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Antiguan Methodism and Antislavery Activity: Anne and Elizabeth Hart in the Eighteenth-Century Black Atlantic

  • John Saillant (a1)


Around 1790, two young sisters born into a slaveholding free black family began instructing Antiguan slaves in literacy and Christianity. The sisters, Anne (1768–1834) and Elizabeth (1771–1833) Hart, first instructed their father's slaves at Popeshead—he may have hired them out rather than using them on his own crops—then labored among enslaved women and children in Antiguan plantations and in towns and ports like St. John's and English Harbour. Soon the sisters came to write about faith, slavery, and freedom. Anne and Elizabeth Hart were moderate opponents of slavery, not abolitionists but meliorationists. When compared to their black American, British, and West African contemporaries, the Hart sisters illuminate the birth of a black antislavery Christianity in the late eighteenth century precisely because they never became abolitionists. The Hart sisters shared with their black contemporaries a vivid sense of racial identity and evangelical Christianity. Yet as meliorationists, the Hart sisters did not oppose slavery as an institution, but rather the vice it spread into the lives of blacks. The difference between the Hart sisters and their contemporaries such as Richard Allen, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano, Lemuel Haynes, and John Marrant—all luminaries of black abolitionism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—was that the abolitionists felt themselves citizens of a modern nation-state characterized by power that could be used against slave traders and slaveholders. The Hart sisters never thought of themselves as citizens and abjured political means, including revolution, of ending slavery. This essay aims to describe the Hart sisters' faith and antislavery activity and to analyze the difference between meliorationism and abolitionism in terms of a black writer's ability or inability to identify as a citizen of a modern nation-state.



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1. Like all readers of Anne and Elizabeth Hart, I owe a major debt to Moira Ferguson, even though I disagree with her characterization of the Hart sisters as “abolitionists” and “radicals.” For all the known writings of the Hart sisters, see The Hart Sisters: Early African Caribbean Writers, Evangelicals, and Radicals, ed. Ferguson, Moira (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1993).For Ferguson's revision of the birth-dates given in The Hart Sisters, see Ferguson, Moira, ed., Nine Black Women: An Anthology of Nineteenth- Century Writers from the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean (New York: Routledge, 1998), 59, 27–30.For Ferguson's analysis of the Hart sisters' abolitionism and radicalism, see her introduction to The Hart Sisters, 1–47, and her comments in Nine Black Women, 1–7, 27–29. A brief version of my views, again relying on Ferguson's edition, appears in “Anne Hart” and “Elizabeth Hart” in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Women Prose Writers to 1820, vol. 200, ed. Mulford, Carla, Vietto, Angela, and Winans, Amy (Detroit: Gale Research, 1998), 174–86.

2. The Haitian Revolution was on their minds at this point. Anne Hart, The Hart Sisters, 74. Elizabeth Hart, The Hart Sisters, 110.

3. For the political status of free colored men, see Goveia, Elsa V., Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands at the End of the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965), 8285.

4. A description of the way the “sexual” form of the “slave-master agency tie” could lead white men to free black women is in Arthur Stinchcombe, L., Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of the Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 143–45.

5. Anne Hart, The Hart Sisters, 63. For the importance of “tickets,” see Hempton, David, The Religion of the People: Methodism and Popular Religion, c. 1750–1900 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 2526.

6. Ferguson, , introduction to The Hart Sisters, 3–9. Methodist missions in the West Indies are well described in Goveia, Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands, 263–310.Coke's West Indian missionary efforts are described in Vickers, John, Thomas Coke: Apostle of Methodism (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969), 149–72.

7. The best general description of black Antiguans under slavery is Gaspar, David Barry, Bondmen and Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua with Implications for Colonial British America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 93128.

8. Ferguson, , introduction to The Hart Sisters, 4. British documents reported at the end of the eighteenth century about 81,000 slaves and 8,000 whites residing in Antigua, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and the Virgin Islands. Goveia has estimated 2,600 free persons of color in addition to those figures. Goveia, Slave Society in the British Leeward Islands, 203.

9. For the various roles of women in early Methodist evangelism, see Chilcote, Paul Wesley, John Wesley and the Women Preachers of Early Methodism, ATLA Monograph Series, no. 25 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1991), 4753, 68–101, 141–42.

