Jeremiah Bell Jeter, Enslavement and Race

Black and white headshot rendering of Jeremiah Bell Jeter.

For the 78 years between the birth of Jeremiah Bell Jeter (1802-1880) and the end of the Civil War, enslaved people were present in virtually every aspect of his life.1 Though he resisted aspects of enslavement while a young man, Jeter later developed justifications for “ruling” rather than freeing people. He described his reasoning as stemming from their interests and his own.2 By his 30s, he had become firm in his support of enslavement: he leased out those he held; transferred ownership of an enslaved child to a white child; offered a reward for the return of a man who escaped enslavement; and used his denominational, regional, and national platform to defend slavery. Elements of his approach to bondage and forced labor aligned with white paternalism and proslavery Christian views. He believed that Christianity subdued Black resistance by cultivating a deferential Black population that would not challenge white slaveholders and their interests.3 Like Richmond College president and First African Baptist Church pastor Robert Ryland (1805-1899), Jeter opposed state limitations on Black literacy and supported the access of enslaved and free Black people to religious services and reading material. As pastor of First Baptist Church, Jeter is credited for his work during the late 1830s and early 1840s to split the congregation into separate Black and white churches, something Black congregants attempted prior to Jeter’s tenure. His effort, however, was informed by his discomfort with the large number of Black congregants.4 The division resulted in an all-white First Baptist Church and the creation of First African Baptist Church, one of the largest congregations of Black people in the country.

In the years following the Civil War, while president of the Richmond College Board of Trustees, Jeter used his position as co-owner and senior editor of the nationally influential Religious Herald to bridge divisions between white Baptists in the North and South while publicly promoting views of “natural” Black inferiority and advocating for the exclusion of Black people from schools, churches, religious associations, and the electoral process, as well as the elimination of social mixing of the races that might lead to “mongrelization.”

A chronological compilation of examples of Jeter’s views on, advocacy and justification for, and personal involvement in enslavement can be found below. 

Childhood to 1828

Early Impressions and Opinions

Jeter traced the evolution of his support for slavery in an autobiographical essay. In his childhood, he had been horrified by “the recital of barbarity” inflicted on enslaved individuals: 

I grew up with a determination never to own a slave. Whether slavery was right or wrong, was a question which I did not consider. The management of slaves was attended with so much responsibility, care, and trouble that I was resolved not to be involved in it. They could not be profitably governed without firm authority, and its exercise was uncongenial with my taste and habits.6 

Jeter’s impression of enslavement changed in his early 20s, when he lived in the eastern Virginia residence of Nathan Chambliss (d. 1827), a prominent Baptist minister and enslaver of 14 individuals. Jeter recalled his impression that most enslaved people in the area were happy and well-treated, which he attributed to their value on tobacco plantations:

They were, with few exceptions, amply fed, comfortably clothed, well housed, not overtaxed in labor, and duly cared for in sickness and old age. Many masters seemed fully impressed with their religious obligations to their slaves, and aimed by their instructions, example, and prayers to lead them in the way of righteousness. In not a few families the relations between the masters and their families, on the one hand, and the slaves, on the other, were exceedingly pleasant. One knew not whether more to admire the condescension and kindness of the whites, or the affection and tractableness of the negroes.7 

Enslavers and post-Civil War defenders of slavery diminished the brutality and ever-present threat of violence and family divisions.


Marriage and Enslavement

May 1828

In spring 1828, Jeter enslaved a child named Peggy. It is not clear whether Jeter became Peggy’s enslaver through his short (1826-1827) marriage to his first wife, Margaret Waddy Jeter (1800-1827), but in 1828, Jeter transferred Peggy from his ownership to that of Frances M. James, his late first wife’s niece. Over an unknown period, Peggy had been living in the home of Jeter’s late wife’s sister, Elizabeth Waddy James. As a show of his “natural love & affection” for her daughter, Frances, he sold Peggy to the child in exchange for one dollar on May 19, 1828.8 

Handwritten deed on parchment signed by Jeter.
Deed recording Jeter’s transfer of Peggy to Frances M. James, May 19, 1828 (Courtesy of the Library of Virginia

A digitized version of the deed is available at the Library of Virginia.  

