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Letter from Rev. Jonathan Boucher to Rev. John Waring (March 9, 1767)

In a letter to the Reverend John Waring, dated March 9, 1767, the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, of Saint Mary's Parish, Caroline County, reports on the progress of educating enslaved African Americans. Waring was the secretary of the Associates of Dr. Bray, the English philanthropic group that paid to send books and other materials to the parish.

Transcription from Original

Dear Sir or Madam: I think myself infinitely obliged to You for the respectful Attention which You are pleased to pay to my Correspondence; and I can hardly forbear reproaching myself for having suffered any Cares of Business whatever to prevent my making this Acknowledgement earlier. Were it possible for Me to give You and adequate Idea of the thousand disagreeable Concerns & Engagements Clergymen in Virginia must necessarily be subject to, I am pursuaded You are too candid & benevolent a Man to expect of Us that Exactness & Punctuality, which We acknowledge it is our Duty, as well as Inclination, to observe.

The box of Books You shipp'd for me in 1765, came into Potomac, & by that Means were difficultly heard of our come at. Yet, at length, I received Them all safe, & agreeable to your List: for which I again return You & The Associates my sincerest Thanks. I have already distributed many of Them amongst the poor Slaves who are very numerous in this Parish. In many of my former Letters I have told You of the Difficulties Ministers are under to reconcile the Owners of Slaves to their being instructed: and, besides This, They generally are so dispersed, that I cannot see how a School could well be established; unless in Towns, consistent with the Designs of The Associates. And I shou'd never forgive myself were I to be the Means, in ever so small a Degree, of persuading Them to misapply so well-meant a Charity. The Method I take I hope They will think is not misapplying it: I generally find out an old Negro, or a conscientious Overseer, able to read, to whom I give Books, with an Injunction to Them to instruct such & such Slaves in their respective Neighbourhoods. This, I own, coincides not exactly with your Plans; but as I am convinc'd it is the only practicable Method of accomplishing the End You have in View, in Parishes where there are no Towns, I hope You will excuse Me for presuming to judge for You.

Last Summer, in one Day, I baptised 315 Negro Adults, & delivered a Lecture of about an Hour's Length, after reading Prayers to Them, to above 3000. It was the hardest Day's Service I ever had in my Life: yet I know not that I ever before felt such a pleasing Exultation of Heart when I did: for I cou'd not but think my Employment then truly primitive & Apostolical. It was on Whitsun Monday, which is a general Holiday for Slaves throughout the Colony: & as I had given Notice, that I wou'd on that Day preach to Them in particular, They eagerly flock'd to Me from all Quarters, in greater Numbers than my Churchyard could contain. Delighted as I was, I must confess I was seriously grieved to observe that, having but a weak Voice, but a Few cou'd hear Me, & Fewer still cou'd understand Me. And This reminds Me to ask You whether in such Cases, You think a Man may be allowed, in a few not absolutely essential Particulars, to differ from the Forums directed by the Rubric. Of the three hundred & odd Negroes I that day baptised, perhaps it wou'd hardly have been possible to have found Three capable of understanding, in the manner required, either the Nature or End of the Sacrament. Was I not them excusable in using Words more level to their Capacities, & exacting Promises from Them better adapted to their Circumstances, than if I had confined myself to the Form prescribed?

It wou'd be difficult to ascertain with Exactness the No. of Slaves in any Parish: I dare say, however, We have in This upwards of 1000. Many of Them attend Church duly, & behave decently: In Summer They are frequently so numerous, as not to be able to find Room. There are five or Six who have Prayer Books, & make the Responses with great Regularity & Propriety. And on Christmas Day last, I believe there were 15 of Them Communicants, &, I am persuaded, very worthy Ones.

I wou'd not willingly be too importunate with the Associates, who have already been very liberal to Me: indeed I do not much want any more assistance, unless They wou'd be pleased to spare Me a few more Prayer Books, Bibles & Testaments. But, as These may be too costly, I shall cheerfully submit to whatever They think proper.

One or Two of my Brethren, who live in remoter Parishes, to whom I have mentioned your Contributions to Me, have interceded so strongly with Me for a few of the Books that I could not refuse Them. And might I dare to hope that the Associates wou'd regard a Recommendation from Me, I should take the Liberty of naming these Gentlemen to Them as Persons, I think very proper to assist Them in the good Work They are Engaged in.

Captn. [William] Fox of The Matty who brings This, is my very particular Acquaintance, & one whom I dare [to] recommend to You for his Care & Diligence. I am, with much Respect, Dear Sir, Yours & The Associates most obedient humble Servant

Jonan. Boucher

St. Mary's, Caroline 9th. March, 1767