Baptists and the American Civil War: September 21, 1865

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi Map 1861Some of the largest and wealthiest plantations in the South are located in Louisiana. While certainly not the largest, the Goldpoint Plantation in Bossier Parish, over 1,000 acres prior to the war, was worked by dozens of slaves.

Like many slaveowners, Goldpoint’s owner sent his slaves to a nearby church, the Red River Baptist Church in this instance. Inside the church slaves were reminded of their inferior status as required by God, and taught to be obedient to their owner.

In the months following the war many freedmen leave the churches they were forced to join as slaves. However, the exodus proceeds unevenly. In the Red River Baptist Church in Benton this week, three freedmen (presumably voluntarily) join the congregation, with five more doing so next month.

The main exodus of freedmen from the church comes in September 1866, when dozens are granted letters of dismissal. A few freedmen join the church in 1869, but by the end of 1870 apparently most have left.

The gradual withdrawal in some Southern communities of black Baptists from white-led churches is part of a larger dynamic of African Americans often yet relying on the good will of whites for employment, or even sustenance. For their part, white elites in some communities make it difficult for freedmen to break away from white control.

Sources: Erica Hubbard, “Goldpoint Plantation, NW Louisiana” (link) and “Some slave & freedmen records at Red River Baptist Church, Benton, LA” (link), The Original Red River Sankofa Project