Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


William and Mary Quarterly

3d ser., 74, no. 1 January 2017


Tranquebar:
Charting the Protestant International
in the British Atlantic and Beyond

By Edward E. Andrews

From Boston to London, Germany to India, Protestants understood missionary work as a global process, one that flouted denominational, geopolitical, and oceanic divisions. The rise of Tranquebar, a Danish-controlled Indian seaport housing a German mission that was backed by London Anglicans and Puritan New Englanders, showcases how such connections were forged and what they meant for the people who created them. Tranquebar was one of the most widely lauded mission sites among British evangelists in the Atlantic world, but it was neither British nor in the Atlantic. Letters, sacred texts, anti-Catholic rhetoric, and a vision of a global Protestant takeover united Protestant evangelists and forged an expansive imagined community that scholars have called the “Protestant International.” And yet for British Protestants in the wider Atlantic, these connections fluctuated, evolved, and were ultimately unsustainable. The rise and fall of Tranquebar as an international and interdenominational mission site thus demonstrates the potential as well as the limits of a global approach to understanding the development of evangelical networks and transoceanic communities.

Forum: Quakers and the Lived Politics of Early America

Quakers as Political Players in Early America

By Geoffrey Plank

The Quakers have long attracted scholarly interest for the apparently progressive positions they have taken on issues such as the empowerment of women, the maintenance of just relations between colonists and Native Americans, and the abolition of slavery. Among some historians and present-day members of the Society of Friends, there is an impulse to sanctify prominent early Quakers, to suggest that they stood apart from their neighbors and bore witness against the evils of their day. The articles in this Forum, by contrast, place Quakers within their contemporary social contexts. By recognizing differences among Quakers and by examining tacit alliances between Friends and royal commissioners, slaveholding merchants, slaves and former slaves, lawyers, and congressmen, these essays demonstrate how Quakers in early America operated within morally flawed societies. These kinds of studies enable us to better understand the history of Quakerism and to appreciate what Quaker history can tell us about the wider world. Quakers were political players. They could be opportunistic, guilt-ridden, manipulative, inquisitive, and judgmental, and they produced volumes of revealing, underutilized documents. By studying them, we can learn a great deal about the allocation of power in the British Empire and the early United States.

Elizabeth Hooton and the Lived Politics of Toleration in Massachusetts Bay

By Adrian Chastain Weimer

Quaker prophetess Elizabeth Hooton traveled throughout England, the West Indies, Virginia, New Netherland, and New England in the mid-seventeenth century. Though best known as one of George Fox’s first converts and a leading female preacher, she engaged in savvy political activity as well as zealous prophecy. The lived politics of her encounters included not only whippings and banishments but also small-scale negotiations and unexpected alliances. Obtaining a license from Charles II to purchase land anywhere in his colonies, she leveraged royal authority to influence colonial politics. Most effectively, during the 1664–65 visit of the royal commissioners to Massachusetts Bay, she and other Friends provoked local magistrates to seditious speech. Hooton’s journeys highlight the profound tension between religious fervor and political stability in the midst of competing visions of the common good. They point to a history of toleration in early America that attends to fine-grained local religious, economic, legal, and social contexts, and they reveal strategic and significant Quaker interventions.

“Fix’d almost amongst Strangers”:
Charleston’s Quaker Merchants and the Limits of Cosmopolitanism

By Benjamin L. Carp

Eighteenth-century Charleston, South Carolina, was steeped in luxury and slavery and proved an awkward home for the small community of Quaker merchants who did business there in the early 1770s. These travelers experienced profound displacement as they grappled with the lived experience of cosmopolitanism. In striving for worldly acceptance, universal humanity, or both, “port Quakers” and other people of the Atlantic world faced stark choices. Some, such as Joseph Atkinson, pursued profit and gentility; others, such as Samuel Rowland Fisher, retreated into insularity and particularism; a third group, such as William Dillwyn, aspired to activism and transatlantic reform. Atkinson, Fisher, and Dillwyn all experienced disorientation and frustration—something more than homesickness—as life in Charleston confronted them with the pluralism of the Atlantic world.

A “class of Citizens”:
The Earliest Black Petitioners to Congress and Their Quaker Allies

By Nicholas P. Wood

Four former slaves from North Carolina became the first African Americans to petition Congress in 1797. In the winter of 1799–1800, two of these black activists joined sixty-nine others in a second petition. Scholars have long recognized the symbolic importance of these petitions, but their background, creation, and reception remain poorly understood. Historians generally frame them in negative terms, mistakenly assuming that white abolitionists did not support the black petitioners and incorrectly asserting that Congress determined African Americans lacked the First Amendment right of petition. This article reevaluates the efforts and influence of these early black petitioners by drawing on previously unused manuscript evidence, including rough drafts of both petitions and congressional committee reports. The former slaves found allies in Philadelphia’s autonomous black institutions and the Quakers’ Philadelphia Meeting for Sufferings. Moreover, the House of Representatives formally received the second petition and addressed some of the black activists’ concerns by both passing the Slave Trade Act of 1800 and defeating or modifying proposals that would have eroded the rights of free black citizens. These episodes demonstrate the early abolitionist movement’s interracial character and political influence despite racial prejudice and the Constitution’s proslavery provisions.