American Civil War Home Chatroom Transcript (Oct. 29, 2006) "For God and Country: The Role of Religion in the Civil War": an online chat with author Michael Aubrecht (continued)


10/29/2006 8:50 pm (et) MAubrecht: STONEWALL'S SUNDAY SCHOOL FOR SLAVE CHILDREN:

10/29/2006 8:50 pm (et) MAubrecht: It would be completely ignorant (and incorrect) of me not to acknowledge the moral dilemma over the South's practice of slavery, and the contradiction that it poses in regards to Jackson and his contemporary's beliefs. Although I firmly believe that Jackson felt that slavery was (at the time) according to God's will, he was not entirely opposed to it.

10/29/2006 8:51 pm (et) MAubrecht: Jackson's family owned six slaves in the late 1850s. Three (Hetty, Cyrus, and George, a mother and two teenage sons) were received as a wedding present. Albert requested that Jackson purchase him and allow him to work for his freedom; he was employed as a waiter in one of the Lexington hotels and Jackson rented him to VMI. Amy also requested that Jackson purchase her from a public auction and she served the family as a cook and housekeeper. The sixth, Emma, was a four-year-old orphan with a learning disability, accepted by Jackson from an aged widow and presented to his second wife, Anna. He also had a manservant that he employed at the start of the war. This gentleman acted as both a cook and valet and accompanied him into the field.

10/29/2006 8:52 pm (et) MAubrecht: In "Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend" James Robertson wrote about Jackson's view on slavery: "Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. He probably opposed the institution. Yet in his mind the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times."

10/29/2006 8:53 pm (et) MAubrecht: Regardless of one's verdict in regards to Stonewall's feelings on the matter, we cannot deny the fact that he was very aware that all people were welcomed at the Lord's Table. Therefore, Jackson and his wife were both instrumental in the organization in 1855 of Sunday school classes for blacks at the Presbyterian Church. The pastor, Dr. William Spottswood White, described the relationship between Jackson and his Sunday afternoon students: "In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind. ... His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. ... He was emphatically the black man's friend." He addressed his students by name and they in turn referred to him affectionately as "Marse Major."

10/29/2006 8:54 pm (et) MAubrecht: Eager to share their renewed faith with all people, the Jackson family operated their "controversial" Sunday school in Lexington, for African-Americans, and proudly practiced civil disobedience, while teaching black children the ways of salvation. Although he could not alter the social status of slaves, Thomas committed himself to Christian decency and pledged to "assist the souls of those held in bondage." Believing that slavery was according to God's will, he confided in some of his Negro students that when the time was right, they would be free.

10/29/2006 8:55 pm (et) MAubrecht: He continued his prayerful and financial support for the rest of his life, and stayed in touch with the school even when on campaign. In a letter sent to his pastor he wrote: "In my tent last night, after a fatiguing day's service, I remembered that I failed to send a contribution for our colored Sunday school. Enclosed you will find a check for that object, which please acknowledge at your earliest convenience and oblige yours faithfully."

10/29/2006 8:56 pm (et) MAubrecht: Not surprisingly, the "minority-focused" school was highly contested, and not popular with the local white citizens. It seems that even the great Stonewall Jackson was susceptible to public scrutiny. Throughout the massive level of media coverage that followed Jackson's passing, most publications left this endeavor out entirely, and few mentioned any of his public service in regards to African-Americans. One newspaper, "The Herald," did recall the affection that his manservant held for the departed general. (Note the blatant use of "slang" quotes)

10/29/2006 8:57 pm (et) MAubrecht: It printed, "He had in his service, a Negro who had become so used to his ways as to know when he was about to start on an expedition without receiving any notice from his master. When asked how he could know that, as his master never talked about his plans, the Negro answered, "Massa Jackson allers prays ebery night and ebery mornin'; but when he go on any expedishum he pray two, or tree, or four times durin' de night. When I see him pray two, or tree, or four times durin' de night, I pack de baggage, for I know he goin' on an expedishum."

10/29/2006 8:58 pm (et) MAubrecht: Following his burial, Jackson's wife, Mary Anna Morrison, continued their work, and the school remained in operation as a testament to her loving husband's grace and charity. Today, several descendants of the first students to attend this school have acknowledged Stonewall's part in introducing their ancestors to the teachings of the Bible. Some have even stated that if not for the bondage of their relatives, they may have never been exposed to the ways of salvation, and that through the efforts of Thomas Jackson alone; they were baptized into the Christian faith.

