Clear Creek Settlers Arrived with Slaves

Slavery Artifacts
Slavery Artifacts
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Pine slab from the Black area of the Rice Cemetary
Pine slab from the Black area of the Rice Cemetery

Some early settlers arrived in the Clear Creek area with just the clothes on their backs and a few possessions. Others came with their wagons loaded to the brim. Some brought along a few indentured servants and/or slaves.

Indentured servants were able to earn their freedom by working a few years to pay for their passage to America, but most slaves were bound to their masters for life. Slavery was an accepted institution in colonial times. Even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and used them to run their large plantations in Virginia.
What is known about slavery in the Clear Creek community can be found John Hood’s Clear Creek and Rocky River: A Carolina Family History, as well as Russell Martin Kerr’s The Presbyterian Gathering on Clear Creek. Kerr devotes several pages to “Black Members of Philadelphia.”

Bricked over entrance for Blacks
Bricked over entrance for Blacks

Hood states that Adam Alexander, as one of the wealthiest landowners, “probably owned both one of the largest collections of books and the largest number of black slaves” in Mecklenburg County. He also says Andrew Jackson, who was born near Waxhaw, was a slave owner, but “disapproved of the growing secessionist sentiment in the South.”
Kerr notes that John Foard, like other large landowners in the area, was a slave owner. Foard’s “will names eight adult slaves and two children. Three men shared with their owner the work of the farm.

Five women shared in household duties as well as farm work….Domestic servants helped to carry out the necessities of a home that wove its own cloth, made its own clothes, shoes, farm equipment, and other self-maintaining responsibilities….

The servants he owned were to be kept in the family at his death, being willed to his wife, daughter, and son….” He also writes that “Local historians identify John Springs, Thomas Polk, and Tunis Hood [a member of Clear Creek Church] as the largest landowners and slave holders in the county during the last decade of the 18th century.”
Landowners in Clear Creek built log cabins for the slaves and their families and probably allowed them to grow their own gardens. When slaves died, they were more than likely buried on the land they had worked. Clear Creek Presbyterian Church, which changed its name to “Philadelphia” when it moved to the Second Site, allowed slaves to become members of the congregation. However, they had to be examined for membership before being baptized and invited to communion, as was the case with white members. (It should be noted that many were baptized as infants.)

Black members were included in the rolls of the church, along with white members, but they were listed as a “servant of” whoever owned them. Slave members were not permitted to hold office. Nor were they allowed the privilege of marriage but were given a “service of recognition conducted by a minister or one of the leaders of the black community.”

The Synod of the Carolinas expected owners to not only take care of the physical needs of their slaves but to teach them the Christian faith and how to read the Scriptures. Kerr states that “Black members were subject to the same discipline as the white members.

They were cited to appear before the Session but often came on their own….Confessions were received, admonition given, and the privileges of membership continued. Suspension of membership was often followed by restoration at later meetings when repentance had not seemed genuine in the beginning.

As was the case with white members, very few instances of excommunication are recorded.”
Black members had to enter the church through a separate door and sit segregated from the white members. The third meeting house, now located on Philadelphia Church and Bain School Roads, included a balcony for the slaves and a separate entrance for them.

Other meeting houses in Mecklenburg County also had separate seating for slaves. (Black members, along with white members of the church participated in bringing building materials and digging the foundations for the third meeting house.)

Another indication of the separate standing of black members of the church is that they were buried outside the rock walls of the cemetery at the Second Site.
A year after the Civil War ended, Philadelphia followed Presbytery’s advice and adopted a proposal “to call the colored members of the church together and give certificates of dismission to all who wished to connect themselves with other churches and make a record of the names of all who desired to remain as members of the church.” The majority of black members chose to remain in the community and in Philadelphia Church for a while.
Next week’s column will discuss the Civil War and its effect on the Clear Creek community.

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