It is difficult now to imagine that as recently as the 1960s few monographs on the southern British colonies of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia (as the “early South” would then have been defined) addressed religious topics in a sustained way. The historical master narrative of fifty years ago typically contrasted “religious” New England with the more secular “plantation colonies,” reflecting a dearth of curiosity about the nature of early southern religious institutions, beliefs, and experience. Those working on southern religious topics tended to be lone voices, not fully in conversation with one another and barely audible to non-specialists.1 In textbooks, a few lines about the (weak) Anglican establishment and brief mention of other Protestant faiths—mostly as accompanying immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, France, German principalities, and the like—had to suffice. Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, in the 1969 edition of their popular textbook, put it typically: “in New England, the people associated in compact villages to maintain their church congregations; in most of the South, congregations counted for little.”2

In my lifetime, the historiography of southern Protestant dissent before the American Revolution has expanded fantastically and has become required reading for both southernists and American religious historians more generally. There are, of course, many ways that one might parse this literature, but I would like to suggest here a particular reading of the field around three groupings of the scholarship. A “founding” set of publications on southern Protestants appeared primarily in the 1960s and 1970s, which both awakened sustained interest in the subject and inspired further research. Such work shaped a new understanding among academics of the region as religiously oriented and at the same time distinctive in beliefs, practices, and institutions from the rest of the United States. While the antebellum period was the dominant focus, the recovery of a religious history of the early South, including dissenting Protestant groups, also developed apace. A second grouping, overlapping somewhat with the first, is thematic in nature, comprised of studies that addressed early Protestant dissent as a countercultural movement. This work assessed whether and how Christian communities posed political, social, and/or cultural opposition to the dominant “southern” order. It typically also considered whether, when, and how those challenges were neutralized in the emergence of a distinctive, southern evangelicalism in the post-revolutionary period, one that yielded to the hierarchal, proslavery vision of the southern ruling class. A third grouping is comprised of publications that evidence a decided move away from the preoccupations of the founding generation, and the current emphasis on new topics which mark a general fragmentation of the field.

While there has long been some scholarship on early southern Protestantism, after midcentury several historians had a particularly pronounced impact beyond their immediate intellectual circle, helping to awaken a renewed and sustained scholarly interest in southern religion. Among the best known of these founders of the field were Donald G. Mathews, John B. Boles, Dickson D. Bruce, Eugene D. Genovese, and Albert J. Raboteau, though several others could certainly be named here.3 This field emerged at a time when scholarship treated the South, past and present, as distinctive, different, perhaps a few steps to the side of the American cultural mainstream—as an unmodern or antimodern, face-to-face, hierarchical culture clinging to tradition (think Old Time Religion) in a modernizing world.4 The work that launched southern religious history as a field highlighted the fact that many dissenting Protestants in the post-revolutionary South retained Calvinist impulses that were becoming outmoded elsewhere. Dissenting Protestant groups attracted plain farmers who sometimes gathered in primitive camp meetings—these were rough and tumble events, more “authentic” than the slick affairs that would eventually become popular in the North. Masters and slaves came to worship under one roof, navigating their distinctive, southern relationship, in part, through church practice and religious belief. Mathews was surely not the only one in this group of founders who hoped that his work would inspire “further discussion of the character, functions, and significance of religion in shaping and defining the South as a distinct part of the new American nation.”5

As early Americanists caught this same intellectual wave, their work thoroughly undermined the myth of the “secular” southern colonies. Two mutually compatible lines of inquiry emerged. One asserted the importance of the established Anglican Church in the region, an institution that so defined a mainstream that all other Protestants must automatically be understood as dissenters, even in places where the Church itself was weak. Here the work of Joan R. Gundersen, S. Charles Bolton, John Woolverton, Dell Upton, Edward L. Bond and John K. Nelson particularly stand out.6 All of these historians, and others besides, treated the southern colonies as distinctive from the rest of British North America both because the Church of England enjoyed some considerable sway there (or could hope to) and because the Church was in some sense shaped by the interests of a plantation-based master class, unlike elsewhere.

