Four Steeples over the City Streets

Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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    Four Steeples over the City Streets
    Book Description:

    In the fifty years after the Constitution was signed in 1787, New York City grew from a port town of 30,000 to a metropolis of over half a million residents. This rapid development transformed a once tightknit community and its religious experience. These effects were felt by Trinity Episcopal Church, which had presented itself as a uniting influence in New York, that connected all believers in social unity in the late colonial era. As the city grew larger, more impersonal, and socially divided, churches reformed around race and class-based neighborhoods. Trinity's original vision of uniting the community was no longer possible.

    InFour Steeples over the City Streets, Kyle T. Bulthuis examines the histories of four famous church congregations in early Republic New York City-Trinity Episcopal, John Street Methodist, Mother Zion African Methodist, and St. Philip's (African) Episcopal-to uncover the lived experience of these historical subjects, and just how religious experience and social change connected in the dynamic setting of early Republic New York.

    Drawing on a range of primary sources,Four Steeples over the City Streetsreveals how these city churches responded to these transformations from colonial times to the mid-nineteenth century. Bulthuis also adds new dynamics to the stories of well-known New Yorkers such as John Jay, James Harper, and Sojourner Truth. More importantly,Four Steeples over the City Streetsconnects issues of race, class, and gender, urban studies, and religious experience, revealing how the city shaped these churches, and how their respective religious traditions shaped the way they reacted to the city.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-9417-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Pursuit of Religious, Racial, and Social Unity in an Early Republic Metropolis
    (pp. 1-12)

    Imagine, for a moment, the scenes that have defined major chapters in American religious history: a Puritan divine delivers rigorous, learned sermons inside whitewashed walls. Lonely backcountry Methodist circuit riders lead boisterous camp meetings and raise rough-hewn chapels. Black Baptists fervently pray as they boycott local businesses in a push for civil rights. A savvy evangelist preaches comfort in the spacious auditorium of a modern suburban megachurch.

    None of these settings are necessarily urban. Yet each of these visions connects to metropolitan religious figures in one guise or another: village ministers read sermons from Puritan divines in Boston and London;...

  5. 1 The Foundations of Religious Establishment: The Colonial Era
    (pp. 13-29)

    During the 1760s, theNew-York Mercurywas a modest four-page newspaper in a midsize colonial port town. Its rear section of advertisements typically dwarfed the few columns devoted to news, and most news relayed events occurring outside the city, in Philadelphia, London, and Paris. Nonetheless, on November 3, 1766, theMercurygave much attention to a procession that had taken place in New York City’s streets the previous Thursday, when Trinity Episcopal Church consecrated St. Paul’s Chapel, its second daughter chapel in the city. New York’s three Anglican worship houses equaled the Dutch Reformed in number for the first time...

  6. 2 Religious Establishment Challenged, Destroyed, and Re-formed: The Revolutionary Era
    (pp. 30-47)

    Samuel Auchmuty did not live to see his vision of a unified Anglican Church establishment in New York fulfilled. His successor, Charles Inglis, had a front-row seat to its destruction. Inglis complained that the Church of England’s loyalty to Crown in the 1770s only drew “peculiar envy” from “disaffected” patriots. He reported that in the run-up to Revolution, patriot laymen threatened, verbally abused, and jailed recalcitrant priests. Inglis had personally penned a response to Thomas Paine’sCommon Sense, but patriots had seized the essay directly from the press and destroyed it. Even though the British army occupied New York from...

  7. 3 Creating Merchant Churches: The 1790s
    (pp. 48-74)

    During the 1790s, America’s economic recession lifted, as the new federal government offered a secure platform from which commerce boomed. When war between Britain and France revived in 1793, the neutral United States benefited by assuming the carrying trade around the globe. With its fine harbor and expansive hinterland, New York capitalized on the opportunity. Between 1790 and 1800, the city’s population doubled, growing from thirty thousand to sixty thousand inhabitants.¹

    By 1790, both Methodist and Episcopal churches could celebrate tangible signs of postwar recovery. In 1790, Rector Samuel Provoost consecrated a new Trinity Church, rising from the ashes of...

