Evangelical Religion in the Revolutionary South: An Atlantic Perspective

Christopher C. Jones

Christopher C. Jones is a Ph.D. Candidate at the College of William and Mary

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Christopher C. Jones, "Evangelical Religion in the Revolutionary South: An Atlantic Perspective," Journal of Southern Religion (18) (2016): jsreligion.org/vol18/jones.

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In a 2004 historiographical essay on religion in the early South, historian Jon Sensbach rightly critiqued earlier scholarship that overemphasized “the significance of evangelicalism in southern history” and “invoke[d] its influence as … a ‘single, coherent way’ of explaining southern religious history.” In equating the rise of evangelical Protestantism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with the beginnings of southern religion, he warned, “we risk reducing the colonial and revolutionary periods to a kind of foreshortened prelude to the seminal Cane Ridge revival of 1801.” Sensbach’s primary concern was the distorted view such emphasis gave to the religious culture(s) of the southern colonies in the eighteenth century. The colonial South, he explained, was much more geographically and culturally expansive, and included not only the Church of England and other Anglo settlers, but also the thousands of French and Spanish Catholics along the Gulf Coast, the masses of American Indians who populated the coastal regions and continental interior alike, and the steady stream of slaves imported from Africa. “From this perspective,” Sensbach concluded, “the eighteenth century, far more than a mere enabler of the evangelical movement, was easily the most volatile and dynamic period in southern religious history. At no other time was the South so much a part of the transatlantic religious world and receptive to so many international influences from the British Isles, France, Spain, the German lands, and Africa.”1 More than mere prelude to the birth of the Bible Belt, then, the colonial South was a region with a diverse set of spiritual beliefs and religious communities, including not only Christians of various stripes, but also Jews, Muslims, and various indigenous spiritual systems.

The last decade has borne out Sensbach’s conclusions, demonstrating not only the range of religious traditions in the early South, but also the ways in which those several systems were enmeshed within larger developments in the Atlantic World. A 2012 roundtable discussion on the subject in the Journal of Southern Religion included essays on Catholicism, Protestantism, Native American religions, Protestant Dissenters, and African religions in the early South. In her introductory essay to that roundtable, Rebecca Goetz remarked on “how delightfully complex our awareness of the religiosity of the early South has become.” The “most critical” development of recent historiography, she declared, was that “scholars have absorbed the existence of many colonial Christianities and the place of both the Atlantic World and the continental interior in circulating ideas and beliefs.”2 The turn to both continental- and Atlantic-oriented histories has not only broadened the cast of historical actors to include, in addition to circuit-riding itinerant preachers, their converts, and the Anglican hierarchy they challenged and then dismantled, French Catholic nuns in New Orleans, devout Muslims laboring on plantations along the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf Coast, Afro-Caribbean and German Moravians in the southern Piedmont, and Mississippian mound builders in Natchez, to name just a few. This turn has increased attention to the gendered dimensions of religious community in the region; highlighted the persistence of African beliefs, cultures, and systems in the Americas; and even successfully challenged long-standing assumptions about the staidness of the Anglican Establishment in Britain’s southern colonies.3

But if the study of religion in the colonial South has been swept up in the currents of scholarship on the Atlantic World, scholarship on religion in the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods, generally speaking, has not. Although the number of important books and articles on the rise of evangelical Protestantism in the early southern United States has continued apace, those studies have remained wedded to regional and national frameworks. Recent scholarship has successfully challenged and revised our understanding of the supposed unity of early southern evangelicals, the timing and reasons for their ascendance, and the relationship between black and white practitioners, among other historiographical interventions.4 However, with a couple of notable exceptions, that body of literature has remained limited in its geographic scope. While some nod to developments beyond the southern states, and a few even bring early southern evangelicalism into direct comparison with Methodist and Baptist communities elsewhere in the United States and beyond, virtually none has attempted to situate the Bible Belt’s beginnings in an explicitly Atlantic framework.5

