The Author’s Corner with D.L. Noorlander

Heaven's wrath.jpgD.L. Noorlander is Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York at Oneonta. This interview is based on his new book, Heaven’s Wrath: The Protestant Reformation and the Dutch West India Company in the Atlantic World (Cornell University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Heaven’s Wrath?

DN: The project started when I was a graduate student at Georgetown University. I was reading a lot of colonial history for my classes and exams, and I noticed that British and Spanish topics tend to dominate the field. I had had an interest in Dutch history for a long time, partly because of my own family ties to the Netherlands (Noorlander is a Dutch name) and partly because I had lived there for two years and spoke the language, which is pretty rare in the United States! When the time came to propose a dissertation topic, there really wasn’t much question about doing something on the Dutch in early America.

At this point I honestly don’t remember how I came to focus on the Calvinist influence in the Dutch West India Company, but that’s what happened. In reading about New Netherland and other Dutch colonies, I think I just came to believe that American historians had paid a lot more attention to the former than it probably deserved, given its place of relative unimportance in the Dutch empire. And I came to see that historians had written a lot about Dutch commerce, but they had done less social, cultural, and intellectual history.

To give credit where credit is due, I think my eyes were also opened to all the rich opportunities in Dutch research by reading books like The Reformed Church in Dutch Brazil(F.L. Schalkwijk), Fulfilling God’s Mission(Willem Frijhoff), and Innocence Abroad religio(Benjamin Schmidt). They are very different books, but they all contained wonderful surprises regarding Dutch ideology, Dutch religion, and Dutch activities in West Africa and South America. The same company that oversaw New Netherland oversaw Dutch forts and colonies in these other places, too, so it just made sense to study them together.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Heaven’s Wrath?

DN: The Dutch Reformed Church and West India Company forged a close union, with significant consequences throughout the seventeenth century. Certain of those consequences were, from the Calvinist point of view, positive; but the union also encouraged expensive, destructive military operations and divisive campaigns against sinners and religious nonconformers in colonial courts.

JF: Why do we need to read Heaven’s Wrath?

DN: In my experience, Americans tend not to know just how active and influential the Dutch were in early America and the Atlantic world. Because they ultimately lost Brazil to the Portuguese and New Netherland to the English, it’s easy to forget that the Dutch once had an impressive Atlantic empire. Their endless attacks on the Spanish and Portuguese may have inadvertently assisted the English and French, as well, because the Dutch kept their enemies so occupied that they (the Spanish and Portuguese) couldn’t resist and quash competitors with the same vigor and capacity they would have had without having to fight the pesky Dutch for so many years.

In short, readers of my book will learn about a people who did far more than trade: They were pirates and privateers, they waged wars, they founded colonies — and yes, despite their reputation for pragmatism and tolerance, they pursued religious goals and exhibited the occasional streak of zealotry and intolerance. I’m not the only historian noticing and writing about these things today. But Heaven’s Wrath is unique, I think, as a history of the whole West India Company, no matter where it operated, and the book is unique in using the topic of religion to reveal and explore these diverse colonial goals and methods.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DN: I was an English major as an undergraduate student. I was a senior before I finally realized that, as much as I love literature, I was also reading a lot of history and a lot of biographies, even more so than fiction. So I took a year off after I graduated and I applied to an MA program in history. And I liked it enough that I decided in the end to pursue a PhD.

The more profound answer is this: I love stories, but sometimes the non-fiction variety of story is more fascinating than the made-up variety, maybe because with fiction, no matter how good and profound it can be, there’s always the slightly disappointing knowledge that “this didn’t really happen” and “this doesn’t involve real people” (except in the vague sense that fiction writers draw upon human experiences and the human condition). I also love the mystery and challenge of putting my “story” together, meaning searching it out in the archives and using scattered sources to reconstruct what otherwise isn’t clear. It requires a lot of patience and detective work and, yes, even a bit of imagination.

JF: What is your next project?

DN: Readers of Heaven’s Wrath will sometimes encounter a poet, lyricist, and colonist named Jacob Steendam. Over the course of his life he lived in Europe, Africa, America, and Asia. I’ve been collecting sources on Steendam for years, and I’m now going to write a whole book about his travels and writings. Because he’s such an obscure figure, it won’t be a simple biography. But I’m going to use him and his poetry to explore the many “worlds” of the Dutch Golden Age, meaning the places he lived and the less tangible worlds of early modern writing, publishing, music, and their place in colonial life and colonial thought.

JF: Thanks, Danny!

What Does the Trump Administration Mean by “Religious Freedom?”

jeff-sessions

At the State Department’s recent “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that there is a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”  This “dangerous movement,” Sessions added, “must be confronted and defeated.”

I am part of the camp that believes people with deeply-held religious beliefs on social issues should be free to uphold those beliefs in a pluralistic society.  In other words, there are times when liberty of conscience in matters of religion should be protected despite the fact that others might see these beliefs as discriminatory.  When it comes to living together with such deeply-held convictions, I hope for what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”

Having said that, I am not a fan of the way the Trump administration uses “religious liberty” to invoke fear.  I wrote about this kind of fear-mongering in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Sessions’s use of words like “dangerous” and “undetected by many” and “confronted and defeated” wreaks of political scare tactics and culture-war rhetoric.  I am surprised he did not roll out the phrase “deep state.”

