The Gospel
Study Guide


Negro Prayer Meeting In The Woods At Night

It is a common believe that slave religion or Christianity was practiced in the balcony of the slave master’s church. At these types of services slaves were reminded to serve their masters on earth before serving God. These people were uneducated but not stupid. This doctrine offered them no hope and encouraged them to accept their condition. When no action is taken to improve our lives we are faced with hopelessness and depression. Depression often results in poor judgment, a lack of patients and the existing condition is often worsened. Prayer nurtures hope by allowing us to take action in a hopeless situation. Prayer allowed them to petition to a power that they did not posses. Prayer gave them faith, courage and determination. They were then able to make the best use of their resources and circumstance.

New York Herald Saturday, January 28, 1804

Black prayer meetings however were prohibited throughout the South. The punishment for illegal prayer meetings was flogging. I have found no exception to this rule in the slave narratives. However, the slaves had a practice of “stealing away” to the woods to have their religious services. At these services they usually prayed for freedom and this is why they were outlawed.


“  Some, like niggers, just got to pray, half their life is in prayin Some nigger take turn with 'nuther nigger to watch to see if Marse Tom any wheres 'bout, and that they circle themselves 'bout on the floor in the cabins and pray. They they get to moanin' low and gentle, "Someday. someday, someday this yoke going to he lifted off'n our  shoulders, someday, someday, someday."“                        

                     William Moore, Bull Whip Days, p330


 “Marster neber 'low he slaves to go to chu'ch. Dey hab big holes out in de fiel's dey git down in and pray. Dey  done dat way 'cause de white folks didn' want 'em to pray. Dey uster pray for freedom. “

                  ELLEN BUTLER, Bullwhip Days, The Slaves Remember, J. Mellon, page 190


"We used to steal off to de woods and have church, like de spirit moved us--sing and pray to our own liking and soul satisfaction and we sure did have good meetings, honey-baptize in de river, like God said. We had dem spirit-filled meetings at night on de bank of de river, and God met us dere. We was quiet 'nuf so de white folks didn't know we was dere, and what a glorious time We did have in de Lord."



Steal a-way, steal_ a-way'                                                                                     steal_ a-way to Je-sus!                                                                                        steal_ a-way,                                                                                                      steal_ a-way home,                                                                                                   I ain't got long to stay here.                                                                                Steal_ a-way, steal_ a-way,                                                                                 steal_ a-way to Je - sus!                                                                                     steal_ a-way home,                                                                                                   I ain't got long to stay here.                                                                                    My Lord, He calls me,                                                                                           He calls me by the thun - der,                                                                                The trum - pet sounds with - in a my soul,                                                                  I ain't got long to stay here.

 J. W. Johnson & J. R. Johnson, American Negro Spirituals


“We never heared of no church, but us have prayin' in the cabins. We'd set on the floor and pray with our heads down low and sing low, but if the foreman heared he'd come and beat on the wall with the stock of his whip. He'd say, "I'll come in there and tear the hide off you back.  But some the old slaves tell us we got to pray to God that he don't think different of the blacks and the whites...“Once my maw and paw taken me and Katherine after night to slip to ‘nother place to a prayin’-and-singing’.  A nigger man with a white beard told us a day am comin’ when niggers only be slaves of God . We prays for the end of trib’lation and the end of beating’s and for shoes that fit out feet. "

Mary Reynolds


“They say that we can carry the song better than the white folks. Well, maybe we do love the Lord just a little bit better, and what’s in our mouth is in our hearts.”




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Revised: 07/18/08.