  8. 4 Stepping Up and Out: White Women in the Church, 1800–1820
    (pp. 75-96)

    As a new century dawned, New York City continued to grow. Between 1800 and 1820, the city doubled in population, from 60,000 to 120,000 inhabitants, as masons and carpenters skillfully erected new buildings northward on Manhattan Island. The city showed the strains of growth. A “householder” writing in theRepublican Watch Towercomplained:

    Maiden-lane is now itself a common sewer, or a receptacle of filth for a very extensive and crowded part of the city, reaching with few exceptions from John to Pine Street, and from Broadway to the East River…. [T]he waters of the marsh are not drained, the...

  9. 5 Gendering Race in the Church: Black Male Benevolence, 1800–1820
    (pp. 97-119)

    Peter Williams, former sexton at John Street Methodist, later a successful tobacconist on Liberty Street, never learned to read or write. What words we have from him come from memories of white Methodist ministers who celebrated his piety, or from his son, Peter Williams Jr., who became a minister of St. Philip’s African Episcopal Church.¹

    Late in life, Peter Williams commissioned a portrait of himself from an unnamed French West Indian painter. This work, as with all early modern portraits, attempted to balance some sense of Williams’s physical likeness with what he and the artist wanted the audience to see...

  10. 6 Preacher Power: Congregational Political Struggles as Social Conflicts, 1810–1830
    (pp. 120-145)

    In his journal, Francis Asbury recorded that delegates to the 1812 Methodist General Conference, held in New York, hotly debated the issue of elder ordination. Some participants disputed the bishop’s exclusive right to appoint all elders. Others critiqued the promotion of local ministers, who had not displayed the dedication of itinerants, to any elder positions. Ultimately the conference maintained the status quo, and upheld the bishop’s right to appoint all elders, including local preachers. That evening Asbury ate dinner with seventeen ministers, some of whom had fought for the losing side. Asbury commented, “We should thank God we are not...

  11. 7 Neighborly Refinement and Withdrawal: 1820–1840
    (pp. 146-169)

    New Yorkers confronted a changed world during the 1820s. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 began a new era in New York’s economic development. The canal transformed Upstate New York from forested hinterland into agricultural settlements and proto-industrial mill towns. Beyond Buffalo, the Great Lakes connected New York to the Old Northwest. As the market link between Europe and the American Midwest, New York City captured the lion’s share of new trade, rapidly surpassing its colonial superiors, Philadelphia and Boston.¹

    Feeding from this boom, New York grew spatially and demographically. The grid pattern of streets north of old...

  12. 8 Reaping the Whirlwind: Immigration and Riot, 1830–1850
    (pp. 170-195)

    In 1827, the New York state legislature completed its slow path to abolition and freed all of New York’s remaining slaves. Starting that Fourth of July, and continuing for the next seven years, New York blacks celebrated their freedom with parades, speeches, and demonstrations. The eighth year, their neighborhoods burned. Enraged by the bold political actions of immediate abolitionists and rumors of interracial sex, angry mobs destroyed black businesses and homes and completely dismantled St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. William Hamilton’s sons remembered their father, a sixty-year-old man, unbowed in his resistance. Grabbing armfuls of iron “missiles,” Hamilton ran toward his...

  13. Conclusion. Elusive Unity: City Churches in a Romantic Age, after 1840
    (pp. 196-206)

    Developments after 1840 in church and American history promised to revive some form of the colonial-era promise of organic unity. The holistic vision never completely died among religious leaders, who retained dreams of universal conversion or affiliation. Each of these churches participated, on some level, with attempts to create new and larger associations, but in so doing broke with older ties and connections.

    Evangelical unity promised to connect churches in greater communion. Fierce sectarian infighting characterized the early years of the Second Great Awakening for most Protestants. Denominations that supported revivalism nonetheless drew distinct lines apart from each other to...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 207-242)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-270)
  17. About the Author
    (pp. 271-272)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)