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A Murderous preacher: lessons from the crimes of an extreme Baptist.

Peter, the murderous preacher of this tale, was not just a Baptist; he was a faith doctor, an "ultra" Calvinist, and a slave living in the frontier region of southwest Missouri. How he came to murder three of his own children and his owner's wife is a complicated tale told by the Rev. Perry B. Marple in a sermon delivered on May 26, 1848, to the crowd outside the Dade County [Missouri] Court House. The assembled crowd was present to watch the spectacle of Peter's execution, but Rev. Marple assumed they were also in need of an authoritative explanation for this outburst of family violence. Consequently, the minister focused on explaining how such acts could have been committed by a respected figure in their community and what moral lessons his listeners could draw from the case. (1)

The actual killings were very bloody. The printing of Marple's sermon may have been calculated to profit from readers drawn to the case by curiosity, who wanted to see how Rev. Marple's description matched what they had heard about Peter's attack on his small children. The details provided were graphic and poignant; first, Peter "took up Mark, a boy about three years of age, and, after kissing him, buried a razor in his neck," the result of which was, "after some struggles, he died." Terrified by what they had just watched, the two older boys, Eli (age 8) and John (age 6), begged to live, but submitted to blindfolding when told that both parents would die with them. When shots to the boys' heads only injured them, Peter quickly used a razor to cut their throats. (2)

The murderer then turned on himself. Failing to do much damage with either a muzzleloader or pistol, Peter then snatched up the already bloody razor, making messy but ineffective cuts around his neck and throat. Grabbing a dull knife, Peter was trying to finish the jobs when he was interrupted by the arrival of his master, James Douglass, who had heard the gunshots. Peter had enough strength to quickly down the elderly man, bashing Douglass's head with the barrel of a shotgun. With Mr. Douglass down, Mrs. Douglass arrived at the scene, only to be beaten to the floor also. She might have survived the bludgeoning had not Peter returned from giving chase to his wounded master and found her stirring, something he stopped with a second, final beating.

The task of the minister in his carefully prepared, two-hour sermon was to explain this bloody horror. Yet, including a sermon in the 1848 execution ritual of the slave Peter, followed by the request of twenty-six leading citizens that this address be published, called attention to a kind of slave behavior whites generally kept secret. Slave violence was usually hushed because whites feared the news might inspire other slaves to similar actions and because such rebellion contradicted the widely held belief that slaves were content. (3) These citizens of Dade County, Missouri, acknowledged the unusual nature of their request, but they argued with some pride that the sermon was worthy of publication as a novelty, "the only oration of the kind ever delivered in South West Missouri." (4)

Ignoring the possibility that publicity about Peter might inspire further violence, these pioneer settlers-citizens instead believed the address would benefit potential readers, many of whom had attended the execution but due to the large crowd did not actually hear the sermon. (5) Clearly, those endorsing the sermon saw the time spent in broadcasting it as a way of restoring, not undermining, order in their community. (6) Analyzing the contents of the sermon and the circumstances surrounding its presentation provides clues about what problems, which kinds of disorderly conduct, leaders saw as most threatening to Dade County in 1848. What they feared most was the disorder and division caused by "ultra" Calvinism, not by slaves or slave rebellion. Consequently, leaders endorsed Marple's explanation of Peter's crime as their own, seeing the sermon as a way to dramatize the dangers they associated with the anti-missionary controversy. Despite the reality that Peter's actions constituted a violent act of slave rebellion, Marple, as spokesperson for the county's political leaders, explained Peter's case, not primarily as a case of slave inferiority or the careless behavior of white owners, but instead as a lesson about the dangers of wrong beliefs, the "ultra" beliefs which were creating much more serious schisms in southwest Missouri than differences over slavery or political parties.

Comparing Peter's case with similar cases from elsewhere in Missouri and other slave states suggests why Dade County whites were unconcerned about publicizing slave violence. Their reasons included the smallness of the slave population in southwest Missouri, the unusual character and work record of the slave Peter, and a concentrated effort on the part of leading whites to turn Peter's crime into a lesson on white sin and crime. As the sermon's negative references to Calvinism imply, conflict between "ultra" Calvinists, as Rev. Marple labeled Peter, and other kinds of Christians was a much greater threat to community than any debate about slavery. The differing religious affiliations of the criminal, a Calvinist Baptist, and those moderate Baptists and Cumberland Presbyterians presiding over his execution suggest that that the larger, more serious conflicts dividing the community were not slavery, but related in some way to religious affiliations.

