34) Two Slave Preachers and Their Masters

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

From The Clergy of America: Anecdotes, 1869, p.283-5…22-3

     Jack was a former slave and a Methodist preacher in the 1800’s.  In one of his sermons, he told his story:  When I was a lad, there were no religious people where I lived.  But I had a young master about my age who was going to school, and he was very fond of me.  At night, he would come into the kitchen to teach me the lesson he had learned himself during the day at school.  In this way I learned to read.

     When I was well nigh grown up, we took up the New Testament and agreed to read it verse by verse.  When one would make a mistake, the other was to correct him, so that we could learn to read well.  In a short time, we both felt that we were sinners before God, and we both agreed to seek the salvation of our souls.  The Lord heard our prayer, and gave us both a hope in Christ.

     Then I began to hold meetings for prayer and preaching among the colored people.  My old master soon found out what was going on.  He was very angry, especially because his son had become so pious.  He forbade my holding any more meetings, saying that if I did, he would whip me severely for it.  From that time, I continued to preach on Sunday nights; and on Monday morning my old Master would tie me up, and cut my back to pieces with a cowhide, so that it never had time to get well.  I was obliged to do my work in a great deal of pain from day to day.  Thus I lived near a year and a half.

     One Monday morning my master, as usual, had made my fellow slaves tie me to a shade tree in the yard, after stripping my back naked to receive the cowhide.  It was a beautiful morning in the summertime, and the sun shone very bright.  Everything around looked very pleasant.  He came up to me with cool deliberation, took his stand, and looked at me closely, but the cowhide hung still at his side.  His conscience was at work, and it was a great moment in his life.

     “Well Jack,” said he, “your back is covered all over with scars and sores, and I see no place to begin to whip. You obstinate wretch, how long do you intend to go on in this way?”

    “Why master, just as long as the Lord will let me live,” was my reply.

     “Well, what is your design in it?”

     “Why, master, in the morning of the resurrection, when my poor body shall rise from the grave, I intend to show these scars to my heavenly Father, as a witness to my faithfulness to his cause.”

     The master ordered them to untie me, and sent me to hoe corn in the field.  Late in the evening he came along, pulling a weed here and a weed there, till he got to me, and then told me to sit down.  “Jack,” said he, “I want to tell you the truth.  You know that for a long time your back has been sore from the cowhide; you have had to work very hard, and you are a poor slave.  Now, tell me, are you happy or not under such troubles as these?”

     “Yes, master, I believe I am as happy as any man on earth.”

     “Well, Jack,” said he, “I am not happy.  Religion, you say, teaches you to pray for those that injure you.  Will you pray for your old master, Jack?”

     “Yes, with all my heart,” said I.  We knelt down and I prayed for him.  He came again and again to me, and I prayed for him till he found peace in the blood of the Lamb.  After this, we lived together like brothers in the same church.

     On his deathbed he gave me my liberty, and told me to go on preaching as long as I lived, and meet him at last in heaven.  I have seen many Christians whom I loved, but I have never seen any I loved so well as my old master.  I hope I shall meet him in heaven. 


     Mr. Ravencross was a slaveholder in Virginia, and reputed to be a hard master.  His poor distressed slaves were in the habit of meeting at night in a distant hut, for the purpose of worshiping God.  He was informed of this and was put on his guard, as it was suspected that their motives for meeting were different from what they held out, and that an insurrection might be the consequence.  Under this impression, he determined to prevent their assembling in the future, chastised the promoters of this work, and gave positive orders, under the most serious penalty, that they should never assemble again under any pretense whatsoever.

   A short time later, he was told that they had again been seen meeting in that hut.  Much displeased at their disobedience, and resolving that night to put a stop to their proceedings, he approached the hut with all the feelings of an offended master.  When he reached the door, it was partly open.  He looked in, and saw them all on their knees.  He listened.  There was a venerable old man, one who had been long in his service, pouring out his soul in prayer to God.  The first words which caught his ear were, “Merciful God, turn my poor massa’s heart; make him merciful, that he may obtain mercy; make him good, that he may inherit the kingdom of heaven.”  

  The master heard no more, but fainted.  Upon coming to himself he wept, went into the sacred hut, knelt by the side of the old slave, and prayed also.  From this time on he became a true penitent, studied the Scriptures, and became a preacher and a shining light.   In the year 1820 he preached at the general convention of the Episcopal church in the city of Philadelphia before more than two hundred clergy.


Matthew 5:43, 44  —  (Jesus said),  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. 

Titus 2:9-10  —   Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

I Peter 2:18-19  —  Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.  For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.


An old African-American Prayer for Sunday morning:

     O Lord, we come this morning knee bowed and body bent before thy throne of grace.  We come this morning Lord, like empty pitchers before a full fountain, realizing that many who are better than we are have passed into that great beyond, and yet you have allowed us your humble servants to plod along just a few days longer here in this howling wilderness.  We thank thee Lord that when we arose this morning, our bed was not a cooling board, and our sheet was not a winding shroud (of death).  We are not gathered here for form or fashion, but we come in our humble way to serve thee.  We thank thee Lord that we are clothed in our right mind– bless the sick and afflicted– and those who are absent through no fault of their own.  And when I have done prayed my last prayer and sung my last song, and when I’m done climbing the rough side of the mountain, when I come down to tread the steep and prickly banks of Jordan, meet me with thy rod and staff and bear me safely over.  All these things I ask in Jesus’ name, world without end.  Amen.