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Slavery and the Making of AmericaDrawing of a sermon at the First African Church in Richmond, Virginia
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Religion
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BIOGRAPHY OF A SLAVE; BEING THE EXPERIENCES OF REV. CHARLES THOMPSON
1875
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society
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Photo of the text of BIOGRAPHY OF A SLAVE; BEING THE EXPERIENCES OF REV. CHARLES THOMPSON
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Document Description
Reverend Charles Thompson describes the community of Christian worshippers that grew up informally among the slaves on his master's plantation and neighboring estates. His account recalls the growth of the congregation and the building of an official place of worship. Thomspon's "church" was able to rise and flourish because it was supported and overseen by his master and mistress.

Transcript
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neighborhood after they learned the way to Jesus, and many happy times we did have on that farm at our prayer - meetings and social gatherings. All of us would meet at some convenient place on the farm, every Sabbath-day, and would spend the time profitably, in exhortation and prayer. The master and mistress were always there, and worked with a will in the cause of Christ, and I would exhort and preach to the best of my ability. Sometimes Mr. Dansley would read a chapter from the Bible and comment thereon, and sometimes his wife would read and comment. All of us prayed, and some of the white hands became, in a short time, earnest public prayers. They had found the fount of true happiness, and would drink largely therefrom on all occasions.

Our regular Sunday meetings soon became known in the neighborhood, and the neighbors and their slaves would come and worship with us, until our congregations became so large that Mr. Dansley allowed me to take the hands and clear away a nice place in the woods, and make seats and a stand, where we held our meetings regularly thereafter every Sunday, in the forenoon, afternoon, and at night; besides, we held a social prayer-meeting every Wednesday evening. These meetings were productive of great good to the community and to individuals. In this way I

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brought men and women to God even while in a condition of slavery, and required to labor six days in the week in the grain and cotton fields. If I, a slave, could accomplish this much, how much should the favored preachers of the country accomplish? This is a hard question to answer, however, and I shall not insist on its consideration, as every preacher can not be a Lorenzo Dow, a John Smith, or a James Findley.

Among the field-hands under me were two brothers, white men, who, when I first took charge of the farm were maliciously wicked toward each other, and were almost constantly quarreling just like brothers (!). Before three months had elapsed, under my kind of treatment they were praying, acting Christians, and remained so as long as I knew them.

From this time down to the present writing I have been a zealous worker in the Lord's vineyard, and shall remain in the harness as long as God wills. Regarding doctrinal points of theology I knew nothing, and my whole stock of theological works could have been carried in a vest pocket, in the shape of one or two tracts which fell in my way, and which I read, studied, and preserved. I had a Bible, and that alone served me as the guide in ...

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