Sessions claims that “ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit.”  First, I don’t know of any contemporary cases, if any, in which government has threatened ministers from preaching from the Bible.  Fear is often based on false information.  Second, I suspect Sessions is conflating the preaching of “holy writ” from the pulpit with the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit.  This is how many pro-Trump evangelicals understand “religious liberty.” This is why Sessions and Trump get so bent out of shape by the “Johnson Amendment.”  (Frankly, I think Trump could care less about the Johnson Amendment, but if he can promise its repeal he can gain political points with the evangelicals in his base).

Sessions goes on.  He talks about the ways the Pilgrims in Plymouth, the Catholics in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Scots-Presbyterians in the middle colonies (Sessions apparently does not realize that Pennsylvania is a middle colony and most Scots-Irish came to Penn’s colony), and Roger Williams in Rhode Island championed religious freedom.  He adds: “Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against.”  What Sessions fails to note is that the Pilgrims (and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay) did not provide this precious religious freedom to people who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did.  He fails to note that Roger Williams founded Rhode Island because he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay for failing to conform to Puritan orthodoxy (among other things).  He fails to note that Puritans executed Quakers in Boston Commons.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time or inclination right now to exegete Sessions’s entire speech.  It is worth noting, however, that all of Sessions’s examples of religious liberty are Christian examples.  There is no mention of religious liberty for Muslims, Jews, or other people of faith.  Parts of Sessions’s address read like a Trump stump speech.  He lauds Trump for making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Really?  Is this what the Trump administration means when they say they are going to champion religious liberty?  This sounds more like the kind of Christian civilization those “liberty-loving” Puritans and Pilgrims wanted to create back in 17th New England.  (Ironically, these early American Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday).

OK, I am rambling.  But if you want some context on the way Trump and his minions think about religious liberty, I encourage you to check out Jason Lupfer’s recent piece at Religion & Politics.  It is worth your time.

The Author’s Corner with Peter Moore

9781498569903.jpgPeter Moore is Professor of History at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. This interview is based on his new book, Archibald Simpson’s Unpeaceable Kingdom: The Ordeal of Evangelicalism in the Colonial South (Lexington Books, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Archibald Simpson’s Unpeaceable Kingdom: The Ordeal of Evangelicalism in the Colonial South?

PM: When I was a graduate student in the early stages of doing research on what would eventually become my dissertation/first book, I was exploring the mysterious death of William Richardson, an evangelical Presbyterian minister in backcountry South Carolina who had either (depending on the source) hanged himself, been murdered by an enemy, or died at his devotions. There was an account of his death in the diary of his coreligionist and close friend Archibald Simpson, which I found on microfilm in the wonderful archive of the now shuttered Presbyterian Historical Society in Montreat. The diary was not, to say the least, reader-friendly, but it seemed to have a lot of rich material for the social and religious history of the colonial lowcountry. So when I finished the first book, I decided to transcribe and edit Simpson’s diary, parts of which I published in 2012. The diary turned out to be even more amazing as a source than I could have imagined back in 1999, and since I was already so deep into the project, writing a cultural biography of Simpson was a logical next step.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Archibald Simpson’s Unpeaceable Kingdom: The Ordeal of Evangelicalism in the Colonial South?

PM: Evangelicals met with fierce opposition from all directions as they tried to impose an evangelical order on churches and communities in the late-colonial southern lowcountry. Despite the great midcentury revivals, the steady stream of religious dissenters who poured into the region, and all the noise evangelicals made about slave conversions, Simpson’s story suggests that there was no evangelical movement in colonial South Carolina, just a frustrating evangelical slog.

JF: Why do we need to read Archibald Simpson’s Unpeaceable Kingdom: The Ordeal of Evangelicalism in the Colonial South?

PM: This book is a microhistory of transatlantic evangelicalism. Although the heart of the argument deals with the colonial south, four of the ten chapters are set in southwestern Scotland, where Simpson grew up and where he died in 1795. Aside from engaging the debate over the significance of evangelicalism in the pre-Revolutionary American south, the book explores evangelicals’ inner world and the boundaries of religious experience, the really important role of pastoral care in building evangelicals’ credibility, the complicated relationship between evangelicals, slavery, and slaves, and the impact of the Revolutionary War on transatlantic communities, among other things. As a biography it treats these issues in an interesting narrative format. I should add that Simpson’s dour Presbyterian exterior masked his intense emotions, his sorrows and insecurities, and his rich inner life, all of which he poured into his diary. It was both challenging and fun to bring these out in the book, especially in the chapters on courtship and marriage (he was a really bad suitor) and when he runs away from George Whitefield’s orphanage.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PM: I was not a history major as an undergraduate, and when I made my first attempt at graduate school I studied religion, not history, at Vanderbilt University. One of my first classes was Jack Fitzmier’s seminar on Puritanism, which opened my eyes to the possibilities of religious history and the way it intersected with society, ideas, politics, culture, and psychology. While there I was also fortunate to be able to take two courses on Southern history from David Carleton in Vanderbilt’s history department, and I was hooked. I dropped out of the program, but when I grew up a bit more and returned to graduate school later at the University of Georgia, I was all about southern religious history. At a more personal level, my research projects have also been something of an exercise in working out questions about my own identity as a southerner, spirituality as a Christian, and notions of community and belonging.

JF: What is your next project?