This lacuna is curious for a few reasons. Virtually every other subfield in early American history has long since incorporated the Atlantic World. In a 2002 essay, David Armitage confidently proclaimed, “we are all Atlanticists now,” and he noted that “no field seems to have taken an Atlantic perspective with more seriousness and enthusiasm than historians.”6 The failure of post-Revolutionary historians of southern evangelicalism to join in that larger trend is particularly notable because the arrival and rapid growth of evangelical Protestantism in the South was shaped in fundamental ways by larger forces in the Atlantic World, including political revolution, mass migration (both voluntary and forced), the shifting landscape of slavery and the slave trade, and, of course, religious revivals. Evangelical Protestantism in the South and elsewhere contributed to those debates and events and, in turn, shaped the Revolutionary Atlantic world’s religious, cultural, and political landscape.

The most notable exceptions to this general trend focus on African American evangelicals. In 1998, Sylvia Frey and Betty Wood published Come Shouting to Zion, a comparative study of black evangelical Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean. The book was widely lauded for its careful research and innovative approach, and justly so: Frey and Wood not only brought evangelical religion in the two regions into conversation with one another, but they also revealed the religious networks that linked black Protestants in each locale with one another. More recent research has built on Frey and Wood’s thesis, investigating “evangelical networks in the Greater Caribbean.” Those networks, according to John W. Catron, linked evangelical Christians in the Caribbean with likeminded individuals in South Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere in an attempt “to foster an international black Christian community.”7 Their research, together with several other studies of race and empire in the Atlantic World in which religion assumes a minor role, points to the possibilities of more explicitly situating the study of southern religion and race within an Atlantic framework.

My own current research on the early history of Methodism in North America and the Caribbean seeks to add to and expand on the work of Frey, Wood, and others on a few different fronts, some of which I preview here. To the current cast of slaveowners, slaves, and itinerant missionaries, I add the several thousand black Loyalists who escaped from southern plantations, spent the Revolutionary War in British-occupied New York City, and then continued on to the Bahamas, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone. Their experiences highlight not only the transfer of southern evangelicalism to other regions of the British Empire, but also expand our understanding of race, religion, and agency in the Atlantic world. The connections linking evangelical Methodists in the early American republic with their coreligionists elsewhere thus extended far beyond the greater Caribbean, and included Methodist individuals and communities in Britain’s Canadian and Maritime colonies, the British Isles, and eventually West Africa. By the early nineteenth century, Methodism grew to be not only the fastest growing and largest denomination in the United States, but a full-fledged transatlantic movement.

Although my project was not conceived as a study of southern religion, the South nevertheless looms large throughout. It was there, after all, that early Methodist preachers attracted the largest number of converts (at the time of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s beginnings in 1784, over three-fourths of all members lived in the South), and, as Russell Richey has noted, the movement maintained a “southern accent” even as it expanded into other areas and the percentage of church members living in the South gradually declined.8 Moreover, the South served as the site for many of early Methodism’s most important moments and movements. It was there that its first major schisms occurred, and it was there that Methodists grappled with the subject of slavery.

The early growth of Methodism in the South was a result of both the region’s religious landscape and the aggressiveness with which Methodist missionaries and preachers pursued their objective. Early Methodist preachers in the region benefitted from the early encroachment of evangelical Baptists and Presbyterians in the decades preceding their arrival, but, as a movement within the Established Church, they also were aided by and built on the successes of missionary Anglicanism during the eighteenth century. Methodist preachers adapted their message and their methods to existing evangelical networks in not only the American South, but also elsewhere in North America and the Caribbean. And those networks linking the first Methodist classes and congregations in Norfolk, New York, Nova Scotia, and Antigua were connected and shaped, first and foremost, by the movement of Methodists. Early Methodists were a particularly mobile people. Most notably, the movement’s itinerant ministers aggressively traversed nearly every square mile of the early American republic and beyond. The father of American Methodism, Francis Asbury, epitomized that highly mobile ministry. As his biographer John Wigger summarized, after traversing the Atlantic Ocean as a 26-year-old dispatched for America by John Wesley, Asbury “traveled at least 130,000 miles by horse and crossed the Allegheny Mountains some sixty times. For many years he visited nearly every state once a year, and traveled more extensively across the American landscape than probably any other American of his day.”9 In this way, he both managed the affairs of the church over which he presided for more than three decades and set an example for the army of Methodist itinerant preachers to follow.

