Morgan Godwyn

Morgan Godwyn – Trade Preferred Before Religion (1685)

During a time of increased prosecutions of those who spoke against the monarchy, one Anglican minister took to the pulpit to denounce not just the concentration of power by the kings of England, but also their involvement in the transatlantic trade in slaves.





Morgan Godwyn was born in Gloucestershire in 1640, the son of a deeply Royalist Anglican minister who had once served as Charles I’s personal minister. Descended from a long line of Anglican clergymen—both his grandfather and great grandfather were bishops in the Church of England—Godwyn followed in his family’s footsteps and trained as a minister at Christ Church, Oxford. He happened to be there, however, in the early 1660s under the tutelage of John Locke. Godwyn graduated from Christ Church in 1665 and shortly after sailed to the colony of Virginia. After ministering for  five years in two Virginia parishes he departed for Barbados, where he stayed for an additional ten years before returning to London in 1680. A year later, Godwyn became rector of Woldham, Kent, a position he quickly had to relinquish after the publication of his first major treatise, the Negro’s and Indian’s Advocate (1680), which drew criticism for its expressed support of  slave conversion. A prominent Whig, Richard Newdigate, subsequently  appointed Godwyn as vicar of Bulkington, Warwickshire, in 1681.

Godwyn’s exposure to the cruelties of plantation slavery deeply shaped his writings. Though no abolitionist, the Anglican minister who railed against English planters’ refusal  to minister to “those Myriads of hungry and distressed Souls abroad,” as he wrote in the preface of the The Negro’s & Indians Advocate, Suing for their Admission into the Church. His second work, A Supplement to the Negro’s & Indians Advocate was published in 1681. Godwyn’s third publication was a broadside entitled The Revival, or, Directions for a sculpture describing the extraordinary care and diligence of our nation in publishing the faith among infidels in America and elsewhere, which he published in 1682. The last work that Godwyn would publish was Trade Preferr’d Before Religion. In 1685, traces of the Anglican minister mysteriously disappeared from the records.

The sermon below was first preached by Godwyn in Westminster Abbey, London, in February of 1685, shortly before the death of Charles II, with the permission of the bishop of London, Bishop Compton. Godwyn began the sermon by acknowledging the great risk he was taking by outwardly condemning a practice that was protected and promoted by the royal family. This is evident by the fact that James, Duke of York, who was the director of the Royal African Company, would soon be crowned king. The company had a monopoly over the slave trade in the British Empire and was responsible for the importation of 100,000 Africans during the decade of the 1680s alone. Godwyn continued by condemning those who practiced slavery in pursuit of wealth from trade (“mammonists”), instead of practicing religion and, in so doing, had signed a bargain with the devil.  He also condemned those in England who were content to let the institution continue. After preaching at Westminster, Godwyn repeated the sentiments in several other churches before publishing the sermon. He died two years later in 1687.

Though it is not known for sure what Godwyn’s fate was after publishing the seditious document, surviving evidence indicates that Godwyn might have been imprisoned (without habeus corpus) and died as a result: certainly that was then happening to many others, as well as to Godwyn’s patrons, including not only Newdigate, but also Locke, and Bishop Compton. James II revived the old court of High Commission (abolished, along with Star Chamber, in 1641) in order to try Bishop Compton and other judges. He gave it a new name: The Commission for Ecclesiastical Causes, but it used precedents from those earlier courts. 

The human costs of slavery were often overlooked in favor of economic and commercial interests. Why do you think Godwyn was so concerned about the plight of enslaved Africans ? On what grounds did he criticize English planters and their treatment of slaves? Who might be the intended audience of his sermon, and what kinds of evidence does Godwyn present for his argument? 

Matt Fischer
Rachael Edmonston

Further Reading
  • Wood, Betty. 2004 “Godwyn [Godwin], Morgan” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Davis, David B., The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Oxford, 1988)
  • Vaughan, Alden T., “Slaveholders’ ‘Hellish Principles’: A Seventeenth-Century Critique,” in Roots of American Racism (New York, 1995), 55-81

Morgan Godwyn, Trade Preferr’d before Religion and Christ Made to Give Place to Mammon Represented in a Sermon Relating to the Plantations: First Preached at Westminster-Abbey and Aftwerwards in Divers Churcges in London (London, 1685)

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Please be aware that many of the works in this project contain racist and offensive language and descriptions of punishment and enslavement that may be difficult to read. However, this language and these descriptions reveal the horrors of slavery. Please take care when transcribing these materials, and see our Ethics Statement and About page.