Leading citizens, including the judge and sheriff presiding over Peter's trial, those most responsible for order, presided not just over the trial and execution, but over the selection of Rev. Marple to preach the execution sermon. Together, these community leaders worked to transform Peter's crime and public execution into a drama depicting the dangers of extreme Calvinism, the doctrinal belief which fired up adherents to anti-missionary beliefs. If community leaders could discredit the central belief of extreme Calvinists, they would be controlling, stopping up the growing influence of this frontier religion, notable and trouble some for its hostility to missionary activity and the regional associations of churches that supported missionaries, new churches, and church growth in southwest Missouri.

Slavery in Southwest Missouri

One reason whites in Dade County were open in discussing slave violence was the demographic fact that both slaves and slave violence were rare in the county and region. None of the published works on slavery in Missouri mention either Dade or its surrounding counties, although some studies mention counties with as few as 1,400 slaves. (7) White settlement dated back only into the 1830s. Dade County the area was not formed into a county until 1841, about the time when James Douglass and his slave Peter moved there from Tennessee. In 1848, Dade County was still a frontier community, with undeveloped acreage greater than its farm land. Little of the land was devoted to tobacco or hemp--the two Missouri crops most apt to employ slave labor. In the Dade County population of 4,246, less than 6.5 percent or 275 individuals, were black. (8)

While farmers in two neighboring counties grew tobacco, hemp, and even a little cotton as cash crops for the market, Dade County farmers were much more heavily invested in raising livestock and produce. Corn, oats, and wheat were all-important grain crops, with potato and tobacco production also important and supplemented by the household production of butter, cheese, honey, and wool. (9) More children assisted their parents with farm and household chores than attended one of six small grammar schools in the county, and residents had to venture outside the county to find grist or saw mills. (10) The rugged terrain, smallness of farms, and traveling distance from major markets made slave labor of limited use, and those who did own slaves employed them in farming and household tasks. So while slaves were not the usual source of labor throughout the county, those who did work in the county presumably handled a variety of tasks. In this regard, James Douglass, Peter's master, followed local custom when he allowed his slave, unsupervised, to hire himself out to a series of area residents.

Hiring out was common in Missouri, since it allowed masters greater flexibility and profits from their investment in slaves. But because Missouri leaders believed, along with lawmakers from other slave states, that controlling the behavior of blacks was in the community interest, state slave codes required both local authorities and slave owners to regulate the hiring out process. Unless slaves obtained written permission from master or overseer, statutes prohibited any kind of independent movement by slaves, regardless of whether it involved their assumption of extra tasks for cash or movement to another location for work. Unauthorized meetings of slaves and free blacks were prohibited, and even the permissible assembly of blacks for church services was circumscribed by laws forbidding blacks from disturbing any religious assembly. (11) Each of these laws regulated both slave and master's behavior, although the usual penalty for masters in violation was a small fine; that for disorderly slaves was a whipping of ten to thirty lashes.

Despite the strictness of these Missouri slave codes, evidence for enforcement is spotty. Owners did not always provide the legal permissions necessary to ensure that their slaves were not picked up by slave patrols or other citizens eager to report violations and collect the legally prescribed informer's fee. Hiring of slaves by nonslaveholders remained common, although quantifying this labor practice is difficult because census takers did not distinguish between owners and renters. Renting was common because it often brought the owner more income than what the slave could earn on the home place. Also, white labor was virtually non-existent, and many who could not afford to buy could hire some- one else's slave. (12)

Peter's Work History and Character

In hiring out Peter to labor for his neighbors, the elderly James Douglass was not breaking with custom. Rather he was acting sensibly, adding to his income, and easing his own responsibility of supervision by following this common labor pattern. While the minister presiding at Peter's execution never challenged the practice of hiring out slaves, he did suggest that masters who hired out slaves were frequently lax in their supervision of those servants.

Peter's work pattern seems similar to that of the young Frederick [Bailey] Douglass in Baltimore. There the master, because Frederick paid him a fixed weekly wage, allowed his slave to make his own work arrangements. (13) While we do not know James Douglass's specific arrangements for hiring out Peter, Rev. Marple notes that Peter worked for a variety of individuals and was so well known and respected among whites that his frequent visits to households and farms never aroused suspicion, much less resulted in punishment. Frequently, he paid his master for an entire year's labor, with his master in return allowing Peter freedom to make his own work arrangements. Indeed, Peter had gone to a white neighbor to talk over conflicts with his owner, James Douglass, without arousing any fears concerning Peter's potential for violence. Nor did James Douglass himself seem to fear Peter gaining knowledge of a plan to sell either Peter or some of his family.

