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Christianity and Slavery;
In a Course of Lectures Preached at the Cathedral and Parish Church of St. Michael, Barbados.

By Edward Eliot, B.D.
Archdeacon of Barbados.

London: J. Hatchard, 1833.


THE following Lectures (with the exception of the last) were preached at the Cathedral in Barbados, before large congregations of the white inhabitants. My object was to impress on the community the necessity of attending to the moral and religious welfare of their slave population. The subjects are not new. Most of them have, within the last few years, been at times prominently insisted upon in the pulpit (though not in a connected and consecutive form) by myself or by my brethren in the ministry. The lectures are now published with a view to disseminate more widely the suggestions which my residence in the West In dies, from the establishment there of episcopacy, has enabled me to offer, as well to non-resident proprietors in England, as to their agents and subordinate officers on estates in these Colonies. I am aware that many of the facts and opinions introduced in them will meet, at best, with a hesitating and reluctant approval. Why, it will be asked, thus draw forth the faults of our ancestors, or even expose our own defects? Why disturb us with the language of reproof, or with exhortations to measures of doubtful expediency?

Quid opus teneras mordaci radere vero Auriculas?

My answer is, because the case requires that there should be no concealment of the truth, and because the official situation in which the author is placed, not only authorizes, but compels him to speak plainly on the subject of Christian duties. "If," says the pious Augustine, "we must give an account of our idle words, how much more of our idle silence!"

The minister of the gospel in the West Indies is often beset with difficulties. He must either neglect his duty, or give offence to the people. If he preaches openly and unhesitatingly the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, he is reproached with being needlessly severe. His discourse, to use the words of Bishop Latimer, is considered to have a "full bite, to be a nipping sermon, a pinching sermon, a biting sermon. He is a naughty fellow, a seditious fellow: he maketh trouble and rebellion in the land; he lacketh discretion." "For my part," continues the same venerable prelate, "it rejoiceth me sometimes, when my friend comes, and tells me that they find fault with my discretion; for by likelihood, think I, the doctrine is true; for if they could find fault with the doctrine, they would not charge me with the lack of discretion, or the inconvenience of the time."

That the system of slavery, as it is at present conducted in the West Indies, is associated with practices of an injurious tendency, even its warmest advocates must allow; but many of the evils complained of may be diminished, if not entirely removed, by the meliorating influence of Christianity. I am at a loss to imagine what advantage the master can propose to himself by keeping his people in a state of moral and mental degradation. Intellect, which is the most valuable part of man, is at present allowed to run to waste in the slave. His worth is estimated only by his physical power, and no endeavours are used to draw forth into practical usefulness the powers of his mind. The result is manifested in the dearth of invention. Agriculture is conducted in the rudest manner. Human toil is hut scantily relieved by the aid of brute force; and few and feeble have been the efforts to substitute machinery in the room of direct unmitigated personal labour.

The evils of slavery are strikingly perceptible to the European on his first arrival. I have often remarked that a protracted residence has the effect either of confirming unalterably his first impressions, or of almost entirely removing them. There is rarely a middle state. Most generally the feelings of dissatisfaction cease when the mind is familiarized to the objects which at first shocked it. If then such be the effect frequently produced on the disinterested spectator, we ought not to wonder that the proprietor, who regards his all at stake in the continuance of the present system, arid whose associations in its favour have grown with his growth, should be adverse to a change. I believe experience has proved, that in no part of England, and among no class of its inhabitants, are unreasonable prejudices so prevalent, and difficult to be subdued, as in our agricultural districts, and among the people who are directly interested in the productive cultivation of the soil.

While I notice the too general acquiescence in abuses which have no support beyond the authority of long and uninterrupted usage, it is but common justice to declare that a different feeling pervades the respectable and well-educated among the proprietors. Many will give a ready assent to the suggestions contained in these lectures; and if they could secure themselves from the reproach which usually pursues the suspected advocate of innovation, they would be the first to adopt them on their own estates. The dread of incurring the displeasure of the vulgar and uneducated has retarded essentially the required improvements in the condition of the slave.

It would, however, he an error to sup pose that nothing has been done because much has been left undone. The talents and unwearied exertions of the head of our church establishment in this diocese have levelled many of the difficulties which were before opposed to the religious improvement of the negro. His measures have been distinguished by zeal tempered with discretion--by an earnest and unceasing desire for the spiritual welfare of the slave, combined with a studied forbearance from encroachment on the private and recognized rights of the master. If his success has not been always commensurate with his wishes, the failure is attributable to causes over which he has had no control. The statements in the following lectures will exhibit the extent to which religious instruction has been carried.

It falls not within their scope to dwell on the melioration of the temporal circumstances of the slave. I may, how ever, briefly remark that, of late years, it has been evidently progressive, though there remains still very much to be done. We may judge of the former condition of the negro from the feelings of astonishment with which the old residents, when alluding to the subject, speak of the change they have witnessed. There are some candid enough to attribute the improved treatment of this part of our population to the agitation of the slave question in the mother country. I join most cordially in this opinion, and it would be an unworthy deference to the feelings of those who oppose colonial improvement, to suppress my conviction that both masters and slaves have derived essential benefit from the subject having been viewed with freedom of debate on both sides, in the Parliament of Great Britain. I speak in no party spirit. My conclusions are not drawn from the suggestions of others, or from any preconceived and unauthorized opinions of my own. They are the result of unprejudiced observation and experience.

The only favour I request from those into whose hands these Lectures may fall, is that they will read them with the same dispassionate and unprejudiced spirit as that in which they have been, as I trust, written. The really Christian master will find nothing in them which can convey to him the semblance of reproof; for in his practice he has anticipated every duty which I have endeavoured to enforce; and if I have drawn faithfully the character which ought to be exemplified in the proprietor of a plantation, he will recognize the model which I have had before me in himself. As my object is not to dwell, in laudatory language upon the good that exists in these colonies, but to point out the evil, in the hope of procuring its correction, I may incur the suspicion of inclining more to the side of blame than praise. I may even become obnoxious to the censure of persons whom I highly esteem, and whose favourable opinion I should be most anxious to retain. But a minister of the gospel must hazard any sacrifice rather than say, "Peace, when there is no peace," or "keep back any thing that is profitable" from his hearers. Those who know me will do me the justice to believe that in the performance of what I consider as an act of duty. I have studiously avoided every expression that I conceive could reasonably offend or hurt the feelings of any. They are fully aware that no one more deeply laments than I do, the painful excitement with which every subject connected with the West Indies is usually discussed, and that I regard as a real friend to the proprietors, neither him who holds forth their faults to high commendation, nor him who passes a sweeping and indiscriminate censure on every part of their system, and on every individual of their body.

Barbados, Nov. 3, 1832.

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