Jeter directly addressed the issue of enslaved persons brought through his marriage to his second wife, Sarah Ann Gaskins (1807-1847), in 1828. Upon their engagement, he learned that his future wife would bring to the marriage some of those her family enslaved. Jeter asked her to “get rid” of this unknown number of individuals beforehand, but she argued that while she agreed with Jeter’s preferences, those she held were “attached to her” and “she did not know how” to handle the issue. She agreed to let Jeter “dispose of them” as he wished following their wedding. He later recalled that he had weighed his options carefully and ruled out four possibilities:

  • Sending them to North—eliminated due to what he viewed as dangers along the way and the need for him to locate people to assist them;  
  • Selling or giving them away—eliminated because, according to him, they “earnestly protested”; 
  • Freeing them—eliminated because Virginia required that freed enslaved people leave the state, and he believed it “cruel” to free a mother with small children; and
  • Sending a group of them to Liberia—eliminated because, according to him, some of the wives of men he enslaved were held by others and he did not want to divide families, and if he sent the able-bodied men he enslaved, he would be left responsible for feeding and clothing their dependents without their labor generating income. Jeter viewed this option as “stretching my humanity quite beyond its power of endurance.”9

After a period of consideration, he decided to “hold and rule them, for their interest and my own,” arguing that any alternative to his assuming “the relation of master” would have been inhumane.10

Typed excerpt from Jeter’s book.
Excerpt from Jeter’s Recollections of a Long Life, 1891

1830 Federal Census Data

1840 Federal Census form showing handwritten entries.
Jeter’s Northumberland County entry in the Federal Census of 1830 (National Archives and Records Administration)

Jeter lived in Northumberland County in Virginia’s Northern Neck region when his household was enumerated as part of the 1830 Federal Census. He was married to Sarah Ann Gaskins Jeter at the time. 

The 1830 Federal Census shows seven enslaved people enumerated in Jeter’s household:

1 man (36-54)

1 woman (36-54)

1 child, adolescent or adult (10-23)

2 girls (under 10)

2 boys (under 10).11

No items found.

c.1832: The Aftermath of Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Engraving illustrating the capture of Nat Turner by a soldier in a wooded area.
“Discovery of Nat Turner,” from A Popular History of the United States, from the First Discovery of the Western Hemisphere by the Northmen, to the End of the Civil War, 1881

The collection of Jeter’s personal papers at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society contains Jeter’s thoughts on Nat Turner’s 1831 revolt in Virginia’s Southampton County. They are recorded in a draft response he prepared to an open letter by an unknown author which had been published in the Richmond Enquirer under the pseudonym “Humanitas.” While it is not clear whether Jeter’s response appeared in print, his draft addresses Humanitas’s insistence that enslaved people not be provided access to the language of the Bible, believing that scripture “raises their minds above the condition of life” and would lead them on a “more calamitous crusade” than that of Turner.12 

Jeter emphasized his support for the religious education of enslaved people and resisted the idea that exposure to biblical language should be replaced by “moral philosophy.” He argued that there was no danger of scripture leading “our negroes . . . on a calamitous crusade” and drew on scripture to argue that their religious instruction was centered on Christianity’s “plain, pure, & soul renewing principles.” The result of this approach was deference that aligned with white slaveholders’ interests:

They have been taught the evil of drunkenness, theft, lying, profanity, & sabbath breaking, the necessity of humility, meekness, & patience. They have been urged to be obedient unto their own masters; not answering again [talking back]; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity. . . . 13

Jeter distilled a key principle of proslavery Christianity, that religious instruction was a way of discouraging revolts rather than providing fuel for organized resistance: 

