African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project
About the Project

African-American Religion
A Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents

Editorial Statement
(Working Draft, December 1999)

Albert J. Raboteau and David W. Wills

Copyright notice:
Excerpted from African-American Religion: A Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, edited by David W. Wills and Albert J. Raboteau (emeritus), to be published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2006 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

     Our goal in this work is to provide a comprehensive history of African-American religion, set firmly within the broad context of racial and religious encounter of which it is so fateful and consequential a part. The story we propose to tell begins with the earliest African-European encounters along the West Coast of Africa in the mid-fifteenth century and continues to the present day. We will present this history in a tripartite, multi-volume series that will include representative documents and interpretive commentary, woven together in a sustained, ongoing narrative. Though intended primarily to advance the understanding of African-American religious history, this work is also offered as a contribution to the ongoing reinterpretation of American religious history as a whole—and indeed to the reassessment of early modern and modern religious history generally. Like many other contemporary scholars, our aim is to move beyond narrowly nationalistic, racial, or confessional interpretations of human history and religion toward views that emphasize the global encounter of diverse peoples and cultures. One of the central stories these volumes will trace, the emergence and development of African-American Christianity, is here understood, for example, not as a minor subplot in the history of European-American religion, but as a centrally important thread in a larger narrative of Christianity’s steady transformation into a religion that is no longer to be identified primarily with Europeans or persons of exclusively European descent. But this work is by no means simply a study in the history of Christianity.

The Origins and Development of the Project
The origins of this work, formally begun in 1987, lie in the shared concerns of a group of scholars who initially gathered in the 1970s around the Northeastern Seminar on Black Religion and the Afro-American Religious History Group of the American Academy of Religion—and who in the mid-1980s twice collaboratively taught an NEH Summer Institute on Afro-American Religion and its place in the teaching of American religious history. Several of us came to believe that certain limitations in the existing scholarly literature on African-American religious history could best be addressed not by individual efforts, but by collaborative research and publication. Two major problems were at the center of our concerns. We were troubled first by the lack of any adequate general interpretive history of the field as a whole. Our second concern was the widespread lack of awareness, even among persons working in the field, of the breadth, depth, and diversity of documentary sources for the study of African-American religious history. To address both problems simultaneously, we resolved to undertake a work roughly comparable to H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher’s American Christianity: An Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents,1 a two-volume work published in the early 1960s which was for many years a classic within the field of American religious history. Producing something like it for African-American religious history seemed the most direct way to address the field’s pressing needs for both a comprehensive, current, and judicious interpretive overview and a useful introduction to the field’s rich documentary bases. With this goal, Afro-American Religion: A Documentary History Project was formally launched on July 1, 1987. We soon discovered that we had set out on a far longer and more difficult scholarly journey than we had expected.

     Our first step was to take stock of what we had in hand as the result of two decades of work in the field, work that had taken us collectively to some 125 archives searching for neglected primary sources. By the fall of 1987, we had assembled a pilot documentary containing some 160 documents—already close to the total contained in the Smith, Handy, and Loetscher volumes. This initial compilation revealed several areas where our previous work was insufficient for our present purpose, but the most serious gap was chronological. The bulk of our past research had fallen primarily in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and we were accordingly short on documents from the period before that era. Smith, Handy, and Loetscher began their volumes with a long section on the period 1607 to 1690 and had already presented some fifty documents before they arrived at the mid-eighteenth century. Our pilot version, however, contained scarcely a document in its opening section on “the pre-1740 period” and initially we supposed that it would only grow to perhaps a half-dozen or so documents. Together with headnotes and a narrative introduction contrasting African traditional religion to European Christianity, these few documents would serve simply to set the stage for a story that would effectively begin only with the evangelical awakenings of the mid-to-late eighteenth century, when the development of the black conversion narrative and the creation of the earliest black churches created a type of documentary record unavailable for the earlier years. Reflecting anew, however, on the roughly three hundred years between 1740 and the 1440s, when the Portuguese and subsaharan black Africans began the prolonged contact that would fatefully influence the New World history of Europeans and Africans alike, we realized that six or seven documents would be woefully inadequate. Such a vast and complex story could not be treated so summarily. Just as the story of European-American religion, as it has sometime been told, has an extended prologue based in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, so the story of African-American religion must have an equally extended prologue in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century encounter of Africans and Europeans on the Atlantic islands and along the coast of West and West Central Africa. Indeed, we came to see with new clarity that African-American religion originates in that encounter—and it is a historical encounter, an encounter in time and space. Beginning, as we had initially planned, with a static picture of generic “African traditional religion” and juxtaposing that with some equally static picture of “European Christianity” would not suffice. We had to begin concretely and keep clear from the outset the enormous diversity and complexity of the African-European religious encounter—and of the African-American religion (and European-American religion) that eventually emerged from it.

     In pursuit of this goal, we began imaginatively to travel territory unfamiliar to most historians of American religion—the coasts and states of West Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Names, dates, and events far removed from the world of American Christianity became centrally important to our narrative. Mbemba Nzinga, who reigned from 1506 to the early 1540s as Afonso I, Christian ruler of Kongo, took his place beside Henry VIII as a powerful sixteenth-century monarch whose piety and politics were intimately related. As we began to draw selections from such documents as the fifteenth-century Portuguese court chronicle of Zurara, papal bulls granting Portugal the monopoly of “all Guinea,” Venetian trader Ca’da Mosto’s account of his dealings in the 1450s with a Muslim Wolof ruler in the Senegambia, the correspondence between the kings of Kongo and Portugal, and photographic representations of early West African artifacts showing a clear blending of European and African motifs, we quickly realized that it would take many documents to cover the early African-Portuguese encounter alone.