I Cannot but foresee, that I shall fall under no small danger of Censure, as well for my first preaching, as now publishing this Discourse.

For besides the sinister Surmises of divers here at home, (such, who like the Curr in the Manger, will neither eat Oats themselves, nor suffer those that would); I must also look to undergo, as far as is possible, the utmost Effects of the Rage and Malice of those incensed MAMMONISTS from abroad; who, I am to expect, will not fail, by their Agents and Partizans, to dispense to me the sharpest Revenge and Mischief, that such Enemies of Christianity can contrive against a Promoter of it. . . .

But as there was no temptation from the thing it self, as being likely to prove so invidious and costly an Undertaking, what I have but too much already felt; and it being on the behalf of such who are never like to make me any amends, and I am sure that no body else will: So I hope that others better disposed, will in charity, which thinketh not the worst, rather believe, that what I have herein attempted, doth proceed from no worse Motive, than from a sense of my Duty; as not knowing otherwise, what I yet knew was most necessary, how to reprove the. . . . BARJESUITISM and base Mammonism so openly practised in our Plantations, and even at Home too; of which I shall presently give some Instances.

At least certainly I can deserve no blame for thus opening my Mouth for the Dumb, and becoming their Advocate, who are appointed to Eternal Destruction: For that I have, as it were, put my Life in my hand, . . . when no body else either durst or would. And since the more Learned and Prudent, who never use to lay out themselves but to some purpose (and this, ’tis too well known known, is but a barren Theme), had hitherto been silent therein, that I thought it no disparagement to become a Fool for Christ’s sake, and conceived that it might better be done by me, than not at all.

These in truth were my Reasons in general for this Undertaking; 2 but there was withal a more particular. And that was, hereby, if possible, to put some stop to, and to abate the arrogant and proud vauntings of that new Sect of American Anti-Religionists, the Barjesuits and Elymasesbefore mentioned, for their Victory over Christianity, by LUCYfer and his fellow Agents, here sometime since obtain’d; which very triumphantly, like pure uncircumcised Pagans, [Note: Alienus ab ira, alienus à justitia. Me:  that means: From the wrath of an alien, an outsider from justice ] (pardon the Expression, for in this Case, Difficile est Satyram non scribere [Me: It is difficult not to write satire], and not to be angry had been to sin) they have not forborn to publish in the Houses of their Idols, if I may so speak; and by insulting Letters, to set forth in their Assemblies; therein proclaiming how they have worsted Christianity, and for ever quash’d all future hopes of advancing its Crest, and of further entrance into those Parts. A most glorious Victory doubtless it was! and which none besides the Devil and themselves, but would have been ashamed to have boasted of. A Victory where there was no· Adversary to contend with; and of which, as the case stood, if they could but talk considently, and affirm lustily without blushing, they could not easily fail.

Upon this I could no longer be silent, but . . . My heart grew hot within me, and the fire was kindled; and at the last I spake with my Tongue;declaring from the Pulpit, as oft as I had opportunity, what I have now delivered from the Press.

I considered the thing as a Duty indispensible; and having before put my hand to the Plow, I determined not to look back: Yet I must confess, I attended a while to see whether any abler Advocate would appear in the Cause, and happily have saved me both the trouble and the envy of it. But when I had thus waited, and could see no appearance of any, no not at the greatest distance, (for they were all amazed, they answered no more, they left off speaking; or rather, we may say, did never begin); it was not in my power to refrain, but I resolved that I would answer for my part, I would speak on God’s behalf, I would open my mouth and answer, let come on it what would.