There are thousands of our slaves who under the benign reign of religion would shudder at the bare thought of being engaged in insurrectionary conflicts. Infidel negroes, who despise revelation, & [confuse?] the promises & invitations of the gospel, will prove a fruitful source, if not checked, for the producing of further insurrections.”14

As for Nat Turner himself, Jeter insisted that he “belonged to no religious sect” and simply disguised “his murderous designs with religious professions.”15

c. 1838-1841: Formation of First African Baptist Church

Jeter described his motivations for the racial division of First Baptist Church in one of his late life autobiographical sketches subsequently compiled in Recollections of a Long Life (1891). Referring to himself in the third person, he wrote of three reasons for the separation: 

The space allotted for their use in the house of worship was utterly insufficient for their accommodation. The style of preaching demanded by the white congregation was not well adapted to the instruction of the colored people. Besides, it was quite impossible for the pastor, with a large white congregation under his care, to pay much attention to the necessities of the colored portion of his flock.16 

Jeter advocated for the separation despite the opposition of “many pious people” and the “irreligious” who resisted any formation of a Black congregation, even if it was to be led by a white minister. These opponents, he wrote, “appealed to the fears excited by” Turner’s revolt, “and to the feeling of indignation prevailing against the abolitionists” in their efforts to prevent the formation of First African Baptist Church. Jeter described his pleasure at the growth of the white First Baptist congregation following the division and his belief that the separation had been his greatest achievement as the church’s minister.17

Henry “Box” Brown depicted emerging from a wooden crate.
“The Resurrection of Henry ‘Box’ Brown at Philadelphia,” 1850 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Henry Brown (c.1815-1897), later known as Henry “Box” Brown, was enslaved in Richmond when he was a worshipper at Jeter’s First Baptist Church and then, following the division, at First African Baptist Church led by Robert Ryland. Following the sale of his wife and children away from Richmond, Brown escaped by arranging to have himself shipped to the free state of Pennsylvania in a box. Brown included biting criticism of Jeter in his 1851 autobiographical narrative. He recalled that when Jeter took over the leadership of First Baptist “many of the slaves were running away to free states,” leading Jeter to “devise some plan by which the masters could more effectively prevent their negroes from escaping.” Brown described Jeter as having also been influenced by his discomfort at the large proportion of Black congregants, writing that Jeter did “not relish being in the same church with the negroes.” Jeter first convinced key figures at First Baptist that the church building was too small. Then he persuaded “negroes all round the district to believe that out of love for them, and from pure regard to their spiritual interests, it had been agreed that the old meeting house was to be given to the negroes for their own use.”18

Because the new all-white First Baptist Church demanded further payments for the older building after an initial sum was raised, enslaved and Free congregants of First African Baptist church repeatedly had to raise large amounts of money. They were:

thus provided with a strong motive for remaining where they were, and also by means of this pious fraud, which it afterwards proved itself to be, they were deprived of such little sums of money as might occasionally drop into their hands, and with which they might have been assisted in effecting their escape.19

1839: Temporary Attorney

Handwritten document signed by Lillard to Jeter.
Benjamin Lillard’s 1839 authorization of Jeter to act on his behalf and Jeter’s record of receipt of $650 compensation following Benjamin Puller’s execution (Courtesy of the Library of Virginia)

In 1839, Jeter acted as the temporary attorney for a man who received state compensation following the execution of a man he enslaved. Benjamin Puller escaped from his enslaver, Benjamin Lillard, sometime before November 1838. Puller stabbed a man he feared would return him to Lillard, which resulted in the man’s death. Puller was tried and convicted for murder, his “value” was determined by an appraiser, and he was executed in Winchester, Virginia. Lillard was entitled to $650 in compensation for lost property due to Puller’s execution. Jeter, acting on Lillard’s behalf, collected the payment from the Auditor of Public Accounts on January 19, 1839.20 The nature of the connection between Lillard and Jeter is unknown. The complete file of documents related to Jeter’s receipt of the payment has been digitized by the Library of Virginia and can be viewed here.