PM: I am in the early stages of research on the failed attempt by Scottish Covenanters to plant a colony (Stuarts Town) in South Carolina in the mid-1680s. Some of this is familiar ground — Presbyterianism, religious history, colonial South Carolina — but much of it is new, a bit intimidating, and very exciting because it brings me into the seventeenth century, the Spanish borderlands, and Indian history.

JF: Thanks, Peter!

Symposium: Religion in Early America

This looks like a great.  Nice work Peter Manseau.  Wish I could attend:


Symposium: Religion in Early America

Friday, March 20, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Warner Bros. Theater, first floor

Free and open to the public; also available via live webcast.
Please RSVP here.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will convene a one-day symposium on “Religion in Early America.”  Led by Stephen Prothero, renowned Professor of Religion at Boston University, the symposium will explore three major themes that characterize the role of religion in the formation and early development of the United States.  The first theme is the diversity of religious traditions in the American colonies, and how they needed to be considered as the nation came into being.  The second is the principle of religious freedom that was incorporated into the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that has been an enduring principle of the nation.  The third is the growth of many forms of religion in the new United States and how they shaped American society during the first half of the 19th century.
Other scholars participating in the symposium are:
A major goal of the symposium is to inform the planning of an exhibition on “Religion in Early America” that is scheduled to open on the second floor of the museum in 2016, along with companion exhibitions on “Democracy in America,” and “Many Voices, One Nation.”  The latter focuses on American immigration, migration, and diversity. The new religion exhibition, which has the same themes as the symposium, will put on display a stellar sample of objects, including The Bay Psalm Book, The Washington Inaugural Bible, The Jefferson Bible, a Shaker spinning wheel, Native American wampum, George Whitfield’s portable pulpit,  George Mason’s baptismal font, a first edition Book of Mormon, a piece of Charles Finney’s Camp Meeting tent, John Carroll’s Tabernacle, a Torah Scroll from the first New York Synagogue, a child’s Noah’s Ark set, and many more.
For further information email Jaya Kaveeshwar at kaveeshwarj@si.edu.

The Author’s Corner with John Howard Smith

John Howard Smith is Associate Professor at Texas A&M University– Commerce. This interview is based on his new book, The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775 (Fairleigh Dickinson, December 2014).


JF: What led you to write The First Great Awakening?

JS: I started working on the First Great Awakening while I was writing my dissertation. I had gotten the idea for writing a new synthetic history of the Awakening in 2000, and I happened to meet Edmund S. Morgan at an American Society of Church History conference in Santa Fe, and I told him my thoughts about what was needed in such a work. He was incredibly encouraging, and agreed to read a few chapter drafts that I worked up after that meeting, and his comments and suggestions substantially guided the architecture of the book. I worked up a full-length manuscript proposal in 2004 and sent that to Harry S. Stout, who forwarded it to Kenneth P. Minkema, and both were very complimentary. I had to set it aside for a little over a year in order to publish my dissertation in 2008, after which I was able to devote myself completely to the Awakening. In the meantime Thomas S. Kidd’s The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelicalism in Colonial America had come out, but I knew that my approach was markedly different from his, and that another account approaching the Awakening from an opposite angle would be very interesting. I remain surprised that relatively few historians have endeavored to write a comprehensive history of the Awakening, and so much great work on it had emerged since 2007 that I thought needed to be incorporated into a history that was more secularist in its approach.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The First Great Awakening?

JS: The First Great Awakening is not so much the story of how evangelical Protestantism created a consistent American identity, but rather about how evangelicalism established fractious sectarianism as the defining characteristic of American Christianity. “The First Great Awakening” is a reassertion of the importance of religion to the colonial American mind, as well as of the fact that the Awakening was a significant intercolonial and international phenomenon that was sustained from the 1720s through the 1770s.

JF: Why do we need to read The First Great Awakening?

JS: My goal is to challenge the accepted definition of a religious awakening, and specifically of the First Great Awakening, to include particularly the revival and reinvention of American Indian religions in the ‘middle ground’ of western Pennsylvania. Also, I try to give greater attention to African Americans and women than practically all other book-length studies have done. I follow Doug Winiarski in emphasizing the professedly mystical aspects of eighteenth-century revivalism to identify charismatic behaviors as essential to understanding the Awakening, which I think most other historians have downplayed in one way or another. I disagree with Jon Butler that the Awakening was a nineteenth-century invention, and with Frank Lambert that it was invented by the eighteenth-century revivalists, but rather that it was a creation of ordinary people as well as of the revivalists and their critics alike. I think that my attempt to reframe and redefine the Awakening offers a challenging alternative to what has become the traditional interpretation of it. I’m not trying to obliterate prior interpretations, but I do think that the vast bulk of it is shaped by a combination of tacit and overt pro-Christian precepts. However, I want to clarify that while I am a secular humanist, I am not anti-religion. I believe that religion can allow human beings to exhibit some of their best qualities, and my depiction of the ordinary and extraordinary people who were part of the Awakening is executed with sympathy and respect. My view of the Awakening is of an event that was shaped by the vigorous and sometimes contentious interplay between reason and revelation.