Asbury was not alone in his responsibilities as Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the famed 1784 Christmas Conference at which he was ordained, Asbury was appointed to co-superintend Methodism in America with the man who ordained him, Thomas Coke. Whereas most studies of early American Methodism privilege Wigger’s focus on Asbury, my research approaches the movement from the perspective of Coke, who logged more miles in his ministry than even Asbury, but spent most of that time not on horseback, but rather on board ships and schooners, en route to and from America, England, and the West Indies. From 1784 until his death in 1814, Coke logged seven transatlantic voyages, visiting the United States six times (with several extended stays in Charleston, Richmond, Baltimore, and other southern cities) and the West Indies four times. His travels also encompassed the entirety of the British Isles and several European states. When he died in January 1814, it was aboard a ship in the Indian Ocean, en route to Ceylon, where he intended to open the first Methodist mission to Asia. In addition to his responsibilities as Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, Coke served as secretary and president of both the British and Irish Wesleyan Conferences and superintendent of Methodist overseas missions, often concurrently assuming more than one position.10 If Francis Asbury embodies Methodism’s adaptation “to the landscape and culture of America,” Thomas Coke represents the transatlantic ties that linked Methodism in England and the United States.11

Others joined Coke in traversing the Atlantic and traveling between the United States and Britain’s Caribbean colonies. At the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in December 1784, two American preachers were assigned to fulfill assignments to regions beyond the early American republic’s borders: Freeborn Garrettson was appointed to superintend the work in Nova Scotia and the other British Maritime colonies, and Jeremiah Lambert was sent to the West Indian island of Antigua, where the shipwright and lay preacher John Baxter oversaw a congregation of one thousand devout (and predominantly enslaved) Methodists. Both preachers had important ties to early southern Methodism. Garrettson was a native of Maryland and a former slaveholder. Upon his conversion in 1775, he freed his slaves and embarked upon a long and storied career in the Methodist ministry. He traveled extensively throughout the mid-Atlantic and Upper South during the Revolution, and was among the most outspoken and consistent opponents of slavery in the Methodist church. Jeremiah Lambert began preaching seven years after Garrettson, and was admitted on trial in 1782. Though a native of New Jersey, he too travelled extensively throughout the South. Prior to his assignment to Antigua, Lambert was assigned to the Brunswick and Holston Circuits (in southern and southwestern Virginia, respectively).12 Those assignments, and each preacher’s prior experience in the South, were important points of contact between southern Methodism and Methodism throughout the Atlantic world.

Coke, Garrettson, and Lambert were not alone among Methodist preachers who moved between the southern United States and Britain’s scattered colonies. Nor were ministers and missionaries the only Methodists to move around the Atlantic basin. At least two of the preachers who accompanied Coke on his tours of the West Indies—William Hammet and William Meredith—later left their Caribbean posts and moved to the United States. William Hammet initially moved to Charleston South Carolina at the behest of Thomas Coke in an effort to resuscitate the missionary’s failing health. Upon his arrival he quickly came into conflict with Methodist leaders in the United States. After gathering a sizeable following in the city, Hammet separated himself and his congregation from the Methodist Episcopal Church and established the Primitive Methodist Church. The Primitive Methodists protested Asbury’s extensive authority, which Hammet decried as “the most rigid Episcopacy in the world except that of the Church of Rome,” and championed the rights of both local preachers and laity. Hammet’s associate and ally Meredith followed suit, first assuming oversight of Primitive Methodist preaching in the Bahamas, and then, in 1795, in Wilmington, North Carolina. The two erstwhile Methodist preachers were joined by other West Indian preachers, including Israel Mund, Philip Matthews, and William Brazier, the latter an illegitimate mixed-race son of the Council president in Nevis who was first converted under Hammet’s preaching there and who served as a local preacher and trusted assistant for the remainder of Hammet’s career. Together, the group established several large congregations in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and the Bahamas, all areas with substantial enslaved populations. There, Hammet and his band of Caribbean-trained missionaries could employ their particular approach to evangelism, one that was embedded in the institution of slavery. Though short-lived—the movement faltered following the death of its charismatic and capable leader Hammet in 1803—the Primitive Methodist Church briefly presented a very real challenge to Episcopal Methodism.13

