Christian Liturgy and the Creation of British Slave Societies, 1650-1780
Beasley, Nicholas M.
Focused on Barbados, Jamaica, and South Carolina, this dissertation demonstrates that Christian liturgy was a vital location for creating and contesting power in the slave societies of early modern British America. Though historians have often portrayed the early South and British Caribbean as irreligious and materialistic, this project shows that those depictions are based largely on comparison with New England’s evangelical traditions rather than on exploration of the best sources for understanding the liturgical Christianity of the plantation colonies. Those sources reveal a world in which English ritual and liturgical life was studiously translated to the Americas as colonists, who were confronted with powerful majorities of Africans and their descendents, sought ever greater continuity with their culture of origin. They thus recreated English customs of ritual time and space, the domestic sacraments of marriage and baptism, cultural elaborations on the Eucharist, and mortuary practice. In the context of slave societies, those ritual moments were freighted with new social meaning. The dissertation shows that the social meaning of those ritual moments is essential to understanding the making of race in the slave societies of early America.