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Letty's Conversion
John Taylor's Slave
By Jim Duvall

     Letty was a slave church member at Bullitsburg Baptist Church, Boone County, Kentucky, whom we know more about than any other, thanks to John Taylor's description.

      Letty (sometimes Lettice) was a slave of John Taylor's, who made a profession of faith before the church on August 24, 1800, three weeks after her brother, Asa, became a member. Taylor expresses himself as others of that time who were involved in the slave business,

"lest I should be considered partial to those of higher rank, we will state the conversion of this poor black woman; I had owned Letty as my property, from a child, and she was now the mother of children."

     Her conversion apparently affected him greatly as he used nearly three pages of his history to describe how God worked in her behalf to save her. Taylor says more about her than anyone else he refers to in his entire book. He says:

p. 109
"she ever manifested the greatest aversion to anything like religion, so that she could not be ruled except by harsh means to family worship, but other ways the most faithful servant I ever owned. Her masculine strength made her equal to any black man on the plantation; her high
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spirit and violent temper, often brought her into contact with them in bloody blows -- as her body was strong so was her mind -- nature had done more for her than common -- she was an own sister to Asa, that I have spoken of before, who after his Baptism became a preacher; whether through the conversion of her brother (which was very striking) or some other means, she became alarmed of her lost state, and laboured long under great consciousness of guilt, before she obtained relief; the relation of her experience to the church one Sunday morning, with a number of other black people, was more striking to the assembly present, than the loudest preaching -- the solemnity of her looks, with the style in which she spoke, I can only give a faint discription [sic] of -- I would give her own phraseology, of which I only recollect a part -- The hour of sorrow being come with a woman in the neighbourhood, which has killed many of our mother Eve[']s poor daughters, for her first sin -- my wife sent Letty to give assistance in this distressing crisis [childbirth]; the husband of this afflicted woman, was the name of Carrol, an Irishman, and perhaps a Catholic as to religion, but be he what he would, otherways he was a monstrous wicked man, as to swearing and drunkenness, and on this occasion perhaps in his highest gale, though his wife very like to die immediately; and while Letty stated the case she made this remark -- I looked at Mr. Carrol and thought he was the wickedest man I ever saw in my life, and wondered the Lord did not strike him dead at once -- but after reflecting on myself a while, I really thought I was worse than Mr. Carrol, for all he does is only outward sin, but I am a sinner through my whole soul, and my heart is worse than Mr. Carrol's, and had rather have been him with all his wickedness, than myself -- I then began to wonder that the earth did not open, or some other vengeance, send us all to hell together, which I looked to take place immediately -- but she hasted away
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from Mr. Carrol[']s and found herself not yet in hell -- she went to converse with her brother Asa, to know what she should do in her present lost and helpless condition. After examining of her a while, he pronounced all the work she talked of, to be of the devil, and that she was not under true conviction at all; she then went to the overseer, a very good religious old man, who as she thought, treated her with scorn and contempt, she then thought of going to her master and mistress for advice [Tayor and his wife], but thinking of the contempt she had treated them with heretofore as to religion, they will think of me as my only brother, and the good overseer do; then said she I thought I had no friend in the world; I will go to God and beg him for mercy, and to be my friend; but when I tried to pray to him, I saw that he was angry with me, for I had done nothing but sin all my life, and there was no mercy for me -- then said she I thought of Jesus Christ, who had died for sinners -- I prayed to him to be my saviour and friend; but I thought Jesus Christ was angry with me, for I had despised him all my life, in despising his people -- I then thought said she, that I had no friend in heaven nor earth, and that no creature was ever in my case before -- living on the River bank, she concluded to run down to the River, perhaps to drown herself, as she went down the steep bank, it occurred [sic] to her she ought to fall down on her face to the ground, and confess the justice of God in her eternal damnation; she concluded this ought to be done with her head down the steep bank, as she was immediately to go to hell -- when I fell down said she, with my face to the ground, some words came into my mind, which were; come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world -- when said she I began to think 'O blessed God, what do these words mean, and who speaks them' -- then remembering they were the words of Christ, and that they were spoken to her, for she felt their influence through her whole
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soul; I then saw said she, that the anger of God was turned away from me; and that Jesus Christ had made an angry God my friend, I said as I rose up Jesus Christ is my saviour, and God is my friend; thus she went on still repeating till she came to the top of the bank, with that Heavenly rapture not knowing for some time but she was going straight on to the Heavenly kingdom, to which the saviour had invited her. For more than twenty years this poor black woman has given good evidence that the work I have been stating was a reality, it is probable this River bank, will never by her be forgotten. We may see in this instance, what the voice said to Peter verified, that God is no respecter of persons -- and it is probable more slaves will go to Heaven than masters."

     When John Taylor and his wife left the Bullittsburg Church in 1802, they requested a letter of dismission on Saturday the sixth of March. They also requested letters of dismission for five of their slaves who were members. The Churchbook reads: "Same [granted letters] to several black members belonging to Brother John Taylor (to wit) Jacob, Curry, Lettice [Letty] - Judeth and Nancy." Taylor moved to Gallatin County [now Trimble], to the Corn Creek Baptist Church. Mount Byrd was the area he had his house built.

     We read little of the lives of any of the people back then. Later in 1815 a Letty belonging to William Brockman was brought before the church for committing adultery. The records can become confusing because she is listed as "Lett" in the first record of black church members. She was cited to the next meeting to answer the charges, failed to attend and was excluded. Letty came before the church in 1818 and was restored to the fellowship of the church, during a time of revival in the church; this is probably the same person excluded in 1815. We read, "... by recantation [reinstatement] W. Brockman's Letty." [Brockman's name is crossed out and N. Bullock is above it, then Bullock's name is crossed out and Jno. Ryle is written in -- this must have been notations by various clerks as she was sold to different owners].

     The last time a Letty is mentioned was when the church began to check its records to see who had moved away and how they could be contacted concerning their membership. In the 1835 church records a Letty is mentioned as belonging to Mrs. Ryle; this no doubt is the same person originally owned by Brockmen and acquired by John Ryle. Later in the record it was "reported that Sister Letty has been removed from this state to the lower country. Therefore as we can know nothing of her standing, nor she receives no benefit from the society of this church if she is yet living. Therefore it is agreed that she now be considered not a member with us."

     The Letty involved in misconduct and later sold to the area dreaded by most slaves at that time (the lower country) was not the Letty whom John Taylor owned and described; she went with his family when they left the area in 1802. [Churchbook, March, 1802] They moved down the Ohio River to Trimble [now Gallatin] County and united with the Corn Creek Baptist Church.


{From John Taylor, A History of Ten Churches, Frankfort: 1823; reprint, Art Guild Reprints, Inc., Cincinnati, OH, 1968, pp. 109-112. Bullittsburg Baptist Churchbook: August 24, 1800; March, 6, 1802; June-July, 1815; Feb. 7, 1818; June, 1835. Corrections or additions are in [ ]. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.}

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