1840 Federal Census Data

Portion of census form showing handwritten entries.
Jeter’s Henrico County entry in the Federal Census of 1840 (National Archives and Records Administration)

Jeter lived in the city of Richmond (then part of Henrico County) during his 1840 household enumeration. In addition to Jeter and his wife, Sarah, a free Black woman (aged 55-99) and three enslaved individuals were enumerated in his household in 1840.

Enslaved individuals enumerated in Jeter’s household in 1840:

                 1 woman (55-99)

1 woman (24-35)

1 boy (under 10).21

1841: Thornton Stringfellow and Jeter’s Solidified Support for Slavery

Title page from Stringfellow book.
Thornton Stringfellow's 1841 A Brief Examination of Scripture Testimony on the Institution of Slavery (HathiTrust Digital Library)

Jeter described his support for enslavement during his mid- to late-30s as rooted in “necessity” and his belief that abolition “would be fraught with more mischief than good.” His support for slavery solidified with the scriptural assurances of Thornton Stringfellow, a fellow Virginia Baptist minister and temperance advocate, who was also a large-scale enslaver and vocal defender of slavery. In a series of essays published in the Religious Herald and republished in pamphlet form in 1841, Stringfellow referred to enslaved people as their “master’s money,” provided scriptural defense of bondage and forced labor, and used the absence of condemnation by Jesus and the apostles as an endorsement of “hereditary slavery,” the enslavement of children through the status of their mother.22 Stringfellow’s work convinced Jeter that “Scriptures were more favorable to slavery than I had been.”23 Jeter summarized the arguments that persuaded him:

Moses, under certain limitations, established slavery, with divine authority, in the commonwealth of Israel. It could not have been wrong. Christ and his apostles lived and labored in countries where slavery existed under Roman law; and though they dared to proclaim the most unwelcome truths, and reprove every kind of sin, at the peril of their lives, they neither spoke nor wrote a word in condemnation of slavery. More still: They pointed out the duties of masters and slaves precisely as they did those of parents and children, husbands and wives, ruler and subjects.24

Jeter came to believe that, while slavery may not always be right or “desirable,” it may, “like aristocratic, royal, and imperial forms of government, be allowable,” and “may, under some circumstances, belong to the best order of society that human, or even divine, wisdom can devise.” Jeter held in his post-war reflection on the subject that any possible justification for enslavement at any point in history would “lend its full force to the vindication of American slavery.”25

1843: Jacob Knapp and Davy

In 1843, Jeter and Archibald Thomas (1796-1861)—First Baptist Church deacon, Richmond College trustee, and Jeter’s close friend—invited well-known Northern Baptist minister Jacob Knapp to visit Richmond and preach at First Baptist Church. Knowing Knapp’s antislavery stance, they asked him to avoid the subject when addressing the congregation. After he refused, the two still extended the invitation. According to Knapp, they believed that once he saw Richmond he would abstain “from any interference in their ‘peculiar institution.’”26 After several weeks of preaching in the city, Knapp began making comments critical of slavery, which Jeter described as “impertinent allusions.” In the face of increasing outcry, Knapp left Richmond. He had stayed in the Jeter home during his visit and later wrote that as an enslaver Jeter was “raising boys and girls for market, like so many calves and pigs.”27 At one point during his stay, Knapp criticized Jeter for the clothes a man he enslaved was wearing. In one of his later autobiographical sketches, Jeter referred to this man as “Old Uncle Davy” and defended his treatment of him. He described the elderly man as “a slave almost entirely past service” whom he had come to own through marriage. Answering Knapp’s criticism, he insisted that Davy actually refused to wear better clothes except on Sundays, and would wear a patched overcoat when he was laboring in the Jeter home.28

