Saturday, September 15, 2012
Colonial History Written Still (and written carelessly) By the North
Theo Hobson’s disparaging of “stuffy elitist Churches” in his September 7 TLS review of David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom hardly does justice to the grievances of colonists who dissented from the dominant religion of a particular colony. In working on a book called Ornery People I have found that Presbyterian ancestors of mine on the Eastern Shore protested against being taxed to support the Catholic Church. Quaker ancestors were punished in Virginia for fornication because they did not marry in the established Anglican Church. A Presbyterian ancestor signed a petition for religious liberty in Virginia because he was being taxed to support an Anglican minister. Colonists were fined for avoiding mandatory church attendance, barred from public office, whipped, ear-cropped, or even hanged (the fate of a few Quakers). Did any of them protest against the stuffiness of the "elitist churches"?
Reflecting the still pervasive tendency to write colonial history as if it occurred only in New England, Hobson says that Evangelicalism had “come loose from the Puritan structures of the early colonial period.” What of Virginia’s loyalty to the English church? Did Evangelicalism in the south come loose from Anglicanism? Rather, were the seeds of Evangelicalism imported with the Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians who populated the interiors of southern colonies? I have not had a chance to read Sehat yet but I suspect he deserved a more careful review.