Honors Council Lecture Series presentation: Dr. John Ellis, March 19, 2014.
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Honors Council Lecture Series presentation: Dr. John Ellis, March 19, 2014.

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Dr. John Ellis, assistant professor of history at Bemidji State University, explores the early history of the American Methodist movement and how its emphasis on youth helped it become the largest ...

Dr. John Ellis, assistant professor of history at Bemidji State University, explores the early history of the American Methodist movement and how its emphasis on youth helped it become the largest Christian body in America. Ellis is presenting his research as part of BSU's Honors Council Lecture Series.

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  • 1. “Great Men Are Not Always Wise Neither Do the Aged Understand Judgment”: Methodism and Intergenerational Change in Post- Revolutionary America Presentation copyright, John Ellis, March 2014
  • 2. Opening Vignette: ThomasOpening Vignette: Thomas Hinde Meets His Match, circaHinde Meets His Match, circa 1790s1790s
  • 3. Core Question: Why did Methodism forge a movement of young reformers, and in what ways did its converts both reflect and accelerate the intergenerational changes underway between the sect’s roots in the 1770s and its growth into a mainstream religion by the 1820s?
  • 4. A)A)The Methodists' Appeal: By the NumbersThe Methodists' Appeal: By the Numbers 1)1)Between 1780 and 1820, the Methodist Episcopal Church becameBetween 1780 and 1820, the Methodist Episcopal Church became the largest Protestant body in America as it grew from a sect 8,300the largest Protestant body in America as it grew from a sect 8,300 members into a denomination of 250,000.members into a denomination of 250,000. 2)2)A conservative six-to-one ratio of adherents to members indicatesA conservative six-to-one ratio of adherents to members indicates that about fifteen percent of all Americans became Methodistthat about fifteen percent of all Americans became Methodist adherents between 1776 and 1810.adherents between 1776 and 1810. 3)3)Contemporary accounts stressed that teenagers and young adultsContemporary accounts stressed that teenagers and young adults predominated the movement’s revivals, and church records indicatepredominated the movement’s revivals, and church records indicate most of its itinerant clergy were unmarried young men.most of its itinerant clergy were unmarried young men. Right = By 1810, 8% of Maryland's population formally belonged to the ME Church.
  • 5. Faith Tradition Adherents in 1776 Adherents in 1850 Episcopalians 65940 273727 Congregationalists 85177 313252 Presbyterians 79360 905675 Catholics 7323 1088016 Baptists 70479 1602323 Methodists 10507 2679751
  • 6. B)B)The Context of Methodist GrowthThe Context of Methodist Growth 1)1)Before the Revolution, the locally oriented colonies of the UpperBefore the Revolution, the locally oriented colonies of the Upper South were characterized by communal and deferential values,South were characterized by communal and deferential values, driven by face-to-face economics, and led by established gentry whodriven by face-to-face economics, and led by established gentry who valued the stability of a comprehensive socio-political hierarchy.valued the stability of a comprehensive socio-political hierarchy. a)a)Examples of Communalism: Huskings, Bees, Kin NetworksExamples of Communalism: Huskings, Bees, Kin Networks b)b)Examples of Deference: Voting Day, Established ReligionExamples of Deference: Voting Day, Established Religion
  • 7. B)B)The Context of Methodist GrowthThe Context of Methodist Growth 1)1)After 1776, ordinary people, who were inspired by principles ofAfter 1776, ordinary people, who were inspired by principles of freedom and equality, embraced a worldview that valued individualfreedom and equality, embraced a worldview that valued individual expression and self-empowerment over cultural cohesion.expression and self-empowerment over cultural cohesion. a)a)First Example: Disestablishment of ReligionFirst Example: Disestablishment of Religion b)b)Second Example: Democratization of PoliticsSecond Example: Democratization of Politics c)c)Third Example: The Market RevolutionThird Example: The Market Revolution d)d)Fourth Example: The FrontierFourth Example: The Frontier
  • 8. C)C)Methodism and HierarchyMethodism and Hierarchy 1)1)Francis Asbury likened himself to Washington and pictured himselfFrancis Asbury likened himself to Washington and pictured himself as a first character ensuring the harmony of an integrated whole, butas a first character ensuring the harmony of an integrated whole, but he differed from the gentry by arguing that his national hierarchyhe differed from the gentry by arguing that his national hierarchy could level social distinctions, if it created an egalitarian discipline.could level social distinctions, if it created an egalitarian discipline. a)a)O'Kelly theorized that Asbury ordained circuit riding “novices” toO'Kelly theorized that Asbury ordained circuit riding “novices” to gain their loyalty for his “tyrannical” scheme.gain their loyalty for his “tyrannical” scheme. b)b)Members were tried for adultery, drunkenness, and wife beating.Members were tried for adultery, drunkenness, and wife beating. Rigid imposition of Methodist rules led the laity to object that twenty- four-year-old John Early, was a “hot-headed youth” after he “drubbed” O’Kelly’s ideas in NC during 1810.
