Shelby Nies

REL 319 – Dr. Westblade

Decade Project

1700-1709: A Decade of Seeds Sown

At the turn of the eighteenth century, three major concerns precipitated for British citizens. For those in Europe, the Great Northern War that began in February of 1700 as well as the War of Spanish Succession that ran concurrent to it[1] placed the continent in a state of incessant turmoil. For the colonists residing in the American colonies, repercussions from the War of Spanish Succession and Britain’s position against France fueled Queen Anne’s War. French Catholics and American Indian forces raided Puritan settlements along the western borders of the colonies, adding further tension to already unstable Indian relations and existing Puritan anti-Catholic sentiments. Yet, the event that reverberated on both sides of the Atlantic was the death of William, Duke of Gloucester. As the sole survivor of Princess Anne’s seventeen children, his death called into question the Protestant succession to the English throne.[2] As Marsden puts it, “In New England, heirs to the Puritans knew that their liberty and their destiny as a people depended on the triumph of the Protestant cause”[3] in keeping the British crown. After months of troublesome anticipation, the Act of Settlement procured the Protestant succession for the House of Hanover in 1701.[4]

In the midst of these political upheavals, Increase Mather, a New England Congregationalist minister, published The Order of the Gospel, and Solomon Stoddard, also a Puritan pastor, published The Doctrine of Instituted Churches.[5] Stoddard strove to become the “pope” of the Connecticut River valley,[6] and Increase’s son Cotton Mather also became a central theologian and political figure in the first three decades of the eighteenth century in the colonies. Though in 1700 Thomas Brattles and Robert Calef wrote works against the Salem Witch Trials,[7] which Increase had supported, they did not succeed in weakening Puritan claims in New England. On the contrary, Michael S. Carter states that Increase “helped bring the Puritan community from infancy to maturity,” and that Cotton “was one of the most prolific writers of his time.”[8] Interestingly, Harvard College fell out of the Mathers’ control in 1701[9]—the same year that Yale Collegiate School was founded.[10] However in 1702, Cotton published what perhaps became the Mathers’ most influential and lasting work: Magnalia Christi Americana.[11] Cotton’s purpose to “‘write the Wonders of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION, flying from the Depravations of Europe, to the American strand,’” Michael G. Hall argues has “acquired an importance in our national self-awareness.”[12] Through these publications, Stoddard and the Mathers enriched the soil for the theological thought that would blossom in the first half of the eighteenth century in New England.

Two of the men who would influence this thought were born in 1703: Jonathan Edwards, the grandson of Solomon Stoddard who would initiate the Great Awakening, and John Wesley, who would found the Methodist movement in the Church of England.[13] Wesley’s movement would breed a revivalist preacher who would greatly impact both the Great Awakening and Edwards himself in George Whitefield.[14] Born in 1706, Benjamin Franklin,[15] Whitefield’s friend, would write about his vast influence in New England. Yet for Stoddard and the Mathers, the prospect of such a revival in New England remained an aspiration rather than a reality in 1703. By 1704, however, such a revival became less of an immediate priority as Queen Anne’s War struck incredibly close to home for the Stoddard-Edwards family. In February, French and Native American forces attacked Deerfield, Massachusetts, where Stoddard’s stepdaughter and grandchildren lived,[16] killing fifty people, taking many captive, and burning the town.[17] Edwards’ uncle and cousins were among the captives, and the atmosphere that pervaded until the war ended in 1713 would influence young Jonathan deeply.[18] Apart from the personal consequences that the massacre had on their family, Stoddard “associated the decay of religiosity in New England with the racial and imperial warfare plaguing the region.”[19] Paul R. Lucas points out that by 1705 Stoddard had “lost his confidence in New Englanders,” and compared them “to the Israelites, who had grown corrupt.”[20] Edwards and his colleagues would further develop this doctrine of Covenant Theology in their own revivalist preaching three decades later, with the same goal to awaken people to a knowledge of their sin, a breaking of God’s covenant of love, and to convert them to true faith in Christ.

Meanwhile in Europe, large advances took place in both the sciences and in music, as well as in Britain’s international influence. Isaac Newton published his Optics in 1704[21]—another work that would impact Jonathan Edwards in his younger years[22]—whilst the first performance of George Frideric Handel’s opera Almira occurred in Germany and Johann Sebastian Bach walked 200 miles to hear the Abendmusiken in 1705.[23] The outpouring of compositions from the pens of these composers, accompanied by the invention of the pianoforte in 1709,[24] would open the realm of classical music to a wider audience throughout the eighteenth century. Another monumental change in music occurred in 1707 with Isaac Watts’ publication of his “Hymns and Spiritual Songs.”[25] Where “English dissenters had been reforming sacred singing for nearly a generation…Watts argued that it was not necessary to use exact biblical words,” but songs could “be based on Scriptural themes.” [26] This work, combined with the introduction of “regular” singing in parts, which reflected “the symmetries of eighteenth-century harmonies” [27] that Handel and Bach were composing, would revolutionize the singing of congregational churches in the coming decades in Europe and especially in New England.[28] The Act of Union that united England and Scotland as the kingdom of Great Britain in 1707[29] also endured as a long-lasting change of that year. Though the churches remained unaltered, the union fundamentally broadened the political influence of Britain in Europe.

