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Transatlantic Anglican Networks, c.1680 – c.1770: Transplanting, Translating and Transforming the Church of England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2016

Jeremy Gregory
University of Manchester
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In recent years, much historical interest has been paid to the evangelical (and often by extension the Nonconformist) international and transatlantic religious networks which communicated ideas and personnel from and to various parts of Britain, the Continent and North America during the eighteenth century. Historians of the Evangelical Revival have looked at individuals, most notably the dynamic and much-travelled George Whitefield, whose criss-crossing the Atlantic exemplified the international reach of the revival, and also at the many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of less colourful personalities who created, and moved through, the international evangelical world. In addition, attention has been given by Susan O’Brien (and others) to the vibrant publishing and book distribution networks which enabled the Evangelical Revival to have a truly international impact (mirroring – perhaps beating – the Enlightenment republic of letters). In particular, O’Brien has emphasized the ways in which the transatlantic movement of letters, books, pamphlets, tracts and journals was a vital way by which what David Hempton has recently termed the ‘Empire of the Spirit’ was able to expand.

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Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 1994

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1 The most significant studies are the eighteenth-century essays in Noll, Mark A., Bebbington, David W., and Rawlyk, George A., eds, Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and beyond, 1700–1990 (Oxford, 1994);Google Scholar Ward, W. R., The Protestant Evangelical Awakening (Cambridge, 1992);CrossRefGoogle Scholar idem, Early Evangelicalism: A Global Intellectual History, 1670–1789 (Cambridge, 2006). See also Prot estant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America, c. 1750–1950: Essays in Honour of W.R. Ward, ed. Keith Robbins, SCH.S7 (Oxford, 1990); Carwardine, Richard, Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (London, 1978).Google Scholar

2 See Lambert, Frank, ‘Pedlar in divinity’: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737–1770 (Princeton, NJ, 1994);Google Scholar Stout, Harry S., ‘George Whitefield in Three Countries’, in Noll, Bebbington, and Rawlyk, , eds, Evangelicalism, 5872.Google Scholar

3 See O’Brien, Susan: ‘A Study of the First Evangelical Magazines, 1740–1748’, JEH 27 (1976), 25575;Google Scholar eadem,’ATransatlantic Community of Saints:The Great Awak ening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735–1755’, AHR 91 (1986), 811–32 also eadem, ‘Transatlantic Communications and Influence during the Great Awakening: A Comparative Study of British and American Revivalism, 1730–1760’ (Ph.D thesis, University of Hull, 1978).

4 Hempton, David, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (New Haven, CT, 2005).Google Scholar

5 Strong, Rowan, Anglicanism and the British Empire, c. 1700–1850 (Oxford, 2007).CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Jacob, W M., The Making of the Anglican Church Worldwide (London, 1997);Google Scholar Gould, Eliga H., ‘Prelude: The Christianizing of British America’, in Norman Etherington, ed., Missions and Empire, Oxford History of the British Empire, Companion Series (Oxford, 2005), 1940.Google Scholar For some of the tensions within that worldwide communion, see Knight, Frances, ‘“A Church without discipline is no Church at all”: Discipline and Diversity in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Anglicanism’, in Cooper, Kate and Gregory, Jeremy, eds, Discipline and Diversity, SCH 43 (Woodbridge, 2007), 399418;Google Scholar Sykes, Stephen, ‘The Anglican Experience of Authority’, ibid. 41927.Google Scholar

6 For a classic statement on the unity and coherence of the early Church, see von Harnack, Adolf, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (London, 1904).Google Scholar This dominant view (at least since Eusebius) was only challenged with the work of Bauer, Walter, Rechtglàubigkeit und Ketzerei im áltesten Christentum (Tubingen, 1934);Google Scholar ET, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia, PA, 1971).Google Scholar It is now routine for historians of early Christianity to refer to ‘Christianities’ rather than to simply ‘Christianity’, in order to indicate the varieties which existed. For ‘International Calvinism’, see Menna Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism (Oxford, 1985).

7 Although more recent work emphasizes that we should understand this as a series of revivals, in which evangelicalism took on different hues in different contexts: see Hempton, Methodism.