Another group of scholars described the eighteenth-century British South as increasingly rife with “evangelical” Protestant dissenters, especially Presbyterians and Baptists (and eventually Methodists), whose more emotive, stripped down version of “vital religion” built a deep sense of community among adherents and made particular inroads with plainer folk and even the enslaved. Rhys Isaac is perhaps the most important single figure here. His articles and subsequent book, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (1982), centered on the idea that dissenting groups offered a real alternative to the established church and increasingly challenged not only its religious primacy but also its core values. This “evangelical revolt” laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Bible Belt across the southern states in the early-national period, again connecting Protestant dissent back to the development of regional distinctiveness. The early chapters of Donald Mathews’s synthesis touched on similar themes, while Richard R. Beeman and J. Stephen Kroll-Smith quickly provided more detailed studies of evangelicals in Virginia and William Howland Kennedy III, David T. Morgan, and Allan Gallay were among the first to draw sustained academic attention to their significance for the Carolinas and Georgia.7

As the profession reckoned with early dissenters as never before, a new core theme emerged that comprises a second grouping of the literature for our purposes here. The focus settled, for a time, on the question of how, and to what extent, early Protestant dissent challenged the dominant social order—what southern religious historian Beth Barton Schweiger has termed the “stock opposition of American history … populism versus hierarchy.”8 Constructing a story of a viable established church and the emergence of active dissent from it almost of necessity creates a framework of opposition between the two. Yet those who first drew widespread attention to early dissent, especially Isaac and Mathews, took the point much further. These studies sat at the crossroads of two historiographical trends that they, and the historians they influenced, sought to square with one another. One line of reasoning underscored planter power (over slaves, but also in southern life generally) as the defining feature of the development of a distinctive South—even, to a degree, before there was a nation for these colonies to become southern states of—potentially muting internal conflict among free people and channeling and blunting slave resistance.9 Isaac’s treatment of the Church of England identified it with southern elites, and viewed its primary function as the reinforcement of social hierarchy and elite privilege. Mathews, while unimpressed with the effectiveness of the colonial church in the South, claimed that it “tried to fit everyone snugly into a social system where individuals were valued not on the basis of their own merit but on their family background and social station.”10 The other historiographical trend of the 1960s and 1970s that influenced work on early southern Protestantism centered on class and cultural conflicts and how they related to the American Revolution. This literature drew attention to internal social relations and the efforts of common folk to assert themselves politically, reject social hierarchy, and embrace a more egalitarian ethos in the Age of Revolution.11 Isaac, in particular, implied that evangelical religion appealed to and welcomed plain folk and slaves, but it was not initially attractive to very many in the ruling class. Dissenting fellowship gave plain folk a sense of belonging and a means of asserting themselves in public. These faiths valued all souls equally and their practices eschewed earthly hierarchies. The “evangelical revolt” contained a reform impulse that potentially threatened slavery, as well as offering a political and cultural critique of planter society. It is not entirely clear in this literature how the hierarchy and the counterculture moved forward from their colonial battles to create a distinctive southern Protestantism of which the planter class could approve, but both Isaac and Mathews hint that evangelicals gradually backed away from the most radical aspects of their faith and practice in pursuit of legitimacy and longevity.

