The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800

The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 384
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    The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800
    Book Description:

    The Methodists and Revolutionary Americais the first in-depth narrative of the origins of American Methodism, one of the most significant popular movements in American history. Placing Methodism's rise in the ideological context of the American Revolution and the complex social setting of the greater Middle Atlantic where it was first introduced, Dee Andrews argues that this new religion provided an alternative to the exclusionary politics of Revolutionary America. With its call to missionary preaching, its enthusiastic revivals, and its prolific religious societies, Methodism competed with republicanism for a place at the center of American culture.

    Based on rare archival sources and a wealth of Wesleyan literature, this book examines all aspects of the early movement. From Methodism's Wesleyan beginnings to the prominence of women in local societies, the construction of African Methodism, the diverse social profile of Methodist men, and contests over the movement's future, Andrews charts Methodism's metamorphosis from a British missionary organization to a fully Americanized church. Weaving together narrative and analysis, Andrews explains Methodism's extraordinary popular appeal in rich and compelling new detail.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2359-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. INTRODUCTION How American was Early American Methodism?
    (pp. 3-10)

    John Wesley, founder of the most successful religious movement in eighteenth-century Britain, began his missionary career in 1735, an employee of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, bound for General James Oglethorpe’s Georgia colony. Here on the precarious southeastern edge of British America, wedged between South Carolina and Spanish Florida, the colony’s frontier dissolving into an interior controlled by powerful southeastern woodlands tribes, Wesley was directed by the SPG to serve as parish priest for Georgia’s heterogeneous settler population and to convert the Chickasaws. Instead, with the support of his younger brother Charles, the colony’s...

    • CHAPTER ONE Raising Religious Affections
      (pp. 13-38)

      At the end of the seventeenth century, the Church of England, winner of more than a century and a half of religious conflict, faced an unprecedented dilemma. While the Anglican Church remained established by law, and the numbers of subjects belonging to dissenting churches in England, Wales, and Ireland were relatively few, the church’s old rivals, the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, and new contestants, the Baptists and Quakers, had survived the turmoil of the English Revolution and its aftermath, with chapels and meetinghouses in every county of the realm. Whigs and Tories alike believed that Catholic power was in reascendance, while...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Wesleyan Connection
      (pp. 39-72)

      The first American Methodists’ attachment to John Wesley, founder and selfanointed leader of the Methodist Connexion and United Societies, was not significantly different from that of their British counterparts. Although the vast majority of his American followers had never met him, Wesley became their chosen father-in-Christ, just as he was the paterfamilias of the Methodists remaining in Britain. The American Methodists believed that some form of dependence on Wesley’s connection of preachers was both necessary and desirable. They expected material support—money, books, and preachers—from the British movement. And they hoped that, despite the three-thousand-mile Atlantic span that separated...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Making of a Methodist
      (pp. 73-96)

      By his own account, John Littlejohn was born in Penrith, Cumberland County, England, in December 1755, one of eight children. His parents were people of means and sent their son to a Latin school until “by various misfortunes” Littlejohn’s father lost his business and moved to London to rebuild his wealth. John was removed to a trade school where he learned the artisan’s skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Shortly thereafter he was apprenticed to a tin manufacturer in London. Within a year, one guinea and change in his pocket, Littlejohn had run away, setting out on foot for the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Evangelical Sisters
      (pp. 99-122)

      In the second book ofThe Pilgrim’s Progress, a devotional tract favored by American Methodists, John Bunyan recounts the adventures of Christiana, her four sons, and her friend Mercy as they make their way to the Celestial City, the destination already attained by her Pilgrim husband Christian. A woman, like a man, Bunyan demonstrates to his readers, can in her own way survive the ordeals necessary to attain the prize of salvation. And women, like men, were essential to the propagation of Christianity. “I will now speak on the behalf of women,” Bunyan pauses in his narration to exclaim: “For...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The African Methodists
      (pp. 123-154)

      Of the goals of the SPG, former employers of the Wesleys and George Whitefield and inspiration for the upsurge of British and colonial missionizing before the Revolution, perhaps none was as potentially visionary as the conversion of the African population of British America. Facing opposition from many slaveholders and hampered by the drawbacks of their own formal catechizing, the SPG failed to bring substantial numbers of Africans into the church in most parts of the colonies. Instead, in the twenty years following the Revolutionary War, Methodist preachers attracted more free blacks and slaves into their religious societies than had the...

    • CHAPTER SIX Laboring Men, Artisans, and Entrepreneurs
      (pp. 155-184)

      American Methodists, like their British counterparts, were ambivalent about wealth. “[I]t is rare—a mere miracle, for a Methodist to increase in wealth and not decrease in grace,” Asbury told his American audience, paraphrasing Wesley.¹ Yet acquisition of wealth was also a sign of the creditworthiness, household stability, and sobriety that verified the believer’s true conversion to the Wesleyan way of life. The Methodists’ fear of the effects of too much or too little wealth—the arrogance and abuse of power by the rich and the dependence of the poor—was one of the unspoken fundamentals of the movement.


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Methodism Politicized
      (pp. 187-220)

      In 1789, as a revival swept through Baltimore, riveting worshipers to meetings that lasted until two and three o’clock in the morning, enemies of the Methodists charged that the devil was in the revivalists and Methodism should be suppressed before the danger spread further. The meetings, Ezekiel Cooper reported, “were very noisy.” But fortunately the Methodists’ enemies’ “hands were bound by our civil and religious rights and privileges. Lord grant that these rights may extend to, and be maintained in every nation.” Religious hierarchy “supported by a civil establishment,” Cooper continued, “scarse ever fails, to create a species of tyranny...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Great Revival and Beyond
      (pp. 221-239)

      In 1800, the American Methodists had reason to boast of an impressive record of survival and growth. From a minor religious reforming movement, overshadowed by the greater fame of George Whitefield and struggling for legitimacy during and after the Revolutionary War, the Wesleyan Methodists had survived the vicissitudes of patriot suspicion, Anglican disdain, proslavery attack, local schism, political partisanship, and itinerant secession to emerge at the end of the century with preaching houses in full tilt in every part of the new republic, an infinitely expandable conference structure, a discipline that privileged the critical role of the traveling preacher, a...

  9. CONCLUSION A Plain Gospel for a Plain People
    (pp. 240-244)

    In 1795, the witness to a Methodist service in Norwich, Connecticut, published an exposé of the “manner and stile of those class of Preachers denominatedMethodists. . . who in large numbers, are itinerating these states.” Reporting the contents of the preacher’s sermon verbatim and ridiculing its homely discourse, the writer unintentionally left historical traces of Methodism’s popular appeal. However much couched in the syntax of biblical English and translated through the arch probity of the New England mind, the preacher’s message resonates for the reader today, so familiar with the intimate entreaties of evangelical exhortation and the ubiquitous...

    (pp. 263-264)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 265-350)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 351-367)