Baptists and the American Civil War: June 6, 1863

Depiction of Emancipation Proclamation, Harpers January 1863

Depiction of Emancipation Proclamation, Harpers January 1863

As Confederate and Union forces continue to jockey for position north of Richmond, the Baptist General Association of Virginia convenes for a third day. The committee appointed to recommend best methods of religious instruction for enslaved and free Africans offers its report, voiced by W. F. Broaddus.

The committee refer to the manifest improvement which has been made in Virginia in the religious and moral condition of our colored people within the past thirty or forty years, instead of dreams and visions, as was formerly the case. We now hear from the colored people who join our churches an intelligent account of the work of grace in their hearts, accompanied with a clear view of the doctrines and duties of the Gospel. Reference is made to the course of many churches in the country in having special services held on the Lord’s day for the preaching the Gospel to the colored people, and the committee recommend the pastors to engage in this special service, and that as much labor ought to be performed in preparing sermons for such congregations as for any other congregations in the land. Special reference is made to First African Baptist Church in Richmond as exhibiting the beneficial advantages of the system of organizations for the colored members in cities and towns into separate organizations. The committee say that Dr. R. Ryland, who for 20 years has been the voted himself with untiring zeal to the work, deserves well of all the brethren.

Even now, however, both enslaved and free African members of the First African congregation chafe under the leadership of Ryland, who pastors the black congregation on behalf of the supervisory white First Baptist Church of Richmond and constantly reminds black members, under guise of the gospel, that blacks are willed of God to be an inferior and subservient race. Such reminders have never been “good news” to black church members. Ironically, the recent Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom for blacks, is the good news for which generations of enslaved blacks have yearned (and white Southern elites have dreaded), a new gospel that has heightened the tension between Ryland and his charges.

Source: “Baptist Association,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 8, 1863 (link)