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Heavenly Merchandize

Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America

Mark Valeri
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Heavenly Merchandize
    Book Description:

    Heavenly Merchandizeoffers a critical reexamination of religion's role in the creation of a market economy in early America. Focusing on the economic culture of New England, it views commerce through the eyes of four generations of Boston merchants, drawing upon their personal letters, diaries, business records, and sermon notes to reveal how merchants built a modern form of exchange out of profound transitions in the puritan understanding of discipline, providence, and the meaning of New England.

    Mark Valeri traces the careers of men like Robert Keayne, a London immigrant punished by his church for aggressive business practices; John Hull, a silversmith-turned-trader who helped to establish commercial networks in the West Indies; and Hugh Hall, one of New England's first slave traders. He explores how Boston ministers reconstituted their moral languages over the course of a century, from a scriptural discourse against many market practices to a providential worldview that justified England's commercial hegemony and legitimated the market as a divine construct. Valeri moves beyond simplistic readings that reduce commercial activity to secular mind-sets, and refutes the popular notion of an inherent affinity between puritanism and capitalism. He shows how changing ideas about what it meant to be pious and puritan informed the business practices of Boston's merchants, who filled their private notebooks with meditations on scripture and the natural order, founded and led churches, and inscribed spiritual reflections in their letters and diaries.

    Unprecedented in scope and rich with insights,Heavenly Merchandizeilluminates the history behind the continuing American dilemma over morality and the marketplace.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3499-0
    Subjects: Religion, Economics, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1686 the pastor of Boston’s Old South Church, Samuel Willard, delivered a series of sermons on the importance of spiritual wisdom in times of crisis. The past year had unnerved the residents of Boston. Newspapers and letters from abroad had spread rumors of war on the northern frontier. Trade imbalances, piracy, bad credit, and navigation regulations issued from London had stifled commerce. Most alarmingly, the Crown had revoked the colony’s long-cherished charter and established a royal dominion administered by an appointed governor whose Anglican practices and courtly style betrayed long-established customs. In the midst of such trials it was...

    (pp. 11-36)

    In 1653 Robert Keayne bequeathed a generous gift to the town of Boston: £300 for the construction of a public market building, or exchange, with a water conduit. His last will and testament also provided £100 to stock a granary at the marketplace and £40 to feed clergymen attending annual synods at the exchange. Keayne also donated an unspecified number of books—including his own three, handwritten volumes of commentary on the prophetic books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Hosea—to establish a public library in the building. There was more. He bequeathed £70 to the poor fund of the town’s...

    (pp. 37-73)

    Soon after Robert Keayne appeared before the General Court of Massachusetts in November 1639, Governor John Winthrop wrote a lengthy journal entry about him. He pondered the charges of oppression, Keayne’s self-defense, and the guilty verdict. Why had the court judged the merchant’s practices not merely illegal but also “very evil” ? Why had it assessed such a large fine? Keayne, Winthrop explained, was reputed to be “an ancient professor of the gospel” with high social standing. He could claim neither ignorance nor low social status as an excuse. Furthermore, “private friends,” civil “magistrates,” and church “elders” previously had “admonished”...

  8. Chapter Three JOHN HULL’S ACCOUNTS
    (pp. 74-110)

    In March 1680 Boston merchant John Hull wrote a scathing letter to the Ipswich preacher William Hubbard. Hubbard owed him £347, perhaps five times the pastor’s annual salary, which was long overdue. Hull recounted how he had accepted a bill of exchange from him as a matter of personal kindness. Sympathetic to his needs, Hull had offered to abate much of the interest due on the bill; yet Hubbard still had sent nothing. “I have patiently and a long time waited,” Hull reminded him, “in hopes that you would have sent me some part of the money which I, in...

    (pp. 111-177)

    On a late April day in 1695, Boston’s Samuel Sewall, merchant, magistrate, and member of the Council of the Province, awoke to “warm and Sunshiny” weather, as he put it in his diary. The light must have pleased him; he was to host Old South’s minister Samuel Willard and Old North’s Cotton Mather at his newly built house for the midday dinner. An inveterate observer of Boston’s social affairs, Sewall knew about public reputations and gestures. Houses were, by common perception, metaphorical bodies, reflecting the spiritual and moral states of their owners. Yet until now he had lived in his...

  10. Chapter Five HUGH HALL’S SCHEME
    (pp. 178-233)

    Writing from Barbados on February 28, 1717, Hugh Hall Jr. informed Benjamin Colman, the pastor of Boston’s Brattle Street Church, that he planned to embark for London to become a merchant. Born on the island in 1693, young Hugh had been raised in Boston. His grandmother Lydia had ensured him a pious education with introductions into Old South and Brattle Street churches. At Old South, he sat in the pews among Boston’s merchant families—established clans such as Oliver and Savage as well as recently established traders such as David Jeffries and Thomas Fitch—and dutifully took notes on the...

    (pp. 234-250)

    In the fall of 1740, Samuel Philips Savage, a young member of a mercantile dynasty in Boston, jumped full force into the currents of religious revival. He began a correspondence with George Whitefield, the English evangelist whose preaching in the Brattle Street pulpit awed him. Traveling on business, he attended Whitefield’s performances in Rhode Island and New York. On a later trip to northern New England, he celebrated an outbreak of spiritual fervor in York, Maine, which, as he recounted, shone with a “Beam of Divine Joy” falling on participants. He also began a correspondence with the itinerant revivalist Gilbert...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 251-320)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 321-337)