The largest group of Methodist migrants were not primarily preachers, but rather lay men and women from all walks of life. They were part of the much larger Loyalist Diaspora that has received much recent attention from historians. Well over a thousand Methodists participated in the Loyalist Diaspora of the 1780s and 1790s. Though they represented only a small percentage of the 60,000 North American colonists who left their homes and sought out new opportunities in other reaches of the British Empire, their numbers included men and women from all walks of life—black and white, free and enslaved, and rich and poor. In addition to the several British preachers dispatched by John Wesley to the American colonies who opted to return to England amidst the escalating conflict, this group included Barbara and Paul Heck, Irish Palatines who were instrumental in introducing Wesleyan religion to New York City in the 1760s and then further upstate in the 1770s. In 1778, the Hecks’ home and farm in Charlotte County was seized by Patriot forces, forcing them to flee north across the Saint Lawrence River to Montreal, and then, following the conclusion of war, further upriver to Augusta Township in what shortly thereafter became Upper Canada. The Hecks were joined by several other Methodist families and individuals from upstate New York and elsewhere, and once again went to work establishing classes and congregations where none previously existed.14 The largest concentration of Methodist migrants that participated in the Loyalist Diaspora of the 1780s, though, came from the southern colonies of Virginia and the Carolinas. Former slaves from Virginia and North and South Carolina, they took advantage of Lord Dunmore’s 1775 Proclamation promising freedom to escaped slaves who took up arms for the British. They journeyed first to New York, where they spent the remainder of the war. From there, most joined some 30,000+ other Loyalists who relocated to the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A much smaller number migrated to the Bahamas. After a brief and most unhappy sojourn there, the group travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to the West African colony of Sierra Leone.

These Black Loyalists often preceded white missionaries in introducing Methodism to a region. Such was the case in the Bahamas, where Joseph Paul, Timothy Snowball, and Jack Jordan—all Methodists and former slaves from Tidewater Virginia and coastal Carolina—arrived in 1783. By 1784, Paul had begun preaching “to the eastward of town under a large spreading tree” and quickly garnered a congregation of several hundred.15 Among his followers were at least some slaves, including “Old Mrs. Wallace,” an African-born woman who had spent time in Jamaica, British West Florida, South Carolina, and East Florida before being transported to New Providence with her Loyalist master after the war. Although Paul later left Methodism, pursuing ordination in the Church of England, his first congregation formed the initial nucleus of the Methodist community in the Bahamas.16 Such was also the case in West Africa, where at least five hundred black Methodists (including Timothy Snowball’s brother, Nathaniel) arrived from Nova Scotia in 1792. After refusing to submit to the perceived overbearance of both white British ministers and colonial officials alike, a group of 128 individuals signed their names to a 1796 document asserting their independence from ecclesiastical rule. Styling themselves “The Independent Methodist Church of Freetown,” they forthrightly declared themselves to be “Dissenters” and, in their own estimation, “a perfect Church” with “no need of the assistance of any worldly power to appoint or perform religious ceremonies for us.”17 This declaration of ecclesiastical independence, and the church’s subsequent struggle to achieve it, provides a fascinating parallel and point of comparison to similar and contemporaneous independent black Methodist churches then emerging in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York—a point almost entirely overlooked by historians.

