Haley Buccola and Karie Schultz


18th Century Theology


Professor Westblade


23 September 2013


The World of Jonathan Edwards: 1700-1710


            As the decade surrounding the birth of Jonathan Edwards, 1700-1710 included important political, religious, and social events that influenced the world in which the young Edwards grew up in. Important preachers such as Cotton Mather and Solomon Stoddard were already preaching doctrine at the height of their careers that would confront Edwards in his later life. Born within a few years of Edwards, Charles Chauncy, Edwards’ later religious opponent, and other more secular figures including Benjamin Franklin set the stage for the religious and cultural ideas Edwards would confront in his pastorship. Political conflict arose in this period with Queen Anne’s War which greatly affected nearly every colonial family and would influence how Edwards and other New England Puritans perceived the colonists’ mission against Catholicism and paganism in the New World. Even though Edwards was born in this decade and had not yet begun his career, this decade proved fundamental in establishing the colonial mindset Edwards found himself immersed in later in his life.

Before Edwards was born in 1703, major Puritan figures such as Cotton Mather and Solomon Stoddard, were already preaching and establishing doctrine throughout New England that would have a great impact on Edward’s own theology later in life. Both of these theologians helped build the doctrines and framework in which Jonathan Edwards wrote. Cotton Mather, born in 1663, was 40 years old by the time Edwards was born but had served as the pastor to Timothy Edwards, Jonathan’s father.[1] Cotton Mather, known primarily today for his supposed involvement in the Salem Witch Trials, helped contribute to the atmosphere of awareness, bordering on superstition, about the supernatural that would characterize the religious climate in which Edwards grew up.[2]

Cotton Mather’s in-law, Solomon Stoddard, as grandfather to Edwards, influenced Edwards even more significantly, because Stoddard widened the [scope] of people who could participate in communion in a practice known as Stoddardism. He believed in using communion as a converting experience rather than an ordinance reserved only for communicant members of the church.[3] Stoddard engaged in various debates with Cotton and Increase Mather at this point about his stance on communion, but eventually New England congregationalists generally accepted his wider view.[4] Stoddard’s theological beliefs proved controversial later in Edwards’ life as Edwards rejected Stoddardism and advocated tightening the circle of communicant members.

While Stoddard and Mather were already preaching and engaged in theological debates before Edwards’ birth in 1703, Charles Chauncy and Benjamin Franklin were born in 1705 and 1706 respectively, making them later contemporaries of Edwards. Charles Chauncy would later become Edwards greatest opponent in the Great Awakening. As an Old Light Calvinist, Chauncy rejected Edwards’ emphasis on religious conversion experiences, passions, and emotions.[5] While Franklin may seem to have represented an aspect of the American colonies unrelated to the realm of Edward’s theology, he has been considered to represent a divergent tendency in American culture in which Edwards would later preach.[6] While Edwards continued to adapt Puritanism to changing times, Franklin departed from the Puritan tradition in New England and began to emphasize Enlightenment principles and ideals. In contrast to Edwards’ more conservative approach to religion, Franklin emphasized man’s ability to create and perfect his own virtue and relied heavily on a more earthly perspective devoid of a God that intercedes and participates in human affairs. While Enlightenment thought had already begun to permeate New England more strongly and would continue with the aging of men such as Benjamin Franklin, new forms of entertainment were already appearing and increasing in New England in the 1700s, instigating outcry among Puritans who were worried that later generations were falling away from their strict standards. According to McConville, the number of Taverns increased exponentially at the turn of the century. Furthermore, staged drama and the institution of organized theatrical productions dramatically increased as well.[7] Already in the 1700s, there was a divergence from the strict principles of Puritanism that Edwards would have to encounter as he assumed his role as a preacher.