Mathews’s and Isaac’s work in many ways set the terms for future research on Protestant dissent for at least a generation, whether scholars ultimately supported, nuanced, or challenged their arguments. Key books completed in the 1990s seemed to embrace the oppositional narrative most pointedly. Erskine Clarke’s masterful 1996 study of Calvinists (mostly Presbyterians and Congregationalists) in Lowcountry South Carolina represents one way that this was so. The dissenting congregations at the center of this book took in a surprisingly large number of early South Carolinians, black and white, rich and poor, and endured internal divisions that echoed the tensions within southern society more broadly at the end of the colonial period. Clarke shows us how congregations struggled to strike a balance between the expectation that religious institutions would provide order and preserve hierarchy and the impulse to recognize individual liberty (and maybe even equality). At times, these tensions became open conflicts, until the post-revolutionary period, when the elite won the day and a more hierarchal, order-driven form of dissent came to the fore. Alternatively, Christine Leigh Heyrman’s beautifully written Southern Cross (1997) describes this cultural clash as external to dissent, not internal to it. She argues, in fact, that evangelical dissent was so very countercultural that it could attract few converts in its founding generation and expanded very slowly indeed. Only well into the nineteenth century, after dissenters abandoned most of their distinctiveness, were they able to succeed in becoming dominant in the region.12

In the 2000s, the oppositional narrative has continued to play a role in defining the focus of many studies, though with some modifications. Some scholarship, while still in conversation with Isaac and Mathews, sought to undermine their interpretations by rejecting the premise that Protestant dissent was socially oppositional. My own study of the rise of evangelical religion in colonial Virginia would be a case in point.13 I argue that Presbyterians and Baptists did offer an alternative to the Anglican establishment that was truly distinctive in terms of belief and practice. While these dissenting faiths certainly presented challenges to the dominant order at times (Anglican and secular), I suggest that evangelicals were only able to expand as rapidly as they did because their beliefs and practices also evidenced correspondences with the dominant culture from the first. I tended to read these congregations as supportive of planter power, social hierarchies, and slavery. The rise of evangelicalism, then, was part of the process of solidifying a distinctive South but not part of a revolutionary-era cultural conflict that helped to give impetus and meaning to the American Revolution.

To my mind, some of the best work of the aughts engaged with the frameworks developed by the founders of the field but also began to transcend both of their core narratives, marking a transition to a third grouping in the literature. Monica Najar’s study of early Baptists in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee, for example, describes dissenting belief and practice as conflicting with the values of the dominant order in areas as fundamental as gender conventions, class hierarchies, and racial ideology. Yet these observations are not aimed simply at casting Baptists as countercultural. Rather, she develops a larger point that these churches “acted as both civil and religious bodies,” especially in areas that were institutionally weak. Baptist congregations created “institutions that drew settlers together, galvanized their loyalties, and schooled them in the structures of community,” which ultimately reformulated “the lines between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ realms.”14 The distinctive South being referenced here is not simply the one that planters controlled, slaves labored in, and evangelicals provided the religious services for. It is also one in which religion played a particularly active civic role and where public and private were defined in unique ways, that would be familiar to any student of southern history. Similarly Janet Moore Lindman’s Bodies of Belief (2008), a study of Baptists in the Pennsylvania and Virginia colonies, notes the distinctiveness of this dissenting faith without taking up the core intellectual projects of the previous generation of scholarship. Her aim is both to highlight the paradoxes attendant upon those distinctions (in her words, “Baptists adopted the spiritual equality of the New Testament but built an institutional structure based on racial and gender asymmetry”) and to analyze the “bodily enactment” of religious conversion, belief, and practice. 15

Perhaps the migration in interpretation is most evident in the work on African American dissenters. The countercultural narrative of the “founders,” followed by declension into proslavery Christianity, was the standard way of discussing early African American Protestantism for some time. For example, in The World They Made Together (1989), Mechal Sobel described early Baptist Christianity in Virginia as “a shared black and white phenomenon” and claimed that each group’s world view “stimulated, permeated, and invigorated the other.” Then in the post-revolutionary period, an escalation of racism in congregations pushed slaves and Free Blacks to the margins of fellowship, as the countercultural moment gave way to planter power.16 Jon Sensbach’s 1998 study of African Americans among North Carolina Moravians highlights a similar trajectory from countercultural egalitarianism to social conformity and African American exclusion.17