And thus in one and the same Act, they contrive their own, and their Slaves Damnation. Who, so that their Portion may be fat, and their Meat plenteous, and that Trading may flourish, (the advancement whereof doth, it seems, justify the grossest Villanies), they are not ashamed to debase Men, made in the Image of God (no less than themselves,) and whose Flesh is as their own; even to the Fishes of the Sea, and to the creeping things which have no Ruler over them. Being frequently heard to confess and to glory, that they came not thither to promoteReligion, nor to save Souls,but to get Money and Estates; That is, like to the Beasts of the Field, only to devour; and, as the Prophet speaks, Looking every Man for his gain from his quarter. and yet, whilst like Sodom,they stick not to declare their Sin, nor do dread to triumph and boast of their so detestible Abominations; shall neverthelss presume themselves Innocent, and not doubt to affirm that therein they have not sinned; nor will be persuaded that they are at all (therefore) to be reputed the worse Christi|ans. And here, to omit all enquiry into the Equity and Right of the first purchase, where Parents do sell their Children, Husbands their Wives, Brothers their Sisters, and so on the contrary: (A most blessed Trade for the best Reformed Christians to be conversant and imployed in!) and in a Word, where every Man’s strength is the Law of Justice: I say, to omit all this, they hold all their other Cruelties and Oppressions, for nothing; unless to the enslaving of their Bodies, and wasting them with unmerciful Labour and wretched Usage, they bring into final Destruction and Bondage their very Souls also. And here, before I can proceed a step further, I must be so bold as to demand of whomsever shall please to resolve me, whether the Jews offering up a few Children to Moloch(which some will have this Text to reprove) the Papists Superstitions, (against which so many Volumns have been wrote;) the old Gentiles Idolatry, or even the Turks worshipping Mahomet (all Circumstances considered;) be comparable to this Sin, among us, viz. of continually sacrificing so many Bodies to Mammon, and Souls to the Devil; against which no one hath hardly ever yet opened his Mouth.

And thus I think it doth but too plainly appear, that these Skirts are not so much spotted or stained only, as thorowly wrenched and dyed in this precious Blood of Souls. And those our out-Provinces are most evidently chargeable with this most foul and horrid Guilt; 18 far, I dare affirm, beyond whatever hath by Fame been storied to have been practised, or but permitted by any, besides (yea hardly by) the most openly avowed Enemies of Christianity. And, which is yet more astonishing, All this and much more, we find to be tolerated and acted under Magistrates, and by persons outwardly professors of it, and that in the most refined and purest way.

. . .

And whilst those abroad are thus acting and carrying on their Butcheries upon the Souls of Men there, how quietly and unconcernedly in the mean time do we sit down here, and take our ease, not once in our thoughts reflecting upon this Calamity; . . . As tho, like Cain, we esteemed all regard of our Brethren to be needless; or like the vile Oppressors in Nathan‘s Parable, we had no Bowels nor Compassion; or that we believed the rotting and perishing of our Fellow-Members, to be a most desirable and pleasant Object. Yea, we act as tho the Prophet had mistook, and talked impertinently, when he demanded, Have we not all one father, and did not one God create us?

. . .

And tho in the Captives of Algier‘s case, as in the late Brief it is represented, this cruelty to the Souls of Men,is termed Tyranny and accursed, and made to exceed all other the most Turkish Barbarities, and is therein declared a Calamity never sufficiently to be bewailed; yet the very same, or worse, is allowed in our own People; that is, by 19 Protestants and English-men: Our profound Silence being no better than a constructive approbation; and our Connivance a consenting thereunto. As if such Tyranny over the Souls of Men were Accursed and never sufficiently to be bewailed, only in Turks and professed Infidels; or that the same Action were Vertue in us, but accursed Tyranny in the other. Notwithstanding that those do therein act most agreeable to their Belief, and for the promoting of their Faith; which if true, as they suppose it is, is a pious deed, and but what they were bound to do. And they are therefore beyond all peradventure more justifiable before God,than such, who whilst owning(I dare not say believing) the Truth, do yet upon pretence of Interest (which those do therein renounce) not only conceal, but most industriously decry and oppose the advancement of it: Yea, and than such other too, who, tho they do not oppose it, yet have never entered their Protests against those that do. . . So that to bring down this Text to Christianity and our own times, we are the Jerusalemtherein charged, and in our Skirts also is this Blood most eminently discernable. And when God shall arise to make Inquisition for it, as most certainly he will, at our Hands it must be required. For we are the Watchmen,which should have warned those wicked Men from their evil ways; the Sword came, and we have not blown the Trumpet, nor warned the People, and therefore their Blood must be upon our Heads. And then it must needs go hard with us, and that chiefly upon the score of that abundant Light and Knowledg, and that Purity of Religion we so much boast in. . . . therefore will I punish you for all your Iniquities, saith God by his Pro|phet. And who knoweth, but that our prophane Silence, and unchristian connivance thus long together, at those Spiritual Murthers and Soul-depredations, are the very accursed thing, which hath caused us hitherto not to prosper? And that for this our supine and shameful neglect of Religion, and that when those Elymas‘s abroad, and their wicked Agents here; Those Enemies, I say, of Righteousness, that do not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord;those Soul-Merchants, that in the very Letter of the Text, do tread under Foot the Son of God, and (as it were) crucify him afresh, and put him to an open shame, and that account his Blood an unholy thing, and do each hour do dispite unto the Spirit of Grace. I say, when these, like Eli‘s lewd Sons, have made themselves vile, by the Blood of so many Innocent Souls, and we restrained them not, (no not by Word or Writing, and (so far at least) to have vindicated God’s Honour and Truth against them;) Who, I say, knows, but for this, Our God hath hitherto put us to Silence, and given us Water of Gaul to drink, and that when we looked for Peace, no good came; and for a time of Health, and behold Trouble. And that he hath sent those Serpents and Cockatrices among us, which will not be charmed; and that he hath hedged up our way with Thorns, and caused all our Mirth to cease: That he hath set us against each other,every one against his Brother, and against his Neighbour; yea, City against City, and even these against themselves: And that our Spirit doth fail in the midst of us. That God hath destroyed our Counsels, and mingled a perverse Spirit in the midst of us, and hath caused us to err in every work, and that we are afraid even in our selves. And then, might it not to be demanded of us, as our 21 Prophet here doth of Jerusalem, Hast thou not procured this unto thy self, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord, when he led thee by the way, and had done such great things for thee? I shall not here stand to enquire how agreeable to Christianity, which commands us, First to seek the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness, and then afterwards to look af|ter other less necessary things, (a Precept very idle and ridiculous amongst this sort of Christians:) Nor how suitable the pretence of Trade and Commerce is to that undergoing of the Cross and self-denial, and to that condition of forsaking all, by our Lord prescribed to all his Followers: but shall only observe, that if St. Peter was by the same meekest Lord termed a Devil, for his too carnal respecting, not his own, but the same blessed Masters outward Ease and Tranquility, to the prejudice of the World’s Salvation; he will certainly for ever disclaim those Mammonists,who prefer their Trade and their Merchandise before him, as unworthy of him.