Peter may have gained many privileges both because he was skilled and respected and because the few slaves in the area lulled authorities into erratic enforcement of the state's slave code. Even prior to his arrival in southwest Missouri, Peter had masters who allowed him choices about his living and work situation. Peter had been born in Kentucky in 1808. When just six years old, Peter moved with his master to Tennessee. There the master died, leaving Peter to his son, Phelix Owen. Young Owen allowed Peter to purchase his own time, which was used to trade "with those of his color, and with those of no color." When economic necessity required the sale of some slaves, this master allowed Peter to chose whether he would be sold along with his wife and two children or remain with Owen in Tennessee. Marple was critical of Peter's unnatural choice, family separation, but noted Peter was allowed at least one trip, "a distance of some 260 miles," to see his wife and children. James Douglass also allowed Peter enough freedom for the slave to develop a varied and profitable trading network. (14)

A second reason Peter was allowed more freedom than was usual in many slaveholding districts was that he had developed skills widely valued by whites. Peter pleased his trading customers, whom the Rev. Marple reported found Peter "honest in his transactions, and punctual in his promises." He also pleased patients, many of whom sought out Peter's cures because his reputation as a "faith doctor" was "extraordinary," among "those of his own color," "the lower order of the whites" and "persons of intelligence and distinction." His medical practice enlarged Peter's trading network, with Rev. Marple noting that when Peter brought medicines to homes, he traded other goods with his clients. (15)

Peter's status as a Baptist preacher elicited confidence in him and contributed to the liberty he was granted to trade and heal. Living in a frontier community in which churches and church attendance were not the norm, Peter's strong religious values and character elicited respect, especially among the leading members of the community. Here Rev. Marple's comments, based on numerous conversations with Peter as he waited for his execution, are detailed and complimentary. Marple describes Peter's conversion at age eighteen as involving "deep penitence" and providing the convert with a firm "hope in Christ." Soon after conversion, Peter joined a local church, gaining acceptance as a "colored preacher."

Given the serious crimes to be explained, Marple seems reluctant to endorse Peter's character without reservation, but admitted that whites accepted him as a good person: "making high pretensions to sanctity, he was soon noticed by persons of no color, whose good opinion he seldom failed to procure." Peter's ability to control his work and movements in the community seems the result not just of a master's benevolence or skills as a healer and businessman, but also because of the slave's pleasant manner and unblemished reputation. As Marple told his audience, pointing at the condemned prisoner, here is a person whom most would, based on appearance, "pronounce ... a good-sensed, unsophisticated, honest-hearted man." Even facing death, Peter appeared "candid, open and intelligent," with "full and expressive" eyes indicative of a "mild and humorous" temperament. Marple also hints that some of this positive evaluation was because Peter was a mulatto; for the minister described the slave as having a "head, unlike the general mass of his color ... of Grecian form." (16)

Consequently, Peter's relative freedom of movement seems a product of these factors: his respectful and mild demeanor toward whites, his religious character, his skills in business and medicine, and his luck in being owned by masters who saw the profits of his self-supervised work as falling largely into their own pockets. These circumstances worked to relax any concerns in the white community about Peter's frequent visits to households throughout the area.

"Undue Indulgence by Masters"

Difficult to explain, both for the historian and Peter's contemporaries, is why this exemplary slave turned violent. Marple considers several possibilities, each of which help explain the interest of the white community in publishing the minister's version of events. First, Marple argues that Peter's masters "corrupted" him with "undue indulgence." This apparent kindness encouraged his independent movements and fostered the wrong-headed thinking that led to Peter's violence. According to Marple, the master's most egregious act of indulgence was giving Peter a choice about his sale into the deep South, and then allowing Peter to travel the length of Alabama to his family for a visit of open-ended duration. Even more problematic was Peter's inappropriate participation in the decision to sell only part of his family. According to Marple, this kindness of the master led Peter into concluding "that he would never be sold [except] ... by his own consent." When Peter was sold to another Tennessee master, James Douglass, Peter consented because he was promised that the will of this new but elderly owner provided for his manumission. Peter also tried to earn more than the required annual payments to his master, saving profits so that he could gain freedom sooner, a dream that Marple agreed was encouraged in Peter by both masters. While we might not see this kindness as the cause of Peter's discontent, Marple is correct on one point: the freedom of movement allowed Peter by his masters and the surrounding white community did increase his discontent with his position as a slave.