Fast-forward to 2008. Two studies published on evangelicals in Virginia that year discussed similar subjects, but without casting early evangelicals simply as cultural outsiders or producing the strict declension narrative which typically placed planters at the helm of a solidly proslavery South, with evangelicals in their pockets. Charles F. Irons’s spectacular study, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity, observes that early evangelical churches provided opportunities for African American agency that were sorely absent in other public spaces, and Irons acknowledges considerable evangelical deviations from dominant racial hierarchies. Yet he also shows us biracial churches that had always evidenced complex and sometimes conflicting policies, practices, and ideas with respect to race and slavery, and engendered a range of experiences for African American churchgoers. Concomitantly, even after the rise of so-called proslavery Christianity, Irons explains, “white southerners’ religious commitment was never completely prostituted to the slave power; it sometimes abetted and sometimes inhibited slaveholders’ political ambitions.” His larger objective is to recast the significance of black agency in biracial churches, and to show how it was directly, albeit inadvertently, related to the development of proslavery practices and policies. Similarly, Randolph Ferguson Scully’s monograph on Virginia Baptists, published almost simultaneously, gives us a complex characterization of pre-war evangelical distinctiveness. Scully, too, rejects the simple trajectory of decline from the revolutionary-era peak of inclusiveness, suggesting instead that even Nat Turner’s 1831 Rebellion did not produce the complete ascendance of proslavery evangelicalism.18

To define a third group of work, I take some liberties with the very concept of a “grouping.” In recent years, as asserted just above, work on evangelical dissent in the early South has begun to disengage from both the counterculture theme and the concern with the rise of a distinctive and unified “southern” Protestantism out of these eighteenth-century roots. This work reflects a general tendency among southernists in recent times to problematize the very notion of a “southern” history before the American Revolution, and to conceive of the South as a diverse and, in some ways, disaggregated region, even after the formation of the United States.19 As historians of the early Protestant South move beyond the issues that most interested the field’s modern founders, they have also begun to take on new subjects and new ways of defining the field itself. The general impulse right now seems to be toward fragmentation. Rather than looking for the roots of a fairly unified southern Protestantism, historians of the early “South” are striking out in various directions with no clear synthesis yet in sight (and perhaps more interestingly, not necessarily even wanted).20

In a 2004 essay, Sensbach persuasively called upon early southern religious historians to rethink the terms “colonial” and “South.” If the region were considered not as the origin point for a “southern” evangelical religion, and not merely defined as the colonies that became the southern seaboard states, new themes would surely come to the fore.21 In my view, he was completely right on this point as it pertains to dissenting Protestants. Take the question of geographical framing. Historians have long noted transatlantic connections in the rise of evangelicalism, and they have sometimes considered the southern seaboard colonies in comparative context.22 Sensbach’s own 2005 book, Rebecca’s Revival, stands as an excellent example of how historians are moving beyond old geographical categories and pushing from the comparative to the transnational, and why these are admirable goals. He traces the free black Moravian Rebecca Protten’s evangelical activities in the Danish Caribbean, in (primarily German-speaking) Europe and parts of West Africa, and in the process illustrates how her life reflects the emergence of a Black Christianity in the Americas and how it relates to African American Christianity in the American South.23 Widening the geographical scope beyond the seaboard colonies, and even beyond the “South” of the antebellum period, provides new insights that promise to thoroughly refresh this field.

The major evangelical groups that arose in the early period—the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists—have been the subject of many studies and have often been homogenized into a single “evangelical” category.24 But the complexity and diversity of “evangelical” dissent in the colonial period is now coming more fully into view as well. Philip N. Mulder’s 2002 study is a case in point. He focuses on the largest dissenting faiths, but his aim was to highlight what defined each group separately, how these groups related to one another, and the internal conflicts that plagued them on occasion. The result is a variegated study that brings the distinctive beliefs and practices of each group to the center of the discussion rather than seeking a central and homogenized narrative.25

