away, steal away, steal away to Jesus"
was the code-song of slaves, who stole away under cover of night
to Hush Arbors or Brush Harbors.
The religious gatherings of enslaved Africans (and some native
American "Indians" who were also enslaved) involved
both formal worship organized and overseen by slave masters, as
well as secret, clandestine meetings held under the cover of darkness.
Those enslaved risked being beaten or even killed if caught attending
these secret worship assemblies.
care was taken to avoid detection. Meetings were held in secluded
places (woods, ravines, areas with lots of brush to provide cover).
These places were known as hush harbors. Some meetings
would consist of the enslaved gathering behind quilts, or other
rags which were dampened to help muffle voices. The rags and quilts
where hung up to resemble an enclosure, a tabernacle of sorts.
In other settings, those enslaved would form a circle on their
knees. The preacher would also sit in the middle of the circle
, bending over to talk into a bowl or tub of water.
was in the hush harbor, buried deep within the untended woods
on the plantation that slaves remembered the forests of their
homeland. There they could escaped the confining, supervised worship
of segregated chapels and were able to practise ancestral rituals
which would help them to feel that the spirits of their ancestors
followed them - even into slavery.
invisible institution served as an opportunity for
worship and solidarity when they could enjoy short remissions
from the pain and anguish of slavery. The meetings might also
include dancing in the African fashion. Here 'Negro spirituals'
may have originated. The songs created by slaves often had double
meanings, combining hopes of religious salvation and freedom from