How unhappy Peter had grown is impossible to judge, although Marple contended that hearing about plans to sell Peter was what pushed the slave into a suicidal depression. Given that slaves frequently played multiple and quite different roles with whites than within their own families, (17) one might suspect that Peter's humor, honesty, and pleasant demeanor hid from his white audience both worries about his growing family and how they might all gain legal freedom. The lesson for Marple's audience was clear: "There is nothing [more] calculated ... to corrupt the mind of a slave than undue indulgence." To overindulge a slave, Marple explained, was comparable to spoiling a child. Neither child nor slave had sufficient maturity or education "to appreciate the indulgence and improve." That Peter was immature and spoiled, Marple argued, should have been clear as soon as he refused to be sold south with his family and instead sought the additional privilege of traveling to Alabama to visit his wife and children. (18)

Not only did his masters unwisely indulge Peter's desire for liberty; their laxness meant that he was rarely disciplined. Consequently, he never developed a disciplined plan for saving money. Peter's trading skills were real, but Marple argues the slave failed to save as much as he could have toward his own purchase price. He did not imply that Peter could have earned his own purchase price, but that with better training and discipline he would have saved more. Marple linked this limited discipline back to another more basic cause of Peter's rebellion, a lack of moral education.

This problem was clearly something Marple's hearers might recognize as theirs also, for without such training, neither they nor Peter had power "to resist such powerful tendencies to corruption. Masters would do well to look to this--and while they would extend the privileges of their servants, let them redouble their efforts in the development of their moral and mental natures." (19) Business failures, fairly common in frontier Missouri, could result from a similar moral failure in parents to provide their children with moral education.

More Moral Lessons

Marple aimed the longer parts of his sermon more directly at the general, nonslaveholding public, To convince them that Peter's story contained moral lessons for all, Marple emphasized that Peter was not just an unusual slave, corrupted by indulgent masters, but a human, sharing common traits with whites and blacks. Rejecting any notion that Peter's basic nature was different from that of other criminals, sinners, or humans in general, Marple asserted that understanding Peter's crime would help members of his audience avoid falling into similar sins.

Marple judged insanity to be a human failing. He complicated (or confused) Peter's case by exploring at length the possibility that Peter the murderer was insane, as his defense attorney had argued, and therefore not responsible for his actions. A plausible explanation for Peter's transformation to murderer, insanity was something Marple could also link to his general audience, since they too might be susceptible to the weaknesses that led Peter to murder.

Here Marple's argument explicitly countered the growing trend among some Southerners and medical men writing about race, many of whom had accepted the plural origins theory and its assumptions that only whites had descended from Adam and Eve, while Africans had descended from orangutans. (20) Marple made clear that all humans could learn from Peter's case, even though Peter was "a negro, a slave, unlettered and unrefined ... [and] a culprit, condemned for the darkest deeds known." Marple argued that Peter was "nevertheless a human; and as such, a fit subject for reflection." (21) Having established that Peter shared basic human qualities with whites, Marple analyzed where Peter himself went wrong, so as to warn anyone among his audience who might also fall into delusions as terrible as Peter's.

Many pages of the published sermon discuss definitions of insanity and legal precedents in which the insanity defense was used. For Marple and his backers, discrediting the insanity plea was necessary if the community was to accept the verdict. Perhaps community leaders sensed sympathy for Peter, rooted in the view of some, who saw the murders as wholly inexplicable, and therefore insane behavior. And so Marple discussed and discarded, one by one, a dozen examples of the insanity defense, and in doing so undercut the belief of anyone still wondering if Peter might really be "not guilty by reason of insanity."