8 So, for J. C. D. Clark, the hegemonic position of the Church of England within England in the long eighteenth century made England a ‘confessional state’: see his English Society, 1660–1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancient Regime, and edn (Cambridge, 2000); idem, ‘England’s Ancien Regime as a Confessional State’, Albion 21 (1989), 450–74. For its contrasting position in New England, see Bell, James B., The Imperial Origins of the King’s Church in Early America, 1607–1783 (Basingstoke, 2004);CrossRefGoogle Scholar Doll, Peter M., Revolution, Religion, and National Identity: Imperial Anglicanism in British North America, 1745–1795 (Madison, NJ, 2000).Google Scholar

9 For an example of the ‘new’ Atlantic historiography, see David Armitage and Michael Braddick, eds, The British Atlantic World, 1500–1800 (Basingstoke, 2002). In general, these studies tend to emphasize the similarities rather than the differences between the British and North American contexts, but clearly for the Church of England the environment in which it operated, in particular in New England, was very different from the Old English context.

10 The figure is taken from information about the names of the missionaries in the annual ‘Abstract of the Proceedings of the Society’ for the year 1769–70, printed as an appendix to Keppel, Frederick, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; at their anniversary meeting in the Parish Church of St Mary Le Bow, on Friday 16 February 1770 (London, 1770), 911.Google Scholar

11 See Rhoden, Nancy L., Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England Clergy during the American Revolution (Basingstoke, 1999).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 This was, of course, not true of all Anglican clergy: for the talented, ambitious, or well connected, the Church of England provided an opportunity for geographical mobility, but a significant majority of those, once beneficed, saw their parish as a post for life: see Gregory, Jeremy and Chamberlain, Jeffrey S., eds, Tixe National Church in Local Perspective: The Church of England and the Regions, 1660–1800 (Woodbridge, 2003).Google Scholar

13 London, LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 134.

14 In 1770, for example, there was an ‘itinerant missionary on the Eastern Frontiers’ in Massachusetts and another in New Hampshire: ‘Abstract of the Proceedings’, 9.

15 LPL, MS 1124/2, fols 244, 291.

16 LPL, MS 1124/1, fol. 152. See Gould, , ‘Christianizing’, 27.Google Scholar

17 LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 134.

18 Nelson, John Kendall, ‘Anglican Missions in America, 1701–1723 A Study of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts’ (Ph.D. thesis, North western University, 1962), 30.Google Scholar

19 See, e.g., LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 81v, letter from the inhabitants of Amesbury, 28 May 1762.

20 See, e.g., LPL, SPG Minutes, vol. 5, fol. 315, letter from the Churchwardens and Vestry of Trinity Church, Newport, 17 September 1750.

21 See the concerns of James Mac Sparran, the missionary at Narragansett, Rhode Island: SPG Minutes, vol. 5, fol. 172. The SPG’s committee seemed to have shared some of these concerns: in 1738 they wrote to Henry Caner, asking him ‘to be more explicit in the account of the services done by his brother [a layman] to the inhabitants of Ridgefield’: SPG Minutes, vol. 3, fol. 175V

22 Hence the suspicion of early Methodism, and also the Wesleys’ insistence that Methodist meetings should not clash with the times of Church services.

23 In this, the SPG’s export of suitable books for the New England mission needs to be seen as part of the broader book trade between Britain and the Colonies: see Amory, Hugh and Hall, David D., eds, A History of the Book in America, 1: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, 2000).Google Scholar See also Gould, , ‘Christianizing’, 31.Google Scholar

24 Whitby, Daniel, A Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols (London, 1703).Google Scholar

25 A Small Cambridge Concordance to the Holy Bible (Cambridge, 1695).

26 Nelson, Robert, A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England: with collects and prayers for each solemnity (London, [1703?]).Google Scholar

27 Stanhope, George, A Paraphrase and Comment upon the Epistles and Gospels: appointed to be used in the Church of England on all Sundays and holy days (London, 1705–8).Google Scholar

28 Derham, William, Astro-Theology: or a demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from a survey of the heavens (London, 1715).Google Scholar

29 Eachard, Laurence, A general Ecclesiastical History: from the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour to the first establishment of Christianity by humane laws under … Constantine the Great (London, 1702).Google Scholar

30 For the full contents of an early SPG library, see Oxford, Rhodes House Library, USPG/Bi, fol. 117, ‘A Catalogue of the Books sent by Mr Barclay to Braintrey [51c] in New England 25 August 1703’. For updates and additions, see SPG Minutes, vol. 1, fols 17, 112, 141.