     At the same time we were immersing ourselves in the specific historical reality of the African-Portuguese religious encounter, we were also trying to think through the implications of this new point of departure for the shape of our entire project. We soon realized that we would have to move beyond the two-volume model provided by Smith, Handy, and Loetscher. In part, this was simply a matter of needing more space. To get from West and West Central Africa in the mid-fifteenth century to British mainland North America in the mid-eighteenth century, we would have to deal with the meeting of many African and European peoples at many points across the entire Atlantic basin, and this would require many pages of both documents and editorial commentary. This shift was also a matter, however, of how we had come to conceptualize our subject. We came to think of African-American religious history as divisible into three periods, each defined by a geographical image that is both literal and metaphorical. The first period, reaching from 1441 to 1808, we termed the “Atlantic world” phase of African-American religious history. The second era, from 1808 to 1906, we called the “continental” phase, and the third, from 1906 to the present, the “global” phase of our story. Initially, in our earliest steps away from the Smith, Handy, and Loetscher model, we imagined that three volumes might provide adequate space and also clearly replicate this tripartite intellectual structure. Although more than a decade of research has pushed us well past three volumes to our present plans for thirteen, we have retained this tripartite periodization as the structural backbone of the entire project. Its logic therefore requires further explanation.2

The Tripartite Periodization
     Why begin in 1441? The year 1619, when Dutch traders brought the first recorded black slaves to Virginia, might seem a more appropriate choice. It would nearly match Smith, Handy, and Loetscher’s 1607 beginning point and would be broadly consistent with a common pattern among historians of religion in the United States, who often start their stories with the first enduring British settlements in North America.3 Winthrop S. Hudson and John Corrigan, Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life, one of the most durable textbook surveys of American religious history, terms England “the ‘bridge’ from the Old World to the New” and (through its first five editions) effectively begins its narrative in 1607 with the English settlement of Virginia. Hudson and Corrigan’s Virginia beginning, however, looks forward not to the arrival of black slaves in 1619, but to the coming of the Pilgrims in 1620—and to the subsequent history of New England Puritanism. “The tendency in popular mythology to stress the priority of Plymouth at the expense of Jamestown is not historically accurate,” they observe, “but in a deeper sense it is a true recognition that the American people have had their fundamental rootage in a Puritanism that they have found most easy to identify in terms of New England.”4 Certainly the Puritan legacy, with its strong emphasis on collective discipline and common purpose, provides one of the early and enduring themes of American religious history. So too does the American tradition of ethnoreligious diversity as both fact and norm, a phenomenon whose colonial roots lie more prominently in the Middle Colonies than in New England. Virginia and the other southern colonies, however, also supply one of the major motifs of American religious history—a theme as tenacious and enduring as the ongoing legacy of Puritanism or the changing dimensions of religious pluralism. This theme is the encounter of blacks and whites—the struggle of Africans and Europeans to engage one another religiously across a deep divide created not only by cultural differences but even more by the brutal realities of the slave system. Yet even historians of American religion who begin their stories at Jamestown seldom make this motif more than a secondary theme of their narratives—perhaps because everything connected with the distinctive racial realities of the American South seems to them atypical and therefore marginal to the mainstream of the United States’ national story. It is worth recalling, however, that the “bridge” that England provided to the New World ran not only to the North American continent, but also to the islands of the Caribbean, where plantation agriculture and black slavery were early and enduring features of the English colonies. By 1760, considering the British Atlantic empire as a whole, i.e., taking into account everything from Nova Scotia to the Leeward Islands, Africans or persons of African descent represented one-third of the population. If their religious life has seemed a marginal feature of that empire’s history, it cannot be because their numbers were so few. To understand the full implications of the arrival of black slaves at Jamestown in 1619, on a Dutch ship, that event must be seen not only in relation to the story of British mainland North America, but in relation to the larger history of the early Atlantic world.5

     Prefacing the early religious history of British North America with a survey of the prior New World efforts of Spain and France is of course not an unfamiliar alternative beginning to narrative histories of American religion. Another of the standard surveys, Edwin Scott Gaustad’s A Religious History of America opens with “the age of exploration.”6 After a brief and somewhat atemporal glance at the religion of the pre-European population, Gaustad begins his story with Christopher Columbus.7 If 1492 is a preferable beginning to 1607, it also has, in our view, serious limitations. Beginning with Columbus tends once more to marginalize blacks because it presents American history as beginning with an encounter between Europeans and Native Americans, with Africans entering only belatedly and as secondary players in the central drama. To speak of “the European settlement of the New World” is, however, to misspeak, for it was not until well into the nineteenth century that the total number of Africans who had crossed to the Americas was exceeded by the total number of Europeans. The history of the Atlantic world, including its religious history, truly begins with the European-African encounter of the mid-fifteenth century. If the Atlantic world is understood as an interrelated set of sustained human interactions mediated—with the assistance of developing technologies of transportation and communication—by the Atlantic Ocean, then it does not come into existence with Columbus’s transatlantic voyage. The Atlantic world is first of all a world of the eastern Atlantic—a world in which Europeans and Africans together forged a new social reality which in the wake of Columbus’s voyage was transported westward, where it broke upon the world of the American Indian with devastating consequences. Starting with the Portuguese initiative rather than with Columbus helps make this clear.8

     Sydney E. Ahlstrom, in A Religious History of the American People—which we find still the best one-volume history of American religion—opens his narrative with a lengthy “European Prologue,” beginning with the Council of Constance (1414–18). Ahlstrom also suggested, however, that “[t]he basic paradigm for a renovation of American church history is the black religious experience,”9 and it seems to us that the renovation of Ahlstrom’s own narrative appropriately starts by recasting its beginning as an “African-European Prologue.” While the Council of Constance was in session, a Portuguese expedition captured the North African city of Ceuta—the first step in a series of initiatives that would take the Portuguese down the entire Atlantic coast of Africa by the end of the fifteenth century. The century between Constance and the Reformation was not simply a time of devotional piety, Renaissance humanism, and movements for church reform—the themes highlighted by Ahlstrom. It was also the period in which the African-European world of the Atlantic took its initial shape. By October 1517, when Martin Luther affixed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door at Wittenberg (and before the arrival of Cortés in Mexico in 1519), Lisbon had a substantial African and African-Iberian population, the son of the Christian king of Kongo was soon to be designated a bishop, there were more ladinos (Iberian blacks) than whites in Hispaniola, and the Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, among others, was importuning the Spanish crown to abandon Indian slavery in favor of African slavery in the New World.

