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Matthew Strickland

Ph.D. Candidate, History
2018-2019 Rothman Doctoral Fellow

Strickland researched the lives of enslaved people on Codrington Plantation on Barbados and the role of religious conversion that occurred there from 1710 to emancipation in 1838.

Strickland visiting the Codrington College on Barbados (PHOTO: Matthew Strickland)

Focusing on the Codrington Estates and visiting the plantation and the College archives allowed him to study Anglican sermons in this time period, as well as letters, financial records, published tracts, parish records, and laws. He also traveled to the National Archives in London, including the archive for the Church of England, and records of the Codrington Estates at the Bodlein Library at Oxford.

From these sources Strickland found that Anglican clergy created a missionary theology that supported slavery and theories about the inferiority of black people. Religion was seen as a civilizing force and violence against enslaved persons was seen as justified to combat their ‘heathenish’ ways.

However, there was resistance to Anglican missionary work. First, enslaved persons resisted as they held to their previous practices and beliefs. Second, slaveowners who were concerned about religion leading to uprisings also resisted at first. In the end  the Anglican church argued that Christianity made enslaved persons more docile and slaveowners eventually stopped resisting Anglican mission work among enslaved persons.

Overall, Strickland argues that the Anglican clergy used religion as a means to justify, and undergird, the pursuit of imperial wealth. While enslaved persons were released in May 1838, the religious components of the “civilizing movement” in the British empire in the Caribbean created a framework for racial inequality under which black people continue to suffer today.