31 By 1740, the SPG had distributed over 10,000 Bibles and Prayer Books and over 100, 000 ‘other pious tracts’ in North America: see Thomas Seeker, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts; …on Friday, February 20, 1740 (London, 1741), 13.

32 For the SPCK, see Cowie, Leonard W., Henry Newman: An American in London, 1708–43 (London, 1956);Google Scholar Thompson, H. P., Thomas Bray (London, 1954).Google Scholar

33 See the works by O’Brien in n. 2 above.

34 See Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1954).Google Scholar

35 SPG Minutes, vol. 1, fol. 258.

36 Ibid., fol. 48V. Bradford did publish an edition of the Prayer Book in 1706, reissued in 1710, which was the only edition printed in North America during the colonial period: Green, James N., ‘The English Book Trade in the Middle Colonies, 1680–1720’, in Amory, and Hall, , eds, Colonial Book, 199–223 at 21314.Google Scholar The venture was a publishing failure since, as Bradford informed the SPG, the books were not subsidized and therefore were too expensive for people to buy.

37 SPG Minutes, vol. 5, fol. 237.

38 LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 257.

39 The metrical version of the Psalms by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady received the royal imprimatur in 1696 and on 23 May 1698 it was recommended by Bishop Henry Compton of London: ‘His Majesty having allowed and permitted the use of a New Version of the Psalms of David by Dr Brady and Mr Tate, in all Churches, Chapels, and Congregations; I cannot do less than wish a good success to this Royal Indulgence: for I find it a work done with so much judgment and ingenuity, that I am persuaded it may take off that unhappy objection, which has hitherto lain against the Singing Psalms, and dispose that part of Divine Service to much more Devotion’: quoted in The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of The Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the use of the United Churches of England and Ireland (Cambridge, 1833), 521. They were included in many editions of the Book of Common Prayer during the eighteenth century.

40 SPG Minutes, vol. 3, fol. 126.

41 Lowth, William, A Commentary upon the Larger and Lesser Prophets: being a continu ation of Bishop Patrick (London, 1727).Google Scholar

42 [Thomas Comber], A Companion to the Altar, or, An help to the worthy receiving of the Lords Supper by discourses and meditations upon the whole communion office: to which is added an essay upon the offices of baptism and confirmation (London, 1675). It had reached a sixth edition by 1721.

43 Lewis, John, The church catechism explain’d, by way of question and answer (London, 1700).Google Scholar It had reached a fifteenth edition by 1732.

44 Gibson, Edmund, Family-Devotion: or, A plain exhortation to morning and evening prayer in families: With two forms of prayer, suited to those two seasons and fitted for one person in private (London, 1705).Google Scholar It had reached a seventh edition by 1726.

45 [Richard Allestree], The Whole Duty of Man laid down in a plain way for the use of the meanest reader divided into XVII chapters: one whereof being read every Lords day, the whole may be read over, thrice in the year, necessary for all families: with private devotions (London, 1659). It was reprinted on numerous occasions in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

46 See Gregory, Jeremy, Restoration, Reformation, and Reform, 1660–1828 Archbishops of Canterbury and their Diocese (Oxford, 2000), 26370.Google Scholar

47 SPG Minutes, vol. 5, fol. 21. Gibson, Edmund, The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper Explain’d: or the things to be known and done, to make a worthy communicant (London, 1735);Google Scholar Assheton, William, A Brief Exhortation to the Holy Communion: With the nature and measure of preparation concerning it (London, 1759).Google Scholar

48 An answer to All the Excuses and pretences which men ordinarily make for their not coming to the Holy Communion, 2nd edn (London, 1697).