Black and white illustrated portrait of Knapp facing forward and excerpt of Jeter's book.
Left: Jacob Knapp portrait, from Autobiography of Elder Jacob Knapp, 1868
Right: Excerpt from Jeter’s Recollections of a Long Life describing Davy

1848: Published Endorsement of Enslavement

In 1845, in a widely published article on the “Result of Emancipation” in Jamaica, Jeter summarized a fellow minister’s account of conditions in Jamaica, several decades after emancipation: “absent some means to counteract the influence of emancipation, the Island must sink into a state of barbarism.” Jeter then stated his own support for slavery in the United States:

News clipping of article by Jeter.
Excerpt from Jeter’s “Result of Emancipation in the Island of Jamaica,” Wilmington Journal, February 4, 1848
I have long been convinced—and convinced against my early prepossessions—that in the actual condition of society in the Southern States, sound policy, humanity, and even enlightened piety, demand that the negroes should be retained in a state of slavery. Whatever may be the evils of the system, I am satisfied that the evils of its precipitate abolition would be incomparably more disastrous, both to the white and colored races.29

To Jeter, white people of the South had a “certain onerous and delicate responsibility.” Enslaved people were the “fellow beings” of their enslavers, he wrote, “entitled to our sympathy and our kindness.” Efforts to “meliorate and improve their condition” were demanded by white southerners’ humanity and religion, but those efforts must be consistent with “the maintenance of just and needful authority.”30

Virginia’s constraints on Black literacy, and thus on the independent reading of the Bible, frustrated Jeter, and he closed with his hope for the state’s “obliteration” of those laws “from the statute books,” which he felt “more in accordance with the humane spirit which almost universally prevails in the treatment of slaves in Virginia” and “more congenial with my own feelings.”31


1850 Federal Census Data

Jeter lived in St. Louis, Missouri during the Federal Census of 1850, and was then married to his third wife, Charlotte Wharton Jeter (1821-1861). Research has not provided information about any individuals he may have enslaved during this period.

1860-the U.S. Civil War

1860 Federal Census Data

1850 federal census form showing handwritten entries.
Three Jeter entries showing the hiring out of enslaved persons in the Federal Census of 1860 (National Archives and Records Administration)

By 1860, Jeter and Charlotte Wharton Jeter had returned to Richmond. An enumerator recorded a child hired out by Jeter during the Federal Census of 1860. There are two additional 1860 Federal Census entries that reflect men enslaved by “Dr. Jeter.” They may refer to Jeremiah Bell Jeter or F.A. Jeter, a Richmond dentist and enslaver.32

No items found.

Enslaved individual enumerated under Jeter’s name in the 1860 Federal Census:

                                 1 boy (11), hired out to W.M. McFarland (“J.B. Jeter”).33

1864: Robert Davis

For the last two years of the Civil War, Jeter and his fourth wife, Mary Catherine Dabbs Jeter (c.1824-1887), resided in the Marshall Street mansion belonging to Archibald Thomas’s widow and close Jeter friend, Catherine Thomas (1798-1880). While the Jeters lived there, a man that Jeter enslaved named Robert Davis escaped. Davis was 30 years old and had been hired out by Jeter to the American Hotel in downtown Richmond, where he labored in the dining room. Jeter placed a newspaper advertisement seeking Davis’s return and offering a $200 reward to anyone who would bring him to his residence at the Thomas home or to the Henrico Jail. Jeter noted that Davis was raised in Petersburg, Virginia; this was a typical practice in “runaway” advertisements placed by enslavers, providing an area or areas it was likely the person would attempt to reach. His effort to have the man captured is the only known documentation of Robert Davis’s life.34

Black and white rendering of a downtown 1850s street and hotel and clipping of newspaper advertisement.
Left: The American Hotel in “View of Main Street, Richmond, Virginia,” Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, April 23, 1853 (Courtesy of the James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University); Right: Jeter’s advertisement offering a reward for the return of Robert Davis: “Two Hundred Dollars Reward,” Daily Dispatch, February 11, 1865

