Slaves Beat if Found “Stealing Away” to Religious Gatherings



If you ask most African-American people they will tell you that knowing about their ancestors and their traditions is extremely important to them. A part of knowing where you come from is the key to helping people understand where they need to go. It is an important part of having the opportunity to do things that your ancestors wanted to do, but could not do. So, you do it to make in their name to honor them. Slaves had to sneak and do everything that was of importance to them. They had to even sneak to  pray and attend religious meetings. Most slaves could only go with the the Massa’. Slaves who sneaked to attend services were often beat, if it was discovered they had been disobedient.

According to Dr. Albert J. Raboteau a Professor of Religion at Princeton University. One of the slaves was quoted with these words about religious meetings: “When de niggers go round singin’ ‘Steal Away to Jesus,’ dat mean dere gwine be a ’ligious meetin’ dat night. De masters … didn’t like dem ’ligious meetin’s so us natcherly slips off at night, down in de bottoms or somewhere. Sometimes us sing and pray all night.” Most slaves only knew what their master’s had told them was in the Bible. Since the slaves could not read to find out for themselves, they either believed it or, someone else one of the Black spiritual preachers interpreted the Bible their way.


According to Lucretia Alexander slaves grew tired of listening to the white folks preachers, because all they would say is: ‘Serve your masters. Don’t steal your master’s turkey. Don’t steal your master’s chickens. Don’t steal your master’s hawgs. Don’t steal your master’s meat. Do whatsomever your master tells you to do.’ Same old thing all the time.… Sometimes they would … want a real meetin’ with some real preachin’. The slaves wanted to sing their songs, so they would often have to sing and pray in a whisper.

The slaves were smart they developed several techniques to avoid detection of their meetings. One thing they did was to meet in very private and secluded areas. It had to be a place where no one would hear or see them. It was either in the—woods, gullies, ravines, and hush harbors. On some plantations the slaves would sneak way to an area to form a circle around their speaker. They would listen to him speak over a vessel of water to drown out his voice. If anyone spoke loud or yelled out the other slaves would quickly cover their mouth.

Not all slaveholders kept their slaves from going to church or attending other types of ceremonies. However, there were very few who did allow it. Some masters were actually known to enjoy the singing, praying, and preaching of their slaves. But, at the center of the slaves’ religion was a private place. For no matter how religious the master might be, the slave knew that the master’s religion did not countenance prayers for his slaves’ freedom in this world. Read more.


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