At Union’s Provost’s Lecture, Richard Bailey, professor of history at Canisius College, stood at the podium in a gray suit, facing a sparse crowd of faculty members and students. University lectures are not known for being fiery, and the academic atmosphere did nothing to alleviate this stereotype. Bailey’s topic, however, revealed a great deal of fire.
The lecture title, “Carnal Knowledge, Punishment and Patience: At an Intersection of Sex, Religious Convictions, Racial Constructions and Redemption in Puritan New England,” was both long and significant enough to signal that this lecture was going to be anything but mundane.
Bailey primarily described how Puritan ideals and the slavery of African Americans interacted with each other. He approached the topic with nuance, detailing how the close relationships between slaves and slave owners often created “effective, caring relationships,” which lead to a closeness which “caused acts of authority,” he said.
The close emotional bonds slaves and slave owners formed by working together were often severed by acts of oppressive authority, Bailey said, citing how many slaveholders would change the names of their slaves as an act of dominance.
Bailey described the relationship between Caesar, a slave, and Lucy Billing, daughter of minister Edward Billing. Caesar and Billing had premarital sex. They were both whipped, and Caesar was sold away. This account demonstrates the conflicts resulting from tension between the growing affections families had for their slaves and the dominant and oppressive culture of Puritan New England.
Caesar and Billing had a child, named Patience, who died early in childhood. The name of this child is important to Bailey. He described how while Lucy suffered a great deal through this affair, she was left with a fruit of the spirit: patience.
“Though she had lost a parent, a partner, not to mention her reputation, Lucy had found patience, but eventually lost her as well,” Bailey said.
After the lecture, the audience asked Bailey questions. One person asked how Bailey became interested in the history of religion and race in America. The professor described how he grew up in Alabama as the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, which allowed him to have many discussions about religion growing up.
Bailey said he attended a school that was predominately African American. After he went to college, he found that many of his friends from home were not given the same privilege to go to college because of the color of their skin and the systemic problems therein. College had him “wrestling with this constructural idea of race,” he said.
Another audience member asked Bailey how we are to look at theological giants like Jonathan Edwards even though they owned slaves and defended the idea of slavery.
Bailey said that we are to look at our own experiences and sins.
“Any of those people we look to as models or examples are going to have shortcomings, are going to fail,” he said.