African-American Christians in Colonial America

Who led sustained efforts to convert slaves to Christianity?

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), headquartered in London, was a missionary movement that systematically sought to evangelize and teach among slaves. The organization made the first sustained effort to convert African Americans to Christianity in 1701. Its success was largely due to Thomas Bray, who in 1695 became commissary in Maryland. The SPG was financially independent of churches in the colonies. In the eighteenth century, Maryland and Virginia saw the Anglican Church firmly established, and the SPG developed an overarching plan to influence the church’s outreach to all colonies. These missionaries had little success among the Africans; many blacks mocked those who imitated the whites too closely, and thus resisted the missionaries. In addition, white slave masters often resented losing slaves’ time to church services and feared that slaves would lay a claim to freedom through conversion.


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