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DAVIES LETTER TO THE SOCIETY IN LONDON-NEGROES.
sided, though I have been at home about six weeks. I doubt not, as a friend, you will congratulate me, and, as a Christian, assist me in returns of gratitude and praise to my Divine Benefactor.
As there is a propriety in transmitting to you an account of the distribution and reception of the noble charity of that generous Society to which you belong, I must confine myself to that, and refer you to my correspondents for other articles of intelligence. Though there are very few of the white people in this colony in abject poverty, yet there are many in such low circumstances, that they cannot spare money to purchase good books, and many more so stupidly ignorant and insensible of their want of instruction, as to esteem it an unnecessary charge, and so excuse themselves from it as a needless expense. On one or other of these accounts, there are few houses in Virginia well furnished in this important respect. Multitudes are without any assistance of this kind, and even Bibles are not always to be found among them. To some of these I have distributed— The Compassionate Address, Dr. Doddridge's Rise and Progress, Mr. Baxter's Call, &c., with the best advice I could give them, and hope I shall be able to send you an agreeable account of the happy effects of the distribution.
“But the poor neglected negroes, who are so far from having money to purchase books, that they themselves are the property of others; who were originally African savages, and never heard of Jesus or his gospel, till they arrived at the land of their slavery in America, whom their masters generally neglect, and whose souls none care for, as though immortality were not a privilege common to them with their masters,—these poor unhappy Africans are objects of my compassion, and I think the most proper objects of the Society's charity. The inhabitants of Virginia are computed to be about 300,000 men, the one-half of which are supposed to be negroes. The number of those who attend my ministry at particular times is uncertain, but generally about three hundred, who give a stated attendance; and never have I been so struck with the appearance of an assembly, as when I have glanced my eye to that part of the meeting-house where they usually sit, adorned, for so it has appeared to me, with so many black countenances eagerly attentive to every word they hear, and frequently bathed in
A considerable number, (about an hundred) have been baptized, after a proper time for instruction, and having given credible evidence, not only of their acquaintance with the important doctrines of the Christian religion, but also a deep sense of them upon their minds, attested by a life of strict piety and holiness. As they are not sufficiently polished to dissemble with a good grace, they express the sentiments of their souls so much in the language of simple nature, and with such genuine indications of sincerity, that it is impossible to suspect their professions, especially when attended with a truly Christian life and exemplary conduct.
“My worthy friend, Mr. Todd, minister of the next congregation, has near the same number under his instruction, who, he tells me, discover the same serious turn of mind. In short, sir, there are multitudes of them in different places, who are willing and eagerly desirous to be instructed, and embrace every opportunity of acquainting themselves with the doctrines of the gospel, and though they have generally very little help to learn to read, yet to my agreeable surprise, many of them, by dint of application, in their leisure hours, have made such a progress, that they can intelligibly read a plain author, and especially their Bibles; and pity it is that any of them should be without them. Some of them have the misfortune to have irreligious masters, and hardly any of them so happy as to be furnished with these assistances for their improvement. Before I had the pleasure of being admitted a member of your Society, they were wont to come to me with such moving accounts of their necessities in this respect, that I could not help supplying them with books to the utmost of my small abilities; and when I distributed those amongst them, which my friends, with you, sent over, I had reason to think that I never did an action in all my life that met with so much gratitude from the receivers. I have already distributed all the books that I brought over, which were proper for them. Yet still on Saturday evenings, the only time they can spare, my house is crowded with numbers of them, whose very countenances still carry the air of importunate petitioners for the same favours with those who came before them. But alas, my stock is exhausted, and I must send them away grieved and disappointed. Permit me, sir, to be an advocate with you, and by your means, with your generous friends, in their behalf. The books I principally want for them are Watts' Psalms and Hymns, and Bibles. The two first they cannot be supplied with any other way than by a collection, as they are not among the books your Society give away. I am the rather importunate for a good number of these, as I cannot but observe that the negroes, above all the human species I ever knew, have an ear for music, and a kind of ecstatic delight in Psalmody; and there are no books they learn so soon, or take so much pleasure in, as those used in that heavenly part of divine worship. Some gentlemen in London were pleased to make me a private present of these books for their use, and from the reception they met with, and their eagerness for more, I can easily foresee how acceptable and useful a large number would be among them. Indeed nothing would be a greater inducement to their industry to learn to read, than the hope of such a present, which they would consider both a help and a reward for their diligence.
“I hardly know of any modern institution which bears so favourable an aspect on the declining interests of religion as your Society. They deserve the pleasure of hearing the happy effects of their generosity at the distance of four thousand miles, in these ends of the earth, and it is no small happiness to me that the strictest veracity allows me to transmit so agreeable an account. Thus may the inhabitants of Great Britain receive blessings in answer to prayers put up for them in America, where I am sure they have many affectionate intercessors, amongst whom be pleased to number Your sincere and much obliged friend,
The preceding letter was preserved by Gillies; and from him we learn that the correspondent of Mr. Davies was so delighted with the communication that he sent a copy to a friend with the following sentiment“My soul triumphs in the thought of an African church formed and raised in the deserts of America, nor can I wonder that my worthy friend esteems his congregation adorned with these outcasts of the earth, as they appear to others, now flying as a cloud, and flocking into Christ as doves to their windows. The thought of such an auditory in the attitude he represents them, diligently attentive to every word they hear, and often bathed in tears, gives me a pleasure I cannot easily describe. O how I love their black faces! The members of our Society have generously given up the distributions which fell to their share to this important service.”