  • 9. D)D)Methodism and the Marketplace of ReligionMethodism and the Marketplace of Religion 1)1)Methodists commodified religion. Traditionalists' indictments wereMethodists commodified religion. Traditionalists' indictments were grounded on the conventional assumption that competition at thegrounded on the conventional assumption that competition at the cost of communal unity and ordered hierarchy was greed’s product.cost of communal unity and ordered hierarchy was greed’s product. a)a)Example: John Porter vs. Valentine CookeExample: John Porter vs. Valentine Cooke Porter wrote in the Pittsburgh Press, “Those creatures, who . . . menace their innocent neighbors . . . [by daring] the peaceable inhabitant to a religious boxing match, in presence of the crowd, who are to award the laurel to the conqueror . . . ought all, without exception, to be deemed animals, and treated such.” Porter then compared the typical Methodist preacher To a “robber” who threatened to “enter my peaceable precincts . . . without obtaining permission to make sport for the people.”
  • 10. In 1802, one Episcopalian charged in a Maryland gazette that his town’s itinerant “made converts to wear,” and Methodism was a ladder whereby young men “climb” to “power” and produce “disorder.” The Methodists realized that only popularity averted religion’s obsolescence in a democratic society. The Ohio Valley circuit rider, Henry Smith, contended, “When but few people in a neighborhood leave their business . . . to come to hear a sermon, it is cruel . . . to send them away with a little dry exhortation . . . Give them a heart-warming sermon . . . and they will come again and bring others.” In one instance, John Early offended a slave speculator’s wife by calling him “among the blackest characters” during his sermon. When her angry husband later demanded that he apologize, Early quipped, “I was sorry I had injured his wife and further (I was sorry) she had a negro speculator for a husband.” In another instance, he berated a widow for wearing her wedding ring to the service. When he asked her if she had converted, she replied that she “had the gold,” to which he responded, “Sure enough . . . there it is [on your finger].” His belligerent sarcasm led some listeners to conclude that he was mentally disturbed, but this only drew crowds. He explained, “Curiosity led out some people from a distance for it had been noised that I was distracted.” In a region where cock fights, duels, and fisticuffs drew spectators, the preachers’ assaults convinced listeners that abusive wordplay was an equally brutal sport and equally entertaining.
  • 11. D)D)Methodism and the Marketplace of ReligionMethodism and the Marketplace of Religion 2)2)Traditionalists prioritized collectivity over individuality. They idealizedTraditionalists prioritized collectivity over individuality. They idealized cohesive localities guarded by fatherly ministers and the gentry tocohesive localities guarded by fatherly ministers and the gentry to protect neighborly consensus from alien incursion. The Methodistsprotect neighborly consensus from alien incursion. The Methodists instead melted insularity by creating an associational community thatinstead melted insularity by creating an associational community that linked distant converts through a national network of itinerants.linked distant converts through a national network of itinerants. Devereux Jarratt summarized the Methodist threat when he protested, “Peripatetic pastors [itinerants] . . . [are] subversive of the unity of the Christian church . . . How is it possible for settled [i.e. localized] pastors to maintain love, unity, harmony and peace among their respective flocks, while . . . peripatetics are continually intruding upon their province, and seeking by all means to draw away disciples after them?”
