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Henry Bibb Disobeys His Owner to Attend a Prayer Meeting

Henry Bibb was born in Kentucky to a slave mother and her owner, Kentucky state senator James Bibb. His brothers and sisters were sold away when he was a child, and Bibb was also sold frequently—he lived in at least seven southern states. Bibb tried to escape several times, including after the following incident, in which he faced a life-threatening punishment for disobeying his master’s order not to attend a prayer meeting at a nearby plantation. Bibb finally reached Canada in 1837. However, he returned to Kentucky a year later to get his wife and child and was recaptured. He made a final, successful escape in 1841 and became an active abolitionist in Detroit. When passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it dangerous to remain in the North, he fled to Canada where he founded a school, church, and several antislavery societies.

I got permission from the Deacon [Bibb’s owner], on one Sabbath day, to attend a prayer meeting, on a neighboring plantation, with a few old…slaves, although this was contrary to the custom of the country—for slaves were not allowed to assemble for religious worship. Being more numerous than the whites there was fear of rebellion, and the overpowering of their oppressors in order to obtain freedom.

But this gentleman on whose plantation I attended the meeting was….not afraid of a few old Christian slaves rising up to kill their master because he allowed them to worship God on the Sabbath day. . . .

When I returned home from meeting I told the other slaves what a good time we had at our meeting, and requested them to go with me to meeting [on] the next Sabbath. As no slave was allowed to go from the plantation on a visit without a written pass from his master, on the next Sabbath several of us went to the Deacon, to get permission to attend that prayer meeting; but he refused to let any go. I thought I would slip off and attend the meeting and get back before he would miss me, and would not know that I had been to the meeting.

When I returned home from the meeting as I approached the house I saw [my wife] Malinda, standing out at the fence looking in the direction in which I was expected to return. She hailed my approach, not with joy, but with grief. She was weeping under great distress of mind, but it was hard for me to extort from her the reason why she wept. She finally informed me that her master had found out that I had violated his law, and I should suffer the penalty, which was five hundred lashes, on my naked back.

Source | [Henry Bibb], Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave (1849), 119-120.
Creator | Henry Bibb
Item Type | Biography/Autobiography
Cite This document | Henry Bibb, “Henry Bibb Disobeys His Owner to Attend a Prayer Meeting,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed June 13, 2021,

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