Baptists and the American Civil War: May 25, 1865

Civil War States MapThe war has barely ended and already restrictions are being placed upon freedpersons in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, restrictions in which federal military officials play a notable role.

Fields Cook (1817-1897) is a former slave who while a slave learned how to read and write, learned the precepts of Christianity through the kindness of his master’s son, and, by quietly hiring himself out to make his own money, purchased his freedom in 1850. In the decade following he prospered, joined the First Baptist Church of Richmond, and soon purchased the freedom of his wife and children. By the time the war begins he is an established businessman in the city.

Now with the war over, Cook is a pastor supported by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society. In this capacity he observes federal officials requiring passes of and putting curfew restricitons on freedpersons. In some instances, black citizens are expelled from Richmond. Cook begins collecting documentation of the discrimination against freedmen. Chairing a delegation of black citizens, he presents the evidence first to the governor and later to U.S. President Andrew Johnson. In August he represents Richmond during the first state convention of African Americans. In the years to come Cook remains politically involved on behalf of black citizens even as he pastors several Baptist congregations.

Meanwhile, white Kentucky Southern Baptists convene today in Covington. The war has taken a toll upon the state’s Baptists. Many “district associations” are unrepresented in the state-wide gathering, while some others send only one messenger. Most missionaries supported by Kentucky Baptists, whether directly or through the Southern Baptist Convention, are no longer on the field, many now deceased.

The desolation is seemingly everywhere:

Many active and valuable church members were lost in the fearful conflict that desolated our homes, our hearts and our churches. Some that survived were sadly demoralized. A few preachers, who had gone into the army, had fallen before the temptations incident to camp life. There were apostasies at home, as well as in the armies. Many were the breaches that needed to be repaired, before the armies of the Lord would be ready to march against the enemies of the cross of Christ.

White Baptists of Kentucky vow to move forward despite the many setbacks caused by the war.

Black and white alike, the road forward for Baptists in the Upper South is daunting.

Sources: Frank M. Masters, A History of Baptists in Kentucky, Louisville: Kentucky Baptist Historical Society, 1953, pp. 338-340 (link) and (link); “Fields Cook, 1817-1897,” Encyclopedia Virginia (link)