Regardless of appearances, Marple argued, a father who murders his children is both sane and morally responsible, though clearly morally insane--an important distinction to Marple in the legal precedents he cites. Summarizing numerous cases from British legal history, but including few direct references to Peter's case, this section of Marple's sermon is the least persuasive, particularly since the section ends abruptly with Marple's description of Peter's wild, distracted appearance at the time of his arrest. (22)

While Marple agreed with the court's judgment, that Peter was sane and responsible for his crimes, the minister still voiced his opinion that Peter's symptoms of insanity were "spontaneous," not faked. So how could Peter be responsible for murder? Marple suggested that Peter was disturbed (avoiding the term "insane") because of the "circumstances of the murders, the arrest, and imprisonment" and thus was temporarily insane as "the consequences and not the cause of his perpetrations." (23)

Having made clear his affirmation of the court's verdict, Marple elaborated on the lessons for everyone in this case, discussing which factors made a sane, apparently good and Christian man turn into a serial murderer. First, Marple noted that judging good, moral character can be tricky. He argued that those with outwardly good character were just as likely as obvious sinners to fall into crime: Peter did not murder as part of a natural or gradual progression from "busy-body," "evil-doer," or thief to murderer. (24) Rejecting what he labels a deist idea, that temperament determines who will murder, Marple drew back from the ultra-Calvinist assumption that some persons could by nature or predestination be murderers. Instead, He emphasized environmental factors, suggesting that "any man who, under a powerful combination of circumstances ... may become a murderer." Even good discipline and moral and intellectual training, the kind of moral education Peter never received, could not insure that a good person would never, at one weak moment, yield "unreservedly and continuously to temptation." (25)

Having established this general principle that murderers make choices and are therefore responsible for their crimes, Marple then described how Peter was ruined morally by a combination of temptations and wrong choices. The freedom Peter's masters allowed was a temptation, one for which Marple judged several whites responsible since they had all fostered rebelliousness by speaking to Peter with inappropriate familiarity: "for persons of no color to place a slave upon the same footing as themselves ... they bring the entire white class into disrepute." Such familiarity fostered "subordination" and quickly "the gates to corruption, insurrection and crime, are thrown asunder. (26) These "improper associations" between whites and blacks, Marple insisted, were part of the circumstances tempting Peter into rebellion and murder. Ordinary folk, then, were as responsible as masters for avoiding such relationships.

Ultra-Calvinism the Root Cause of Murder

What distinguished Marple's analysis of Peter's crime most from other, more general discussions of slave/master relations, however, is the very last reason he gave to explain Peter's moral insanity, the sudden turn to crime. Marple closed his sermon by arguing that Peter became a murderer because of his "ultra" Calvinist beliefs. Disavowing any sectarian interest in theology, Marple explained that Peter believed himself not guilty of murder because "God foreknew before he was born what he would do, and if he foreknew it that it had to come to pass, and that he therefore was guilty of no wrong..... He said that he had found favor with God many years before, and that nothing he had done or could do since his conversion, could possibly forfeit his soul's salvation." (27) While Marple did believe murderers could be saved, by repenting and accepting forgiveness from God, he reiterated his belief in human responsibility: murderers like Peter could not rely on a previous conversion experience for their salvation. Marple concluded that Peter's conversion, if real, would have prevented his crimes. (28)

Knowing the religious context in which Peter lived provides important clues about why Marple and community leaders felt so strongly about "ultra" Calvinism. Rev. Marple was Methodist, and as such a missionary for a growing and popular denomination, but one which in Dade County could not establish a congregation until well after the Civil War. Marple's supporters were not Methodists, but county notables, including the judge and sheriff who presided over Peter's trial and execution. Why did they, as Marple tells us they did, ask a Methodist to help make sense out of Peter's murders, trial, and execution? Those concerned to make a moral lesson out of Peter's trial and execution were also church members, either Cumberland Presbyterians or Missionary Baptists, churches that had adopted a milder form of Calvinism than Peter's "ultra" version. (29) As churchmen and county leaders they believed that the liberties taken by ultras like Peter undermined their efforts to organize county institutions, churches included. Consequently, they saw missionary work as good and necessary and the antimissionary teachings of Baptists like Peter subversive of their efforts.

Whether or not Peter was a member of one of several antimissionary congregations in the region, Rev. Marple and his supporters understood the ideological link between Peter's ultra-Calvinism and the resistance of antimissionary Baptists to authorities. As community leaders, Marple's endorsers saw the refusal of antimissionary, ultra-Calvinists to participate in annual meetings or regional missionary ventures as part of a more general resistance to the banking, legal, and religious institutions they saw as bringing moral order in the new country in which they were pioneers and leaders.

