The Origins of the American Revolution: Religion

Yesterday, Tom Cutterham kicked off our week-long roundtable on the Origins of the American Revolution with a discussion of Nick Bunker’s recent book, An Empire on the Edge. Today, we continue with a discussion of religion and the American Revolution.

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

In 1781, as the American Revolution raged, a Connecticut magazine reported that a spectral George Whitefield (1714-1770) had appeared over a regiment of British troops, including Benedict Arnold. So frightened were these British regulars, the magazine claimed, that they burned their British finery. Those familiar with the consumer politics of the Revolutionary period will recognize the political statement implicit in the burning of British goods. With refinement, British clothing, textiles, and other goods had become attractive to well-heeled colonists, who emulated the latest London fashions. As T.H. Breen and others have noted, the wearing of British fashions became problematic during the Revolution. Textiles and other factories began to crop up in the northeast, the start of an American industry.[1]

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another edition of This Week in American History. It has been a busy, yet troubling two weeks.

We would like to begin by offering our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, of Tufts University. Dr. Schmidt-Nowara died suddenly in Paris on June 27th. Continue reading

The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another addition of The Week in Early American History! Continue reading

Q&A with Stephen R. Berry, Author of A Path in the Mighty Waters

9780300204230The following is an interview with Stephen R. Berry, an Associate Professor of History at Simmons College. My review of Berry’s recently-released book, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) appeared on the blog yesterday. Today, he agreed to answer some follow-up questions about his book and his future research plans. Continue reading

Tempests and Tedium in the Transatlantic: Shipboard Life in the 18th Century

Stephen R. Berry, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life in Atlantic Crossings to the New World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

9780300204230When colonial Georgia was founded in 1732, it carved out a brand new space in the New World. The founders’ intentions were in part for it to serve as a charitable colony, where Britons from overcrowded debtor’s prisons could start anew. It also carved out an English space to serve as a geographic barrier between wealthy South Carolina and rival Spanish Florida. But, as Stephen R. Berry demonstrates in this highly original new study, colonies were not the only spaces that were created and negotiated as the Atlantic World expanded. The ocean, and indeed the ships that carried passengers to and from the New World should also be viewed as spaces in their own right.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHOn to the links! Continue reading

Maryland’s Protestant Revolution and the Problem of Religious Freedom

Maryland’s religious history is unique in colonial British North America. We largely remember Maryland as the Catholic colony that embraced religious toleration and religious freedom, in contrast to New England’s stodgily Puritan establishment or Virginia’s scattered Anglican church. Scholars and commentators looking for sources or influences on the First Amendment are consistently drawn to the colony’s justifiably famous 1649 “Act concerning Religion.” This act made it a crime to “declare call or denominate any pson or psons whatsoever inhabiting” Maryland “an heritick, Scismatick, Idolater, puritan, Independant, Prespiterian popish prest, Jesuite, Jesuited papist, Lutheran, Calvenist, Anabaptist, Brownist, Antinomian, Barro-wist, Roundhead, Sepatist, or any other name or terme in a reproachfull manner relating to matter of Religion.” “[T]he free exercise” of Christian religion was explicitly protected by the act, with repeat violators of their fellow colonialists’ conscience were to be “severely punished by publick whipping & imprisonmt.”[1] The “Act concerning Religion” places Maryland next to Rhode Island and Pennsylvania as one of the colonial regimes committed, for European Christians at least, to religious freedom in the seventeenth century.

The problem, and what makes the colony unique, is that Maryland’s experiment in religious freedom failed.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHSavor summer’s finale weekend with an extra side of early American history news. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWe begin this Week in Early American History with James Oakes’ powerful and timely reflection on white abolitionism. “The Real Problem with White Abolitionists,” Oakes argues, is that “even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise.”
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