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Religion and Slavery

The official position of the Congregational and the Episcopal churches in 18th century Connecticut encouraged the education of slaves in order to teach them to read the Bible and prepare for conversion to Christianity. This mission, understood as a religious duty for members of the church, applied to the education and conversion of “Indians and Negroes”, enslaved and free, particularly after it was agreed in 1729 that conversion did not make slaves free. The Episcopal Church, for example, sent out 10,000 circulars on the religious importance of teaching and converting slaves, along with teachers and Bibles for the purpose. Theodore Morris, who preached in Derby and Waterbury, reported that he had baptized two adult Negroes. In 1738, the General Assembly in Connecticut authorized the baptism of infant slaves.

Once admitted into the church, African Americans took part in all church services, but did not vote on church discipline after 1743 in the Congregational Churches. Segregation in church seating and in burial sites within graveyards was practiced in some communities, partly out of racial prejudice and partly out of financial status.

In Waterbury, slave owners were prominent members of both the Congregational and Episcopal churches; nearly all of the ministers and several deacons owned slaves. The Congregational Church was the first church in Waterbury and was the only church until 1740, when Waterbury's Episcopal Church was founded. Relations between members of the two churches were generally amicable; during the 1750s, the wives of the two ministers were sisters. During the Revolutionary War, members of the Episcopal church sided with England, creating a fair amount of strife in the town; following the war, several Waterbury Episcopalians moved to Canada.

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