Baptists and the American Civil War: February 14, 1863

Fort Marion, St. Augustine, occupied by Union troops. Photo by Samual A. Cooley

Fort Marion, St. Augustine, occupied by Union troops. Photo by Samual A. Cooley

St. Augustine, Florida, like many other Southern coastal communities, is under the control of the United States Army. Into these Union-controlled coastal areas flow increasing numbers of freed or escaped slaves. The U.S. military, in response, struggles to establish structures to house and educate freedmen under their protection.

This month the Rev. Issac. W. Brinckerhoff, a New Yorker and Baptist preacher, is appointed as Superintendent of Contrabands (the wartime term for slaves freed by the Union Army). He is a former employee of the American Tract Society, and has been involved in educating freedmen through the National Freedmen’s Relief Association at Beaufort, South Carolina since the previous March. Among the first “occupation” teachers in the Union-controlled Southern regions, he was editor of the Union news publication, Port Royale Gazette.

Brinckerhoff’s service is an expression of his conviction that God’s will is the freedom of all men, and he has left a wife and five children in New York in order to minister to freed slaves along the Southern coast.

In addition to overseeing the education of freedmen, Brinckerhoff is charged with conducting nondenominational services for freedmen. From now until the end of the war, his services take place in various churches in the community of St. Augustine, including the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

In 1864 Brinckerhoff publishes a volume entitled Advice to Freedmen, in which he offers paternal and spiritual advice to new freedmen and speaks unfavorably of the “rebellion” of the Southern states. Following the war and in the spirit of reconciliation of North and South, the missionary-teacher softens his views on (former) Southern slavery and no longer frames the recent conflict as a “rebellion” by the South.

Brinckerhoff remains in the ministry following the war, including the pastoring of several congregations. He dies on February 24, 1910.

Sources: “St. Augustine in the Civil War: 1861-1865” (link); “Reading, ‘Riting and Reconstruction: The Education of Freedmen in the South” (link); Isaac W. Brinckerhoff, Jared Bell Waterbury, Advice to Freedmen, New York: American Tract Society, 1864 (link); Isaac W. Brinckerhoff, The Tree and Its Fruit, New York, date unknown (link); Isaac W. Brinckerhoff records, (link); Eric Anderson, Alfred A. Moss., Jr., The Facts of Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of john Hope Franklin, Louisiana State University Press, 1991, pp. 159-160 (link); Dena J. Polacheck Epstein, Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War, University of Illinois Press, 1977, p. 140 (link); Brinckerhoff Obituary, New York Times, February 25, 1910 (link) and February 27, 1910 (link)