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The Baptism of Early Virginia

, 240 pages

1 halftone, 1 line drawing

August 2012



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The Baptism of Early Virginia

How Christianity Created Race


In The Baptism of Early Virginia, Rebecca Anne Goetz examines the construction of race through the religious beliefs and practices of English Virginians. She finds the seventeenth century a critical time in the development and articulation of racial ideologies—ultimately in the idea of "hereditary heathenism," the notion that Africans and Indians were incapable of genuine Christian conversion. In Virginia in particular, English settlers initially believed that native people would quickly become Christian and would form a vibrant partnership with English people. After vicious Anglo-Indian violence dashed those hopes, English Virginians used Christian rituals like marriage and baptism to exclude first Indians and then Africans from the privileges enjoyed by English Christians—including freedom.

Resistance to hereditary heathenism was not uncommon, however. Enslaved people and many Anglican ministers fought against planters’ racial ideologies, setting the stage for Christian abolitionism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using court records, letters, and pamphlets, Goetz suggests new ways of approaching and understanding the deeply entwined relationship between Christianity and race in early America.

Rebecca Anne Goetz is an associate professor of history at New York University.

"Goetz has done an impressive job bringing religion to the center of the historiography on race, and her study is a must-read for all scholars interested in the development of race and the role of Protestantism in the Atlantic world."

"In a compact 173 pages, Goetz links race and religion in colonial Virginia in ways that few other scholars have even attempted."

"This is impressive scholarship grounded in letters, pamphlets, court records, colonial statutes, and a wide array of additional archival and secondary sources... It is a book that will find ready readership in graduate seminars, seminaries, and undergraduate classrooms."

"Professor Goetz... is to be warmly applauded for having produced a work of such methodological scope and intellectual sophistication, a most persuasive work that ranks as a major contribution to the field."

"Goetz posits her thesis in a history of England and Colonial Virginia, providing necessary context while educating readers in the general narrative of English and Virginia history."

" The Baptism of Early Virginia offers a significant contribution to the growing historiography of religion in colonial Virginia... Goetz's provocative work raises a number of questions... Even if Goetz does not always address these questions, her radical rethinking of religion in colonial Virginia will surely help others answer them. The Baptism of Early Virginia is an important book."

"Though much has been written about the complex legal and social construction of race in the seventeenth-century Anglo-Atlantic, Goetz's account of the role of religion in that process is the most thorough yet."

"A major contribution to this rich field of historical inquiry."

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