. . .

Wherefore, since God hath signed this eternal Precept of Blood for Blood, and hath as it were sworn, That he will require the Blood of our Lives, at the Hand of every Man’s Brother; yea, and of the very Beasts too; and hath also in several places no less positively declared, That no satisfaction shall be accepted for the Life of a Murtherer;and that a Land defiled with Blood, cannot be cleansed of it, but by the Blood of him that did shed it;all which is to be referred only to the Body: What Punishment can we suppose answerable to this so much more horridCrime of murthering of Souls? If Blood for Blood, and Life for Life must go for the one, certainly then Soul for Soul here, is the least that can be required. How long Lord God, holy and true, dost thou not judg and avenge our Blood upon them that dwell upon the Earth, was the incessant cry of the Souls under the Altar. And Abel‘s Blood is said to have pursued Cain to his very Grave; ’tis certain it cryed for vengeance against him. And yet ’twas but Abel‘s Body, not his Soul, that was murthered. Had Cain been guilty of this, Lamech‘s revengeful hand had made but a very defective and sorry expiation: The Brimstone-lake must then have been his Portion; as undoubtedly it will be, of all impenitent Murtherers of Souls. And then, How will those Mammonists remain in the gaul of Bitterness, and in the bond of Iniquity? And our Apostats and Hypocrites be confounded and tremble, when they shall most sensibly feel themselves perishing together with 22 their impious Money, which was the price of Souls? And then they shall be admirably convinc’d that they were but Fools indeed for thus determining their Hopes, and fixing their whole expectation upon the things of this Life,for the getting whereof, they sinned against their own, and murthered their Peoples Souls.

.  . .

. . . It is a dishonour and that in an especial manner to our English Nation. It both was and will be the Eternal Reproach, no less than the unpardonable Sin of those Styes of Filthiness, Babylon and Nineveh, that the first, among her variety of Merchandises, had […]; not only Bodies,but Souls of Men; and that the other (for it seems they were both great trading places) did post|pone God’s Glory to her Traffick; . . . magnifying,or preferring, her Traders (or Merchants) above the Stars of Heaven. And certainly it will be no great Credit for us to have thus exactly written after those beastly Copies; that we have as it were conspired with Satan, and entred into a confederacy with Hell it self, upon the same account: That we have exceeded the worst of Infidels, by our first enslaving, and then murthering of Mens Souls. For, how can it be endured that a Nation once so famous for Zeal and Piety, should now at last become infamous for Irreligion? That she should prostrate her self to that foul Idol Mammon, and worship Trade? So that for the sake thereof Christianity should be stifled and rejected? That being so much indebted to those poor Barbarians, for the Riches, Trade and Commerce, both by, and from them acquired, we should be so far destitute of 27 common Justice, as not to be ready, as much as in us lyeth (and certainly very much doth lie in us, notwithstanding all our vain pretences) in lieu thereof, to impart some spiritual Gift, as St. Paul speaks, and to make known the Gospel unto them? Who can believe that a People formerly so mighty in Conversions, as if, on a sudden struck with Barrenness and a Curse, should become so utterly fruitless, as not to be able to produce the least Access of Souls unto Christ,out of such Multitudes and Myriads, who do even invite, and offer themselves to his Service? That we should be so much out-done who formerly did so infinitely out-doe all others? These, if true, are I fear, but too evident Symptoms of a strange degeneracy, of a declining old Age and Decrepitness in us; and which cannot be far removed from our last fatal Period, and final Dissolution; and that God is determining of us, as he once did of the Barren Fig-tree, Cut it down, why cumbers it the Ground. And this leads me to.