  • 12. One vestryman hit the matter's heart when he wrote to William Colbert, “[I am a] devout and respectable [member] of this parish [and therefore order you] to direct you doctrines another way and not endeavor to confuse the weak minds of the weak of this Parish.” A Presbyterian on one of Peter Cartwright’s Kentucky circuits repeatedly entered class meetings. The matter came to a head when Cartwright asked the woman if she planned to join the church. After she said, “No [because] I do not care a fig for your rules,” he forcibly removed her as she screamed, “You can’t shut me out of heaven.” A Baptist jabbed in the press, “It is to be lamented that some young preachers, for want of other matter, spend too much of their time in the pulpit, in condemning other denominations.” He then specified the Methodists by writing, “I think they would prosper more if they were to desist shutting themselves up, excluding respectable people.”
  • 13. D)D)Methodism and the Marketplace of ReligionMethodism and the Marketplace of Religion 3)3)Young men were not fully regarded as adults until they had marriedYoung men were not fully regarded as adults until they had married and owned land. The young preachers defied these domains ofand owned land. The young preachers defied these domains of authority for both ideological and pragmatic reasons.authority for both ideological and pragmatic reasons. a)a)Ideology: Subjective Feeling over Patriarchal PowerIdeology: Subjective Feeling over Patriarchal Power b)b)Pragmatism: Extensive Conversion over Intensive CatechizationPragmatism: Extensive Conversion over Intensive Catechization i.i. Average Age Methodist Preacher Retired: 35Average Age Methodist Preacher Retired: 35 ii.ii.The Circuit Rider Attitude toward MarriageThe Circuit Rider Attitude toward Marriage c)c)Case Studies: Brantley York, Jeremiah Minter, and James KeysCase Studies: Brantley York, Jeremiah Minter, and James Keys
  • 14. James O'Kelly complained in the 1790s, “Boys with their Keys. These striplings rule Methodism.” Another former Methodist agreed, “There is a species of pride peculiar to [these itinerants] . . . Being young and ignorant, they realize their own importance.” Instead, authority should remain with the “aged and wise” preachers. The Virginian, Devereux Jarratt, complained in the 1780s that the Methodists’ “unqualified young volunteers” who ruined “the peace of neighborhoods.” The typical circuit rider was a “a young and bold adventurer” whose aspirations “blow him up like a bladder. A Carolinian sighed, “[Methodists] take foolish inexperienced young men and place them at the helm.” He labeled the local preacher an “ignorant green horn kind of a boy.” Keys echoed that idealistic “young preachers,” rather than “sober” adults, led the church.
  • 15. E)E)Methodism and ConscienceMethodism and Conscience 1)1)In contrast to the gentry’s patriarchalism and stress on local unity,In contrast to the gentry’s patriarchalism and stress on local unity, Methodism was typified by the inclusiveness of cottage religion.Methodism was typified by the inclusiveness of cottage religion. a)a)Examples of Cottage Religion: Mary Markland; Stith MeadExamples of Cottage Religion: Mary Markland; Stith Mead 2)2)Conscience vs. ShameConscience vs. Shame a)a)Examples of Conscience: William Ormond; Freeborn GarrettsonExamples of Conscience: William Ormond; Freeborn Garrettson After a service in which William Colbert’s black listeners began to “shout aloud, jump, and fall,” a livid white woman told him that she wished he would kill himself. James Meacham was pleased that after a mob of white men beat the worshipping slaves at a service with “sticks, clubs, and canes,” because a bloodied slave proclaimed, “This is what I got for praising my dear Jesus.”
  • 16. F)F)Methodism and SlaveryMethodism and Slavery 1)1)In the Revolution's wake, American politicians struck a balance byIn the Revolution's wake, American politicians struck a balance by democratizing prospects for married white men, while guarding thedemocratizing prospects for married white men, while guarding the gentry’s power. Methodist preachers reversed the balance andgentry’s power. Methodist preachers reversed the balance and opened chances for religious leadership among women, blacks, andopened chances for religious leadership among women, blacks, and young people at the cost of local prerogatives and manly freedoms.young people at the cost of local prerogatives and manly freedoms. a)a)Example: 1787 Ban on Methodist SlaveholdersExample: 1787 Ban on Methodist Slaveholders b)b)Example: 1800 General Conference Address on SlaveryExample: 1800 General Conference Address on Slavery c)c)Example: Bennett Dowler makes national headlines, 1820Example: Bennett Dowler makes national headlines, 1820 By 1810, over one third of the Methodists in three states were blacks.
