Meredith Didier

18th Century Theology

1720’s Paper

10-5-15

            While the 1720’s weren’t a decade defined by a great religious awakening or a revolutionary movement, this decade did contain some events that held great religious significance in New England. Two major decadal incidents stand out in the 1720’s, Father Rale’s War and the 1727 New England earthquake. While one event was military and the other was a natural disaster, both assumed religious causes and elicited religious responses.

            The first religiously influential event of the 1720’s began due to the not uncommon conflict between the English and the French. The Wabanaki Indians territory was lodged in between the domains of New England and New France. This tribe was not only a valuable trading partner for the Europeans, but each nation wanted to convert the savages to their own “true religion.” In both matters of conversion and trade, the French had the advantage. The Jesuits, and in particular Father Sebastian Rale, has successfully brought Catholicism to the Wabanakis. So, when New England began encroaching upon the territories of the Wabanakis, the French saw this as a religious statement. The English were seizing their lands and “taking away their prayers” by planning to force their Protestant religion upon the Wabanakis. On the other side, New Englanders saw the French’s protection of Wabanaki right’s as a threat to New England’s security. New England saw this as a battle between civility and barbarism, between “true religion” and popery. The issues were stemming from the evil combination of “Jesuit lies and Wabanaki savagery[1].” Furthermore, the English saw the French as forming a noose of Indian alliances around the neck of the English colonies that they could then hang the British with. These tensions heightened and finally came to a boil in the spring of 1722.

            Attempting to curtail the odious affects of the Jesuits, in March of 1722 Governor Shute of Massachusetts commanded some men to capture Rale for his work inciting the Indians against the British. These men failed, and in retaliation the Wabanakis began raiding British settlements. To counter these raids, Governor Shute declared war on the Wabanakis in July of 1722. The war, which came to be known as Father Rale’s War, was largely a series of raids between the two parties. Protestant ministers in New England narrated the war as a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism. Some ministers saw this as an indication of New England’s sin and therefore a threat to rally to holiness by trusting in God to lead them to a victory in this war. Other ministers, including Solomon Stoddard believed this war was a punishment from God for not caring enough about the Indians, thus failing to bring the gospel and the “true religion” of Protestantism to the savages[2].

No matter the divine reasons for this war, by the summer of 1724 New England was ready for the fight to be over. To deliver the final blow the new governor of Massachusetts, William Dummer, ordered some men to travel to Norridgewock where Father Rale lived, destroy the town, and kill Rale. This time the British attack was successful and Rale was shot and scalped along with many other Indians. Finally in November of 1725 New England authorities met with members of the leading Wabanaki tribes to end the conflict. The Wabanakis agreed to submit to British rule and not ally with any conflicting parties[3]. As Father Rale’s War clearly demonstrates the French and British used the New World as another theater where they could sort out their conflicts. Also made apparent by Father Rale’s War was the English’s prominent concern with the battle of empire and the fate of Christianity.

            The second major Colonial event, the New England earthquake of 1727, took place on the night of October 29. New Englander, Paul Dudley, wrote a detailed recollection of the terrifying night. Dudley described the earthquake as a terrible trembling of the earth. He observed that while for the most part things remained in the same position, some man-made structures, such as chimneys, had toppled. While Dudley said it would be impossible to give an exact description of what the earthquake sounded like, he wrote that he initially thought that the sound of the quake was his servant dragging a trundle bed across the floor. Many other people thought that the noise was thunder at first. As terrifying as the sounds were, the quaking that followed was even more terrible. Dudley described his house as squeezing together and shaking along with all the items inside it. A neighbor reported to Dudley that he was outside walking at the time of the quake and it was incredibly hard for him to remain standing. He feared that the ground was going to open and swallow him up. Along with describing the sounds and feels of the earthquake, Dudley also reports that there was a strong sulfur scent during the quake[4]. The New England earthquake of 1727’s physical effects however were not as impressive as the religious excitement it incited.

            Even more monumental than the earthquake was the New England minister’s response to it. The Puritans looked to analyze this event and uncover what God meant by it. While most ministers accepted that the causes of the earthquake were primarily physical, no good Puritan would deny that God and his will were the secondary cause of this natural event. Ministers interpreted the earthquake as God’s punishment for all the sins New Englanders had committed lately. New England was a divinely appointed land and the Puritans were a chosen people, so God took special interest in their sinfulness. The general theme of sermons directly following the earthquake is best summarized as detailing “the just wrath of an angry God whose chosen people, sinning and declining form their earlier virtue, required correction and warning.[5]” However, while the sermons published a time after the earthquake did note that the quake was a result of God’s judgment, these later discourses put more emphasis on the mercy that God showed New England. Noting that there were no fatalities due to the 1727 earthquake many pastors interpreted the quake as a call to reform and repentance in the light of God’s mercy. Pastor Samuel Phillips encouraged his congregation to renew their covenant with God due to the immense mercy and divine favor he had shown them[6]. Whether primarily interpreted as God’s punishment or God’s mercy, the New England earthquake of 1727 clearly demonstrated that the Puritans saw natural events as manifestations of God’s will, which ministers capitalized on by insisting upon reformation and repentance.

            As demonstrated by the immense religious reactions to the events of the 1720’s, New Englanders’ faith was a driving factor in not only in daily life, but also foreign relations, as Father Rale’s War proved. Even natural disasters were believed to have religious causes and warranted immense spiritual responses, which one can see from the sermons following the 1727 earthquake. Be it the quarrels of man or the perils of nature, New Englanders of the 1720’s relied on religion to interpret the events of the decade.


 

Bibliography

Andrews, William D. “The Literature of the 1727 New England Earthquake.” Early American

Literature 7, no. 3 (1973):  281-294. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25070589.

 

Dudley, Paul. “An Account of the Several Earthquakes Which Have Happened in New

England, Since the First Settlement of the English in That Country, Especially of the

Last Which Happen’d on October 29, 1727.” Philosophical Transactions 39, no. 1

(1736): 63-73. URL: www.jstor.org.library.hillsdale.edu/stable/103977.

 

Huber, Donald L. “Timothy Cutler: The Convert as Controversialist.” Historical Magazine of

the Protestant Episcopal Church 44, no. 4 (1975): 489-496. URL:

www.jstor.org.library.hillsdale.edu/stable/42973484.

 

Kidd, Thomas S. “’The Devil and Father Rallee: Narrating Father Rale’s War.” Protestant

Interest: New England after Puritanism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.



[1] Thomas S. Kidd, “’The Devil and Father Rallee: Narrating Father Rale’s War” in Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 94.

[2] Thomas S. Kidd, “’The Devil and Father Rallee: Narrating Father Rale’s War” in Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

[3] Thomas S. Kidd, “’The Devil and Father Rallee: Narrating Father Rale’s War” in Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

[4] Paul Dudley, “An Account of the Several Earthquakes Which Have Happened in New

England, Since the First Settlement of the English in That Country, Especially of the

Last Which Happen’d on October 29, 1727.” Philosophical Transactions 39, no. 1

(1736): 63-73, URL: www.jstor.org.library.hillsdale.edu/stable/103977.

[5] William D. Andrews, “The Literature of the 1727 New England Earthquake,” Early American

Literature 7, no. 3 (1973):  288, URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25070589.

[6] William D. Andrews, “The Literature of the 1727 New England Earthquake,” Early American

Literature 7, no. 3 (1973):  281-294, URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25070589.