This quarter in my PhD seminar I am studying the slavery discussion between Richard Fuller and Francis Wayland, Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution. My project is nearing its completion and in it I compare the aforementioned figures to other, more extreme positions in proslavery/ antislavery camps. One of the antislavery individuals I have been studying is John G. Fee.
Fee fascinates me for several reasons. First of all he reasons against slavery in a very overt and logical way. Wayland (my main antislavery figure) often seems a bit sheepish in that he does not want to offend slaveholders from his congregation in his discussions of slavery. Fee has no qualms about that, as he convinces his church to vote against allowing any slaveholders to partake in communion at his church.
Originally Presbyterian, Fee eventually left denominational Christianity because of the shackles it placed upon his ministry. Fee had a flourishing church in Kentucky of all places, focusing on convincing slaveholders of the errors and evil of slavery from behind enemy lines.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Fee’s life and ministry occurred when his church needed a new building. They voted to not have any “negro pews” in their church, advocating integration instead. This occurred in the 1840s! Fee argued that a person shall seat him or herself wherever he or she pleases regardless of skin color. See John G. Fee, Autobiography (Chicago: National Christian Association, 1891, 56-58.
Fee was brash, innovative, and a powerful preacher. I have been reading through Victor B. Howard’s work, The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste: The Life and Times of John G. Fee. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. I recommend this as a great resource for more on the life of this abolitionist preacher from Kentucky.
I am thankful that throughout its history, the church in America has had such minds as Fee’s who focused on the rights of people coming to worship the same God as those in power. The famous preachers during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s appear to have had a kindred spirit in John G. Fee in the mid 1800s.