Tag Archives: Colonial America

Gerber on Religious Freedom in Rhode Island

Rhode Island is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its royal colonial charterRhode Island Seal this year. The occasion reminds me of one of my all-time favorite cases in constitutional law, Luther v. Borden, in which the struggle over the representative failings of the charter and all of the attendant political intrigue so typical of the Ocean State was deemed nonjusticiable by the Supreme Court. There aren’t too many Guarantee Clause controversies any longer, but you can still spot one every so often. As my former boss, Judge William E. Smith, put it to me: “Not much has changed around here since then.”

Have a look at this interesting short piece by Professor Scott Gerber (another law clerk veteran of the US District Court for DRI) discussing religious freedom in Rhode Island. Particularly interesting are Prof. Gerber’s points about Rhode Island’s complicated history and the distinction between “liberty and license.”

Andrews, “Native Apostles”

Native ApostlesThis month, Harvard University Press published Native Apostles by Edward D. Andrews (Providence College). The publisher’s description follows.

As Protestantism expanded across the Atlantic world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most evangelists were not white Anglo-Americans, as scholars have long assumed, but members of the same groups that missionaries were trying to convert. Native Apostles offers one of the most significant untold stories in the history of early modern religious encounters, marshalling wide-ranging research to shed light on the crucial role of Native Americans, Africans, and black slaves in Protestant missionary work. The result is a pioneering view of religion’s spread through the colonial world.

From New England to the Caribbean, the Carolinas to Africa, Iroquoia to India, Protestant missions relied on long-forgotten native evangelists, who often outnumbered their white counterparts. Their ability to tap into existing networks of kinship and translate between white missionaries and potential converts made them invaluable assets and potent middlemen. Though often poor and ostracized by both whites and their own people, these diverse evangelists worked to redefine Christianity and address the challenges of slavery, dispossession, and European settlement. Far from being advocates for empire, their position as cultural intermediaries gave native apostles unique opportunities to challenge colonialism, situate indigenous peoples within a longer history of Christian brotherhood, and harness scripture to secure a place for themselves and their followers.

Native Apostles shows that John Eliot, Eleazar Wheelock, and other well-known Anglo-American missionaries must now share the historical stage with the black and Indian evangelists named Hiacoomes, Good Peter, Philip Quaque, John Quamine, and many more.

Smith, “A Cautious Enthusiasm”

A Cautious EnthusiasmThis month, University of South Carolina Press will publish A Cautious Enthusiasm by Samuel C. Smith (Liberty University). The publisher’s description follows.

 A Cautious Enthusiasm examines the religious, social, and political interplay between eighteenth-century evangelicalism and the Anglican establishment in the lowcountry South. Samuel C. Smith argues that the subjective spirituality inherent in evangelical religion was a catalyst toward political and social consensus among influential Anglican laymen. Smith finds that a close examination of the writings and actions of religion-minded South Carolinians such as Henry Laurens, Christopher Gadsden, and Anglican clergymen Robert Smith and Richard Clarke reveals the influence of evangelical zeal at the highest levels of society.

Taking his study even deeper into the religious life of low country society, Smith identifies radically pietistic elements, some of which originated in the mystical writings and practices of European Roman Catholics, German Pietists, and Huguenot Calvinists. Central to this study is the recognition of Catholic mysticism’s impact on the experiential side of early evangelicalism, a subject rarely explored in historical works.

A Cautious Enthusiasm provides a rare examination of Great Awakening revivalism among lowcountry Anglicans by tracing the European origins into the lowcountry South. This study demonstrates how elements of mystical religiosity prodded some to associate evangelical revivalists with Catholicism and displays how subjective elements of religion contributed to a unique patriotic consensus among lowcountry Anglicans in the Revolutionary era.