1865 (post-war)-1869

Peter Randolph on Jeter

Black and white headshot of Peter Randolph.
Peter Randolph in late life, from his 1893 memoir, From Slave Cabin To Pulpit . . . (HathiTrust Digital Library)

In 1865, Peter Randolph (c.1825-1897) became the first Black minister to lead Richmond’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Randolph had previously been enslaved and then freed in the will of his enslaver (though it was only because he could read the will himself that he was able to secure his freedom).35 He left the South for Massachusetts following his emancipation in 1849. There he became an anti-slavery activist before returning to Richmond following the Confederate surrender. Randolph recalled that Jeter would attend his sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church on occasion, sitting directly in front of him and nodding as Randolph preached. At one point Jeter complimented Randolph’s skills as a preacher: “After hearing me on one occasion he made the remark, that I was as good a colored preacher as he ever heard, and he was proud of me, because I was born in Virginia.”36 Randolph noted in his memoir that he had been forced to leave Virginia because the law there forbade him to read and his love for his “adopted mother, Massachusetts” was stronger than his feelings for Virginia.37 

Randolph also recalled a conversation between the two in which Jeter defended slavery:

He once remarked, that he believed slavery to be right and a divine institution, because the Bible supported it. He was not particular in quoting that passage, that God had made of one blood all the nations of the earth, or where Christ teaches, “that we must do unto our neighbors as we would have them do unto us.”
While he maintained these views and endeavored to support them by scripture, yet he said, “I hope I am wrong in my views.” I did not understand why he should make such a remark, unless it was that he felt the compunctions of conscience.38 

1865: Anglo-Saxon Superiority

In 1865, Jeter purchased controlling interest in the Religious Herald and became senior editor. In that role, he wrote numerous unsigned editorials published in the paper, with issues of enslavement and race a recurring topic.

In one early editorial, he responded to some white Baptists’ concerns that the formation of more Black churches and associations following the Civil War might, in the words of one historian, “give whites the ropes with which to hang themselves.” Jeter assured them that “Anglo-Saxons can have no cause to fear competition, in any department of enterprise, with any race of men; and certainly not with the African race.”39 

1866: “Treatment of Freedmen in the South”

Newsclipping showing Religious Herald masthead and beginning of Jeter editorial.
Excerpt of Jeter’s editorial, “Treatment of Freedmen in the South,” Religious Herald, January 25, 1866 (Courtesy of Virginia Baptist Historical Society)

In 1866, Jeter wrote a Religious Herald editorial addressing accusations that Black people were being treated with “great injustice and brutality by their former owners.” He called such cases “rare exceptions” and aligned himself with those who still believed slavery, “under the circumstances, to be right”:

We did not desire abolition; judging that if the white and colored races must live together with all of their instinctive aversions, and social differences, that it would be better for both classes, physically, intellectually and morally, that they should sustain to each other the relation of master and slave; and our opinion on this point is unchanged. 40

Jeter suggested that those who accused white southerners of injustice and abuse were typically outsiders who did not interact with “better and more trustworthy classes of whites.” His primary concern on the subject was that abolition deprived white enslavers of those they considered their property: 

We deem the abolition of slavery a great hardship, and certainly in many cases a grievous wrong. Great numbers of aged and infirm persons, widows and minors, without any fault, have been deprived of property guaranteed them by the constitution and laws of the country, without compensation and without redress, and have been reduced to want and beggary. Their condition is sad, and calls for the sympathy of all persons not lost to the nobler impulses of humanity.41

Jeter believed that those once enslaved were indebted to their former enslavers: “if the account could be fairly audited, between the master and the slave, the latter would be found to be in debt to the former.” Drawing on the framing of many proslavery Christians, Jeter aligned southern slaveholding with that of the “most enlightened and civilized nations of antiquity” and wrote that “the influence of slavery is to humanize, refine and ennoble, we are fully convinced, not only from the teaching of history, but from observation.”42 

