Restive Souls
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Restive Souls

Restive Souls Alternative History

From Plantation to Congregation: How Plantations Became Christian Sanctuaries in the 18th Century Carolina Union

By Emmet Bolo

The repeal of slavery by the British Crown through the Cornwallis Code in 1778 following the end of the Colonial Rebellion initiated a mass migration to the Carolinas so that by 1800 there were roughly 450,000 people of African descent in the Charleston environs alone. They came from the Caribbean, Africa, and the winter states of New England.

These migrants quickly spread out and overran the plantations that had dominated the Carolina provinces before the war. The skirmishes that resulted from this massive land transfer were not always bloodless, obviously. But many were, thanks to the efforts of people like Shyllandrus Zulu, who was instrumental in the spread of Christianity among the incoming migrants.

Much credit must also go to the Haitian maroon Guillaume Diderot, who linked up his followers with Zulu and other priests and priestesses to press the cause of pacifism among a newly freed, restless, and angry constituency.

Diderot helped set up some of the most expansionist Congregations in the early Carolina Union. These Congregations occupied plantation lands, and their economies attracted large numbers of migrants seeking work and spiritual welfare.

Congregations already had the advantage of established parishes in many parts of the East Coast, especially the Carolinas and Georgia. All Diderot did was seize local plantations, choose the best ones as seats of local government, and rename the parish to a Congregation, passing all control to the workers through a formal clergy and congregation-based jurisdiction. Larger plantations that did not serve as seats of local government became commercial and religious centers, with limited residential housing depending on the number of field hands. Often, field hands rotated with merchants from nearby cities so that congregants could establish versatile skill sets.

Of course, when we say Diderot did this or did that, we really mean his cohorts, since Diderot probably only oversaw the development of the All Saints Congregation, which became the most powerful Congregation on the Eastern Seaboard in the 19th Century as well as a template for many Congregations throughout the Union.

It’s fair to say that many freed slaves were itching for a fight, and they sometimes satisfied their urges with aggressive expansion into plantation lands. The confiscation of plantation lands could be quite brutal, and it was rare for a plantation owner, badly outmanned if not outgunned, to go down quietly. Migrants from the West Indies occasionally added an edge to the violence because they saw in the rice, indigo, and emerging cotton plantations reminders of nightmarish conditions they had faced on the islands from which they had emigrated.

Diderot was not a particularly religious man, but he saw the bloodthirst in the people he led and considered the congregational system developing in cities like Christ’s Union and Philadelphia to be critical avenues towards establishing a peaceful society within their newly conquered lands. He was especially impressed with Richard Allen’s pacifist African Methodist Episcopal Congregation in Philadelphia, and he strived to link up each plantation with priests and priestesses who seemed to have sound spiritual grounding.

One of those was Shyllandrus Zulu, from the Vanguard of Mary Congregation, who played a key role in the growth of the All Saints Congregation, which was an umbrella Congregation for well over 150 smaller Congregations of various denominations in the low country of the Carolinas. Her spirituality was made famous in her religious novel, Time is a Lonely Hunter. Her pacifism and focus on education helped turn the All Saints Congregation from a collection of vengeful warlords into the most prosperous, egalitarian, and highly educated Congregation in the Union. Her election to the highest office in the land as Ecclesiastical Tribune of the Carolina Union in 1840 was the obvious reward, a reward, of course, she never sought.

Most plantations in the Carolina Union during the colonial era were owned by small farmers with five or fewer slaves. These were consolidated into larger entities, generally using larger plantations as a base. Farm to market routes were developed to link congregations with each other and those Native American tribal entities that hadn’t yet lost their land.

Congregations represented the first rejection of what might be termed the “corporate” interest that is prevalent in modern day Europe and most of Asia but was mostly taking hold in colonial days in the form of seafaring and trading companies that were little more than institutional pirate organizations whose main currency was subjugation.

Congregations ceded the purse string to the workers, as well as all power, with the only requirement being fealty to God and adherence to the social norms established by the Congregations, which ran the economies of the plantations and eventually the distribution and consumer sectors of regional economies. Their governance was not all that different from modern Congregations, although the clergy in power was much more difficult to remove compared to today.

The result was a comfortable standard of living for all workers, from field hands to blacksmiths to accountants.

While the earliest settlers primarily came from England, colonial Christ’s Union, then known as Charleston, was also home to a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. As now, Boston, Massachusetts, and Christ’s Union were sister cities, and after the war, Congregationalists often spent summers in Boston and winters in Christ’s Union, especially as Congregations solidified their power structures and expanded across regions. There was a great deal of trade with Jamaica, Bermuda, Cuba, and the rest of the Caribbean, and some people came to live in Christ’s Union from these areas even before the Great Migration. French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans migrated to the rapidly growing seacoast town, representing numerous Protestant denominations, as well as Roman Catholicism and Judaism.

Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that Christ’s Union eventually was home to, by the beginning of the 19th century until about 1830, the largest Jewish community in North America. The first Anglican church, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, was built in 1682 in Christ’s Union and became the center of the St. Philip’s Congregation, which was later absorbed by the All Saints Congregation during the Great Seacoast March led by Diderot and other mostly West Indian and African migrants.

Meanwhile, Afriker Christ’s Union residents helped establish the Old Bethel United Methodist Church in 1797 and the congregation of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church.

As a result of the large number of Sephardic Jews, although the Carolina Union Christian Bill of Rights explicitly limited Congregations to Christians, full congregational rights were granted to people of the Jewish faith, implicitly paving the way for freedom of religion.

Congregational fever spread through other lands of the Americas. In Jamaica, the infamous Albion plantation was overrun by its 400 plus slaves emboldened by events in North America. Other Jamaican plantations experienced a similar fate, including such large establishments as the Trinity, Esher, Heywood Hall, and Frontier plantations. Jamaican maroons, who were freed slaves working for the highest bidder, as it turned out, as mercenaries, became devoted evangelists to the congregant cause. The maroon sniper Captain Davy was said by Jamaican legend to have personally shot more than 20 plantation owners in Jamaica, but this number has never been confirmed by historians.

Haiti, of course, had its revolution, and although the leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint-Louverture, had little interest in the emerging congregational system in the Carolina Union, the Haitian empire found itself open to persuasion when the Seminole Nation’s Ransom Cane sent five naval gunships to help “influence” Haitian religious habits.

The conversion of plantations, which were, by design, odious sacraments to exploitation, into havens of spirituality and egalitarianism was possibly the greatest accomplishment of our recent ancestors. It set the tone for an entire nation. When one looks upon the great plantation houses of North America, we don’t see the blood or chains of slaves, but prayer houses, Congregational headquarters, libraries, museums, schools, and other buildings dedicated to the congregational mission. This was all accomplished through great sacrifice by others during a time where the direction of the nation was very much in doubt.

This is a part of the Restive Souls Series, a web-only utopian alternative history series.

We live in a dystopian world, so I’m offering up this utopian fiction via the novel-in-progress, Restive Souls, to reflect my belief that the empowerment of Blacks and other people of color will lead us to a better world. This story and others here are not part of the book.

To be notified of the novel’s release and/or progress, follow this publication, or, better yet, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Original image of “Shyllandrus Zulu” is derived from an original photograph by Breston Kenya from Pexels.



Website for my upcoming alternative history novel, Restive Souls. Here you will find related stories and information, including the cast of characters and “historical” background articles.

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Charles Bastille

Medium "Top writer" in humor, politics, and satire. Author of MagicLand: All stories © 2022-23 by Charles Bastille.