     Already in the early-nineteenth century, the importance of the pre-Columbian history of the Atlantic world was acknowledged, if somewhat obliquely, by George Bancroft, whose classic, multi-volume History of the United States stands at the very origin of narrative surveys of American history. Bancroft’s attention to this early period was driven by his concern to understand what he thought “one of the strange contradictions in human affairs”—that the Virginia colony should have been from its early days both “the asylum of liberty” and “the abode of hereditary bondsmen.”10 Bancroft could make sense of this seeming contradiction only by placing it in a much larger context than that provided by the English colonization of North America—or even of the history that began in 1492. His monumental history did begin, literally, with Columbus and moved in its opening chapters through the other voyages of exploration and then the French and Spanish settlements in North America before narrowing its focus to the planting of the English colonies. When he came to discuss the presence of slavery in Virginia, however, Bancroft felt obliged to step back from this narrowed focus and again take a more panoramic view of his subject. Already in the first edition of 1834, Bancroft connected slavery in Virginia not only to the institution’s prior existence in the Afro-Iberian Atlantic, but also to the slave-trading practices of the medieval Mediterranean, where the Venetians “in their commerce with the ports of unbelieving nations, purchased Christians and infidels in every market . . . and sold them again to the Arabs . . . .”11 For the second edition, published three years later, he added both a sweeping account of the place of slavery in human history generally and a more extended discussion of its troubling persistence within Christendom. For Bancroft, the key point of reference was “the hostility between the Christian Church and the followers of Mahomet.” “Slavery and the slave-trade are older than the records of human history,” he argued, but they would have long since been decisively undermined by the “spirit of the Christian religion” had it not been for Christianity’s confrontation with Islam. “[F]or more than seven centuries . . . ,” he observed, “the two religions were arrayed against each other; and bondage was the reciprocal doom of the captive.” When the Portuguese moved down the Atlantic coast of Africa, they took their “hatred of the Moorish dominion with them” and—treating Africans as Moors—they “felt no remorse at dooming the sons of Africa to bondage.” Spain too entered the traffic and “negro slavery . . . was established in Andalusia and ‘abounded in the city of Seville,’ before the enterprise of Columbus was conceived.” Not surprisingly, he thought, the institution was quickly extended to the New World. Initially, Bancroft noted, the Spanish forbade the transporting of blacks “who had been bred in Moorish families, . . . allowing only those who were said to have been instructed in the Christian faith . . . that they might assist in converting the infidel nations.” But soon, he observed, this “idle pretence” was abandoned and Africans in general were brought to work in the mines and plantations of the New World.12

     Bancroft’s telling of this story had of course its own special motivations. Convinced that Christianity was antithetical to slavery and persuaded that the history of the United States was above all a narrative of the providential advance of liberty, Bancroft was obliged to explain the seeming anomaly of slavery’s persistence among Christians in the United States. Calling attention to the long-term effects of the contest with Islam supplied a cover story for the antislavery delinquency of Christianity generally. Emphasizing the role of the Spanish in fastening slavery on the post-Columbian Americas at the start of their development made it easier to see slavery in the United States as an externally imposed fate rather than a choice willingly made. Such motivations no doubt had something to do with his story’s limitations—e.g., its oversimplifying assertion that for the Portuguese “[a]ll Africans were esteemed as Moors” and its hasty focusing on the Spanish to the neglect of the Portuguese role in Europe’s early Atlantic world encounter with Africa and Africans.13 Bancroft was, nonetheless, correct in seeing—as many subsequent historians of American religion have not—that to read the history of the United States aright, one must trace the encounter of blacks and whites back to the beginnings of the Atlantic world, and read that encounter at its origins against the background of the centuries-old Mediterranean-world encounter between Christians and Muslims.14

     In the year 1441, Antão Gonçalves, a member of the Order of Christ, a Portuguese military order of the kind first produced by the crusades, brought home to Portugal a “black Mooress” he had captured on the West coast of Africa. This is the first recorded instance of a black slave being taken to Europe via the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean and in our view signals the beginning of the Atlantic world. Other members of the Order of Christ, despatched by its head, Prince Henry “the Navigator,” soon followed in Gonçalves’s wake. Landing along the coast, they invoked St. James, the patron saint of the Iberian Reconquista (Reconquest), as they descended on groups of unsuspecting Africans, capturing them and carrying them back to Portugal. Yet the Portuguese crusaders of the early Atlantic, like their Mediterranean predecessors, were soon accompanied by merchants (some of them Italian) who sought to gain by trade, even with Muslims, the commodities—including slaves—that the brothers of the Order of Christ took by force. Like other Europeans, the Portuguese of the mid-fifteenth century also looked hopefully to black Africa for Christian allies—in particular the legendary priest-king Prester John. The looming power of the Ottoman Turks, to whom Constantinople itself would fall in 1453, rendered increasingly urgent Latin Christendom’s concern to shore up its eastern front. Through the Council of Ferrara-Florence-Rome (1438–45), Pope Eugenius IV effected a notable, if ultimately ephemeral, reunion with the Orthodox Christians of the Greek East, and sought to forge ties to other Eastern Christians as well. In 1441, the same year Antão Gonçalves brought the “black Mooress” to Portugal, an Ethiopian monk came to Florence—home not only to many of the most notable figures of the Italian Renaissance, but also a heterogeneous population of slaves—to address the pope’s council and to converse with Latin Christian leaders. African-American religious history, in our view, begins at the moment the Portuguese initiative extends to Atlantic Africa the complex racial and religious relationships of the Mediterranean world. We believe this is also an appropriate starting point for American religious history generally.15