10. Vickers, , Thomas Coke, 149–51.

11. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 64–65.

12. Ferguson, , introduction to The Hart Sisters, 14–21.

13. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 73.

14. Higham, B. W., Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1984), 86.

15. Raboteau, Albert J., Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130–31.Walsh, John, “‘Methodism’ and the Origins of English-Speaking Evangelicalism,” in Noll, Mark A., Bebbington, David W., and Rawlyk, George A., eds., Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 1933.

16. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 90.

17. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 93.

18. Wearmouth, Robert F., Methodism and the Common People of the Eighteenth Century (London: Epworth, 1945), 221–22.

19. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 93, 96.

20. The Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, by a Member of the House of Shirley and Hastings (London: William Edward Painter, 1840): 2:441–44;Knight, Helen C., Lady Huntington [sic] and Her Friends: Or, the Revival of the Work of God in the Days of Wesley, Whitefield, Romaine, Venn, and Others in the Last Century (New York: American Tract Society, 1853), 39, 54–56, 147–48;Davies, Horton, The English Free Churches (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952), 136–44;Lambert, Frank, “Pedlar in Divinity”: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737–1770 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 117, 227–28.

21. Semmel, Bernard, The Methodist Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 102–6.

22. Vickers, , Thomas Coke, 300–301.

23. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 90.

24. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 63–66, 73.

25. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 108–9.

26. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 109–10.

27. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 107.

28. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 96.

29. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 105–7.

30. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 107.

31. Hart, Elizabeth, The Hart Sisters, 91. Charles Thwaites to Reverend George Morley, 5 May 1829, Willoughby Bay, Antigua, in Appendix C, The Hart Sisters, 137.

32. Thwaites to Morley, 5 May 1829,135–36. Ferguson, Nine Black Women, 9, suggests that the dating of this letter is at least twenty months too early. Ferguson surmises that the events described actually took place in 1831.

33. Ferguson, , Nine Black Women, 9.

34. For Methodist bands and classes as surrogate families, see Semmel, The Methodist Revolution, 114–15.

35. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 62–63, 67, 69.

36. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 59, 74–75.

37. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 61, 71. Semmel, The Methodist Revolution, 97.

38. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 62–63.

39. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 63.

40. Quoted in Ferguson, introduction to The Hart Sisters, 10–11.

41. Vickers, , Thomas Coke, 150.

42. Ferguson, , introduction to The Hart Sisters, 14.

43. Lewis Purifoy, M., “The Methodist Anti-slavery Tradition, 1784–1844,” Methodist History 4 (1966): 316. Raboteau, Slave Religion, 145.

44. Vickers, , Thomas Coke, 169–72. Ferguson, introduction to The Hart Sisters, 18.

45. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 73.

46. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 86.

47. Ferguson, , introduction, The Hart Sisters, 27.

48. Roe, Daphne A., A Plague of Corn: The Social History of Pellagra (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1973), discusses the symptoms of pellagra (1–7), the role of niacin (120–27), and the prevalence from 1906 to 1912 of the disease in the Caribbean basin (167).

49. [Reverend William Box], Appendix A, The Hart Sisters, 122.

50. [A Friend], Appendix B, The Hart Sisters, 125.

51. Here I want to supplement the useful analytical tool of “black selfhood” (see for example Jones, Major J., The Color of God: The Concept of God in Afro-American Thought [Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987], 5) with black writers' understanding of the political means that could be used to end the slave trade and slavery.

52. In terms of historiography, I am situating the Hart sisters in relation to one form of the “Halevy thesis.” If voluntarism and striving for literacy and self-discipline as means of attaining middle-class status allowed Anglophone Methodists to bypass the alternative means of violent revolution, the Hart sisters can be understood as black variants of the Methodists Halevy analyzed. See Hempton, The Religion of the People, 22;. Semmel, The Methodist Revolution, 4–5, 31, 56–57, 62, 69–70; Havely, Elie, The Birth of Methodism in England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), trans. Semmel, Bernard;Hempton, David, Religion and Political Culture in Britain and Ireland: From the Glorious Revolution to the Decline of Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3134;Hempton, David, The Religion of the People: Methodism and Popular Religion c. 1750–1900 (New York: Routledge, 1996), 711, 22.