Although the religious identity and activity of these Black Loyalist migrants has long been known, only recently has their participation in religious revivals and connections with black evangelicals throughout the Atlantic world begun to receive sustained attention from scholars.18 But even that work has treated their experience as something apart from the larger story of Methodist and evangelical history, in spite of the many links connecting them. In Nova Scotia, black preachers Moses Wilkinson, Boston King, and Luke Jordan worked alongside Freeborn Garrettson and other white ministers in initiating a flurry of revivals in the colony. Once in Sierra Leone, King would, with the assistance of Thomas Coke, travel to England and spend two years enrolled in the Methodist Kingswood School, training to become a missionary. And in 1820, Daniel Coker, another former slave from Maryland and an important leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, arrived in Sierra Leone as a representative of the American Colonization Society. Born in the urban centers and on the plantations of Tidewater Virginia and Coastal Carolina, and molded amidst ongoing political revolution and antislavery reform, what, we might ask, was distinctly American—or even, distinctly southern—about the brand of evangelicalism preached and practiced by these black Methodists?

The migration of both black and white Methodists throughout the Atlantic World speaks to other issues fundamental to the rise of southern evangelicalism, including most notably schism and slavery. Research on these two subjects has remained strangely committed to regional or national frameworks. But neither Methodism’s complex relationship with slavery nor the several schisms in which it played a part were uniquely southern, or even American concerns. Methodists in England, Africa, and elsewhere each wrestled with the specter of slavery and the slave trade too, and church leaders in each region were confronted with their own lot of dissenters and schisms. Rather than isolated affairs, debates over slavery and schism in North America were shaped by the attitudes and actions of Methodists in England, Canada, and the Caribbean, which in turn were impacted by the shifting policies and practices of American Methodists.19

One year after William Hammet arrived in South Carolina and separated himself and his congregation from the control of episcopal Methodism, James O’Kelly led an even larger group out of the MEC in southern Virginia and North Carolina, after unsuccessfully trying to limit Francis Asbury’s increasingly concentrated episcopal authority at the MEC’s General Conference in 1792. Although his primary concern was with ecclesiastical reform—O’Kelly argued for the admittance of lay preachers to conference and the rights of traveling preachers to refuse Asbury’s appointments—his departure also revealed the tensions over race and slavery at play in early southern Methodism. At least 20,000 lay Methodists, including both black and white members, followed O’Kelly out of the church and into the forcefully antislavery Republican Methodist Church. In those regions where Republican Methodism took root, black membership in the MEC plummeted.20

William Hammet’s Primitive Methodist Church likewise included a disproportionately large number of black congregants and utilized the services of black preachers to a degree neither the Episcopal nor Republican Methodists matched. But unlike O’Kelly, William Hammet was far from an outspoken critic of slavery. In fact, Hammet later owned several slaves himself. As Thomas Coke described in a 1797 journal entry, “he has indeed gained a sufficiency of money to procure a plantation, and to stock it with slaves; though no one was more strenuous against slavery than he, while destitute of the power of enslaving.”21 Although Coke’s central claim—that Hammet owned a small plantation and several slaves—was true, his take was hardly a neutral one. Following Hammet’s separation from mainstream Methodism five years earlier, the two engaged in a small pamphlet war, with each accusing the other of various sins, including hypocrisy on the issue of slavery. Moreover, Coke’s claim that “no one was more strenuous against slavery” than Hammet is hyperbole at best. There is, in fact, little evidence that Hammet ever directly opposed slavery in any form during his time as a missionary in the West Indies.22 Nor did any of the other early missionaries sent to the Caribbean, who recognized early that their potential success in converted the islands’ enslaved population depended upon cooperation with colonial officials, slaveowners, and overseers. That model would have profound consequences for their counterparts in the American South, and provides a crucial but oft-ignored aspect of American Methodism’s eventual accommodation of slavery and acculturation into southern society.

Upon his initial arrival in North America in the fall of 1784, Thomas Coke joined others in the incipient antislavery effort among Methodists. At the Christmas Conference that year, he helped push through “new terms of communion” that went beyond any previous strictures on slaveholding among American Methodists, threatening to expel any slaveholding Methodists who refused to issue a deed of manumission freeing all slaves in their possession and refusing future admittance to the church for all other slaveholders. He then followed that by leading an effort to circulate and submit petitions to the Virginia and Maryland state legislatures calling for the gradual emancipation of all slaves in each state. Such efforts provoked intense opposition from both within and without the church, and Methodist leaders reluctantly suspended the rules on slavery, thus initiating their gradual retreat from antislavery and accommodation to the slaveholding mores of southern society. The outline of that accommodation has been rehearsed and analyzed several times over by historians, and the emergence of a Methodism that not only accommodated but then championed and defended slavery has been seen as a hallmark of the denomination’s particular brand of southern evangelicalism. Those analyses, however, have missed the crucial links between Methodist attitudes and policies concerning slavery in the American South and those in the West Indies.