The third and last Motive to this Reformation, viz. The dread of those Plagues and Judgments, which this Impiety, if longer persisted in, must necessarily draw down upon us. In the first Queen Elizabeth Act for Uniformity, there is extent a certain Clause containing an Adjuration, in God’s Name earnestly requiring the due and true execution thereof, as they should answer to Almighty God for such Evils and Plagues wherewith he might justly punish the neglect of it. So that it seems in those Days, there was some apprehension of Plagues and Judgments to follow Impiety and the neglect of Religion. Nay, long before that, the Persian Monarch Artaxerxes, was not wholly insensible of the same, when he issued forth that strict Decree for the speedy re-edifying of the Temple, fortified with this Reason, For why should there be wrath upon the Realm of the King, and of his Sons? ‘Tis true, some Apostate Israelites, before their Captivity, (to save themselves the labour of reforming their Lives), we read, had fallen into a most abominable practice of scoffing at, and denying Providence, affirming, That the Lord had forsaken the Earth; or, tho he had not, yet that he did neither good nor evil. But these, it seems, by a hard Journey they afterwards made to Babylon, became in a short time better instructed: For upon an Appeal, which the Prophet Zechariah made to the Children of these prophane Scoffers, whether God’s Words and his Statutes, which he had commanded by his Servants the former Prophets, had not overtaken their stubborn Fathers; They, in despite of their proud Hearts, were forced to confess, That like as the Lord had purposed to do unto them, according to their ways, and according to 28 their doings, even so had he dealt with them. And, Hast thou not pro|cured this unto thy self, saith our Prophet here in the Text, in that thou hast forsaken the Lord, when he led thee by the way? And hereupon the Prophet Hosea doth not doubt to declare God’s Judgments for Sin, to be as clear as the Light that goeth forth.

 . . . And can we then persist in the same (tho clog’d with abundance of aggravating Circumstances,) and not live under a fearful expectation of God’s Judgments due for it? . . . .  And, if we believe them, not at the same time dread the like or worse, for this so much more horrible Irreligion, and equally Universal? And since these did prove such fatal pull-backs to them, can any less be the Issue of this more inexcusableWickedness; this so palpable Elymasm, if I may so call it? And if God hath been pleased to chastise meer Heathens for their Enmity to his Religion, with which, ’tis possible, they were wholly unacquainted, and has threatned to smite with most grievous Plagues, those Infidel Regions and Kingdoms, who have not called upon his Name, of which haply they had not heard? what portion of God from above, or Mercy can be extended to those, who as it were in a prophane mockery of 29 profesing his Name, (and that too in the most refined and purest man|ner) have been actual Enemies thereto; And that, under the dis|guise of the greatest Zeal for it even in this its Purity, have been the Stiflers and Betrayers of it, only in favour of their accursed Mammon?Certainly if ever Judgments do fall, it must be upon such; and of all Judgments, none beneath the most calamitous and the most lasting.

And tho other Punishments (a thing next to impossible) should fail, yet the divine Vengeance may stir up these very (Soul-oppressed People, as it did the Arabians and the Philistins against wicked Joram, and make them the Rods of his Anger to chastise this Sin: That so their own wickedness may correct them, and their own back-slidings reprove them.

. . .

And then for such at home, who have so patiently over-looked the Sufferings and Miseries of Religion in those parts, and have been at least unconcerned Spectators, tho perhaps not actual Partakers in those bloodyTragedies, and therefore may lean upon the Lord, and presume, that no evil shall happen unto them; those soft Pillows which they thus plant under their seared Consciences, will but deceive them; and the untempered Mortar with which they plaister over their Impiety, will be in like danger of being washed away by the overflowing Showre.  


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