JF: How and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JS: I think I was almost destined to be an early Americanist. When I was eight years old, I studied a biography of Thomas Jefferson for a merit badge in Cub Scouts, and was fascinated by him (and the fact that we share the same birthday!) and by eighteenth-century America in general, which seemed to be everywhere on TV during and just after the Bicentennial in 1976. I maintained that fascination ever since. In 1986 I saw the Alan Alda comedy “Sweet Liberty” and was enchanted by the notion of being a college professor, and resolved that that was what I would do with my life. However, I started off as an English major at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and only about halfway through did I declare a second major in history. I was guided by a great early Americanist, Milton Ready, who always pushed me to do more and be better at what I do, and my best work was always in the early American field. By the time I graduated in 1991, there was no question that I was going to go to graduate school to become an early Americanist, which I eventually did under the fatherly tutelage of Prof. Sung Bok Kim at the State University of New York at Albany. Besides, with a name like John Smith, how could I not be an early Americanist?

JF: What is your next project?
JS: I have begun preliminary research for what I intend will be a new history of occultism, witchcraft, and witch-hunting in colonial America from the 1620s through the 1720s, centering of course on the Salem witch trials. I want to pull together the best of what can be found in the works of Jon Butler, Keith Thomas, John Demos, Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, Carol Karlsen, Bernard Rosenthal, and Mary Beth Norton, among others, into a comprehensive study that seeks to explain the evolution of the complex relationships between religion, belief in the supernatural, occultism, and Enlightenment rationalism over the course of a century of phenomenal change in colonial British America.
JF: Looking forward to reading about it! Thanks John.
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Geordan Hammond

Geordan Hammond is Senior Lecturer in Church History and Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College (Manchester, UK) and Director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre. This interview is based on his new book, John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity (Oxford University Press, July 2014).
JF: What led you to write John Wesley in America?
GH: The book has its origins in my doctoral thesis at The University of Manchester. I initially wanted to write on John Wesley’s relationship with America and Americans in his lifetime. Studying the two years he spent in the colony of Georgia as an Anglican missionary was the natural starting point for this project. When I got into the work on Georgia I increasingly became fascinated with the subject and realized that a lot of sources are available, many of which had scarcely been used by past biographers of Wesley and some never before used by them. Studying Wesley in Georgia fit well with my interests in history, theology, and missionary work.   
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of John Wesley in America?
GH: I argue that the Georgia mission, for Wesley, served as a laboratory for implementing his views of primitive Christianity. His aim of restoring the doctrine, discipline, and practice of the early church in the primitive Georgia wilderness was the central motivating factor in his decision to embark for Georgia and in his clerical practice in the colony. 
JF: Why do we need to read John Wesley in America​?
GH: This question could be answered in a variety of ways depending on the interests of the individual reader. It is the first book-length study of John Wesley’s experience in America. In the past, the majority of Wesley scholars have seen his Georgia mission as a ‘failure’ leading to his evangelical conversion not long after he returned to England from the colony. I argue for the importance of evaluating Wesley’s time in Georgia in its own right. I think a contextual study of Wesley in Georgia presents more areas of ‘success’ than scholars have often realized, and also helps to reveal more continuity with Wesley’s post-Georgia ministry and theology than has often been recognized. For those interested in the eighteenth-century Church of England, the book demonstrates the depth of influence of Anglican High Churchmen and Nonjurors on Wesley’s conception and practice of primitive Christianity. I document the connections between Wesley’s participation in the revival of patristic scholarship at Oxford and his clerical practice in Georgia. Wesley’s vision for restoring primitive Christianity had a dominant effect on his relationships in Georgia. For anyone interested in the history of colonial Georgia, the book contributes to our knowledge of religion and politics in the colony.   
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
GH: Thanks for calling me ‘an American historian’! I decided to become a historian as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University after a long process of discernment and elimination of other possibilities. When I chose a vocation in history it felt like coming back home as I recalled the interest in history I developed as a child through the stories my grandfather told me. At Fuller Theological Seminary I combined my love for history and theology. So I became a church historian—a vocation that includes the history of American Christianity. While I teach a wide-range of church history from early to modern, my primary areas of research and writing are on John Wesley, early Methodism, the Church of England in the eighteenth century, and the Evangelical Revivals in their international contexts. Being a historian gives me the tools to better understand my heritage in the Wesleyan tradition and to help shape it for the future.
JF: What is your next project?

GH: I am one of the organizers through the Manchester Wesley Research Centre of the ‘George Whitefield at 300’ conference this June 25-27 at Pembroke College, Oxford (where Whitefield was a student). The conference will feature over forty papers on aspects of Whitefield’s life, context, and legacy. My next publishing project will be co-editing a book featuring select papers from the conference. Part of my ongoing publishing work includes serving as co-editor of the journal Wesley and Methodist Studies.   

JF:  Thanks, Geordan!

Sunday Morning at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Yesterday morning I had a nice visit to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I spoke about Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?:  A Historical Introduction during the Christian education hour.  What a great church!  The room was full and those in attendance seem to be very engaged with the subject.

Thanks to Dr. Greg Carey, the church’s “Scholar in Residence” and a New Testament professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary, for inviting me to speak.  During one of our conversations I learned that the congregation was organized in 1730 and the church building was dedicated by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the most important American Lutheran of the eighteenth-century.

Evan Haefeli on the History of Toleration

Evan Haefeli, an early American historian at Columbia, has written a very helpful essay on the history of toleration. Haefeli argues that religious toleration is hard to define because it has meant different things in different eras and places. Haefeli’s attempt to historicize the concept of toleration is a refreshing response to those who might argue that there is some kind of universal definition of the term. I think this would be a very useful piece to teach historical thinking skills in a colonial America course.

