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In Their Own Words

March 31, 1839

Journal Entry on Worship Service with Slaves

Writing in her journal from St. Simons Island, Fanny Kemble Butler recorded another worship service she held with the slaves:

“Sunday [March 31], I had my last service at home with these poor people; nearly thirty of them came, all clean, neat, and decent, in their dress and appearance … . and at the end of the prayers, the tears were streaming over their faces, and one chorus of blessings rose round me and the child - farewell blessings, and prayers that we would return; and thanks so fervent in their incoherency, it was more than I could bear, and I begged them to go away and leave me to recover myself. I am to go next Sunday to the church on the island, where there is to be service; and so this is my last Sunday with the people.

“When I had recovered from the emotion of this scene … I went and paid a visit to Mrs. G[owen] [wife of the plantation’s overseer]; poor little, well-meaning, helpless woman, what can she do for these poor people, where I, who am supposed to own them, can do nothing?

“Certainly the laws and enacted statues on which this detestable system is built up are potent enough; the social prejudice that buttresses it is almost more potent still; and yet a few hearts and brains well bent to do the work would bring within this almost impenetrable dungeon of ignorance, misery, and degradation, in which so many millions of human souls lie buried, that freedom of God which would presently conquer for them their earthly liberty. With some such thoughts I commended the slaves on the plantation to the little overseer’s wife; I did not tell my thoughts to her - they would have scared the poor little woman half out of her senses. To begin with, her bread, her husband’s occupation, has its root in slavery; it would be difficult for her to think as I do of it. I am afraid her care, even of the bodily habits and sicknesses of the people left in Mrs. G[owen]’s charge, will not be worth much, for nobody treats others better than they do themselves; and she is certainly doing her best to injure herself and her own poor baby, who is two and a half years old, and whom she is still suckling.”

Source: Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1984 reprint of 1961 original volume), pp. 294-95.