Studies of the many other Protestant groups that took root in the South before 1775, but did not become one of the “winning” denominations of the nineteenth century, now have room to emerge as well. Take the Quakers, for instance. The first southern Friends began meeting together in the mid-seventeenth century, and with the advent of religious toleration Friends’ monthly meetings expanded in the eighteenth. As a faith that deeply valued its distinctive practices (like plainness, the peace testimony, and rejection of some earthly marks of social distinction) and actively sought to remain a separate people (especially in terms of endogamous marriage practices), the story of the Quakers fit awkwardly within the trajectory of the narrative of evangelical revolt and post-war co-optation. Freed of that structure, historians can now turn their attention to this important faith anew.26 Similarly, there has been a renewed interest in other, less-well-known Protestant groups, especially Moravians and Huguenots, and I fully expect that this trend will continue.27

As I see it, historians of early religious dissent are currently going through a regrouping phase. Liberated from the intellectual projects of the past, they are embracing new subjects, new goals, and new conclusions. The results may well be at least temporarily frustrating for those who are looking for ways to bring this work into a master narrative of American religious history or southern history. But, in the reputed words of William Faulkner, “People need trouble – a little frustration to sharpen the spirit on, toughen it…. [Y]ou have to learn fortitude, endurance. Only vegetables are happy.”

  1. The list of early studies of colonial Protestantism is considerable. For a small sample of this work for Virginia alone see William Henry Foote, Sketches of Virginia, Historical and Biographical, First Series (1850; Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1966); Wesley Gewehr, The Great Awakening in Virginia, 1740–1790 (1930; Gloucester, Ma.: Peter Smith, 1965); Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia (Lynchburg, Va.: J. P. Bell Co., Inc., 1938); George Maclaren Brydon, Virginia’s Mother Church and the Political Conditions Under Which It Grew (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1947).

  2. Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, A Short History of the United States (5th ed; New York: Knopf, 1969), 47. The creation of southern religious history as a field in the 1960s has been noted by many historians. See, for example, Donald G. Mathews, “‘We Have Left Undone Those Things Which We Ought to Have Done’: Southern Religious History in Retrospect and Prospect,” Church History 67 (1998): 305–25; Donald G. Mathews, “‘Christianizing the South’: Sketching a Synthesis,” in New Perspectives in American Religious History, ed. Harry S. Stout and Daryl G. Hart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); John B. Boles, “The Discovery of Southern Religious History,” in Interpreting Southern History: Historiographical Essays in Honor of Sanford W. Higginbotham, ed. John B. Boles and Evelyn Thomas Nolen (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987).

  3. Donald G. Mathews, Slavery and Methodism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965); John B. Boles, The Great Revival, 1787–1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972); Dickson D. Bruce, And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Pantheon, 1974); Donald G. Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977); and Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

  4. Eugene D. Genovese is perhaps the historian most closely associated with the midcentury rejuvenation of this interpretation. See, for example, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South (New York: Pantheon, 1965); The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York: Pantheon, 1969). It is not so much that the South had been cast as “modern” or similar to the rest of the nation beforehand, but that Genovese and others renewed interest precisely in the anti-modern, hierarchical, and planter-dominated nature of the American South. For a tidy review of the concept of the Old South see the introduction to The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress, eds. L. Diane Barnes, Brian Schoen, and Frank Towers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3–22.

  5. Mathews, Religion in the Old South, xiv.

  6. Joan R. Gundersen, “The Myth of the Independent Virginia Vestry,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (HMPEC) 44 (1975): 133–41; Joan R. Gundersen, The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 1723–1766; A Study of a Social Class (New York: Garland, 1989) (a printing of her 1977 dissertation); Joan R. Gundersen, “The Search for Good Men: Recruiting Ministers in Colonial Virginia,” HMPEC 48 (1979): 453–64; S. Charles Bolton, Southern Anglicanism: The Church of England in Colonial South Carolina (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1982); John Frederick Woolverton, Colonial Anglicanism in North America (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984); Dell Upton, Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Colonial Virginia (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987); Edward L. Bond, Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2000); and John K. Nelson, A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690–1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). More recently, see Brent Tarter, “Evidence of Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” and Edward L. Bond, “Lived Religion in Colonial Virginia,” in From Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religion Freedom in Virginia, ed. Paul Rasor and Richard E. Bond (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011) and Edward L. Bond and Joan Gundersen, “Colonial Origins and Growth: The Church of England Adapts to North America, 1607–1760,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 115:2 (2007): 165–199.