I am assuming that this essay comes from Haefeli’s forthcoming and long-awaited New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Here is a taste: 

There is, of course, a history of toleration out there. Anyone can immediately conjure up certain associations and images when that phrase is invoked. However, exactly what comes to mind would, I am certain, vary significantly depending on the mind in question. Is it the struggle of Jews for recognition in Pieter Stuyvesant’s New Amsterdam? Of Catholics in Ireland? Of Mennonites in Switzerland? Remonstrants in the Dutch Republic? Greek Orthodox in the Ottoman Empire? Episcopalians in Scotland? Muslims in English Tangiers? Hindus in Portuguese Goa? Or Dutch Protestants in Japan? And so on. Is it really our job to champion one narrative over the other?

Rather than evaluate the relations (some more fraught than others) between different religious groups along a presumed universal scale of tolerance, we should focus on the specifics of the situation at hand. Once we can appreciate how the “rise” of tolerance in a particular place, such as Ireland, would affect the relationship between the various groups involved (in this case, a demographic majority of Roman Catholics versus smaller populations of various Protestants, including Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and the Church of Ireland—but not, before the nineteenth century, Jews, Muslims, or other non-Christians), then we can embark on a fuller discussion of what it is we are talking about when we talk about religious freedom (as Saba Mahmood suggests with regard to the Middle East).

The challenge for today’s world, in which global awareness and implications are unavoidable in a way they were not in the sixteenth century, is to come up with a method to approach the history of toleration that can capture its perpetual, ongoing, and, I would say, never-ending nature. However widespread and powerful religious unity and conformity was in medieval Europe, one can still find exceptions—bits of diversity that kept questions of toleration alive long before the appearance of Protestants. And if one goes back further, to the late Antique period, then one returns to a world of religious diversity in which the Roman Catholic Church was but one of many contenders (indeed for the fervently Christian Roger Williams everything went downhill once the emperor Constantine converted and fused his church with his empire). Toleration in some form or another has been around for a long time. It will not go away, though it will change. We need to move away from models of rise and fall, progress and decline, and towards a way to capture the perpetual motion machine that tolerance really is. Only then will the ideas of long-gone Protestants retain relevance in a world where it is now Catholics who are taking the lead as advocates of religious freedom.

"History Now" Explores Religion in Colonial America

The current issue of History Now, the online journal of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, is featuring articles, lesson plans, and activities related to religion in the colonial world.  The articles include:

The Puritans and Dissent: The Cases of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson by Francis J. Bremer

Early America’s Jewish Settlers by Eli Faber

The Origins and Legacy of the Pennsylvania Quakers by Barry Levy

Thomas Jefferson and Deism by Peter S. Onuf

The issue also includes a very cool interactive map tracing the concentrations of various religious groups in different parts of the British colonies.   

How To Get Rid of Your Minister–American Revolution-Style

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell is in the midst of a short series of posts on how, in April 1775, the patriot majority in the town of Groton, MA tried to get rid of their loyalist minister, Samuel Dana, and replace him with a more patriot-friendly clegyman.  Here is a taste:

According to historian Caleb Butler, local tradition held that at some point, probably after war began at Lexington and Concord, “the inhabitants were so enraged, that they shot bullets into Mr. Dana’s house, to the great danger of his life and the lives of his family.” Nevertheless, the minister didn’t leave town and seek the protection of the British army in Boston. 

I have never heard of another case where the local patriots fired bullets into the home of a Loyalist minister, but we do know that many of these pro-British ministers, especially in 1775 and 1776, were often driven out of their parishes by force and intimidation.

Get the entire story here.

Michael Bloomberg and Peter Stuyvestant

Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of Jewish History at Brandeis, reminds us that Jews were not always welcome in New York City He draws a comparison between 17th century Jews and 21st century Muslims:

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on Governors Island, in sight of the Statue of Liberty, and forcefully defended the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, he expressly made a point of distancing himself from an earlier leader of the city: Peter Stuyvesant, who understood the relationship between religion and state altogether differently than Bloomberg does.

As governor of what was then called New Amsterdam, from 1647-1664, Stuyvesant worked to enforce Calvinist orthodoxy. He objected to public worship for Lutherans, fought Catholicism and threatened those who harbored Quakers with fines and imprisonment. One might easily imagine how he would have treated Muslims.

When Jewish refugees arrived in his city, in 1654, Stuyvesant was determined to bar them completely. Jews, he complained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He wanted them sent elsewhere.

Stuyvesant’s superiors in Holland overruled him, citing economic and political considerations. He continued, however, to restrict Jews to the practice of their religion “in all quietness” and “within their houses.” Being as suspicious of all Jews as some today are of all Muslims, he never allowed them to build a synagogue of their own.

In 1685, with the British in control of the city, 20 Jewish families petitioned to change Stuyvesant’s precedent so that they might establish a synagogue and worship in public. They were curtly refused. “Publique worship,” New York City’s Common Council informed them, “is Tolerated… but to those that professe faith in Christ.”

Eventually around the turn of the 18th century, Jews in New York won the right to worship in public, and Congregation Shearith Israel opened America’s first synagogue. Subsequently, in Rhode Island, what is today known as the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building still extant in North America, was dedicated in Newport in 1763.

