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IGHR (Samford) — Day 4 — Migration, Platting, & Blacks in Antebellum Churches

The fourth, and penul­ti­mate, day at Samford is always bit­ter­sweet. It’s the last full day, and is capped with the banquet.

In the Virginia class, Barbara Vines Little talked about land tax records and migra­tion trails and set­tle­ment clus­ters. We also had a mini-course on land plat­ting and Deed Mapper from Vic Dunn. The last lec­ture of the day was on “Finding the Answers in Virginia’s Neighbors Records,” dri­ving home a point that has been made con­sis­tently this week: The record may be a place you don’t expect it to be. The bride and groom in Virginia may go to Maryland to get mar­ried, per­haps because the laws make it eas­ier to accom­plish there at that time, or per­haps because they are Catholic, and there are so few Catholic parishes in Virginia.

After the class I went to the Samford University Library, Special Collections room and pulled a folder from the Baptist records.

I was not look­ing for any­thing in par­tic­u­lar, but wanted to see what early records existed for the early churches in Alabama. I found records of the Canaan Baptist Church, Jefferson County, Alabama. The church was founded in 1818, a year before state­hood. The find­ing aid for the Cannan Baptist Church col­lec­tion (gath­ered by Simon J. Smith) says that the col­lec­tion includes:

  • plat maps (I guess these are of the church property)
  • wills
  • a pic­ture and obit­u­ary of a mem­ber (W. A. Ivey)
  • sketches of the his­tory of the church with some infor­ma­tion on church mem­bers and pastors
  • a biog­ra­phy of Job
  • some pic­tures of the church and of its members
  • a Houston fam­ily tree
  • Many genealog­i­cal records (1500 est. pp.)”
  • news­pa­per clip­pings of two murders
  • war ration books with stamps
  • war­ranty deeds for a John Vines
  • love let­ters between S. E. Reeves and J.G. Smith
  • Family charts.”

The first folder con­tained a typed tran­script of the mem­ber­ship toll of the Canaan Church from 1818 to 1834. This tran­scrip­tion itself appears to be based on a pre­vi­ous tran­scrip­tion, from December 1834. The lists are divided by race, and then, in the case of the white mem­bers, by gen­der. They are tran­scribed roll by roll. Each roll con­tains approx­i­mately 40 names.

The roll that con­tains the “Colored Members” of the con­gre­ga­tion, indi­cates the sur­name of their owner, for example:

Roll 1818–1834 Colored Members
Prince (Terrant)Bill (Smith)Cynthia (Rockett)
Samuel (Dupuy)Zing (Paterson)Elizabeth (Rockett)
Job, a preacher (Davis)Jack (Ayres)Esther (Jordan)
James (Terrant)Preston (McClerkin)Phebe (Lawley)

At the end of the list of col­ored mem­bers, there is the fol­low­ing note:

Many of the names of the own­ers of these slaves do not belong to Canaan Church and never did. It is evi­dent that they were not church mem­bers. It is pos­si­ble that they belonged to the Methodist Church or maybe the Presbyterian.” So, the Southern Baptist Convention, which we have wit­ness strug­gle with its racist past, was actu­ally more open than the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, at least dur­ing the ante­bel­lum period.

I will be going back tomor­row to read the biog­ra­phy of Job, and under­stand as much as I can about the ante­bel­lum Baptist church, which allowed for the ordi­na­tion of black ministers.

Janet Duitsman Cornelius. Slave Missions and the Black Church in the Antebellum South. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999).

Simon J. Smith, com­piler. “Canaan Baptist Church: Alphabetical Membership Records,” Special Collections, Samford University Library, Birmingham, AL: SCB 711, Box 1, Folder 2.

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