Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History

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Religion

XVI. THE MISSIONARY ON THE PLANTATION

Selections from Isabel Martin’s Recollections of a Plantation Missionary’s Daughter

"Memory carries me back to the time when, early in the morning, through heat and cold, sunshine and rain, I used to see a plantation missionary set out in his buggy and go to preach the gospel to the slaves on the surrounding plantations; and my joy would be full as I would be invited to take my seat in the buggy and go with the missionary on his rounds. . . .

When we reached the plantation gate, the cry would be heard on all sides, ’Preacher’s comin’! preacher’s comin’!’ and from every side we could see the little negroes gathering. At least twenty of the grinning, ebony-faced little creatures would spring forward to open the gate for us and to escort the preacher’s buggy up to the ’catechising place.’ Others of the larger children would hurry to deposit the little brothers and sisters they were nursing with the old ’maumas’ at the hospital; while others, again, impressed with a sense of the decorum of the occasion, would go through the ceremony of hand and face washing ere presenting themselves before the preacher.

At last silence and perfect order reigned. A line would be drawn under the shade of some spreading old oak and the catechising begin. The class was rarely under fifty in number, ranging in age from the toddling wee thing of three and four to boys and girls of fourteen and fifteen, clad generally in the most airy of garments. I cannot now recall one instance of bad conduct, nor do I remember once having seen one of the class deprived of the handshake from the preacher, an honor most highly prized by them all, and never denied except in cases of extreme naughtiness.

The preacher would then carry them through Capers’s Catechism, the Creed, and Commandments, give them a little—very little talk, then sing a simple hymn, and afterward, with bared head, kneel upon the ground, and, with all these slave children clustering around him, together they would repeat: ’Our Father who art in heaven.’

Since that time I have seen God worshiped in many ways. I have knelt with the multitude in the grandeur of a great cathedral, where the ’dim religious Light’ came softly stealing through the pictured glass and the rich-toned organ melted the heart to thoughts of prayer. I have listened to the gospel in the midst of a crowd of grayuniformed men, whose next orders might be a summons to death. I have heard the words of truth proclaimed on the top of a lofty mountain, where we seemed ’to see God in every cloud, and hear him in the wind.’ I have mingled with the throng around the holy altar in the midst of a widespreading forest, where every breeze that swept by seemed to say: ’The groves were God’s first temples,’ I have sat in the rustic church amid the humble country worshipers, sunburned with toil and hardened with care, when I have said to myself: ’God is here worshiped in spirit and in truth.’ Yet now as I look back, it seems to me I have never been in circumstances so pleasing to God and his holy angels, or seen worship so welcome to them as when I saw that man of God teaching the little negro slaves to say: ’Our Father.’

The catechism lesson being over, the preacher would inquire for the sick. If any were very sick or too old to leave their cabins, he would be taken to them to minister of spiritual things, and sometimes, though, little child as I was, I knew it not, I was very near the gate of heaven. Often I have seen the missionary’s face radiant with the light of the throne as he came from these ministrations beside the bed of the dying Christian slave.

As we were leaving a pleasing scene would occur, pleasing to me at least, for then the old ’maumas’ would come from their cabins with two or three eggs apiece, or the children with old birds’ nests, sassafras roots, blackberries, and other simple treasures, to show their love of the missionary by these humble offerings to his little daughter. These scenes would recur at one plantation and another until the whole of a long summer morning would be exhausted, and so would pass the week away.

When Sunday morning would come, the grown negroes, who were at work in the fields during the week days, would assemble for preaching in neat, clean garments. Sometimes this would be in an upper room over the ginhouse, nicely arranged with pulpit and benches, or again in a pleasant little church built by the liberal and pious slave owners. Long before we reached the plantations gates we could hear the untutored voices of the assembled worshipers in songs of praise. Then would follow the simple service of the Methodist ritual and a sermon gloriously beautiful in its gospel simplicity, followed by the repeating of the Commandments and Creed by the whole congregation, occasionally by the administration of the holy communion, and very often a marriage and baptism."

Text—Isabel D. Martin: Recollections of a Plantation Missionary’s Daughter, quoted in Harrison, The Gospel Among the Slaves, pp. 276–278.

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Chicago: "Selections from Isabel Martin’s Recollections of a Plantation Missionary’s Daughter," Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History 572–573. Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8ETH6GMGAB77JCG.

MLA: . "Selections from Isabel Martin’s Recollections of a Plantation Missionary’s Daughter." Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, pp. 572–573. Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8ETH6GMGAB77JCG.

Harvard: , 'Selections from Isabel Martin’s Recollections of a Plantation Missionary’s Daughter' in Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History. cited in , Source Book and Bibliographical Guide for American Church History, pp.572–573. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8ETH6GMGAB77JCG.