What were the lives of slaves like? How did they seek to overcome the conditions into which they had been placed? Today I continue my own personal celebration of emancipation (1st August, 1834) with a brief look at the ways in which our ancestors sought to improve themselves and work their way free. This excerpt is taken from my book From the Field to the Legislature: A History of Women in the Virgin Islands.
"By allowing black men and women leadership roles [as exhorters and local preachers] within the [Methodist] church and by refusing to believe that religious instruction was beyond their understanding, missionaries sowed subversive seeds. On the one hand they preached subservience, but, on the other, they embraced converted blacks on a footing of near equality with whites. It is no wonder then that Methodist missionaries were implicated in at least two rebellions. Members of the Methodist society were among "a great number of slaves who revolted from their masters ' in 1799...
"Yet, beyond admitting blacks into the power structure of the church, the contribution of the Methodists to the people's development was most felt in the classroom. Since local government made no provision for the education of slaves, churches served as schoolhouses. On weekdays, adults went to school in the evening after finishing their plantation work. Three days a week, children were taught from six to eight o'clock in the mornings before they joined the third gang. Children also attended school from four to six o'clock on Sunday afternoons. Basic as it was, the education offered by the missions was also attractive to women. A missionary described 'the adult female class in 1821 as consisting of girls and old women from the age of 18 to 100 years old.'...By 1833, there were 87 women and 255 girls in the Methodist schools but only 17 men and 93 boys....They also outnumbered the men as teachers, in 1833 the Methodists had thirty female teachers and only eight male teachers."
You are gone and we do not know all of your names but you are remembered.