20 February 2023
A Historic Overview from 1720 to 1740
The 1720s began in a rough way for nearly the entire western world. Britain faced a large financial crisis in what was called the “South Sea Bubble.” The South Sea Company grew significantly through its slave trade and by the “Bubble Act” became a monopoly as the main trade route for Britain. However, while there was great rise with the investments, the end of 1720 led to a drop in its value. It peaked its values at nearly 1,000 pounds in June of 1720, but dropped to 125 pounds in December 1720. This drop in shares ruined many investors, including those tied to the government and its debt. In response, the House of Commons identified three ministers within power that may have played a part in corruption of the company. In the time of accusation and confusion, Robert Walpole brought some peace to the situation by removing certain individuals accused of corruption while putting confidence in the prominent members of the Whig party. Through this use of political maneuvering in this financial crisis, Walpole rose in power and became the first Prime Minister of Parliament.
The turn into the new decade was not a peaceful one for the colonists either. The 1720s began with a rough start in the form of conflicts with Native American tribes in the northern colonies in America. The issue was twofold: one concerned the legitimacy of land and the other the influence of religion. Tension between colonists and natives rose concerning the legitimate ownership of land, and this disagreement led to battles. However, a sympathetic influence among the Abenaki was a French Jesuit missionary called Sebastien Rale. Colonists were aware of the French persecution of the Protestant church, and thus their anger burned against the French Jesuit. This led to a long conflict against the group of natives, lasting from late 1723 and ended in 1725. It is now known as Father Rales’ war. These conflicts led to Fort Dummer being built to the east of New York and became one of the first settlement of the future colony and state of Vermont.
The most prominent paper for the colonies of New England was the Boston Newsletter. With the editors of the paper being heavily religious, they kept a continuous thought of a “world war” between the Protest and Catholic faith, encouraging those of New England to hold firmly to their faith. Many of the foreign stories of persecution of the Protestants led to the colonists identifying with their struggle and stoking their anger against the Catholic church. For example, there was a clear dislike of Protestants in eastern Europe, and this tension was reported to the colonists. This tension intensified in late 1724 when Protestants were executed by Jesuits by the Polish supreme court, now known as “The Tumult of Thorns.” This event was given in great detail throughout 1725 to the colonists and continued to strengthen their foundation in Protestantism and against the Catholic church.
The prominent works of literature and art were remarkably scathing against the government and harsh treatment against the lower class. These stories would soften the harsh criticism and political commentary with a satirical tone. For example, Jonathan Swift would publishes two works of satire: Gulliver’s Travels in 1726 and A Modest Proposal in 1729. Both of these criticize social norms and try to elevate the importance of human liberty. In a similar air, “The Beggar’s Opera” by John Gay was first performed in 1728. It similarly was a satirical story, commenting on the corruption seen in society. Some colonists showed this skepticism against the nature of the government in England, especially concerning the failure of the South Sea Company. Georgia was shaped by its commercial and economic use, but its founders were struck by the conflict between self-service and the public good (not to mention many of them were directly affected as investors of the South Sea Company). When it was founded as a colony in 1732, their founders constructed a political structure to avoid the financial corruption of the South Sea Bubble incident.
In 1731, Benjamin Franklin – along with his friends from a reading club called Junto – created the Library Company of Philadelphia. The founders believed that reading would lead to conversations among the men of the colonies which would result into a stronger community with brighter minds and social understanding. For this reason, they created a loaning system in which a reader must put in a deposit to take a book, and once he returns he may receive his money back. Through this structure and their collection of books gathered by Junto, the Library Company of Philadelphia became the first successful circulating library system in the British Colonies.
In the face of wars – both from Europe and on their homeland – and the anxiety against the Roman Catholic church, the religious culture of the colonies was identified as a light on the hill for the near end of the world. At the turn of the 1730s, the necessity to repent and turn to Christ was emphasized by many New England preachers, such as Benjamin Colman, Joseph Sewall, and Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was the first to experience revival amongst his church in Northampton in 1734. Word spread among the other preachers and they were hopeful of this spiritual spark in the congregation.
This revival continued and grew with the help of religious and passionate leaders. Both John and Charles Wesley came to Georgia in late 1735 for ministry work. Neither considered their work fruitful with Charles returning to England in the summer of 1736 and John until 1737. Nevertheless, their time and teaching in the colonies visit introduced the colonists to their ideas of salvation and paved the way for Methodism in the colonies. At that time George Whitefield gained the reputation of a great preacher in England. Both of the Wesleys encouraged him to travel to the colonies, believing he may be fit as a missionary to the church. Whitefield came to Georgia in late 1737, and quickly gained the approval of the community there. From the news of his work in the colony, he soon began his traveling across the colonies to give sermons to all the places he visited. His emphatic and moving sermons attracted many of the colonists and his renown grew as he spent more time preaching. This movement towards this religious call is now known as the Great Awakening which would go into the 1740s.
Auman, Karen. “Give Their Service for Nothing”: Bubbles, Corruption, and their Effect on the Founding of Virginia,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies. Vol. 54 iss. 1 (Fall 2020): 101-119.
Kidd, Thomas S. ““The Devil and Father Ralle”: The narration of Father Ralle’s War in provincial Massachusetts.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts, vol. 30 iss. 2 (Summer 2002): 159.
““Let hell and Rome do their worst”: World news, anti-Catholicism, and international Protestantism in the early-eighteenth century Boston.” The New England Quarterly. Vol. 76 iss. 2 (June 2003): 265-290.
“The Dawning of that Sabbath of Rest Promised to the People of God: Eschatology and Identity,” in The Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism. (New Haven: Yale University Press): 2004
Mahaffey, Jerome Dean. “Launching the Ministry,” in The Accidental Revolution: George Whitefield and the Accidental Revolution, 15-28. Dallas, TX, Baylor University Press, 2011.
Noll, Mark A. “Revival, 1734-1738,” in The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys, 76-100. Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2003.