     If we begin our first period in 1441, why end it in 1808? This too is an uncommon date for historians of American religion to use in periodizing their narratives. Typically, it is the emergence of the American nation state that in one way or another supplies their stories with a defining transition. Hudson and Corrigan, for example, use 1789 to separate “the Formative Years, 1607–1789,” from “the New Nation, 1789–1865,” while Ahlstrom and Gaustad—albeit less starkly—treat the adoption of the Constitution (1787–88) and the Treaty of Paris (1783) respectively as the breakpoints for their narratives. (Smith, Handy, and Loetscher diverge from this path, treating the years 1765 to 1820 as a coherent era of “Freedom and Renewal”—a periodization nicely consistent with accounts of African-American religious history which see the founding of the nation’s earliest major independent black denominations, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the early 1820s, as a major historical turning point.) To mark the end of the Atlantic-world era in African-American religion, we have chosen instead the date on which the Atlantic slave trade to the United States was legally closed. Of course, at the very least several thousand African slaves were brought into this country illegally after 1808 and, in the following half century, the French imported close to a million African slaves into Guyana and their Caribbean possessions, while the legal slave trade under Portuguese and Spanish auspices brought more than two million Africans to Brazil and Cuba. Of critical importance, however, was the withdrawal from the trade of Great Britain, the world’s major maritime power, at approximately the same time the United States outlawed the importation of slaves. This—together with the subsequent withdrawal of the other northern European sea powers and the growing British pressure against the slave trade generally—profoundly transformed the nature of the Atlantic world, as the Atlantic gradually became for the first time a highway primarily for European immigrants. At the same time, the age of revolutions in the New World—and here one must think not only of the American revolution, but also the Haitian revolution, the revolutions throughout Spanish America, and the independence of Brazil—meant that transatlantic political links were profoundly weakened. The communities of the New World now became inward looking in a way they previously had not been. The land, it might be said, became for the first time since the fifteenth century more decisive than the sea. In the history of the United States, this change is marked by Jefferson’s purchase of the vast territory of Louisiana from France in 1803. It is also associated with the exploratory expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1803–6). As Columbus’s voyage turned the nascent world of the eastern Atlantic into a transatlantic reality, Lewis and Clark for the first time gave to the fledgling republic of eastern America a transcontinental reach. Like Columbus, they were also pioneering agents for the projection westward of a world in which African slavery was a defining reality. Both of the captains were themselves slaveowners, and Clark’s slave York accompanied his master on his epic journey.

     Pursuing this geographical image, we have designated the period from 1808 to 1906 as the continental phase of African-American religious history. This is a century during which the social and cultural ties binding North American peoples of African descent to Africa became significantly attenuated, and African-American religious history develops not primarily in the context of a sustained and interrelated set of human interactions mediated by the Atlantic Ocean, but in the context of interactions mediated by North American space. We will not attempt here to spell out in any detail the defining features of this period as we understand them, deferring that task to a later volume. A few salient features, however, may be noted. This period is the heyday of African-American evangelicalism, a form of African-American piety more rooted in the interactions of North American life than the forms of African-American piety that predominated in the previous era. This is also a period when a major theme of African-American religious history is the religious organization of North American space, i.e., the institutional development and extension of the major black evangelical denominations, beginning with the founding of the independent black Methodist denominations toward the beginning of the century and culminating in the creation of the National Baptist Convention in 1895. Given the religiously repressive aspects of the laws regulating slave life (a subject curiously omitted from most discussions of the history of religious liberty in America), the independent black churches of the antebellum period were largely limited to the free states or the cities of the border South. Only through the politically centralizing events of the Civil War and Reconstruction did they too become fully national organizations.16 North American space meanwhile presented more than an organizational challenge to African-American evangelicalism. It also raised pressing questions of religious meaning, as is evident from the centrality of such biblical images as Egypt, Exodus, and the Promised Land in nineteenth-century African-American piety and theology.17

     The continental phase of African-American religious history extends, we suggest, from 1808 to 1906, when it gives way to what we call the global phase. By speaking of the “global phase” in African-American religious history, we mean to call attention to the increasing web of interconnections that bind African-American religious life to the religious life of diverse peoples around the globe—both as senders and receivers of religious influence. For this period, too, we can here offer only hints about what we see as its defining features. In part, we refer to the reconnection of African-American religion in North America to the wider Atlantic world, exemplified by the increasingly important role played in modern African-American religious life by immigrants from the Caribbean—as well as by the ever-thickening network of links by which African Americans have reconnected themselves to Africa in the twentieth century. One vivid example of the reconnection of black America to the African-Portuguese Atlantic is to be found in the career of Bishop Charles Manuel (also known as Emmanuel) “Daddy” Grace, an early twentieth-century immigrant from the Cape Verde Islands who gained prominence in the interwar period as the charismatic founder of the United House of Prayer for All People. Even more striking is the growing practice in North America of such African-Caribbean religions as Santería and Vodou. But we mean something more here than simply a reconnection with the Atlantic world. We are also talking about the deepening ties between African Americans and the world of Islam—ties created both by the emergence of indigenous Islamicizing movements such as the Nation of Islam and by the increased participation of African Americans in forms of Islam brought to the United States by immigrant Muslims. And this is not all: we refer as well to African-American interest in Gandhianism—an influence that preceded by many years the period of the civil rights movement—and African-American appropriation of those harmonial currents in American religion which themselves often carry the mark, in however altered form, of eastern religion. Consider too the statement of Francis Grimké, the biracial nephew of the abolitionist Grimké sisters and prominent Presbyterian pastor, who said of the influential Japanese Christian and social activist Toyohiko Kagawa: “There is no man in all the world today . . . that shows more of what Christianity can do for humanity . . . .” “I thank God,” he added, “that he is not of this great white race, that thinks that it alone is the favorite of heaven . . . .”18 The image of East German Protestants, singing “We Shall Overcome” as part of their effort to bring down the Berlin Wall and all it stood for, further suggests the appropriateness of the term “global phase” for this part of our story.

