I recently purchased African American Readings Of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation, by Lisa M. Bowens, Emerson B. Powery and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. Beginning in the 1700’s, this book draws from personal narratives and historical accounts to uncover the religious dynamics of various eras in American history, focusing on how African Americans have handled the writing of the Apostle Paul in the face of often terrible misuses from the white population around them.
Today I was reading a section recounting incidents from the life of John Jea as compiled in his narrative The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, The African Preacher. Compiled and Written by Himself (1811). Like all the stores from the slave era, it’s a heartbreaking read. The physical violence, dehumanization and humiliation coupled with purported ministers of the gospel butchering the Bible to enable slavery is really hard (but important) to read. One thing that stands out is how God brought the truth of His Word to life to the enslaved even in the midst of such overwhelming misrepresentation.
Jea was born in 1773 in Old Callabar, Africa. He and his family were stolen, shipped to America, and sold as enslaved Africans in New York to a Dutch couple. The following contains excerpts pulled directly from the book. I am italicizing only Jea’s entries so as not to cause confusion with the book’s additional commentary.