10/29/2006 8:59 pm (et) MAubrecht: In this regard, we can see how the evangelical, white, Christian, slave owner can (and often did) have a positive influence on the future of those held in captivity. For example, many ex-slave preachers were responsible for some of the largest revivals that followed the Civil War, and many routinely gave sermons to white congregations. Some even preached to the Virginia Legislature on more than one occasion. These aspects are often overlooked (or scoffed at) by non-believers, and historical skeptics who choose to examine the institution of slavery in purely "secular" terms. For devout believers, who view the world through non-secular eyes, the idea of showing compassion, mercy, and fulfilling an obligation to "make disciples of all nations" reinforces why one would go to such lengths to both educate and enlighten their slaves. Simply put, Jackson did exactly what his Lord had told him to do; he spread the Good News.

10/29/2006 9:00 pm (et) amhistoryguy: logs off.

10/29/2006 9:00 pm (et) MAubrecht: On a side note (for those who are interested in exploring this specific subject in more detail) my good friend and noted author, Richard Williams has just published a wonderful book entitled "Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend" which presents a very fair and balanced look at Jackson's pre-war life, white southern Christians, slave preachers, and the complexities of their relationships. He has examined this very subject with such depth, that I cannot do it justice here. Franklin Springs Family Media is currently shooting the film version of the book and I recommend it highly. Are there any questions or comments? XXXXXXXXX

10/29/2006 9:00 pm (et) amhistoryguy: enters the chatroom.

10/29/2006 9:01 pm (et) amhistoryguy: ?

10/29/2006 9:01 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes am...

10/29/2006 9:01 pm (et) NJRebel: ?

10/29/2006 9:01 pm (et) amhistoryguy: Did the school include teaching reading? It this the "civil disobedience " you refer to?

10/29/2006 9:03 pm (et) Basecat: enters the chatroom.

10/29/2006 9:03 pm (et) MAubrecht: Yes. First one has to understand that teaching slaves to read was a no-no. Then you had to issue them Bibles, another no-no.

10/29/2006 9:03 pm (et) amhistoryguy: What I thought, thanks.

10/29/2006 9:04 pm (et) MAubrecht: Then of course you had segregation in public venues. So Jackson's Sunday school went against many ordinances. Officially, I don't know if there was any "formal" crime broken.

10/29/2006 9:04 pm (et) MAubrecht: NJ...

10/29/2006 9:05 pm (et) NJRebel: Two thoughts here. First, did Jackson and his wife ever catch any what we could call "flack" from their neighbors about their support of the colored Sunday school? Second, were there any other slaveholders who thought and acted as Jackson did?

10/29/2006 9:07 pm (et) MAubrecht: There were more than you would think. I wasn't even aware of the extent of this until I read Richard's book, which has a ton of quoted material. There were even descendants of slaves who joined an early version of the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) directly as a result of their ancestor's owner's efforts in regards to baptisms and faith teachings.

10/29/2006 9:08 pm (et) MAubrecht: From what I have read... Jackson's own church was not necessarily warm to the idea at first, but after seeing the Jackson's example and especially his wife's work there, they embraced it. One of his biggest influences in this endeavor was a fellow parishioner named John B. Lyle who has been credited second only to Jackson's pastor with motivating the institution.

10/29/2006 9:10 pm (et) Basecat: My apologies for being so late.

10/29/2006 9:10 pm (et) MAubrecht: I believe that part of the church still stands today (or a newer church that was spawned from it) and they have added special stained glass panes commemorating the original Jackson slave-school. No problem Steve. Any more questions on this topic?

10/29/2006 9:13 pm (et) NJRebel: One more Michael. Did you answer whether Jackson and Anna received any ill treatment from their neighbors over their support for and ministry of the Colored Sunday School?

10/29/2006 9:13 pm (et) MAubrecht: OK. I'll take that as a "no." Thanks again. Let's head up north over the Mason Dixon Line and on to our next topic… NJ you had asked earlier about other commanders fighting with a "holy war" mentality. Here you go…

10/29/2006 9:14 pm (et) MAubrecht: Sorry NJ. I have not read anything other than a general frown. I don't think they were threatened directly.

10/29/2006 9:14 pm (et) NJRebel: Ok Thanks!

10/29/2006 9:14 pm (et) MAubrecht: However, that does not mean that it didn't happen. I think that most people came around rather quickly.