     Admittedly, our use of this phrase is rather less literal and more metaphorical than our use of the terms “Atlantic world” and “continental phase.” It is arguable that we have in fact not yet fully entered into this global phase—or that we only did so in the 1960s. But here we confess that the aesthetics of periodization has intervened. For our purposes, it makes sense to have a break point around 1900—a time when at the very least the foreshadowing of the global phase seems to us clearly evident. The specific date we have selected is 1906—a date determined by the Azusa Street meetings in Los Angeles, an event of critical importance to the history of Pentecostalism—and an event presided over by a black preacher, William J. Seymour. It is, of course, entirely in keeping with the organizing geographical images of our volumes to select an event occurring in California, at the western edge of the North American continent, to mark a critical transition. The global era begins to emerge, it might be said, when the maturation of the United States as a fully transcontinental nation binds together in a new way the Atlantic world and the Pacific world. (The building of the Panama Canal—it opened in 1914—is a further indication of this turn-of-the-century globalization process. So too is the growing American preoccupation, after the accession of the Philippine Islands, with the geopolitics of East Asia, and the mounting transpacific tension surrounding Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigration into the western United States.) But there is also within the consciousness of early black Pentecostals themselves grounds for seeing the movement as representing a new level of global connectedness in African-American religion. Seymour, for example, said of the Azusa Street revival that it was a time when “[p]eople of all nations came and got their cup full. Some came from Africa, some came from India, China, Japan, and England.”19 Rhetoric such as this, which reaches both eastward back to Africa and Europe and westward to Asia, and connects the whole world to a spiritual event occurring in a largely black context, seems to us an appropriate note on which to open the third part of our documentary history.

The Structure and Scope of the Three Parts and Individual Volumes
The tripartite periodization outlined above provides the organizing structure for the series as a whole, which will be published in three distinct parts. Part One, stretching over three and a half centuries, will consist of six volumes. Parts Two and Three, covering roughly a century each, are now planned at three and four volumes respectively—though it is possible there will be some adjustment as our work proceeds. The individual volumes now planned are as follows, though—particularly for the later periods—this list should be taken as the blueprint we are following, not the certain shape of completed work:

Part One: African-American Religion in the Atlantic World, 1441–1808
Volume 1: The African-Iberian Atlantic, 1441–1518
Volume 2: The African-Iberian Atlantic, 1518–1600
Volume 3: The Atlantic World (African-Iberian, African-Dutch, African-French, African-British), 1600–1670
Volume 4: The Atlantic World, 1670–1735
Volume 5: A World of Revivals and Revolutions, 1735–1770
Volume 6: A World of Revivals and Revolutions, 1770–1808

Part Two: African-American Religion—The Continental Phase, 1808–1906
Volume 7: The Antebellum Era—Egypt and the Hope of Exodus, 1808–1850
Volume 8: Civil War and Reconstruction—Exodus and the Hope of a Promised Land, 1850–1877
Volume 9: Post-Reconstruction—Return to Egypt?, 1877–1906

Part Three: African-American Religion—The Global Phase, 1906–Present
Volume 10: Azusa Street/A Global Hope, 1906–1925
Volume 11: Interwar Era, 1925–1940
Volume 12: Civil Rights Struggle in a Global Era, 1940–1955
Volume 13: Hope Achieved and Hope Deferred, 1955–Present

     It is important to note that the tripartite periodization provides not only a general structure into which the individual volumes will be grouped, but also defines the changing geographical scope of the project. We begin, it might be said, with a very wide camera angle, taking in all—or nearly all—of the Atlantic world. Initially attending in our first two volumes to what we term the African-Iberian Atlantic—the world resulting from African interaction on both sides of the Atlantic with the expanding empires of Portugal and Spain, we will trace in volumes three and four the complexifying patterns that emerge as an increasing number of European powers and African peoples are drawn into a rapidly developing transatlantic world. Beginning with volumes five and six, however, our focus will increasingly narrow to the African-British Atlantic and, in the volumes of Part Two, to the United States. While we will not entirely omit material pertaining to Africa and Central and South America in these later volumes, we will be able to include it only as an occasional point of reference, not as an ongoing story. In Part Three, there will be some reversal of this process, as our camera angle once again widens to place the religious life of North American blacks in its global context. This changing geographical scope conforms, we believe, to the logic of our periodization and to the relatively self-contained character of African-American religious life in the nineteenth century. Admittedly, however, it is also an attempt to set practical limits to an already vast undertaking.