Thomas Coke concluded his first visit to North America in June 1785, returning to England and resuming his administrative responsibilities there. But America remained close to his thoughts. In December 1786, he arrived for the first time in the West Indies, landing in Antigua on Christmas Day. After spending nearly two months visiting several nearby islands, Coke set sail for North America, landing in Charleston, South Carolina on March 1. His short sojourn in the Caribbean left a profound impact on him: “Since my visit to the islands,” he noted in his journal, “I have found a peculiar gift for speaking to the blacks. It seems to be almost irresistible. Who knows but the Lord is preparing me for a visit in some future time to the coast of Africa?” Coke never did go to Africa, but the consequences of his interaction with so many free and enslaved people of color in the Caribbean were far-reaching. During his first visit to the United States two years earlier, he had preached to several mixed-race congregations in various locales, but he seems to have considered the salvation of slaves of only secondary concern to the salvation of their masters, whose spiritual progress he believed was held back by their ownership of slaves. The success of the work in the West Indies convinced him to change course. Though he continued to be opposed to slavery in principle, he now understood that the mass conversion of slaves he desired required a different approach. He was now willing to “acknowledge that however just my sentiments may be concerning slavery, it was ill-judged of me to deliver them from the pulpit.”23 Coke also understood the immediate and long-term effects of preaching to the slaves in a different light. As he put it in a later letter to Ezekiel Cooper, “if [the slaves] have Religious Liberty, their Temporal Slavery will be comparatively but a small thing.” Though he “long[ed] for the time when the Lord will turn their Captivity like the Rivers of the South,” Coke could only counsel Cooper to “have great Compassion on the poor Negroes & do all you can to Convert them.”24 The position marked a significant retreat from his earlier enthusiasm for emancipation and helped set the Methodist Episcopal Church on its own path to accommodation of southern slaveholders.

Debates over slavery in the United States, in turn, directly impacted those missionaries laboring in the West Indies. Methodists there routinely struggled to convince government officials and planters there that they were not antislavery subversives. When an 1800 antislavery address to members of the Methodist Episcopal Church reached the shores of Saint Kitts in 1801, British missionary John Brownell spent several days trying to convince the island’s President that he and his fellow missionaries were not being “so many Spies, whose object it was to see the nakedness of the Island, raise an insurrection, & cover the land with blood.”25 Those fears were heightened by the specter of slave rebellion and racial revolution in nearby Saint Domingue, whose effects reverberated throughout the Atlantic world. Although Brownell ultimately succeeded in convincing the officials, the repercussions of antislavery Methodist fervor in England and the United States for missionaries on other West Indian islands and regions as far away as Africa were more severe. At least four islands passed laws restricting the religious rights of Methodist preachers and their enslaved converts, with Jamaica passing three such laws in the space of five years. The Black Loyalist settlers in Sierra Leone, meanwhile, felt the effects of similar suspicions from the white officials overseeing the West African settlement. Far more than a “chapter in American morality,” then, the Methodist struggle with slavery and the experiences of black Methodists was a critical episode in the development of religious toleration throughout the Atlantic World.26