1866: “A Query”

News clipping of Jeter's response to a reader's question.
Excerpt from Jeter’s “A Query,” Religious Herald, June 28, 1866 (Courtesy of Virginia Baptist Historical Society)

Jeter wrote of his belief in white biological and social supremacy in his response to a Religious Herald reader who asked if white people should treat now-free Black people as slaves if “a freedman conducts himself as he did when he was a slave?” Jeter replied that his own treatment of freedmen was no different than his treatment of enslaved people, except that following emancipation, he paid them wages instead of “clothing them, supplying them with medicines, and watching over their health and comfort.” Now that they were emancipated, Black people should be treated “kindly as well as justly.” Recalling that he had “maintained, in all honesty, the lawfulness of slavery,” Jeter encouraged his white readers not to let their former roles as enslavers “pervert our judgements, harden our hearts, or unfit us for the duties of our new relations.”43

Even as he called for kindness, Jeter affirmed his belief in inherent racial inequality: “God has made essential differences between the white and black races; and these differences have produced antipathies which neither philosophy nor religion can eradicate; but these instincts should not be allowed to degenerate into hatred.” He was preoccupied with the breakdown of barriers between Blacks and whites through sexual relationships, referred to as “miscegenation.” Jeter believed in “natural differences” that prevented “general social equality of the black and white races.” He considered those in interracial relationships and “advocates” of such relationships (likely referring to promoters of social and political racial equality) “vulgar and debased.”44   

Despite holding some Black individuals “in high regard,” Jeter wrote that “full social intercourse” between races would “do violence” to his “feelings and nature.” Instead, “perpetual separation” was urged:

This aversion may be a weakness—a prejudice—an evil—but we have it in common with our race. We would not, if we could, destroy this instinct. God has given it to us . . . and it becomes us to act in harmony with his plan. The plan is, if we rightly interpret it, the perpetual separation of the races, and kindly intercourse between them, without social union.45 

Jeter’s framing aligned with the claims of “race science” that interracial sexual relationships resulted in the degradation of the white race: 

To the colored people let us be uniformly courteous, always regarding their rights, and rendering to them due respect for their intelligence and virtue; but remembering that we are different races, working out different destinies. But while we deal kindly with the negro, let us hold in just abhorrence the miscegenationist, who, warring against the law of the Creator, would degrade our noble saxon race—the race of Newton, Milton and Washington—to a race of degenerate mongrels.46

1867: Resistance to Black Male Suffrage

Illustration of African American men in line to vote.
A.R. Waud’s “The First Vote,” Cover of Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

As editor of the Religious Herald, Jeter introduced an item related to President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 with his thoughts on obstructing Black political equality. Johnson’s justification for his veto was, in Jeter’s opinion, “an able document, setting forth, in forcible arguments, the violence it [Black male suffrage] would inflict on all our ideas of popular government.”47

1867: “Let Justice Be Done to Slavery”

Jeter’s August 1867 editorial listed the ways in which formerly enslaved people had benefitted from enslavement. Their ancestors, he wrote, were:

among the lowest class of savages—were ignorant, superstitious, brutal—without clothing or the comforts of life, living on the spontaneous productions of the earth—hunting one another like wild beasts, that they might sell their brethren into bondage for gewgaws and trinkets—and elevated in their intellectual and social nature very little above the ourang-outangs of their native forests.48 

Jeter poses the question “What have the negroes become under the meliorating influence of slavery?” and opines that enslaved persons’ physical state was “immensely improved” during slavery since they had been “comfortably clothed, bountifully fed, liv[ed] in houses superior to those of African princes” and received more from their labor than “perhaps, any laborers in the world.” Because they had “imitative dispositions” and had been exposed to “a superior race,” enslaved people had learned some of the skills of white people.  He also suggested that enslaved people in the South were “eminently pious,” but “their piety was not of the highest quality” since it “was often marred by superstition and loose views on morality.” Their religious condition “compared favorably with the unlettered classes of Europe, and even in this county.”49