     Special note also needs to be taken here of the limits implied, even within the very broad scope of Part One, by our concentration on the Atlantic world. In both the Portuguese and Spanish empires, the Atlantic world was from a relatively early point tied, however loosely, to the Pacific. The southward movement of the Portuguese into the eastern Atlantic led, after the celebrated voyage of Vasco da Gama in 1497–98, to the creation of a vast Asian trading-post empire which stretched across the Indian Ocean and westward to the Asian Pacific. The New World empire of the Spanish, moreover, soon faced westward as well as eastward. Expeditions from the Pacific coast of Mexico sailed to the Philippines as early as 1542 and by the time Manila was founded in 1571 the process of taking political control of the islands was well under way. Africans were from the outset an integral part of the Asian and Pacific empires of the Iberian powers. The sixteenth century saw a growing Portuguese commercial presence along the East as well as the West coast of Africa, and though the Indian Ocean slave trade apparently did not rival that of the Atlantic or reach its peak until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, blacks from West as well as East Africa were taken eastward where they became one component among many in the poly-ethnic slave population of Portugal’s sprawling Asian empire. Here, too, the encounter between Christianity and Islam shaped the environment in which they found themselves. The Muslims of the Swahili coast of Africa and the Muslims of India used the word kafir—their term for an unbeliever—to designate pagan Africans. The Portuguese in the east adopted the word, calling East African blacks cafres—“kaffirs” eventually becoming the comparable term in English. While black slaves in Portuguese India were apparently mostly domestic servants or laborers, Christianized Africans also provided sorely needed manpower for Portugal’s overextended Asian military. (They did not, however, rise to the kind of political prominence enjoyed by some of the habshi, Islamicized African slaves who had served in the armies of late-medieval Islamic India.) Black soldiers were eventually found serving in Portuguese garrisons as far east as Macao—and these were no means the only Africans to reach the Pacific rim. When the Portuguese went to Japan, they took black slaves with them (some accompanied the celebrated Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano at his appearance in Kyoto in 1591) and blacks were included in the heterogenous supply of slaves that the Portuguese shipped through Macao to the Spanish Philippines. Reluctantly, we have for the most part omitted these stories from our volumes, as outside the boundaries of the Atlantic world.

     We have also, with even greater reluctance, given only quite limited attention to the important African presence in the Andean region of South America, which presents a very special case geographically. Bordering on the Pacific and in that sense outside the scope of our work, colonial Peru (which included modern-day Ecuador, Bolivia, and portions of western Brazil and northern Chile) was nevertheless closely integrated into the African-Iberian Atlantic. Peruvian silver and gold, carried by mule train across the Isthmus of Panama or by oxcart to the Río de la Plata, were critical to the growth of Spain’s Atlantic economy—and blacks helped to mine and transport them. They also provided most of the labor for Peru’s ranches and plantations, and supplied many of the colony’s artisans and craftsmen. Peru was, in fact, a major New World site for the meeting of Europeans, Africans, and indigenous Americans. Slaves of African descent accompanied the first Spaniards into Peru in the sixteenth century and for most of the seventeenth century, Africans and African Peruvians made up half the population of its capital, Lima. We keenly regret that the need to set manageable boundaries for our labors has required us to slight this very important story. As a further grudging concession to finitude, we have also found it necessary, even within the Atlantic world itself, to restrict and focus our coverage. We have accordingly seldom ventured further south than Angola and Brazil. Rather than spread ourselves uniformly but thinly over the entire Atlantic world we have chosen in each volume to provide deeper coverage of specific geographical sites that seem to us particularly important or exceptionally well-documented for the period in question. We have, for example, devoted considerable attention in volume one to the religious history of the kingdom of Kongo, while in volume two Mexico becomes a main focal point for our story. Areas emphasized in one volume may be treated more marginally in another. Our first volume, for example, attempts—specially at the outset—to relate the racial and religious encounters of the earliest Atlantic world to contemporary patterns of interaction in the Mediterranean, but this is not a history we mean to pursue throughout succeeding volumes. Similarly, we have in this volume briefly juxtaposed the arrival of Christianity in coastal West Africa with the contemporary spread of Islam further inland—processes that display striking parallels—but this is not a comparison we will be able to trace through later periods.

Gathering, Selecting, and Interpreting the Documents
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Establishing, Translating, Editing, and Presenting the Documents
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Electronic Publication
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     1. H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher, American Christianity: An Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960, 1963). [return to text]

     2. For a more complete account of the earliest stages of the project, together with our initial statement of the tripartite periodization, see Albert J. Raboteau and David W. Wills, “Rethinking American Religious History: A Progress Report on ‘Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary History Project,’” Bulletin of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion 20, no. 3 (September 1991): 57–61. This article is a revised version of a presentation originally made at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November 1990. [return to text]

     3. American Christianity actually opens its documentary sequence with five documents from the mid-1600s, touching on early Catholic missions in various parts of North America and the rise and fall of religious toleration in Maryland, before arriving at its chronologically earliest document: Dale’s Laws of 1610 from Virginia. The year 1607 (marking the beginning of successful English colonization in Virginia) appears, however, on the title page, table of contents, and heading for “Period I” as the work’s announced starting point. [return to text]

     4. Winthrop S. Hudson and John Corrigan, Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life, 5th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 11, 13. This approach is at least as old as Robert Baird, Religion in America; or An Account of the Origin, Progress, Relation to the State, and Present Condition of the Evangelical Churches in the United States. With Notices of the Unevangelical Churches (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1844)—a path-breaking survey that laid down lines of interpretation followed by many subsequent historians of American religion. For Baird, to understand the religious life of the United States, “we must study the history of religion in England first” (31). He saw in English history a struggle between the Anglo-Saxon and Norman races that was exported to America in the spiritual contrast between the northern and southern colonies. A studied impartiality of tone did not disguise his sympathies. God had deflected Catholic Spain from North America in order to preserve the continent for “a great Protestant empire” (15) and no one had been more important in bringing the spirit of the Reformation to America than the settlers of New England. Baird’s comments on religion among African Americans are few and do not inform the main structure of his narrative. [return to text]

     5. For a more extended discussion of the idea that there are three major themes in American religious history, each of which emerges most sharply, though not exclusively, in one of the three distinct regions of colonial American (New England, the Middle Colonies, and the South), see David W. Wills, “The Central Themes of American Religious History: Pluralism, Puritanism, and the Encounter of Black and White,” Religion and Intellectual Life 5, no. 1 (fall 1987): 30–41 and “Forum: The Decade Ahead in Scholarship,” Religion and American Culture 3, no. 1 (winter 1993): 15–22. The former has also been reprinted in Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau, eds., African-American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1997), 7–20. [return to text]