  7. Rhys Isaac, “Evangelical Revolt: The Nature of the Baptists’ Challenge to the Traditional Order in Virginia, 1765 to 1775,” William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ) 31 (1974): 345–68; Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982); Mathews, Religion in the Old South, 1–80; Richard R. Beeman, The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry: A Case Study of Lunenburg County, Virginia 1746–1832 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984); J. Stephen Kroll-Smith, “Tobacco and Belief: Baptist Ideology and the Yeoman Planter in 18th Century Virginia,” Southern Studies21 (1982): 353–68; William Howland Kenney, III, “Alexander Garden and George Whitefield: The Significance of Revivalism in South Carolina, 1738–1741,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 71:1 (1970): 1–16; David T. Morgan Jr., “George Whitefield and the Great Awakening in the Carolinas and Georgia, 1739–1740,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 54:4 (1970): 517–39; Allan Gallay, “The Origins of Slaveholders’ Paternalism: George Whitefield, the Bryan Family, and the Great Awakening in the South,” Journal of Southern History 53:3(1987): 369–94. James D. Essig’s 1982 book might also be mentioned here for sketching out efforts of early southern evangelicals to oppose slavery (The Bonds of Wickedness: American Evangelicals Against Slavery, 1770–1808 [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982]). For an excellent survey of the religious history of early Virginia that synthesizes much of the work see the introduction to Edward L. Bond, Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Preaching Religion and Community (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005).

  8. See Schweiger’s contribution to the forum “Southern Religion,” Religion and American Culture 8:2 (1998): 162–63, 164 (quotation p. 162).

  9. The work to cite here is too vast to be enumerated. One classic articulation of planter power in the colonial period, combined with the acquiescence of plainer folk and the security of slavery, is Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1975). Isaac’s treatment of the planting elite throughout The Transformation of Virginia is itself a clear assertion of this view, and Isaac cites much of the relevant secondary literature.

  10. Mathews, Religion in the Old South, 1–10 (quotation p. 10).

  11. For a summary of the changing historiography of the American Revolution, including a close reading of the New Left/Neo-Progressive interpretations referenced here, see Alfred F. Young and Gregory H. Nobles, Whose American Revolution Was It? Historians Interpret the Founding (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 75–101.

  12. Erskine Clarke, Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690–1990 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996); Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997); Cynthia Lynn Lyerly made similar arguments for southern Methodists, whom she described as “fearless social critics” who “embraced a worldview genuinely at odds with the dominant secular mind-set,” illustrated with chapters that expertly examine race, class, and gender in detail. She argues that over time Methodism compromised with the dominant order however, evolving “toward social conformity.” See Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770–1810 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4. For a more recent study with a similar “oppositional” take, see John Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  13. Jewel L. Spangler, Virginians Reborn: Anglican Establishment, Evangelical Dissent, and the Rise of the Baptists in the Late Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008). For earlier studies that argue down these lines see Rachel N. Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); Rodger M. Payne, “New Light in Hanover County: Evangelical Dissent in Piedmont Virginia, 1740–1755,” Journal of Southern History 61:4 (1995): 666–94.

  14. Monica Najar, Evangelizing the South: A Social History of Church and State in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 4.

