrous privilege of such holy instruction! Edloe’s slaves sometimes obtained the consent of Harrison to listen to the Sabbath teachings so generously dealt out to his servants. Shame! shame! to take upon yourselves the name of Christ, with all that blackness of heart. I should think, when making such statements, the slave-holders would feel the rebuke of the Apostle, and fall down and be carried out from the face of day, as were Ananias and Sapphira, when they betrayed the trust committed to them, or refused to bear true testimony in regard to that trust.

There was another church, about fourteen miles from the one just mentioned. It was called “Brandon’s church”, and there the white Baptists worshiped. Edloe’s slaves sometimes went there. The colored people had a very small place allotted them to sit in, so they used to get as near the window as they could to hear the preacher talk to his congregation. But sometimes, while the preacher was exhorting to obedience, some of those outside would be selling refreshments, cake, candy and rum, and others would be horse-racing. This was the way, my readers, the Word of God was delivered and received in Prince George County. The Gospel was so mixed with slavery, that the people could see no beauty in it, and feel no reverence for it.

There was one Brother Shell who used to preach. One Sabbath, while exhorting the poor, impenitent, hard-hearted, ungrateful slaves, so much beloved by their masters, to repentance and prayerfulness, while entreating them to lead good lives, that they might escape the wrath (of the lash) to come, some of his crocodile tears overflowed his cheek, which so affected his hearers, that they shouted and gave thanks to God, that Brother Shell had at length felt the spirit of the Lord in his heart; and many went away rejoicing that a heart of stone had become softened. But, my readers, Monday morning Brother Shell was afflicted with his old malady, hardness of heart, so that he was obliged to catch one of the sisters by the throat, and give her a terrible flogging.

The like of this is the preaching, and these are the men that spread the Gospel among the slaves. Ah! such a Gospel had better be buried in oblivion, for it makes more heathens than Christians. Such preachers ought to be forbidden by the laws of the land ever to mock again at the blessed religion of Jesus, which was sent as a light to the world.

Another Sunday, when Shell was expounding (very much engaged was he in his own attempts to enlighten his hearers), their was one Jem Fulcrum became so enlightened that he fell from his seat quite a distance to the floor. Brother Shell thought he had preached unusually well so to affect Jem; so he stopped in the midst of his sermon, and asked, “Is that poor Jemmy? poor fellow!” But, my readers, he did not know the secret–brother Jem had fallen asleep. Poor Shell did not do so much good as he thought he had, so Monday morning he gave Jem enough of his raw-hide spirit to last him all the week; at least, till the next Sabbath, when he could have an opportunity to preach to him.

I could only think, when Shell took so much glory to himself for the effect of his preaching upon the slaves, of the man who owned colored Pompey. This slaveholder was a great fighter (as most of them are), and had prepared himself for the contest with great care, and wished to know how he looked; so he said, “Pompey, how do I look?” “Oh, massa, mighty!” “What do you mean by ‘mighty’, Pompey?” “Why, massa, you look noble.” “What do you mean by ‘noble’?” “Why, sar, you look just like one lion.” “Why, Pompey, where have you ever seen a lion?” “I seen one down in yonder field the other day, massa.” “Pompey, you foolish fellow, that was a jackass.” “Was it, massa? Well, you look just like him.”

This may seem very simple to my readers, but surely, nothing more noble than a jackass, without his simplicity and innocence, can that man be, who will rise up as an advocate of this system of wrong. He who trains his dogs to hunt foxes, and enjoys the hunt or the horse-race on the Sabbath, who teaches his bloodhounds to follow upon the track of the freedom-loving Negro, is not more guilty or immoral than he who stands in a northern pulpit, and hunts down the flying fugitive, or urges his hearers to bind the yoke again upon the neck of the escaped bondman. He who will lisp one word in favor of a system which will send blood-bounds through the forests of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and all the South, chasing human beings (who are seeking the inalienable rights of all men, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”) possesses no heart; and that minister of religion who will do it is unworthy his trust, knows not what the Gospel teaches, and had better turn to the heathen for a religion to guide him nearer the right; for the heathen in their blindness have some regard for the rights of others, and seldom will they invade the honor and virtue of their neighbors, or cause them to be torn in pieces by infuriated beasts.

Mr. James L. Goltney was a Baptist preacher, and was employed by Mr. M. B. Harrison to give religious instruction to his slaves. He often used the common text: “Servants, obey your masters.” He would try to make it appear that he knew what the slaves were thinking of–telling them they thought they had a right to be free, but he could tell them better–referring them to some passages of Scripture. “It is the devil,” he would say, “who tells you to try and be free.” And again he bid them be patient at work, warning them that it would be his duty to whip them, if they appeared dissatisfied–which would be pleasing to God! “If you run away, you will be turned out of God’s church, until you repent, return, and ask God and your master’ s pardon.” In this way he would continue to preach his slave-holding gospel.

This same Goltney used to administer the Lord’s Supper to the slaves. After such preaching, let no one say that the slaves have the Gospel of Jesus preached to them.

(Chapter XIII, “Religious Instruction” [Published in 1893])

“After such preaching, let no one say that the slaves have the Gospel of Jesus preached to them.”

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