The founding of America, as it’s taught in most public schools, says that one of the primary tenets of the immigrants travelling here was religious freedom, and that this has always been a land where everyone is free to practice their own faith. Of course anyone who’s been paying attention knows that this isn’t the case. Religion is more often used as a means of control rather than a choice freely made. Settlers pushed their Christian faith on the Natives already residing here and then did the same to the Africans brought here forcibly to work on plantations and in homes. Those Africans were prohibited from practicing their faiths not only because to be not Christian made one into a “heathen” but also because their new owners feared that access to this faith would unite them and make them more difficult to control. However, a brief look at the archaeological record makes it clear that telling someone to abandon their faith, even threatening them, does not always make it so.
At a number of different plantations there is ample evidence in the deposits found in the slave cabins that shows the Africans who lived there continuing to honor and practice their beliefs. At the Hume plantation, Hermitage plantation, Garrison plantation, and many others, deposits in and around around the slave dwellings show evidence of conjure bags intended for calling on protective spirits, items placed at doorways and under windowsills to keep the home safe, items representative of fire near the hearth and much more. There is even evidence of animal sacrifices at some of the sites. This continued following of the beliefs and religious practices they brought with them from their homeland shows a remarkable brand of persistence and subtle resistance even at times when the white slave owners appeared to have all the power. To me this information is extremely important to bring to light because it adds depth of character to the single story of African slave life in America. It’s a story of pride and strength even in the face of terrible adversity and it bears remembering.