For Jeter, these observations vindicated slavery:

There is an old adage, “Let the devil have his due.” We say, Let slavery have its due. It had its disadvantages, its evils, but it has wrought out for four millions of negroes in the South a civilization—an intellectual, social, moral and religious improvement—far exceeding in importance all that has been achieved for the African races by the contributions of philanthropists, the toils and sacrifices of Christian missionaries, the schemes of statesmen, and the immense expenditures of treasures and life for the suppression of the slave trade.
We say again, Let justice be done to slavery.50
News clipping of portion of Jeter editorial.
Excerpt from Jeter’s August 8, 1867 Religious Herald editorial (Courtesy of Virginia Baptist Historical Society)


1871: Racial Exclusion from Baptist Associations

In 1871, Jeter led the General Association committee that excluded Black Baptists from the statewide Baptist General Association of Virginia and used his editorial power at the Religious Herald to defend the decision. After an editor of a Northern newspaper had criticized the association’s decision, Jeter argued that the two races coming together in religious associations would lead to more intimate relations. Jeter wrote that he did not “call into question the humanity of the colored race, or their equality with whites in the kingdom of heaven,” but he asserted that it “is not the purpose of the Creator that they should be blended”:

Nature abhors the union. Religious and social intercourse are closely if not inseparably connected. Suppose we admit colored delegates to seats in our Association, we must, of course, allow them to sit where they choose, in juxtaposition with our wives and daughters, and the privilege granted to them must be equally granted to their associates. But if we invite colored delegates to seats in our religious bodies, we must invite them to share in our hospitality. We must maintain our consistency, receive them to our tables, our parlors, and our chambers, and the hospitality extended to them, must be granted to their wives, daughters and associates.51
News clipping of portion of Jeter editorial.
Excerpt from Jeter’s editorial, “‘Co-operation Impracticable,’” Religious Herald, September 7, 1871 (Courtesy of Virginia Baptist Historical Society)

He felt that, because of the larger Black population in the region, white Southerners had to guard against the “evil” of Black domination of “taste, habits and manners of the community.” He also speculated that white Northerners did not really favor true racial equality, questioning whether the editor who criticized the General Association would be offended if, on a trip to the South, “he should be put to sleep in the same bed, or even in the same room, with his black brother, with whom he wishes to be in fullest sympathy.”52

In an editorial conflict with another Northern newspaper two months later, Jeter repeated many of his previous assertions and added that individuals could choose to “maintain the closest social relations” across the color line, but “for ourself, we should quite as readily invite our colored dining room servant to escort our daughters to church as to request a colored United States Senator to do it.” When considering interracial marriage, Jeter was unequivocal: “Far distant be the day when any white man, whatever may be his intelligence, virtue or office, will not lose his position in reputable society by marrying a black wife. Such a perversion of taste would mark the degeneracy, mongrelization, and debasement of the noble Anglo-Saxon race.”53

News clipping of portion of Jeter editorial.
Excerpt from Jeter’s editorial, “‘Brethren of One Blood,’ Again,” Religious Herald, December 7, 1871 (Courtesy of  Virginia Baptist Historical Society)

The decision by Jeter and the General Association to prevent Black participation was met with resistance from members of the convention of Virginia’s Black Baptists, particularly its president, Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Richard Wells (c.1828-1903), but the organization eventually abandoned its effort to work with the all-white state association.54 

1874: On “Mixed” Schools

Jeter also wrote about race and education on at least one occasion. He encouraged white Southerners to pay taxes to support schools for Black children while sending their own to private schools, suggesting that parents who could not afford all-white private education should let their children “grow up in ignorance” rather than allow them to attend schools with Black children. In his view, racially mixed schools would be “a greater calamity than barbarism . . . pestilence, or our national destruction.”55  

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