Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Moral Geography

Moral Geography: Maps, Missionaries, and the American Frontier

Amy DeRogatis
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Moral Geography
    Book Description:

    Moral Geography traces the development of a moral basis for American expansionism, as Protestant missionaries, using biblical language and metaphors, imaginatively conjoined the cultivation of souls with the cultivation of land and made space sacred. While the political implications of the mapping of American expansion have been much studied, this is the first major study of the close and complex relationship between mapping and missionizing on the American frontier. Moral Geography provides a fresh approach to understanding nineteenth-century Protestant home missions in Ohio's Western Reserve. Through the use of maps, letters, religious tracts, travel narratives, and geographical texts, Amy DeRogatis recovers the struggles of settlers, land surveyors, missionaries, and geographers as they sought to reconcile their hopes and expectations for a Promised Land with the realities of life on the early American frontier.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50859-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1817 the Connecticut Missionary Society realized that the moment had arrived to caution the public about the “moral dangers” of the American frontier.¹ In a nineteen-page pamphlet signed by its chairman, Yale president Timothy Dwight, the home missionary society outlined the perils for settlers “planted down in the wilderness” without the proper social and moral restraints. Writing to Connecticut’s sons and daughters now living in frontier settlements where missionaries had labored for nearly fifteen years, Dwight urged settlers to “guard with peculiar vigilance” and “restrain sinful inclinations.” He reminded them that “moral habits,” above all else, combat “moral dangers.”...

  6. Chapter 1 The Benevolent Design: Mapping the Landscape
    (pp. 15-60)

    Before purchasing land in northeastern Ohio, Silas Allen wrote his former classmate Moses Cleaveland in the spring of 1797 requesting a firsthand account of the recently surveyed territory known as Connecticut’s Western Reserve. Allen, like so many future settlers, relied upon several regional maps and published travel accounts for descriptions of the western frontier. Because the majority of the printed information promoted land sales and “various reports give various ideas of that country,” Allen appealed to Cleaveland’s “acknowledged judgment and candor together with the means of information you have had” to provide an accurate assessment of the land, climate, and...

  7. Chapter 2 Models of Piety: Protestant Missionaries on the Frontier
    (pp. 61-89)

    When Thomas Robbins set off to Connecticut’s Western Reserve in northeastern Ohio on August 25, 1803, he carried with him a set of explicit and implicit instructions. The day before the journey he felt “considerably unwell” and up to the last minute he admitted a temptation “to shrink from the great work I am about to undertake”; yet Robbins called on God’s strength, mounted his horse, and rode through Salisbury, Connecticut, into New York State.¹ As the son and grandson of prominent Connecticut clergymen, he not only brought clearly defined expectations from his sponsoring home society, but he also bore...

  8. Chapter 3 The Moral Garden of the Western World: Bodies, Towns, and Families
    (pp. 90-126)

    In the winter of 1805 the Connecticut Missionary Society received the disturbing information that a Western Reserve missionary, Joseph Badger, allegedly introduced and supported a practice called “the kiss of charity” in his religious assemblies.¹ Badger had labored in northeastern Ohio under the Plan of Union for three years as a home missionary. His efforts had met with limited success, partly because of the extreme hardship of frontier missionizing and partly because of his irascible personality. It did not therefore come as a surprise to the trustees of the home society that Badger found himself in the middle of a...

  9. Chapter 4 Geography Made Easy: Geographies and Travel Literature
    (pp. 127-156)

    Writing to her cousin Elizabeth Woolsey in November 1810, the niece of Timothy Dwight complained that the arduous trip to the Western Reserve left her so exhausted that she had “lost all interest about the country I pass through.”¹ Margaret Dwight traveled the southern route along the Pennsylvania road and over the Allegheny Mountains with a penny-pinching deacon who exposed her to less than desirable overnight accommodations, food, and frontier inhabitants.² But when she finally arrived at her destination in Warren, Ohio, she described the town and the house she would live in as “pleasanter” than she had expected. Weary...

  10. Chapter 5 A Beacon in the Wilderness: Moral Inscriptions on the Landscape
    (pp. 157-180)

    The Russia Township of the 1830s was mostly uncleared wilderness. A swampy area located in the nineteenth range of Connecticut’s Western Reserve, eight miles from Elyria, Lorain County’s seat, it remained unorganized until 1825.¹ In 1830, John Jay Shipherd—a Presbyterian graduate of Middlebury College who had become a missionary after hearing the Presbyterian revivalist Charles Grandison Finney preach—accepted a call from the American Home Missionary Society to be a missionary pastor in Elyria. Shipherd, like the Plan of Union missionaries before him, believed that the West would be the proving ground for building a revived Christian nation. But...

  11. Conclusion: Moral Geography
    (pp. 181-184)

    Reminiscing to the Ohio Historical Association in 1873, President James A. Garfield described his pleasant childhood in northeastern Ohio in glowing terms. He attributed his education and moral upbringing to the successful transfer of New England manners and customs to the Western Reserve. Garfield observed “New England” character in the region’s physical aspects such as landscape and architecture; but ultimately for Garfield, as for many of his contemporaries, the abstraction of New England manners and customs remained grounded in religion. Although by the time of his boyhood the Western Reserve was populated by numerous competing religious groups, Garfield overlooked this...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-216)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-242)