Spring 2010 Issue of Early American Studies is Here

Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2010)

From the Editor Elaine Forman Crane

“A Historical Archaelogical Study of Eighteenth-Century Newport: Three Middling Households” by Christina J. Hodge and Diana S. Gallagher

“Widow Pratt’s World of Goods: Implications of Consumer Choice in Colonial Newport, Rhode Islandby Christina J. Hodge

“Parasites and Sanitation in Eighteenth-Century Newport, Rhode Island: The Pratt, Brown, and Tate Families” by Diana S. Gallagher

“Calvin and Locke: Dueling Epistemologies in The New-England Primer, 1720-1790” by Stephanie Schnorbus

“‘Astrology’s from Heaven not from Hell’: The Religious Significance of Early American Almanacs” by T. J. Tomlin

“‘Light might possibly be requisite’: Edgar Huntly, Regional History, and Historicist Criticism” by Andrew Newman

“‘Ready to act in defiance of Government’: Colonial Philadelphia Voluntary Culture and the Defense Association of 1747-1748” by Jessica Choppin Roney

“‘A Flag of Defyance at the Masthead’: The Delaware River Pilots and the Sinews of Philadelphia’s Atlantic World in the Eighteenth Century” by Simon Finger

“‘Jacobins in this Country’: The United States, Great Britain, and Trans-Atlantic Anti-Jacobinism” by Rachel Hope Cleves

“Glimpses of the Other before Orientalism: The Muslim World in Early American Periodicals, 1785-1800″ by Robert Battistini

Sponsored by The McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Early American Studies is a triannual journal dedicated to publishing original research on a broad range of topics. Starting in 2010 it will be triannual. Each issue is organized with the goal of fostering research and scholarly inquiry into the histories and cultures of North America in the Atlantic world before 1850. Special emphasis is focused on topics and issues centered in the mid-Atlantic region.

American Religious History: Pre-Civil War

A very polite former student who is preparing for graduate school writes:

I know that you are busy. However, if you have a few moments, could you send me an e-mail with suggested readings for the field of American Religious History, particularly the pre-Civil War era?…Again, I know that you are busy but I would like to start building a foundation for my future studies while I have some free time.

Before I answer, I thought I would put this to my readers. What are the “must reads” that I should include on this list?

The Wolfe’s Tone on Day 3 at the AHA

The Wolfe’s Tone is getting a bit tired from all of his work pounding the floor of the AHA Convention, but like any good reporter, he remains on the beat. Enjoy reading his report from Day 3. If his work is new to you, feel free to go look at his previous pieces. History journalism at its best!–JF
Saturday was the most lively day of the conference yet. The numbers seem to swell because the crowd that arrived late is here, and so is the crowd that is leaving early. Today many (including me) were informed that “The University of ******* cannot interview you at this time.” There is a message center with several computers for prospective employees to receive the dreaded news. It is actually quite sad to watch people’s shoulders literally fall as they read their messages while you wait in line. The human element of the hiring freeze is felt everywhere.
However from here on out- we accentuate the positive! Yea Norman Vincent Peale!!!

Remembering the Good

CS Lewis said “The person who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.” That is true of events like this, even if some historians still refuse to break bread together because they interpret British Imperialism in opposite ways. It is easy to scoff at the well worn faults of professional conferences. All the standard tropes still apply: vanity, competition, antiquarian topics, libations and libidos. However I am struck by the singular fortune of being here. Almost every table is filled with scholars discussing their passion over a drink: Ancient China, Rome, Greece, Russia, the Atlantic, slavery, religion, revolution, industrialization, racism, labor history, world wars, …. the list goes on. All across San Diego diners are filled (okay- not quite filled, the AHA reports attendance is way down…. lets go with “patroned”) with people who love the Enlightenment in the Atlantic more than anything in the world talking with other people passionate about just that thing (insert your passion here). Everywhere you go, people are just enthralled in their conversations. That, I think, is a good thing.

We go to conferences, especially this conference, for the job side of the equation. But in reality, the thing we enjoy the most is talking with other people like us. Why? Those folks aren’t getting us any jobs. We are hired by faculties who don’t do what we do. If you meet a colonial historian, chances are you will never work at the same university or college. We are hired by people outside our own subfields. There is very little cross pollination going on at the Conference of Policy Studies (or your other conferences of choice).
The great joy of conferences is that no one in my nuclear family thinks that my dissertation topic makes any difference in anyone’s life but mine. But today I had lunch with a guy from a university near my own. We have worked in the same archives, seen the same sources, and have complimentary (thankfully not contesting) dissertation topics. We happened to sit next to each other in the back room of a panel. When the panel was over, we chatted, discovered our mutual interests, and I enjoyed the next 2 hours as I have few others. Here was someone like me! So remember- the dread and drudgery of these things is overblown. Conferences are great. Now if we could just make them free.
Hardball

Tonight’s political blurb: a well attended rally occurred outside the Hyatt complete with several megaphones, and about a hundred signs. I’d estimate a few hundred protesters. They marched around the entire hotel chanting at AHA attendees to “check out now! check out now!” Since I’ve already made a comment on this yesterday, I thought I would pass this tidbit along without further comment.

Grant Workshop

I forgot to include these notes on the grant writing workshop held yesterday. Here are the highlights.