The ascendance of Methodism in the American South is thus only one part of evangelical Protestantism’s growth throughout the Atlantic World. And as I have outlined above, crucial aspects of religious developments in the American South cannot be understood apart from their larger transatlantic contexts. In order to understand fully the details and implications of that relationship, much more research is needed. Beyond race, slavery, and schism, the networks that united (and sometimes divided) Methodists in different locations throughout the Atlantic World speak to issues of church building in an age of disestablishment and to the intersections of political revolution and ecclesiastical control. The transnational travels of Thomas Coke and other missionaries, the complicated relationship between Methodists in the American South and the Caribbean, and the experiences of the black Methodist migrants who settled in Sierra Leone all speak to recent calls for historians of religion to not neglect the church as a category of analysis. “Church history,” Laurie Maffly-Kipp explained in 2013, “can also shed light on the porousness of national borders.”27 This is especially true for the Revolutionary era, when the landscape of political states and ecclesiastical institutions around the Atlantic rim was so rapidly changing. While my research focuses almost exclusively on Methodism and Methodists, many of the connections I have noted hold true for Baptists and other evangelicals as well. Moreover, they involve a host of individuals and groups not commonly associated with southern evangelicalism, including most notably Quakers and Moravians.28 Future research on the beginnings of the Bible Belt will need to cast its geographical and chronological nets more widely in order to understand the emergence of southern evangelicalism and its role in incorporating and influencing broader developments at home and abroad.


1 Jon F. Sensbach, “Before the Bible Belt: Indians, Africans, and the New Synthesis of Eighteenth-Century Southern Religious History,” in Beth Barton Schweiger and Donald G. Mathews, eds., Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 7. See also his follow-up essay three years later: Jon F. Sensbach, “Religion and the Early South in an Age of Atlantic Empire,” Journal of Southern History 73, no.3 (August 2007): 631–42.

2 Rebecca Anne Goetz, “Religious Diversity and the Coming of Christianity in the Prerevolutionary South,” Journal of Southern Religion 14 (2012). <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/goetz.html>.

3 See the several essays in the 2012 Journal of Southern Religion roundtable; especially Jason Young, “African Religions in the Early South,” <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/young.html>; Maura Jane Farrelly, “Catholicism in the Early South,” <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/farrelly.html>; Tracy Neal Leavelle, “Native American Religions in the Early South,” <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/leavelle.html>; and Travis Glasson, “Protestantism in the Early South,” <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/leavelle.html>.

4 Jewel Spangler’s essay in the 2012 JSR roundtable provides a helpful overview of recent scholarship on the subject. See Jewel L. Spangler, “Protestant Dissenters in the Early South,” Journal of Southern Religion 14 (2012): <http://jsreligion.org/issues/vol14/spangler.html>. Among the most influential reevaluations of the rise of southern evangelicalism are Christine Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf Books, 1997); Cynthia Lynn Lyerly, Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770–1810 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Philip N. Mulder, A Controversial Spirit: Evangelical Awakenings in the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Monica Najar, Evangelizing the South: A Social History of Church and State in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Jewel L. Spangler, Virginians Reborn: Anglican Establishment, Evangelical Dissent, and the Rise of the Baptists in the Late Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008); Charles F. Irons, The Birth of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); Randolph Ferguson Scully, Religion and the Making of Nat Turner’s Virginia: Baptist Community and Conflict, 1740–1840 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008); and Thomas J. Little, The Origins of Southern Evangelialism: Religious Revivalism in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1670–1760 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013).

5 Among those monographs that employ a comparative perspective are Janet Moore Lindman’s Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), which compares and contrasts early Baptist communities in Virginia and Pennsylvania; and Dee E. Andrews, The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760–1800: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), which focuses on the Middle Atlantic cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

6 David Armitage, “Three Concepts of Atlantic History,” in David Armitage and Michael J. Braddock, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 11.

7 Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); John W. Catron, “Evangelical Networks in the Greater Caribbean and the Origins of the Black Church,” Church History 79, no. 1 (March 2010): 80. See also John W. Catron, Embracing Protestantism: Black Identities in the Atlantic World (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016).

8 Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, for the Years 1773–1828, Volume 1 (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1840), 20. Russell Richey, Early American Methodism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

9 John Wigger, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 3.

10 The best comprehensive treatment of Coke’s life and ministry remains John Vickers, Thomas Coke: Apostle of Methodism (Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1969).

