Baptists and the American Civil War: September 1, 1865

Jacob Eliot, Navarro County, Texas

Jacob Eliot, Navarro County, Texas

Today Texas Baptist layman, lawyer and former slaveowner Jacob Eliot takes “the oath of allegiance to U.S. government.” Eliot, however, yet often refers to black individuals with the phrase, “belongs to.”

Many other white Southerners also continue thinking of black persons as property, rather than free persons. In many instances, local Baptist church records employ such language.

Even as letting go of slavery is not something many white Southerners want to do, a parallel post-war narrative of the formerly “kind” slave owner is already spreading across the South. Slavery, according to this narrative, was a benevolent institution in which blacks were relegated to their rightfully subservient place in life as willed by God.

Obituaries of former slave owners tell the tale, as does Samuel Agnew’s obituary. Agnew, of South Carolina, was a Baptist deacon.

Captain Samuel Agnew was born April 22, 1802. He connected himself to the church Nov. 10, 1831; was chosen to the office of Deacon on Oct. 25, 1835, and he departed this life September 1, 1865. Another prominent leaf has fallen from the autumnal branches.

For years, Captain Agnew had at times been a great sufferer, but for several days previous to death there was no sensation of pain. Yet he bore it all with God-like patience and would often speak of the unabounding love and goodness of God.

Thus passed away the good husband, the indulgent father, the kind master and one whom the poor always found ready to administer to their wants. If medieval skill, unwearied watching of love or tears could have availed he would not have died. “But the Lord took him.” He is dead, yet he liveth. That vacant seat at Walnut Grove Baptist church which he so long and nobly filled as Deacon, will speak of his worth. His voice was ever heard on the side of truth and justice. Sons, and grandsons may the same be said of you. Let your aims be high, pure and holy. Let me say to the dear companion, daughter and friends, sorrow not as those without hope, for “he sleeps in Jesus’ blissful sleep, from which none ever wakes to weep.”

Relatively kind some slave owners may have been, but slavery was never an institution of “truth and justice,” as freedmen readily testify day in and day out in these immediate post-war months.

Sources: Jacob Eliot’s Civil War Journal (link); “Death of Captain Samuel Agnew,” Abbeville Press, September 21, 1865 (link)