  • 17. In a diary entry, William Colbert vented his frustrations with his congregants after whites criticized him for calling the blacks at a service “brethren and sisters.” He perceptively penned, “[The congregants] thought . . . that calling them Brother and Sister will make them proud, [but] I fear their unwillingness to call them brother and sister springs from pride.” From the older, hierarchical worldview, demands for racial equality were prideful, but from Colbert’s alternative outlook, equality’s absence was vanity’s real product. William Colbert exhibited the circuit riders’ typical bluntness during a chance encounter with a slave trader. As the trader passed Colbert along a road, he asked him if he was interested in purchasing his merchandise. Colbert quipped, “I was not a negro buyer, but that I look’d upon them to be the grandest set of villains on this side of hell.” The 1800 General Conference Address’s coincidence with Gabriel Prosser’s failed revolt in 1800 confirmed the racist fear that open talk of emancipation fostered black brutality. A critic in the press wrote, “[Liberty] has been . . . preached by the Methodists . . . without any sort of reserve. What else then could we expect?” Moments of racial transcendence were common enough during the Methodists’ revivals that cultural traditionalists charged them with raising the specter of racial amalgamation. In 1801, a Philadelphia critic lampooned the “all-moving spirit” at the integrated services, writing that at them, “Religion, instead of cooling, grows hotter and hotter every night!”
  • 18. G)G)Methodism and Romantic LoveMethodism and Romantic Love 1)1)In an emotionally charged sect in which most converts were youngIn an emotionally charged sect in which most converts were young women and the majority of leaders were bachelors, the patriarchs’women and the majority of leaders were bachelors, the patriarchs’ greatest fear with their daughters’ conversions was the possibilitygreatest fear with their daughters’ conversions was the possibility that they were sexually motivated. By the late 1700s, few marriagesthat they were sexually motivated. By the late 1700s, few marriages were purely economic pairings, but patriarchs still expected theirwere purely economic pairings, but patriarchs still expected their daughters’ suitors to fit the traditional mold of an honorable man.daughters’ suitors to fit the traditional mold of an honorable man. a)a)Example: Susannah Brooks marries John JohnsonExample: Susannah Brooks marries John Johnson Recalling the heated exchange in her memoir, Brooks wrote that her parents fumed, “You’re a stranger here; nobody knows anything about you—where you are from, or who you are.”
  • 19. One newspaper article declared in 1792 that within Methodism, “very frequent, very familiar, and often very private” intercourse between men and women often led the converts to “slippery ground.” Articles alleging the preachers’ philandering conveyed the charge. In 1802, one Maryland patriarch contended in the press that his wife spotted a circuit rider in the bedroom of an unmarried local woman. When his wife entered, the preacher took both women by the hands and impudently declared, “Farewell honies.” A teenager coyly lamented to Jeremiah Norman, “It was mighty hard for a young woman to have religion. How could they pray while the beautiful men were in their sight?” After hearing Stith Mead preach, one young woman wrote with the same idolizing obsession that teens would later direct toward pop stars. She asked Mead to continue “in a single line till I shall be blessed with one more sight of your person . . . [so I may] make bold to express my love to you.” Her religious feeling and sexual attraction overlapped when in a second letter she asked Mead to “carry me in . . . prayer before the Lord that my faith fail not,” but added, “[I am] your captive.” Imagine the horror of teenage Jane Henderson’s parents, if they discovered that the itinerant who they trusted to pray with their daughter privately in late night sessions in their house later dreamed that he “had converse with her . . . [with her] above me.” After Thomas Brooks refused John Johnson’s request to marry his daughter, Johnson informed him that he would wed Susannah without his permission because, “We felt assured that our . . . eternal interests were at stake.”
  • 20. Between the 1770s and 1820s, the young Methodist preachers forged a liminal movement that enveloped the shifting American dualities of equality and hierarchy, nationalism and localism, and rugged individualism and tight community. Methodism therefore offered traction for young Americans with one foot in older traditions as they stepped into the precarious world of democratic choice.