     6. Edwin Scott Gaustad, A Religious History of America, new rev. ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 1. [return to text]

     7. A 1492 beginning date has also been adopted in the most recent edition of Hudson and Corrigan’s survey: Winthrop S. Hudson and John Corrigan, Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life, 6th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1999). The first of the classic nineteenth-century surveys of American religious history to begin with Columbus was Daniel Dorchester, Christianity in the United States, from the First Settlement Down to the Present Time (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1888). Dorchester, who saw his story as one of three-way competition among “Protestantism, Romanism, and a variety of Divergent Elements” (4), had almost nothing to say about religion among African Americans. Throughout, he treated slavery and anti-slavery as one among several areas exemplifying religion’s influence on morality, finding in the progress made in nineteenth- century America against the “three mammoth evils” of slavery, dueling, and intemperance evidence of the transforming power of “voluntary moral agencies, operating under the regimen of public opinion” (773). It seems likely that Dorchester’s beginning his work with the religious history of the Spanish New World (and including as well a broad review of early Catholic history in the areas of North American controlled by Spain and France) was at least in part a response to the work of the American Catholic historian John Gilmary Shea. [return to text]

     8. There have been numerous attempts to establish a pre-Columbian beginning for the history of the Atlantic world. Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus (New York: Random House, 1976) argues, for example, that pre-Columbian contacts between Africa and America included not merely the accidental crossing of an occasional African boat swept westward by the transatlantic currents, but also such things as a major fleet led by the ruler of the West African kingdom of Mali in 1311. Parallel claims of forgotten voyagers have also long been advanced on behalf of a variety of European-American peoples. From the earliest years of English exploration in the New World, to mention one, the story was circulated that Prince Madoc of Wales had sailed to America in 1170, and that blond, blue-eyed, Welsh-speaking Indians were still to be found in North America. President Thomas Jefferson thought the story sufficiently credible to ask Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to be on the lookout for such persons on their way up the Missouri River in 1804. Far more credible to most historians is the claim that, around the year 1000, Vikings led by Leif Erickson sailed to and briefly colonized a part of North America they called Vinland. The first major survey of American religious history to address the possibility of a pre-Columbian history of Christianity in the New World was Leonard Woolsey Bacon, A History of American Christianity (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1897), the concluding summary work in the thirteen-volume, denomination-by-denomination American Church History Series published under the auspices of the American Society of Church History. Bacon briefly noted the medieval Viking voyages and settlements and the missionary efforts that were alleged to have been associated with them, but correctly saw that these earlier contacts, whatever they may have been, were essentially discontinuous with the history of the Atlantic world as it emerges in the early modern period. The pre-Columbian history of the African-Portuguese Atlantic is, by contrast, directly continuous with this post-Columbian history. [return to text]

     9. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 12. [return to text]

     10. George Bancroft, A History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent to the Present Time, vol. 1 (Boston: Charles Bowen, 1834), 177. [return to text]

     11. Bancroft, A History of the United States, vol. 1, 177. [return to text]

     12. George Bancroft, A History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, 2d ed., vol.1 (Boston: Charles Bowen, 1837), 163, 159, 163, 164, 167, 169. From the publication of the first edition of the first volume in 1834 to “The Author’s Last Revision,” appearing in the years 1883 to 1885, Bancroft’s history went through many editions with some variation in its title. Once the material discussed and cited in the text above had been revised for the second edition, however, it remained unchanged at least for the dozen following editions. See George Bancroft, History of the Discovery of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent,15th ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), 159, 163, 164, 167, 169. The phrase “abounded in the city of Seville” was adapted by Bancroft from Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga, Annales eclesiásticos y seculares de la . . . ciudad de Sevilla . . . desde . . . 1246 . . . hasta . . . 1671 (Ecclesiastical and secular annals of the . . . city of Seville . . . from . . . 1246 . . . to . . . 1671) (Madrid: Imprenta Real, por I. García Infançon, 1677), 373. [return to text]

     13. Bancroft, History of the United States, 2d ed., vol. 1, 164. David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), sees Bancroft as above all concerned to argue that “slavery was essentially foreign to America” (23) and “alien to the true nature of the New World” (24). Edgar Hutchinson Johnson, III, “George Bancroft, Slavery, and the American Union” (Ph.D. diss., Auburn University, 1983), emphasizes the importance of Bancroft’s treatment of slavery throughout his multi-volume History of the United States, seeing it as an important somber counterpoint to the History’s prevailing emphasis on America’s providential destiny to lead the world into a bright, democratic future. [return to text]

     14. Bancroft was not the only member of his scholarly and literary generation to emphasize the importance of the Iberian Atlantic to the understanding of American history—or to underscore the significance of the Christian-Muslim encounter in shaping the Iberian Atlantic. At least since the publication of James Franklin Jameson’s The History of Historical Writing in America (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), it has been common to distinguish the “literary figures” from other writers of history during the “classical period” in American historical scholarship. It is among these “literary historians” that interest in the Iberian Atlantic—and indeed the Atlantic world generally—was most noteworthy. During three and a half years in Spain (1826–29), where he was attached to the American legation, Washington Irving not only completed his enormously influential A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (London: John Murray, 1828; New York: G. & C. Carvill, 1828), which emphasizes Columbus’s religious motivation and crusading zeal, but also began a series of works on Islam in Spain—of which The Alhambra (London: H. Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1832) is only the best known. In the late 1830s, he also began a book on the Spanish conquest of Mexico, but abandoned it when he discovered that William Hickling Prescott was at work on the same subject. Prescott’s landmark History of the Conquest of Mexico, with a Preliminary View of the Ancient Mexican Civilization, and the Life of the Conqueror, Hernando Cortés (London: Richard Bentley, 1843; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843), had been preceded by History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic (Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1838; London: John B. Russell, 1838) and followed by A History of the Conquest of Peru, with a Preliminary View of the Civilization of the Incas (London: Richard Bentley, 1847; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1847). Neither Irving nor Prescott, however, gave to the Portuguese sphere of the early Atlantic world the same attention accorded to the Spanish. It is here worth recalling that the work which established in the English-speaking world the image of “Prince Henry the Navigator” as a mythic Portuguese counterweight to the figure of Columbus—Richard Henry Major’s The Life of Prince Henry of Portugal, Surnamed the Navigator; and Its Results: The Discovery, within One Century, of Half the World (London: A. Asher, 1868)—was written by an Englishman and did not appear until much later in the century. In the United States in the 1820s and 1830s, it appears that where Portugal’s early role in the Atlantic world was acknowledged, it was typically in connection with a brief statement about the origins of the Atlantic slave trade. Lydia Maria Child, An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans ( Boston: Allen & Ticknor, 1833), for example, begins where this volume does—in the 1440s, with Antão Gonçalves and the origins of the Portuguese Atlantic slave trade from West Africa. [return to text]