When continued conflicts in Queen Anne’s War destroyed another town in Massachusetts in 1709,[30] it may have seemed like the first decade of the eighteenth century left British colonists on rather unstable ground. Yet for leaders such as Solomon Stoddard, “life on a war-torn frontier in a distant American wilderness gave [them] powerful insights into the ways of God and the depravity of human nature.” His Puritanism was “conditioned” by the American experience, and “his ministry provided the theological basis”[31] for the religious thought that would succeed him in Jonathan Edwards and his peers, including expansions on Puritan Covenant Theology and the actualization of the Great Awakening. Hence, the century that followed 1700-1709 brought to maturity the seeds that Stoddard, the Mathers, colonial conflicts, and events in Europe sowed in the first decade.

Bibliography

Carter, Michael S. “Puritan Life.” In British Colonial America: People and Perspectives, Edited by John A. Grigg, 41-58. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2008.

Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: Of People and Events, 320-325. 4th Rev. ed. New York: Touchstone, 2005.

Hall, Michael G. “Review of Magnalia Christi Americana by Cotton Mather, Kenneth B. Murdock.” The New England Quarterly 51, no. 1 (1978): 119-120.

Lucas, Paul R. “Solomon Stoddard and the Origin of the Great Awakening in New England.” Historian 59, no. 4 (1997): 741-758.

Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Williams, Hywel. Cassell’s Chronology of World History: Dates, Events and Ideas that Made History, 288-293. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005.

Williams, Neville. 1492-1775: The Expanding World. Vol. 2 of Chronology of World History, 490-515. Santa Barbara, CA: Helicon Publishing, 1999.

 



[1] Neville Williams, 1492-1775: The Expanding World. Vol. 2 of Chronology of World History (Santa Barbara, CA: Helicon Publishing, 1999), 490.

[2] Hywel Williams, Cassell’s Chronology of World History: Dates, Events and Ideas that Made History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), 289.

[3] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 12.

[4] Bernard Grun, The Timetables of History: Of People and Events 4th Rev. ed. (New York: Touchstone, 2005), 320.

[5] Neville Williams, 492.

[6] George M. Marsden, 11.

[7] Neville Williams, 493.

[8] Michael S. Carter, “Puritan Life,” in British Colonial America: People and Perspectives ed. John A. Grigg (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2008), 50-51.

[9] George M. Marsden, 35.

[10] Bernard Grun, 321.

[11] Grun (320), Hywel Williams (290), and Neville Williams (498) all include this event in their chronologies of history.

[12] Michael G. Hall, “Review of Magnalia Christi Americana by Cotton Mather, Kenneth B. Murdock” (The New England Quarterly 51, no. 1, 1978), 119-120.

[13] Neville Williams, 500.

[14] George M. Marsden, 208.

[15] Grun (322), Hywel Williams (291), and Neville Williams (506) all include this event in their chronologies of history.

[16] George M. Marsden, 14.

[17] Grun (322), Hywel Williams (290), and Neville Williams (501) all include this event in their chronologies of history.

[18] George M. Marsden, 15-17.

[19] Paul R. Lucas, “Solomon Stoddard and the Origin of the Great Awakening in New England” (Historian 59, no. 4, 1997), 742.

[20] Paul R. Lucas, 751-752.

[21] Grun (323), Hywel Williams (290), and Neville Williams (502) all include this event in their chronologies of history.

[22] George M. Marsden, 65.

[23] Grun (322), Hywel Williams (291), and Neville Williams (504) all include these events in their chronologies of history.

[24] Bernard Grun, 325.

[25] Grun (324) and Neville Williams (508) both include this event in their chronologies of history.

[26] George M. Marsden, 143-144.

[27] George M. Marsden, 144.

[28] Cotton Mather would introduce Watts’ songs into Sunday morning worship by 1722, creating a sort of “singing controversy” in New England. Marsden, 144.

[29] Grun (324), Hywel Williams (291), and Neville Williams (507) all include this event in their chronologies of history.

[30] Neville Williams, 511.

[31] Paul R. Lucas, 758.