Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Lacy K Ford


This dissertation explores the interracial religious communities of antebellum South Carolina to highlight patterns of racial consciousness and nation-building and demonstrate that the southern path to modernity was much closer to that of their northern contemporaries than previously recognized. The ready-made system of human classification inherent in racial slavery did not insulate southerners from the modern impulses that transfigured northern racial relations; instead, this dissertation argues that Carolinians white and black, free and slave, participated in a discourse of religious modernization that redirected the potentially destabilizing social implications of evangelicalism and progress into an idealized community structure that served the spiritual needs of black Carolinians, yet also reinforced white supremacy and strengthened the institution of slavery. In response to the external challenge of antislavery and the internal challenge of African-American religious autonomy, white Carolinians invented a tradition of black dependence and parlayed this myth into a modern ethos of community: the bi-racial southern nation.

By following the course of race and community formation in South Carolina, the vanguard of proslavery argument and separatism, this dissertation demonstrates striking parallels of racial consciousness common to both northern and southern societies, but also that the racial dynamics of community formation played a formative role in the development of sectional consciousness. Charleston was not the most typical of southern scenes, but the processes of racial modernization that unfolded in the churches of the "Holy City" were common to many American cities, and the idealized social order modeled and reflected in the sacred spaces of her bi-racial churches provided the quintessential cultural validation for southern nationalism. The strong localized sense of community, modernized through the churches of Charleston over the course of a century, ultimately assumed a position of priority over the more distant imagined community of the United States and convinced most white Charlestonians to volunteer their lives, fortunes, and slaves to the cause of Civil War.

Included in

History Commons