     15. By implication, we are also proposing an Atlantic world beginning point for African-American history generally. From their emergence in the nineteenth century, survey accounts of black history have most often begun in Africa. The landmark work of George Washington Williams, who was sometimes called “the black Bancroft,” exemplifies the pattern. As its prolix title page makes clear, Williams’s History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens, Together with a Preliminary Consideration of the Unity of the Human Family, an Historical Sketch of Africa, and an Account of the Negro Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883), prefaces a story that effectively begins with the arrival of blacks in Virginia with a long introductory section on Africa, past and present. These quite heterogeneous pages are less a narrative than an argument, intended to overturn a variety of racist stereotypes about the black past. Williams made no serious effort to connect Africa to America by setting the emergence of slavery in British North America in an Atlantic-world context. For an analysis of the religious and racial concerns that shaped the narratives of Williams’s generation, see Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “Mapping the World, Mapping the Race: The Negro Race History, 1874–1915,” Church History 64, no. 4 (December 1995): 610–626. The durable survey authored by “the father of Negro history,” Carter G. Woodson, The Negro in Our History (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1922) also begins in Africa, devoting the first of its twenty chapters to a brief account emphasizing African cultural accomplishments. Unlike Williams, however, Woodson supplies a second chapter on the early history of black slavery in the Atlantic world before concentrating on his main story—blacks in the United States. By contrast, W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Negro (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1915) is primarily a history of Africa, with the slave trade, the Atlantic world generally, and the United States appearing only in the last two-fifths of the book. It is thus not a survey of African-American history, but the history of Africans and people of African descent in a more inclusive sense, and represents a different genre. Our Atlantic world beginning is, of course, far removed from classicizing Afrocentric accounts preoccupied with the accomplishments and influence of ancient Egypt. But by placing the Atlantic world against the background of the antecedent Mediterranean world, we acknowledge the ongoing importance of a history of racial encounter reaching back to classical antiquity. [return to text]

     16. For a discussion of the continuing need for careful study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century black church history, and an analysis of some of the archival sources to support such work, see Albert J. Raboteau and David W. Wills, with Randall K. Burkett, Will B. Gravely, and James Melvin Washington, “Retelling Carter Woodson’s Story: Archival Sources for Afro-American Church History,” Journal of American History 77, no. 1 (June 1990): 183–199, reprinted in Religious Diversity and American Religious History, ed. Walter H. Conser, Jr. and Sumner B. Twiss (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 52–71. This essays takes as its point of departure Carter G. Woodson’s pioneering survey, The History of the Negro Church (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1921), which like the rest of Woodson’s earliest work focused almost entirely on continental North America and gave only glancing attention to the Atlantic world context of black church history. As in a slightly earlier work, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), Woodson devoted only a few early pages to the experience of blacks in the Spanish- and French-controlled areas of the New World, contending that the “noble example set by the Latins” (6) had shamed English Protestants into a greater willingness to instruct their slaves. Woodson’s later work, particularly in the 1930s, was increasingly attentive to Africa and the Atlantic world and much more emphatic about continuities in African and African-American culture—including religion. See, for example, Carter G. Woodson, The African Background Outlined; or Handbook for the Study of the Negro (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1936). Woodson’s near contemporary and sometimes rival, the Caribbean-born book collector and self-taught historian Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, was deeply interested in the African-Iberian Atlantic and hoped to produce a major study on blacks in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain, which among other things would have discussed the history of black confraternities. Though he was an important early contributor to the history of blacks in the Atlantic world, W. E. B. Du Bois’s single work devoted entirely to the study of African-American religion was not historical, but sociological: The Negro Church: Report of a Social Study made under the direction of Atlanta University; together with the Proceedings of the Eighth Conference for the Study of Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, May 26th, 1903 (Atlanta: Atlanta University Press, 1903). Though it included a short historical introduction connecting African-American religion to the religions of Africa and, very briefly, to the early history of the Atlantic world, it was primarily an examination of the turn-of-the-century black Protestant churches in the United States—at the end of the “continental phase” of African-American religious history. [return to text]

     17. On the Exodus theme in African American Religious history, see Albert J. Raboteau, “African-Americans, Exodus, and the American Israel,” in African-American Christianity: Essays in History, ed. Paul Johnson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 1–17, reprinted in Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 17–36, 198–200; and David W. Wills, “Exodus Piety: African American Religion in an Age of Immigration,” in Minority Faiths and the American Protestant Mainstream, ed. Jonathan D. Sarna (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 136–188. [return to text]

     18. Francis J. Grimk[é], Dr. Toyohiko Kagawa [Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1936], 1, 2. [return to text]

     19. W[illiam] J. Seymour, The Doctrines and Discipline of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission of Los Angeles, Cal., with Scripture Readings (n.p., 1915), 12. [return to text]

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