Archive | Frontier religion

The Methodist Conquest

“If you hear something lumberin’ through the canebrake,” said the Arkansas borderers, “it’s either a bear or a Methodist preacher, and either one’s bound to be hungry.” In the 1820s, the “second Great Awakening” was underway,  and Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian preachers were fanning out across the western states to bring religion to the […]

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Fanny Trollope Disapproves Again

One of the first things that de Tocqueville noticed on his arrival in America was the extraordinarily high level of religious activity.  On interrogating American clergymen of various denominations about this phenomenon, he was surprised to find that “all attributed the peaceful domination that religion exercises in their country principally to the complete separation of […]

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Against the Current #2: The Question of Race

It is hardly surprising to find the Big Cedar Lick Baptist Church rejecting the dominant values of its belligerent and fiercely individualistic neighbors in Wilson County, Tennessee (previous post.)  The church was merely holding fast to the central values that had distinguished the Baptist faith since the beginning: humility, self-control, brotherly love, and reconciliation of […]

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Against the Current: The Big Cedar Lick Baptist Church

By now it is something of a cliché among historians to describe Andrew Jackson as the embodiment of the Scots-Irish culture that has, to a greater or lesser extent, defined the society of the American South.  Formed by centuries of savage warfare between the kings of England and Scotland, and between the local warlords of […]

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When the Baptists Became Respectable

In mid-18th century Virginia, the Baptists were downright subversive.  The most subversive were the Separate Baptists, who welcomed slaves into their congregations as spiritual equals, who allowed slaves and even women to preach, and whose patterns of loud, emotional worship owed a great deal to the religious traditions of Africa.  In those early churches, most […]

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Seeds of Community, Seeds of Democracy

The frontier Baptist churches of the 18th and 19th centuries were self-governing democratic communities.  As each new church was founded, its founding members met to draw up a constitution, setting out the articles of belief to which they all subscribed; a covenant, setting out the ways they would treat each other; and a set of […]

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