Get a non-history specific or discipline specific academic to read your grant proposal— probably at least one of your evaluators will NOT be an historian
The Project Proposal should consist of a succinct overview, the argument you anticipate making, the “pay off” of their investment (i.e. what this will do that is significant), a clear discussion of your research methodology, your qualifications, and your time frame.
The most common error regarding the “qualifications” section is a rambling list of achievements, ‘I did this, I did that’…. Instead, try to show how every step in your professional career has led logically to this project you are proposing.
Make sure your letters of recommendation reflect what you are doing. If you make a research change, notify your references and make sure they include those changes. Incongruous references that speak about something not in your report are a bad thing.
The proposal should answer the questions that are asked. If they ask for circles, don’t give squares. If the announcement has gray areas, it is OK to call and ask for clarification. Also pay attention to deadlines.
Remember the human reviewer. They are weary and reward getting to the point. Strong sentences, main points, no fluff, answer the questions, no grammatical errors.
Remember the Rule of 10s:

  • You have 10 minutes to sell your reader
  • Get the whole thing summarized in 10 sentences or less
  • Write 10 versions of your draft
  • Make sure the font size is LARGER than 10- be kind to the reader’s eyes
Remember, there is $307 billion given away annually, so there is money out there. $229 billion is given away by individuals
Network- get to know the people who are on these boards. Is someone at a conference who serves on a funding panel? Get to know them. Remember, people give to people.
To search for private $ check out Foundation Center or the Catalog of Domestic Assistance or Grants.Gov. You can also Google the federal funding report of the House of Representatives. (Between these you will get everything the federal government does in relation to grants)
For private libraries fellowships, convince them that without their assistance, the information in their archives will never be known to the reading public. (FYI- the Huntington Library has the
largest collection of British material in the world outside the UK, and it is in California of all places–I didn’t know that). Also- don’t contact the curator first. They are overworked. Do all your research so that you know everything you could possibly know before calling.
Look at a private funding institution’s federal form 9-90. This lists all the people/projects they gave to last year.
If the organization is offering $1000 grants, don’t ask for $2,000. Keep it within their limits
It is OK to overreach a little bit for grants outside your exact focus, since some groups still have $ left over and might chose you as beneficiary. However don’t get carried away. Some people acquire a reputation amongst grant readers/decision makers and become persona non grata.
Sit on a grant review panel yourself. Insights will abound into the process AND expand your network with other people.
Panel of the Day

If you are a religious history buff you missed a good one today. The panel examined the Enlightenment in the Atlantic World, but really all the panelists focused their remarks on the concept of religious liberty in the eighteenth century. The various definitions given to the word liberty–some to support Whig views and some to undercut–were very informative. The panelists discussed the religious connotations of liberty stemming from Anglicanism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism, the French Huguenots, Baptists, and Genevan Calvinists. Surprising no one, the most thoughtful paper came from Notre Dame professor Mark A. Noll. He examined several views, including those of Canadian Catholics, to explain why the Quebecois (among others) rebuffed American calls to join them in the cause of religious liberty. Canadian Catholics, for instance, believed the British government, through the Quebec Act, had secured their religious liberty to practice their faith unmolested. I am not doing the paper justice, but it was wonderfully done.

Rant of the Day:

Don’t say “I probably don’t need this microphone.” Yes you do. Stop imagining yourself as George Whitefield preaching to a field of unconverted sinners. (For information on the ability of Whitefield’s ability to project his voice- see The Divine Dramatist by Harry Stout). You are an academic not a revival preacher. Use the mic.

The job market stinks, but hundreds of young historians plow ahead regardless. And when the day is over, we sit at the top of the Hyatt with a wonderful view of the skyline and debate history over drinks. We who are about to die salute you.
The Wolfe’s Tone

The Ongoing "Ubiquitarianism" of American Religion

Back in the mid-1990s I was working on a dissertation on the religious development of the West Jersey colony. (For those unfamiliar with British-American history, this was a colony founded by Quakers in 1676. In 1702 it merged with the “East Jersey” colony to form the royal colony of “New Jersey”).

I tried to pitch the revised dissertation to university presses under the title “Temples of Holiness, Foundations of Virtue: Protestantism and the Moral Improvement of the Southern New Jersey Countryside.” I had chapters on the Quaker founding of West Jersey, everyday rural life in the colony, the fragile state of religious life, the impact of the First Great Awakening, and the growth of Presbyterians, Swedish Lutherans (with a particular emphasis on religion and ethnicity), and, eventually, Methodists. I still think it is a pretty good project, but I have to agree with the acquisition editors who told me that it was too narrow for a wide readership. Maybe someday I will publish it in book form. (If there are any publishers out there who might be interested, shoot me an e-mail).

One of the chapters in the manuscript was (and is still) entitled “The Ubiquitarians of Eighteenth-Century South Jersey.” This chapter explored the behavior and beliefs of laypersons in the region. Studies of the laity in early America was very “hot” at the time and I thought I better have a chapter dealing with ordinary churchgoers as a counter to the ministerial-focused narrative that drives a good portion of the manuscript.

In a remote region like southern New Jersey, where clergyman were hard to come by, laypersons had no qualms about traveling to places where spiritual nourishment could be found. They were not religious consumers per se, since consumerism implies a choice of products. Instead they flocked to the only religious game in town–no matter the denominational affiliation. Laypersons affiliated themselves with churches so that they might baptize their children or bury their parents.