11 Wigger, American Saint, 3.

12 See Minutes, 23–24. Poor health forced Lambert to return to the United States in 1786, where he died later that year. On Garrettson, see Robert Drew Simpson, American Methodist Pioneer, The Life and Journals of the Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, 1752–1826 (Rutland, VT: Academy Books, 1984).

13 See Catron, “Evangelical Networks in the Greater Caribbean,” 98–107; and Wigger, American Saint, 107–111.

14 The most detailed treatment of the Hecks’ migration is found in Eula C. Lapp, To Their Heirs Forever: United Empire Loyalists, Camden Valley, New York to Upper Canada (Belleville, Ontario: Mika Publishing Company, 1977).

15 Samuel Kelly, An Eighteenth Century Seaman: Whose Days have been Few and Evil, ed. Grosbie Garsten (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1925), 115.

16 Catron, “Evangelical Networks in the Greater Caribbean,” 104; Sandra Riley, Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850 with a Definitive Study of Abaco in the American Loyalist Plantation Period, Bicentennial Edition 1983, Fourth Printing (Miami: Island Research, 2000), 140.

17 Viscountess Knutsford, Life and Letters of Zachary Macaulay, by his Granddaughter Viscountess Knutsford (London: Edward Arnold, 1900), 145–46.

18 See Ellen Gibson Wilson, The Loyal Blacks (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976) and James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783–1870 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992). More recent works that focus on the intersections of religion and race in the Black Loyalist experience include Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolutions and Their Global Quest for Liberty (Boston: Beacon Books, 2006); Joanna Brooks and John Saillant, eds., "Face Zion Forward": First Writers of the Black Atlantic, 1785–1798 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002); Joanna Brooks, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Alexander X. Byrd, Captives and Voyagers: Black Migrants across the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008); Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution (New York: Ecco, 2006); and James Sidbury, Becoming Africa in America: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

19 For an important exception, see David Hempton’s comparison of schisms in the United States and England in chapter four of Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 86–108.

20 Nearly all historians of early American Methodism have analyzed the O’Kelly schism. Among the most helpful are Andrews, Methodists and Revolutionary America, 202–207, and Wigger, American Saint, 211–219. Andrews focuses on the political and structural issues underlying the schism while Asbury emphasizes the personality issues at play. The most recent scholarly treatment, which includes a helpful historiographical overview and portrays the schism as a national instead of local event, is Elizabeth A. Georgian, “That Unhappy Division: Reconsidering the Causes and Significance of the O'Kelly Schism in the Methodist Episcopal Church,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 120, no. 3(June 2012): 210–235. Georgian suggests that the traditional figure of 20,000 departed Methodists is a gross underestimate, arguing that “more members must have left” the MEC “than records indicate.” For the membership statistics of black and white Methodists in the regions where O’Kelly enjoyed success, see Charles F. Irons, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 75–77.

21 John A. Vickers, ed., The Journals of Dr. Thomas Coke (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 2005), 230.

22 On Hammet’s ownership of slaves, see the entry in his diary for January 15, 1795. William Hammet, Diurnal, William Hammet Papers, 1787–1825, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

23 Coke, Journals, 87.

24 Coke to Ezekiel Cooper, April 23, 1795, in The Letters of Dr. Thomas Coke, ed. John A. Vickers (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013), 200.

25 Journal of John Brownell, April 10, 1801, Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

26 For more on this, see my essay: Christopher C. Jones, “‘An encroachment on our religious rights’: Methodist Missions, Slavery, and Religious Toleration in the British Atlantic World,” in Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda, eds., A Lively Experiment: Religious Toleration in America, from Roger Williams to the Present (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015): 101–116.

27 Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, “The Burdens of Church History,” Church History 82, no. 2 (June 2013): 364. See also the forum responding to Maffly-Kipp’s address published in the December 2014 issue of Church History, especially Sylvester Johnson’s essay, “Divine Imperium and the Ecclesiastical Imaginary: Church History, Transnationalism, and the Rationality of Empire,” Church History 83, no. 4 (December 2014): 1003–1008.

28 On Moravians in the U.S. South, Caribbean, and beyond, see Jon Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); and Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).