53. Gaspar, David Barry, “Slavery, Amelioration, and Sunday Markets in Antigua, 1823– 1831,” Slavery and Abolition 9 (1989): 2.The poor record of meliorationist policies in improving Caribbean slave women's lives enough to make pregnancy and rearing of infants more successful is discussed in Morrissey, Marietta, Slave Women in the New World: Gender Stratification in the Caribbean (Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 125–30.An overall evaluation of meliorationist efforts is Ward, J. R., British West Indian Slavery, 1750–1834: The Process of Amelioration (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 190231.

54. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 74; Elizabeth Hart, The Hart Sisters, 110.

55. The modern edition of Haynes's writings is Black Preacher to White America: The Collected Writings of Lemuel Haynes, 1774–1833, ed. Newman, Richard (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, 1990).

56. Conforti, Joseph A., Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism, the Congregational Ministry, and Reform in New England between the Great Awakenings (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981), 123–50.

57. Freeman, Stephen A., “Puritans in Rutland, Vermont, 1770–1818,” Vermont History 33 (1965): 342–48.

58. Marrant, John, A Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black, (Now Going to Preach the Gospel in Nova-Scotia) Born in New-York, in North-America … Enlarged by Mr. Marrant, and Printed (with Permission) for his Sole Benefit, with Notes Explanatory (London: R. Hawes, [1785]), 3033, 36–40.

59. Marrant, John, A Sermon Preached on the 24th Day of June 1789, Being the Festival of St. John the Baptist, At the Request of the Right Worshipful the Grand Master Prince Hall, and the Rest of the Brethren of the African Lodge of the Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in Boston (Boston: The Bible and Heart, 1789), 9.Marrant, John, A Journal of the Rev. John Marrant, from August the 18th, 1785, to the 16th of March 1790. To Which Are Attached, Two Sermons; One Preached on Ragged Island on Sabbath Day, the 27th of October, 1787; The Other at Boston, in New Engalnd, on Thursday, the 24th of June, 1789 (London, [1791]), 1153, 75–76, 97.

60. Allen's conversion and experiences in the Methodist Church are described in The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Containing a Narrative of the Yellow Fever in the Year of Our Lord 1793, With an Address to the People of Color in the United States, Written by Himself and Published by His Request (New York: Abingdon, 1960).

61. Parallels between the Calvinist notion and traditional African notions of God are clear in Mbiti, John, Concepts of God in Africa (New York: Praeger, 1970), 387.

62. Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, Written by Himself, Ninth Edition Enlarged (London, 1794), in The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, ed. Vincent Carretta (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 78, 40, 119, 178–93.

63. Olaudah Equiano to Thomas Hardy, 28 May 1792, Edinburgh, in The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, 347–48.

64. Cugoano, Quobna Ottobah, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Specks, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, by Ottobah Cugoano, a Native of Africa (1787), in Carretta, Vincent, ed., Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 151–53.

65. The best studies of the connection between the New Divinity and Revolutionary republicanism are Heimert, Alan, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966),Valeri, Mark, “The New Divinity and the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 46 (1989): 741–69,and Weber, Donald, Rhetoric and History in Revolutionary New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

66. Edwards, Jonathan Jr, The Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave-Trade, and of the Slavery of the Africans (Providence: John Carter, 1792).

67. Saillant, John, “Lemuel Haynes's Black Republicanism and the American Republican Tradition, 1775–1820,” Journal of the Early Republic 14 (1994): 293324.

68. For Marrant's death, see Fyfe, Christopher, A History of Sierra Leone (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), 3132.The clearest view of the ideas and values of the Nova Scotian emigrés appears in Fyfe, Christopher, ed., “Our Children Free and Happy”: Letters from Black Settlers in Africa in the 1790s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991).The best social history of the emigrés is Walker, James W. St. George, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870, Dalhousie African Studies (New York: Dalhousie University Press, 1976).

69. Walker, , Black Loyalists, 18–32, 64–71;Wilson, Ellen Gibson, The Loyal Blacks (New York: Capricorn Books, 1976), 92101.