49 LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 285.

50 SPG Minutes, vol. 3, fol. 235.

51 Ibid., vol. 5, fol. 35.

52 Ibid., vol. 3, fol. 216.

53 Ibid., vol. 5, fol. 156.

54 Ibid., vol. 4, fol. 187. The book in question was probably Patrick Smith’s Preserva tive against Quakerism (1732).

55 LPL, MS 1124/1, fol. 168v; MS 1124/2, fol. 100. This list is significant since it echoes the outbursts against religious sects common during the 1640s and 1650s in England. See, e.g., the locus classicus, Thomas Edwards, The first and second part of Gangraena, or, A catalogue and discovery of many of the errours, heresies, blasphemies and pernicious practices of the sectaries of this time, vented and acted in England in these four last years also a particular narration of divers stories, remarkable passages, letters: an extract of many letters, all concerning the present sects; together with some observations upon and corollaries from all the fore-named premisses (London, 1646). It also indicates something of the power of language to shape reality, since it is unlikely that there were groups who would have called themselves Ranters, Dippers, Levellers or Brownists in mid eighteenth- century Newport, although it is true that Rhode Island had a reputation for religious pluralism, which was frequently frowned on by Congregationalism in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

56 SPG Minutes, vol. 5, fol. 39V.

57 Waterland, Daniel, Regeneration stated and explained according to Scripture and Antiq uity: in a discourse on Tit. Hi. 4, 5, 6 (London, 1740).Google Scholar

58 The Bishop of London’s pastoral letter to the people of his diocese; …by way of caution, against lukewarmness on one hand, and enthusiasm on the other (London, 1739).

59 It had reached nine editions by 1758.

60 Weller, Samuel, Tlw Trial of Mr. Wltitefield’s Spirit. In some remarks upon his fourth journal, publish’d when he staid in England on account of the embargo (London, 1740).Google Scholar

61 SPG Minutes, vol. 4, fol. 148. Yardley, Edward, The Rational Communicant: or, a practical exposition on the communion service of the Church of England (London, 1728).Google Scholar

62 SPG Minutes, vol. 4, fol. 256; [Edmund Gibson], Observations upon the Conduct and Behaviour of a certain sect, usually distinguished by the name of Methodists ([London?, 1744]). Both Gibson and Weller (cited in n. 60 above) had clearly read Whitefield’s and Wesley’s Journals very thoroughly, which is indicative of the fact that ‘evangelical’ literature was not only read by evangelicals but also by their opponents.

63 See Buder, John, ‘Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction’, Journal of American History 69 (1982), 30225.Google Scholar George Whitefield, despite being blamed for the spread of ‘enthusiasm’, also valued print culture, and the controversy surrounding the Great Awakening stimulated the book trade in Boston: Amory and Hall, eds, Colonial Book, 156, 329–30

64 SPG Minutes, vol. 4, fol. 147.

65 Ibid., fol. 83.

66 Ibid., fol. 158.

67 SPG Minutes, vol. 2, fol. 33. On Boehm, see Brunner, Daniel L., Halle Pietists in England: Anthony William Boehm and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Göttingen, 1993).Google Scholar

68 See Trimnell, Charles, A sermon preached before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, at the parish-church of St. Mary-le-Bow, on Friday 17 February 1709/10 (London, 1710), 1618 Google Scholar, a reminder of the need to evangelize the Native Amer icans.

69 The Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, Church Catechism, Family Prayers and Several Chapters of the Old and New Testament, Translated into the Mahaque Indian Language by Lawrence Claesse, Interpreter to William Andrews (New York, 1715). For Checkley’s visits to Native Americans in Rhode Island, see SPG Minutes, vol. 4, fol. 254V; vol. 5, fol. 21.

70 LPL, MS 1124/2, fol. 257. [Daniel] Fisher (master of the Grammar School at Cockermouth), The Children’s Christian Education; or, spelling and reading made easy. Being the most proper Introduction to the profitable reading of the Holy Bible, 6th edn (London, 1763).

71 Chandler, Thomas Bradbury, An appeal to the public, in behalf of the Church of England in America (New York, 1767), 34 Google Scholar, recorded that of the 52 American-born men sent over to England to be ordained by the mid 1760s, 10 ‘miscarried’:’the voyage or sickness occasioned by it having proved fatal to a fifth of them’.

72 SPG Minutes, vol. 4, fol. 44. James Raven notes that ‘the rhythm of the Adantic book trade was subject to disruption from the weather’:’The Importation of Books in the Eighteenth Century’, in Amory and Hall, eds, Colonial Book, 118–98 at 192.

73 This is not, of course, to deny the rich levels of lay piety in Old England, but it is to argue that in New England the laity played a qualitatively different role in sustaining the church.

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