Peter resisted his master's authority, and while he failed and became an object lesson for the community, the antimissionary "ultra" Calvinists of Sinking Creek Baptist Church were more successful resisters. Affiliates of the Sac River (antimissionary) Association in 1847, by the 1850s they had asserted even greater independence by associating with the distant Spring River Association, also antimissionary. Perhaps this continued resistance to organizing authorities, particularly those affiliated with both county government and missionary outreach, is why census takers in 1850 found seven Baptist churches scattered around the county, clearly the strongest showing of any denomination, but only one Baptist minister, one Methodist minister (but no Methodist church), four Christian ministers (but only two churches), and one minister for the central Cumberland Presbyterian church.

Without further analysis of the county's political climate and economic divisions, we should hesitate to accept as final this hypothesis: that Marple's unusual explication of Peter's murderous behavior is best explained by community fissures, seen at the time as a theological division. Those endorsing Marple's attack on Calvinism were the county's better sorts, those leaders who were quick to see the benefits of political and religious association and who wished to expose as dangerous religious beliefs, specifically those of the ultra-Calvinist variety, that went unchecked or unsupervised, the very condition in which anti-missionary churches prided themselves on living.

Antimissionary Baptists blocked or slowed growth of Baptist churches in the region, resisting campaigns for regional cooperation and persisting in a formal association with the geographically distant Salem Association. Missionary Baptists were divided also, with allegiances among several overlapping associations. (30) Despite the several Baptist, two Cumberland Presbyterian, and two Christian congregations meeting in the county in 1850, actual church buildings could accommodate only 501 of the county population of 4,246. (31)

As the lone Methodist missionary in the county, Marple must have been grateful for support from community leaders of both Baptist and Presbyterian persuasion. He carefully distanced himself from the notion that salvation was ensured by a one-time conversion at a frontier revival meeting, a form of service which by 1848 was commonly viewed as a religious form marked by a mixed moral record. Marple's care to show off his learning, to not offend the very slaveholders he was accusing of inappropriate behavior, and especially his concern to affirm the established racial and social order of servants, lesser whites, and "respectable" whites suggests one feature that community leaders in Dade County shared with evangelicals of the previous generation. Like the southeastern seaboard ministers described by Donald Matthews as leaders in their communities, Marple and his supporters were currying favor with the respectable class in order to exert more evangelical influence in politics and society in general. (32)


(1.) Unless otherwise noted, the source for Peter's story is a printed sermon, found in Slavery Pamphlets, Vol. 2, Ohio Wesleyan University Rare Book Archives; Rev. Perry B. Marple, Funeral Address on the Occasion of the Execution of Peter, Slave of James Douglass, Who Murdered Three of His Children, Attempted Suicide by Cutting His Throat, Feloniously Assaulted His Master, and Murdered His Mistress (Springfield, Mo.: E. D. M'Kenney, 1848).

(2.) Marple, 6-8.

(3.) There is a large literature dealing with slave insurrections, most of which is discussed in Winthrop Jordan's analysis of an 1861 plot by Mississippi slaves to murder their masters, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek: An Inquiry into a Civil War Slave Conspiracy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993). See also Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York, 1943); also Richard Wade, "The Vesey Plot: A Reconsideration," Journal of Southern History, 30 (May 1964). For the notion that slaves were content, see Thornton Stringfellow, Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery (1856); also Eric L. McKitrick, Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963). See also Part IV, "Has `American Slavery' been an Evil to our Negroes Themselves?" in Slavery. A Treatise, Showing That Slavery Is Neither a Moral, Political, nor Social Evil (Penfield, Ga.: Benj. Brantly, 1844), 36-40.

(4.) Marple, ii.

(5.) The reluctance of most slave owners to write, much less publish, anything about slave violence has made incidents of rebellion very difficult for historians to trace; see Jordan, Tumult and Silence, chapter 6, "The Trials," in which Jordan discusses the extralegal proceedings that led to the hanging of slaves near Natchez, Mississippi.

(6.) The printed sermon is twenty-eight pages, most of which take four minutes to read, suggesting the public delivery of the sermon took at least 112 minutes.

(7.) Robert W. Duffner, "Slavery in Missouri River Counties, 1820-1865" (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri, 1974), 13 (Table 4), does not include Dade County in his list of counties with large slave population in 1850. See also Harrison Anthony Trexler, Slavery in Missouri, 1804-1865 (1914; reprint, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1962), particularly the section on slave codes and slave court cases, 57-79. Also R. Douglas Hurt, Agriculture and Slavery in Missouri's Little Dixie (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1992), which charts all Missouri counties in terms of their slave population, xii.