Also during the 1700s, events were occurring that would directly influence Edwards’ own life in terms of his education and his family upbringing. Two years before Edwards’ birth, Yale was founded in 1701. Edwards would later attend Yale in 1716 when he was thirteen years old. He graduated in 1720 and received his Masters from the same institution in 1722.[8] Around the same time as the founding of Yale, one of the major events of the 1700s-1710s broke out in the colonies. Known today as Queen Anne’s War, the war lasted from 1702-1713, and proved to be a bitter experience for many of the Puritans living in New England, particularly for Edwards’ family. During this period, European nations including Spain, France, Austria, England, the Netherlands and most of the German principalities engaged in warfare regarding who would succeed to the Spanish throne after the death of King Charles II of Spain in 1700.[9] Given that England was a part of the war, many English settlements in the American colonies were attacked by Indians. France and Spain, England’s two major rivals, allied with the Iroquois and other Indian tribes and instigated the tribes to attack English settlements.[10]

The attacks on the English settlements literally hit home for Edwards in multiple ways. When Edwards was still extremely young, his father left home to participate in the war effort, and as a result, “[Jonathan’s] early memories were of Queen Anne’s War, of his father going away to serve as a military chaplain in the struggle against the Catholic menace.”[11] Not only did Jonathan have to face his father’s absence during the war, but an attack on nearby Deerfield in February 1704 killed Jonathan’s mother’s half-sister and two of her children.[12] Indians brought the rest of the family into captivity.[13] Not only did family members of the Edwards’ extended family die in the conflict, but Edwards also found himself immersed in a religious perception of the war that would later impact his view of the colonies and their purpose in promoting the true Protestant religion. Many Puritans began to attribute a spiritual element to the war, seeing the colonies and Great Britain as “a nation God favored with true religion versus peoples in Satan’s grip, Catholics and pagans.”[14] This spiritual view of the war would continue to characterize the identity of many colonists who viewed themselves as engaging in a battle in the New World to establish Protestantism and the true Church while fighting against Catholicism and pagan Indians. Edwards would later find himself preaching to members of his congregation who had survived such a tragic and devastating event and adhered to this perception of the American colonists and their mission in the New World.

These political, religious, and social events represent the essence of the world in which Edwards grew up as well as provided the backdrop for the colonial mindset he would interact with throughout the rest of his life.





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Marsden, George M. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008.


----. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.


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Rabinowitz, Harold and Tobin Greg. Ed. Religion in America: A Comprehensive Guide to Faith, History, and Tradition. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2011.


Smith, John E. Jonathan Edwards: Puritan, Preacher, Philosopher. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.


Ver Steeg, Clarence L. The Formative Years: 1607-1763. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.


Ward, Harry M. Colonial America: 1607-1763. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991.


Winslow, Ola Elizabeth. Jonathan Edwards: A Biography, 1703-1758. New York: Macmillan       Company, 1940.


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[1] Brendan McConville, ed. American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Values that Shaped U.S. History (New York: MTM Publishing, 2011), 3:175; George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New York: Yale University, 2003), 26.


[2] John Demos, ed. American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Values that Shaped U.S. History (New York: MTM Publishing, 2011) 2:206.


[3] Harry M. Ward, Colonial America: 1607-1763 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991), 269.


[4] George M. Mardsen, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 36.


[5] John E. Smith, Jonathan Edwards: Puritan, Preacher, Philosopher (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 8.


[6] Nathan O. Hatch and Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 34.


[7] McConville, American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Values that Shaped U.S. History, 169-170.


[8] Edwin S. Gaustad and Mark A. Noll, eds. A Documentary History of Religion in America to 1877, 3rd ed, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 183; McConville, American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Values that Shaped U.S. History,


[9] McConville, American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Values that Shaped U.S. History, 280.


[10] Clarence L. Ver Steeg, The Formative Years: 1607-1763 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 288.


[11] Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, 90.


[12] Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards: A Biography, 1703-1758, (New York: Macmillan Company, 1940), 29.


[13] Ibid.,


[14] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, (New Haven: Yale University Press), 2003, 16.