In 1741, Wilhelm Berkenmeyer, a German Lutheran minister, described early New Jersey as a place where “very few believe that the difference (in religion) has any significance” and where most people wish that no difference would be observed.” This casual orientation toward religion was captured best by the Rev. William Lindsay, a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (Anglican) priest assigned to Trenton, New Jersey. Lindsey complained about the large number of “ubiquitarians” living within the bounds of his parish. He defined this group of Protestants as those who regularly attended religious services, but seldom frequented the same church. Throughout South Jersey, I argued, attempts at what Jon Butler has called “denominational order” were consistently foiled by these “indifferent,” but spiritually sensitive, “ubiquitarians.” (This term was first identified by Patricia Bonomi in Under the Cope of Heaven).

Later I would use this research in a paper at a meeting of the American Society of Church History. Before a crowd of less than ten people at an 8:00am Sunday morning panel, I boldly questioned the usefulness of the term “denomination” when applied to eighteenth-century America. Oh well, at least it was a line on my vita.

As I look back on this chapter (I never published it), I now remember what I was trying to do. I wanted to say something about what “popular religion” or “lived religion” might look like in the middle colonies. So much of the work on this subject–David Hall was the prime practitioner at the time–focused on New England, where the Puritan-Congregational establishment held sway. As a result, early American popular religion” was always defined in terms of resistance to a dominant or established religious culture. What might we say, I wondered, about “lived” or “popular” religion in a region like the Mid-Atlantic where religious establishments did not exist?”

I was reminded of all this “ubiquitarianism” after I read the recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about the way in which the religious practices of Americans do not “fit neatly into conventional categories.” It seems that Americans today are engaging in “multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions.” According to the report, “many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination–even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals.”

The report is very interesting and revealing, but it reminds me a lot of my eighteenth-century south Jersey ubiquitarians who ran from church to church in the rural countryside. While the habits of today’s “ubiquitarians” are much more pluralistic than my middle colony Protestants, this kind of popular religious behavior is not particularly new.

Milwaukee Lecture on Children in Colonial America

Regular readers of the blog may remember that I was in Milwaukee last month working for Gilder-Lehrman with teachers from the Milwaukee Public School district on the subject of “Women and Children in Colonial America.” Part of my job was to give a lecture to 400 middle school and high school history students on the subject of “Children in Colonial America.” This was a tough lecture to deliver–my audience consisted of students ranging from 10 to 18 years of age. There were 5th graders AND high school seniors in the auditorium!

Well, the folks at Milwaukee Public Schools have written a blog post about my visit and posted a short audio clip of the lecture that includes the introduction and part of my discussion of Puritan childrearing. Here it is:

Religion in Jamestown

I have been doing some reading today on religion in colonial Jamestown, the first successful British colony in America. When it comes to the influence of Christianity on colonial settlement, Jamestown is usually interpreted as the anti-New England. If New England was founded on the bedrock of Puritan theology and culture, Jamestown was a place where religion did not play a prominent role in colonization. Thousands of AP US history students and college freshmen have written essays contrasting Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay, an assignment that only feeds the common notion that religion was unimportant in early Virginia.

Yet, as I read some of the early laws from the Jamestown settlement I was struck not by the differences in religious development between Massachusetts Bay and Jamestown, but by their similarities. Both colonies were founded, at least on paper, to spread the Christian gospel to the native Americans. Both colonies had established churches–Anglican in Virginia; Puritan Congregational in Massachusetts. Both colonies understood their colonial experiments in terms of covenant theology. (Although the notion of “covenant” was certainly stronger in New England). If they were obedient to God’s commands, God would bless them. If they were not obedient, God would withhold his blessing. Both colonies tended to interpret natural disasters or Indian invasions as signs of God’s punishment.

Religion and the state were closely wed in both colonies. Both colonies mandated church attendance and punished sins such as adultery, fornication, and slander. Both colonial governments treated dissenters harshly. We are well aware of New England’s track record on this front. Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Baptists, and Quakers were all banished from the colony for their dissenting viewpoints. But the government of Jamestown could be just as harsh. Roman Catholic priests, for example, were not permitted to stay in the colony for more than five days. When Puritans from New England arrived in Virginia in the 1640s the House of Burgesses passed laws forbidding Puritan ministers from settling in the colony and forcing Puritan laypersons to conduct worship with the Book of Common Prayer. When Quakers arrived at the same time, a law was passed requiring them to be arrested without bail and held in prison until they agreed to leave the colony. When we think about religious dissenters in Virginia the eighteenth-century Baptists usually come to mind, but the persecution of dissenters in the colony started much earlier.

Though religion did not permeate the culture of colonial Virginia in the way that it did in New England, neither was Virginia an entirely secular place in the seventeenth century.

NOTE: Let me recommend two excellent sources on the culture and values of colonial Virginia. The first is Edward L. Bond’s Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (Mercer, 2000). Bond’s book has not received the attention it deserves. This is an excellent and well-crafted study of religion in Jamestown and beyond. The first chapter makes a compelling case that religious life in early Virginia was characterized more by government enforced behavior than personal belief. The other source is T.H. Breen’s essay “Looking Our for Number One: Conflicting Cultural Values in Early Seventeenth-Century Virginia.” It is the best thing I have ever read on the individualistic culture of early Jamestown Though it was published in the South Atlantic Quarterly in 1979, I still assign it to my students.