  15. Janet Moore Lindman, Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 2, 70.

  16. Mechal Sobel, The World They Made Together‬: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia‬ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), quotation p. 180. At the same time, a number of scholars argued that few African Americans converted to Protestant faiths in the colonial period. See, for example, Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

  17. Jon F. Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

  18. Charles F. Irons, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), quotations pp. 10, 14; Randolph Ferguson Scully, Religion and the Making of Nat Turner’s Virginia: Baptist Community and Conflict, 1740–1840 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008).

  19. See, for example, William Harris’s treatment of the colonial period in The Making of the American South (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006).

  20. In thinking about this third grouping, I took inspiration from Thomas A. Tweed’s important essay collection, Retelling US Religious History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

  21. Jon F. Sensbach, “Before the Bible Belt: Indians, Africans, and the New Synthesis of Eighteenth-Century Southern Religious History,” in Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture, ed. Beth Barton Schweiger and Donald G. Mathews (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 5–30. See also Tweed, Retelling, 11–12.

  22. See, for example, Frank Lambert, “Pedlar in Divinity:” George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737–1770 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) and Susan O’Brien, “A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735–1755,” American Historical Review 91:4 (1986): 811–33. For a couple of good comparative examples, see Lindman, Bodies of Belief; Frey and Wood, Come Shouting to Zion.

  23. Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005). Similarly Nicholas Beasley’s work on Anglicanism in South Carolina and the British Caribbean, while not precisely on the topic of this essay, is suggestive of ways that scholars can reshape their thinking about region, if willing to move beyond national boundaries in order to trace communication and connections that actually shaped the religious worlds of southerners. See Nicholas Beasley, Christian Ritual and the Creation of British Slave Societies, 1650–1740 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).

  24. Donald Mathews has highlighted the problem of “reductionism,” as does Beth Barton Schweiger. See their forum contributions in Donald G. Mathews, Samuel S. Hill, Beth Barton Schweiger, and John B. Boles, “Southern Religion,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 8:2 (1998): 150, 162.

  25. Philip N. Mulder, A Controversial Spirit: Evangelical Awakenings in the South (New York: Oxford, 2002).

  26. For southern Quakers, the most recent and comprehensive publication is A. Glenn Crothers, Quakers Living in the Lion’s Mouth: The Society of Friends in Northern Virginia, 1730–1865 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012) (the first two chapters deal with the colonial period). See also Monica Najar, “Sectarians and Strategies of Dissent in Colonial Virginia,” in ed. Paul Rasor and Richard E. Bond, Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011) 108–37; the early chapters of Stephen L. Longenecker, Shenandoah Religion: Outsiders and the Mainstream, 1716–1865 (Waco, Tx: Baylor University Press, 2002); Jay Worrall Jr., The Friendly Virginians: America’s First Quakers (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing, 1994).

  27. The literature addressing dissent beyond the “big three” is quickly becoming vast. On Moravians in the South, in addition to the previously cited work of Jon Sensbach see several essays in Pious Pursuits: German Moravians in the Atlantic World, ed. Michelle Gillespie and Robert Beachy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); S. Scott Rohrer, Hope’s Promise: Religion and Acculturation in the Southern Backcountry (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005); Elisabeth W. Sommer, Serving Two Masters: Moravian Brethren in Germany and North Carolina, 1727–1801 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000); Daniel B. Thorp, The Moravian Community in Colonial North Carolina: Pluralism on the Southern Frontier (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1989). For southern Huguenots, see David E. Lambert, The Protestant International and the Huguenot Migration to Virginia (New York: Peter Lang, 2010); Arlin C. Migliazzo, To Make This Land Our Own: Community, Identity, and Cultural Adaptation in Purrysburg Township, South Carolina, 1732–1865 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007); Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, From New Babylon to Eden: The Huguenots and Their Migration to Colonial South Carolina (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006). On the many other religious groups that gained a toehold in the South before the American Revolution a good place to start would be with the early chapters of Stephen L. Longenecker, Shenandoah Religion: Outsiders and the Mainstream, 1716–1865 (Waco TX: Baylor University Press, 2002).