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In Their Own Words

February 14, 1839

Fanny Kemble Diary Entry on Pinelanders and Church

Fanny Kemble Butler traveled from Butler Island to Darien for a return visit with some of the “local gentry.” In her journal entry for this day, she wrote of the trip, as well as Sunday church service four days earlier:

“… The road was a deep, wearisome sandy track, stretching wearisomely into the wearisome pine forest … .

“On our drive we passed occasionally a tattered man or woman, whose yellow mud complexion, straight features, and singularly sinister countenance bespoke an entirely different race from the Negro population in the midst of which they lived. These are the so-called pinelanders of Georgia, I suppose the most degraded race of human beings claiming an Anglo-Saxon origin that can be found on the face of the earth – filthy, lazy, ignorant, brutal, proud, penniless savages, without one of the nobler attributes which have been found occasionally allied to the vices of savage nature. They own no slaves, for they are almost without exception abjectly poor; they will not work, for that, as they conceive, would reduce them to an equality with the abhorred Negroes; they squat, and steal, and starve, on the outskirts of this lowest of all civilized societies, and their countenances bear witness to the squalor of their condition and the utter degradation of their natures. To the crime of slavery, though they have no profitable part or lot in it, they are fiercely accessory, because it is the barrier that divides the black and white races, at the foot of which they lie wallowing in unspeakable degradation, but immensely proud of the base freedom which still separates them from the lash-driven tillers of the soil.

“… On Sunday morning [February 10] I went over to Darien to church. Our people’s church was closed, the minister having gone to officiate elsewhere. With laudable liberality, I walked into the opposite church of a different, not to say opposite sect … . The bulk of the congregation in this church was white. The Negroes are, of course, not allowed to mix with their masters in the house of God, and there is no special place set apart for them. Occasionally one or two are to be seen in the corners of the singing gallery, but any more open pollution by them of their owners’ church could not tolerated. Mr.’s [a reference to her husband, Pierce Butler] people have petitioned very vehemently that he would build a church for them on the island. I doubt, however, his allowing them such a luxury as a place of worship all to themselves. Such a privilege might not be thought well of by the neighboring planters; indeed, it is almost what one might call a whity-brown idea, dangerous, demoralizing, inflammatory, incendiary… .”

Source: John A. Scott, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Anne Kemble (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), pp. 181-186.