Jesse Mercer’s Eternal Concerns of a Slave

In Nathan Finn’s recent post 19th Century Baptists, Slavery, and Christian Civility: Some Lessons from the Past in he tells of a new book he is about to publish entitled Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution.  Read his post for more information.  It’s looks to be an interesting read and will shed some light on two opposing positions from the past.  I agree with Nathan that such a form of slavery in the early U.S. was sinful, much like the kind that continues today in places like Sudan.

Upon reading Nathan’s post I thought about a book I recently picked-up about Jesse Mercer who has deep roots here in the Georgia Baptist Convention which includes roots in the Christian Index publication.  Mercer wrote in a letter to a friend his concern for one of his slaves.  It’s amazing just how complex those times were then.  As terrible as U.S. slavery was things weren’t always as black and white (no pun intended) as we think.  Some things aren’t talked about too much such as black slaveowners and the eternal concern that folks like Jesse Mercer showed for his slaves.  Read for yourself the Mercer excerpt.

Jesse Mercer was concerned for the well-being of his slaves particularly in regard to their eternal state.65  While such concerns often received lip service from many Southern slaveowners, it is clear that Jesse Mercer’s interest was sincere.  He required his servants to attend family worship twice a day, morning and evening, and often asked about their welfare when writing home.  In a personal letter, he asked C.F. Sturgis to visit his home and report on the spiritual welfare of a slave named Charlotte:


I had hoped that Charlotte had some concern on her mind about her soul’s and eternity’s interest, before I left home.  I talked to her of those things, and urged her to seek the Lord and faint not.  I should like to know if she makes any progress.  Tell her (and all) that I have a constant remembrance of them before the throne of grace, and hope she does not fail to pray for herself and her children.  In that case, it would hardly be worth while.66 

65See Anne C. Loveland, Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: University of Louisiana, 1980) 254.  She notes that Southern evangelicals “sought to provide the Negro with something they themselves valued greatly” as they promoted religious instruction among them.  As Jesse Mercer did this he was not only affirming the humanity of his slaves (against some theories which denied it), but he also was going against the opinion that instructing slaves in religious matters would lead to their emancipation. 
66Mallary, Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer, 381.  The letter is dated 18 July 1841.

Taken from Anthony L. Chute, A Piety Above the Common Standard Jesse Mercer and Evangelistic Calvinism (Mercer University Press, 2004) 49.

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