Olmsted’s Cracker Preacher

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Olmsted’s Cracker Preacher

by Eugene D. Genovese
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 3: Fall 1998

"The author recounts an outsider's views of backcountry religion in the Old South."

Frederick Law Olmsted, in his Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), left a vivid picture of the religious life of the common people of the southern back country, which had an incalculable influence on northern opinion in its day and has lingered on in the appraisals of recent historians. After reporting from North Carolina that the poor whites who worked the turpentine forests believed in witchcraft and evil spirits, Olmsted warmed to his task. He provided a lengthy account of a “Cracker” church in Georgia, which he chose to visit instead of the staid Episcopal church nearby. A good many blacks sat in back, dressed more neatly than most of the whites. In the evening the same white minister would preach to the blacks in a service of their own. The leisurely coming and going of whites and blacks displeased Olmsted, and the shriekng offended his sense of propriety. To his chagrin, dogs also came and went, and the open windows let in the neighing and braying of the horses and mules.