The members of the Society were so interested in this—“first attempt of this nature that has ever been made with any considerable success"—that collections were made to procure Watts' Psalms and Hymns, with other religious books, for distribution by Mr. Davies, in some measure according to his wants; and plans were proposed and sent to Mr. Davies in Hanover, the object of which was the obtaining, if practicable, some three or four young Africans who still retained their native language, were pious, and of good abilities, to be educated at the College in New Jersey, for the benefit of which large donations had been received in England, that they might become missionaries to Africa. The books reached America in due time; of their reception and disposition, Mr. Davies shall give an account in a letter preserved by Gillies, under date of March 2d, 1756. “ Dear Sir:--Your last letter, with the large donation of books that attended it, gave me the most agreeable surprise that ever I met with in my whole life. I speak the very'truth, sir, I did not think myself worthy in any measure to be the instrument of so much good, nor had I the least expectation, that a letter from my hand would ever be honoured with such extensive success. As an honour conferred upon me; as an evidence that the spirit of Christian charity is far from being extinct in your great metropolis, even in this infidel and debauched age; as a present advantage, and in the meantime a favourable omen with regard to futurity, to the neglected heathen slaves in this Christian country; as an acceptable offering to God; and as fruit that will abound to the account of the benefactors; in all these, and sundry other views, I rejoice in it, I feel that even a heart so insensible as mine, is not proof against the sensations of pious gratitude upon such an occasion. It has more than once cast me into the posture of adoration and praise before the throne of
grace, that I am not left unassisted in the delightful work. I dare say, some scores, both black and white, bond and free, concur with me in the most ardent returns of gratitude to the author of every good gift, for a charity of such extensive usefulness. And to you, dear sir, who have been so active in promoting it, and to other friends who have concurred in the same way,
my to the Society which gave so favourable a reception to my representation, and to all the contributors, whether within or without the Society, I return the most humble and affectionate thanks from myself, and from their many beneficiaries, who cannot write, nor make their acknowledgments themselves; and if the prayers of these poor strangers to the throne of grace, who have lately learned to bow and weep, and cry there, have any efficacy, your pious generosity will be rewarded an hundred fold, both in this and the future world. I count myself happy, sir, that I can retaliate you, and the other benefactors of this scheme, in that way, in which only you desire it, and that is by giving you an account of the distribution and acceptance of the books among those for whom they were intended; and this I shall do, with the utmost alacrity and cheerfulness to the best of my knowledge.
“My hurries of various kinds are so incessant, and my correspondence so extensive, that I have no leisure to take copies of my letters, and my memory can retain but a very general idea of them; therefore, if in comparing them, you find some mistaken references, defects or repetitions, you need not be surprised; but as far as I can recollect, I gave you a pretty full account in a former letter of the numerous African slaves in the colony, and now I only design to add a few particulars which are new, or did not then occur to my mind. When the books arrived, I gave public notice of it, after sermon, at the next opportunity, and desired such negroes as could read, and such white people as would make a good use of them, and were so poor that they could not buy.such books, to come to me, at my house, and I should distribute them amongst them. On this occasion I also enlarged upon a new topic of conviction, both to the slaves themselves and their masters. Since persons at so great a distance, who had no connection with them, were so generously concerned to Christianize the poor negroes, and had been at so much pains and expense for that end, then how much more concerned, how much more zealous, and industrious should their masters be, to whom the care of their souls as well as of their bodies is committed, and who enjoy the advantage of their laborious service ! and how much more ought the poor negroes to be concerned for themselves ? and how much more aggravated would be their guilt and ruin, if they persisted in obstinate infidelity and wickedness, after so much pains had been taken with them for their conversion ? This I found afterwards proved a very popular topic of conviction, and made some impressions upon the minds of not. a few.
“For some time after this, the poor slaves, whenever they could get an hour's leisure from their masters, would hurry away to my house, and receive the charity with all the genuine indications of passionate gratitude which unpolished nature could give, and which affectation and grimace would mimic in vain. The books were all very acceptable, but none more so than the Psalms and Hymns, which enable them to gratify their peculiar taste for psalmody. Sundry of them have lodged all night in my kitchen, and sometimes when I waked about two or three o'clock in the morning, a torrent of sacred harmony poured into my chamber, and carried my mind away to heaven. In this seraphic exercise, some of them spend almost the whole night. I wish, sir, you and their other benefactors could hear any of these sacred concerts. I am persuaded it would surprise and please you more than an Oratorio, or a St.. Cecilia's day. The good effects of this pious charity are already apparent. It convinces the heathen, that, however vicious and careless, about the religion they profess, the generality of the white people are, yet there are some who really look upon it as a matter of the utmost importance, and universal concern, and are actuated with a disinterested zeal to promote it. It has excited some of their masters to emulation, and they are ashamed, that strangers on the other side of the Atlantic, should be at pains to teach their domestics Christianity, and they should be quite negligent themselves. It furnishes the. most proper helps for such of the negroes as can read, and are piously disposed, and some of them are evidently improving in knowledge. It has excited others to learn to read; for as I give books to none but such as can read, and are piously