There was little difference among Tennessee slave owners concerning
religion and family life of their slaves. They believed that religion and
religious instruction was incompatible with slavery and their family life incompatible
with their status as slaves, or personal property.
Methodism was the first Protestant denomination to make an impact on the religious
life of Tennessee slaves. At first it was bold and outspoken in opposition
to slavery, then cautious and conservative and finally, enthusiastic in support
of slavery. (Methodism and Slavery)
On those few plantations where slaves took part in religious services, it usually
consisted of allowing a white man to preach to them, as seen in this early painting.(Paintings
Depicting Slaves in Religious Service) His words to slaves generally
consisted of such admonitions as "obey the master," "don't steal," and "be good."
This pattern was followed when slaves attended revivals during the period.(Images
depicting revivals and slaves).
While some owners might show interest in their slaves religious life, most actively
discouraged such expressions believing it to be full of emotionalism, as depicted
in this drawing.(Drawing of slaves in worship) One former slave recalled
that during slavery "the white folks didn't want blacks to sing and pray - but
they did anyway," while another said that when permission was given by masters
for their slaves to attend church away from the plantation, these meetings were
always attended by guards or "petty-rollers,"(Images of pattyrollers) checking
to make sure that all had permission to be off the plantation.
Slave holders did not recognize marriage and family life among their slaves.
This old slave couple,(Slave couple) was property. As property the
slave could not become a part of any legal arrangement that violated the property
rights of their owners. Owners performed the function of the state in sanctioning
alliances between slaves on their plantations.
Nevertheless, slaves recognized marriage and followed all of the rituals involved
in the ceremony. They usually consecrated the ceremony with a ritual called
"jumping the broom stick," as depicted in this scene of the (Jumping the broom
stick for marriage) marriage of Harriett Tubman before her escape to
freedom. (End, Part VI) Buying and Selling Slaves