Baptists and the American Civil War: December 12, 1864

SlaveryIn the Confederate capitol in Richmond, today’s session of the House of Delegates of the Virginia Legislature is opened by Rev. Jeremiah B. Jeter, pastor of the city’s Grace Street Baptist Church, and one of the most prominent Southern Baptists of the Confederacy.

Both Senate and House discuss the prospects of arming slaves for military service. The House is presented with a:

….resolution referring so much of the Governor‘s message as relates to the placing of negroes in the military service to the Committee on Confederate Relations, with instructions to report adversely to the proposition.

The resolution gave rise to much discussion, the House dividing on the two propositions presented: whether negroes were to be employed as soldiers or as pioneers, cooks, teamsters, etc.

The motion, reflecting the larger wrenching discussion not taking place throughout the Confederacy concerning the possibility of slaves serving in the military, is referred but not passed.

While Jeter’s opinion of the matter is not recorded, like most Southern Baptist leaders he supports African slavery, believing that free negroes are “in a worse condition than the slaves.”

Nonetheless, Jeter, having served as the first president of the Southern Baptist Mission Board, has long supported the sending of colored Baptists as missionaries to the free black colony of Liberia. Only recently, one of the board’s longtime colored missionaries died a tragic death, his life remembered in print by the American Colonization Society.

Boston J. Drayton, Chief Justice of the Republic [of Liberia] … was accidentally drowned by the upsetting of a canoe, in attempting to land from a vessel. He … was in the prime of life and usefulness. He was a native of Charleston, S. C, and went to Liberia some twenty years ago. He … was a man of piety — most fervent and active — the pastor of the Baptist Church at Cape Palmas, and an earnest and zealous laborer for the spread of Christianity in Africa. We have had the sad pleasure of reading a letter written by him only the day before his lamented death, which breathes a sentiment of the most touching solicitude for the religious welfare of his people, and which would warm the heart of every reader towards its author. He was also a man of most marked intellectual ability, and an able and interesting speaker. Our attention was particularly attracted to him by reading an address he delivered at the opening of Liberia College, some three years since. We cannot refer to it except to express the high gratification its perusal afforded us. The estimate of his countrymen may be inferred from his occupying the position of Chief Justice, and being supported by a large number of his fellow-citizens at the last election for the Presidency. President Warner, his senior in years, and an earlier emigrant, had a larger number of votes and was elected; but very probably, had Judge Drayton’s life been spared, he would have succeeded to the office. He was cut off in the midst of his pious and useful life, in its very prime, being only about forty-six years of age.

Sources: “Virginia Legislature,” December 13, 1864 (link); “The Reverend Jeremiah Bell Jeter,” University of Richmond (link); Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832, W. W. Norton, 2013, p. 102 (link); The African Repository, Volume XLI, Washington: American Colonization Society, 1865, p. 159, quoting from the Maryland Baptist, and pp. 167-168 (link)