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)
Etc.

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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