(8.) The census taker counted 21,463 improved and 36,850 unimproved acres. This and other compilations from the 1850 census come from J. D. B. DeBow, The Seventh Census of the United States: 1850 (Washington: Robert Armstrong, 1853), 675-81. Table IV shows only six "free coloreds" listed among the "colored" of the county.

(9.) Seventh Census, Table XI, 675-81.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri (St. Louis: A. Fisher, 1845), see chapters 72, 129, and 167-69.

(12.) Hurt, 238-43, notes that rental rates varied but were approximately 20 percent cheaper than hiring white laborers; that by 1850, annual hire (or serial monthly hire) of a slave cost about $200 for a skilled slave. It is unclear whether or not Peter had a skill like carpentry which would have brought this kind of "rent." For more on hiring prices, see Trexler, 31-32.

(13.) Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in The Classic Slave Narratives, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Penguin, 1987), chapter 10, 314-15.

(14.) Marple, 4.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Marple, 2-4.

(17.) For discussion of slave personality, see John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), chapter 8; also Herbert G. Gutman, "A Bicultural Model of Slave Behavior," in Major Problems in the History of the American South, Paul D. Escott and David R. Goldfield, eds. (Lexington, Mass: D. C. Health, 1990), 1: 325-30.

(18.) Marple, 20-21.

(19.) Ibid., 4, 21.

(20.) William Stanton, The Leopard's Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America, 1815-159 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960); and Thomas E Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963).

(21.) Marple, 1-2.

(22.) Marple, 15. The discussion of insanity takes eight pages of the sermon (9-16) and concludes with evidence for Peter's insanity, namely that when Marple "first saw the prisoner upon the street, under arrest, in the vehicle in which he was brought to jail, he was rather impressed with the idea that he might then be laboring under some delusion. This opinion was formed upon the peculiarity of the prisoner's gestures, an unnatural cant of the head, a singular quivering of the lips, and a wild expression of the eye. On one occasion soon after he was imprisoned, the speaker again witnessed similar symptoms, with an additional utterance of some unmeaning vocal sounds."

(23.) Ibid.

(24.) Marple takes these terms from the Christian Scriptures, 1 Peter 4:15, and suggests the usual path of crime begins with small sins and moves up to stealing and murder (16).

(25.) Marple, 16-18.

(26.) Ibid., 21.

(27.) Ibid., 23.

(28.) Ibid., 27-28.

(29.) Ten of the twenty-six people who endorsed Marple's sermon are names found frequently in History of Hickory, Polk, Cedar, Dade and Barton Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed, 1889) These endorsers included the sheriff, judge, and builder of the courthouse in which Peter was tried. The man heading Marple's list of endorsements was Matthias H. Allison, organizer of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

(30.) Angela Stiffler of the Partee Center, William Jewell College, directed me to the classic by R. S. Duncan, A History of the Baptists in Missouri (St. Louis: Scammell, 1882) and provided me with minutes for Sac River, Liberty, and Spring River association meetings. The sense of the far-flung, theologically-based connections favored by some Baptist churches of Dade County and vicinity is best captured in Duncan, 290-98; 435-50.

(31.) Seventh Census, 690, counts two Moravian, two Presbyterian, two Christian, and seven Baptist churches in the county. Ministers for all these denominations are noted in the manuscript census, but Marple is not listed. According to Susan Cohen, Methodist Archivist, Ohio Wesleyan University, he appears briefly in Methodist records. Most early Baptists in the county were Missionary Baptists, a regional split off the Tennessee Duck River Association of Baptists, and affirmed the importance of revival practices, something extreme Calvinists often saw as human interference in God's work. Missionary Baptists split from Duck River Baptists in 1843, who in turn had split from Elk River Association in 1825. That first split involved the Elk River [later Missionary Baptist] group disagreeing with the extreme Calvinism of the Elk River group; see Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States (New York & Nashville: Abingdon, 1956), 36-37. The best early history records only four churches in the county in 1848, two Presbyterian and two Baptist; History of Hickory, Polk, Cedar, Dade and Barton Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed, 1889), 483-87.

(32.) Donald G. Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1977), chapters 3, 4.

Deborah Bingham Van Broekhoven is executive director, American Baptist Historical Society, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Van Broekhoven, Deborah Bingham
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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