70. Nash, Gary B., “Thomas Peters: Millwright and Deliverer,” in Sweet, David G. and Nash, Gary B., eds., Struggle and Survival in Colonial America (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1981), 6985.Peters's petition appears in Fyfe, Christopher, ed., Sierra Leone Inheritance (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 118–19.

71. Peterson, John, Province of Freedom: A History of Sierra Leone, 1787–1870 (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 2939.

72. Nash, Gary B., “New Light on Richard Allen: The Early Years of Freedom,” William and Mary Quarterly 46 (1989): 332.Swift, David E., Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy before the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 12.

73. Many authors have noted Allen's intention of providing secure institutions and a fit religion for African Americans. For example, Raboteau, Albert J., “The Slave Church in the Era of the American Revolution,” in Berlin, Ira and Hoffman, Ronald, eds., Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 211;George, Carol V. R., Segregated Sabbaths: Richard Allen and the Emergence of Independent Black Churches, 1760–1840 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 116–34.

74. Allen's address was printed in New York Spectator, 8 January 1800; and in Boston Independent Chronicle, 13–16 01 1800, p. 1.

75. Cugoano, , Thoughts and Sentiments, 163–84.

76. Turely, David, The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780–1860 (New York: Routledge, 1991), 29.

77. Cugoano, , Thoughts and Sentiments, 172.

78. Olaudah Equiano to the Right Honourable Lord Hawkesbury, 13 March 1788, London, in The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, 333–34; see also 233–35. For “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” trade, see Law, Robin, “The Historiography of the Commercial Transition in Nineteenth-Century West Africa,” in Falola, Toyin, ed., African Historiography: Essays in Honor of Jacob Ade Ajayi (Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 1993), 91115.

79. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 227.

80. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 232.

81. Their writings are collected in Fyfe, “Our Children Free and Happy.”

82. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 59–61.

83. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 226.

84. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 38–45.

85. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 44.

86. Equiano, , Interesting Narrative, 44.

87. Equiano, Interesting Narrative, 7. Equiano's writings were an extended response to a fact noted by Walvin, James: “The campaign against slavery really began in the English law courts.” Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery (Washington: Howard University Press, 1994), 305.

88. Cugoano, , Thoughts and Sentiments, 145–48.

89. An excellent analysis of the Sunday-market controversy is Gaspar, “Slavery, Amelioration, and Sunday Markets,” 1–28. Confirmation of the West Indian plantocracy's suspicion of Parliament appears in Turley, Culture of English Antislavery, 31. The importance to slaves of the market and the hostility of missionaries to it are emphasized in Bush, Barbara, Slave Women in Caribbean Society, 1650–1838 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1990), 4650.

90. Craton, Michael, Empire, Enslavement, and Freedom in the Caribbean (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1997), 197.

91. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 62.

92. Hart, Anne, The Hart Sisters, 74. In relation to the North American British colonies, Frey, Sylvia R. notes that in the mid-eighteenth century, “the fusion of evangelical faith and republican ideals produced a searing indictment of slavery which formed the intellectual foundation for the incipient antislavery movements in England and the northern colonies.” Frey, Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 44. My argument here is that the Hart sisters, evangelicals but not republicans, lacked faith in the power and institutions of the republican state.

93. Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), 333–35.Stewart, James Brewer, Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976), 3396.

94. Gerteis, Louis S., Mclnerney, Daniel J. and Oakes, James have recently emphasized abolitionists' efforts to seize control of the state. Gerteis, Morality and Utility in American Antislavery Reform (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), xii–xvi, 4;Mclnerney, , ‘“A Faith for Freedom’; The Political Gospel of Abolitionism,” Journal of the Early Republic 11 (1991): 371–93;Oakes, , Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Knopf, 1990), 5479. My argument here is that blacks began promoting the effort around 1780 and thus were at least a generation in advance of whites.

95. MacLeod, Duncan J., Slavery, Race and the American Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 7985.Egerton, Douglas R., ‘“Its Origin Not a Little Curious': A New Look at the American Colonization Society,” Journal of the Early Republic 5 (1985): 463–80, emphasizes that early colonizationist efforts were imposed on African Americans, but here I want to emphasize that the efforts had some black support and provided a model for the way state power could be used, for better or worse, in a society marked by interracial conflict.

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