Boston 1775 Debunks the "Black Robed Regiment"

Can you bring something back that may have never existed?

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 is good. Very good. 

A group of Christian nationalist evangelical ministers known as “The Black Robed Regiment” has been in the news recently. Dan Fisher, the Oklahoma state representative who wants to ban the AP U.S. History course in the state, is a self-identified member of this “regiment.”  The clergy in the “Black Robed Regiment” claim that they are modeling their movement on the eighteenth-century ministers who used their pulpits to promote the American Revolution.

Bell traces the phrase “Black Robed Regiment” to a conversation between Glenn Beck and David Barton on a 2010 episode of Beck’s show.  His recent post shows that many of the stories of patriotic eighteenth-century ministers used by today’s “Black Robed Regiment” are based on very weak evidence.  He has also found what appears to be a comment from a Barton researcher that was inadvertently left in a footnote on Barton’s page devoted to the regiment.

Here is a taste:

In fact, Google Books can’t find the phrase “black robed regiment” from anysource prior to this century. It appears that Barton made it up, inadvertently or on purpose, based on the actual period phrase “Black Regiment,” which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

My favorite footnote in the article is attached to this passage:

“When Paul Revere set off on his famous ride, it was to the home of the Rev. [Jonas] Clark in Lexington that he rode. Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were lodging (as they often did) with the Rev. Clark. After learning of the approaching British forces, Hancock and Adams turned to Pastor Clark and inquired of him whether the people were ready to fight. Clark unhesitatingly replied, “I have trained them for this very hour!” [47]”

The note:

“[47] Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 34. Only source we can locate is Cole’s.”

I doubt that second sentence was meant to be left for us to see. It indicates that Barton and his research team had enough questions about whether “Pastor Clark” really said those words to look for a better source than a book published by a Christian evangelical press 166 years after the event. But they failed to find any other source to support Cole’s quotation, despite the many accounts and histories of the Lexington alarm—which should have made them skeptical about that book. Instead, Barton cited it in this essay seven more times.


6 thoughts on “Boston 1775 Debunks the "Black Robed Regiment"

  1. Yes and no, Tom. Sure, preachers gave sermons for the patriots, but Anglican ministers gave sermons against the patriots. At the same time a large number of people didn't hear any sermons at all because they did not attend church. They got information via conversations in myriad places such as taverns and marketplaces.

    There is no question that religion played a role in the Revolution, but that role went both ways as well as in no way for the people that did not attend church.


  2. Not long ago I was accused of being a revisionist historian because I doubted the existence of this “black robed regiment” I have no doubt that the pulpit played some sort of role in revolutionary thought but I also have no doubt that it was not at the level that some would like us to believe.


  3. Oh yes, we do know what Barton's thesis is. It is to lie about history in order to support his beliefs and political ideology. That has been proven repeatedly through his words and actions.

    I have no intention of sorting out his lies. Anything Barton says is not worthy of reading. J.L. did a nice job shredding Barton. He show just how some people like to post a link to material that is taken out of context and how they rely on secondary sources which have no basis in the past to work with.

    You might as well learn history with Weems' work if you think Barton's trash is historical.


  4. Since Barton makes over 100 assertions of fact in his essay,

    dinging a neologism [“Black Robed Regiment”] and a questionable reliance on a secondary source [“They Preached Liberty”] hardly constitutes a “debunking.”

    The polemical approach to history can be as unenlightening as the advocacy one: The hunt for error is not synonymous with a search for truth.

    Defending David Barton in any way, shape or form is a thankless job and hazardous to one's mental health. But my objections here are formal–I don't endorse his thesis necessarily, but whatever Barton's thesis is, we cannot know what it is from this, um, debunking.


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