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African Americans in Frying Pan Baptist Church, VA
By Debbie Robison
      [The Frying Pan Baptist Church was convenient to a spring on Robert Carter III's Frying Pan Tract in Northern Virginia.]

      From its inception, African Americans, both free and enslaved, were welcome to join the Frying Pan Baptist Meeting House congregation. The church minute books periodically recorded the name of an enslaved individual's owner, though the owner was not always a member. This circumstance suggests the possibility that a certain level of freedom of movement was accorded enslaved individuals for the purpose of attending church. Alternately, as was the case with Brother Thomas and his slave, Judah, owners and slaves attended the same church.

      Although African Americans were welcomed, they were segregated from the rest of the congregation, both during life and after. Within the meeting house, African Americans worshiped from the galleries that lined both sides of the building. In 1833, the church appointed an African American, Jupiter, to try to keep order among the coloured people in the gallery in times of worship. Jupiter, who was not free, had long been called upon by the church to take a leadership role with other African Americans. When a complaint was laid against a Black member Called Tom for Conduct disgraceful to the Christian profession, Jupiter was nominated to give him notice.

      Though the church did give Jupiter some responsibilities, when a committee was formed to hear and settle grievances among the African Americans, the grievances were not heard by a committee of peers. Jupiter was not included on the committee, nor were any other African Americans.

      For several years, Jupiter was involved in a dispute about whether he could preach. In June 1824, the minutes state that Brother Jupitor a Coulered man is not Allowed to preach. The following year in July, the Case of Jupiter was called up in Relation to his preaching the Church desided that he should not preach. But at prayer meetings he might have the same privileges as other members in singing and prayer. He was expelled from the fellowship of the church for Immoral Conduct in 1827 and restored a year later.

      In death, the enslaved and free African Americans were buried in a segregated area of the graveyard located in the southeast corner of the lot.

      The African American brethren were held to the same rules of conduct as all members and were censured or excluded. As an example, in 1805 the church charged Victory, a Slave belonging to the widow Summers with getting drunk. She was suspended from Communion. In another matter of censure, the church Agreed that Bill Talbert who passed in this Neighbourhood for a free man, and has proved since his profession of Religion to be a Slave Agreed that he be Excluded from our Society. Since the church did not exclude slaves as a matter of course, it may be inferred that Talbert was not excluded for being a slave but for lying about being free.

      The names of people baptized or accepted for membership was recorded in the minute books; however, for the enslaved, their name was sometime replaced by referencing their owners, e.g. Chas Turley's woman, Robert Thomas Woman, Mr Browns Man.

      The church covenant requires members Not to remove our residence or abode to any different part of the world without informing the church and advising with our brethren. The church issued letters of dismission to members in good standing to be used as an introduction to a Baptist church at the place of their new residence. This requirement applied to the enslaved as well, though the cause of their move may have been due to being sold. Fanncy a Black Woman formerly the property of the Widow Buckly, but sold to some person in Alexandria Dismist from us this 19th Apl 1817 to Join that Church. One formerly enslaved individual, David, received a dismission from the Church to emigrate westward upon the death of his owner.

      Following the Civil War, in September 1868, a request was made for members to attend church, especially the Coloured Members to state the cause of their nonattendance since the war. Some were in attendance and provided an answer that was satisfactory to the church. In December 1881, the church again requested an explanation for the cause of declining attendance by African American members. The cause was explained that these members were cold in the gallery without a stove but there was an effort amongst themselves to buy one and have it put in the gallery.


[From "Northern Virginia History Notes" @ H/T to Bruce Gourley. Formatted by Jim Dvuall.]

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