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In Their Own Words

April 06, 1839

Journal Entry on Slaves Unable to Attend Church

On St. Simons Island, Fanny Kemble Butler was somewhat shocked to find that the overseer of her husband’s plantation had issued an order prohibiting the slaves from attending church:

“In the evening I had a visit from Mr. C[ouper] and Mr. B[artow], who officiates tomorrow at our small island church. The conversation I had with these gentlemen was sad enough. They seem good, and kind, and amiable men, and I have no doubt are conscientious in their capacity of slaveholders; but to one who has lived outside this dreadful atmosphere, the whole tone of their discourse has a morally muffled sound, which one must hear to be able to conceive. Mr. B[artow] told me that the people on this plantation not going to church was the result of a positive order from Mr. K[ing], who had peremptorily [sic] forbidden their doing so, and of course to have infringed that order would have been to incur severe corporal chastisement. Bishop B[owen], it seems, had advised that there should be periodical preaching on the plantations, which, said Mr. B[artow], would have obviated any necessity for the people of different estates congregating at any given point at stated times, which might perhaps be objectionable, and at the same time would meet the reproach which was now beginning to be directed toward Southern planters as a class, of neglecting the eternal interest of their dependents. But Mr. K[ing] has equally objected to this. He seems to have held religious teaching a mighty dangerous thing - and how right he was!”

Source: Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984), p. 310.