Sunday afternoon I drove to Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ to deliver the Lawrence Historical Society‘s 10th annual Mary Tanner Lecture. My talk drew on research from my ongoing project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution. I was quite impressed that a lecture sponsored by a town historical society drew somewhere between 75 and 100 people.
My lecture traced the history of Presbyterianism in New Jersey in an attempt to explain why so many observers described the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” It was also fun to use the eighteenth-century story of the Presbyterian congregations at Maidenhead (Lawrence) and Hopewell (Pennington) as a window into the First Great Awakening and the coming of the American Revolution. Maidenhead was a fascinating New Jersey Presbyterian congregation. I described the place as a “rehabilitation center” for some of the most extreme Presbyterian New Siders. Both Timothy Allen (of Shepherd’s Tent fame) and James Davenport spent time serving the church after they had repented of their First Great Awakening antics.
Of course no lecture on Presbyterians, New Jersey, and the American Revolution would be complete without a discussion of John Witherspoon. I took some time in the lecture to discuss his famous 1776 sermon The Dominion of Providence Over the passions of Men and talked about the way Witherspoon fused good old-fashioned Presbyterian providentialism with Lockean political principles.
It was good to return to this material after taking time off this summer to do some consulting and put the finishing the touches on Why Study History? I drove back to south central Pennsylvania with a renewed commitment to make headway on this project, although it might be tough if I agree to another somewhat related project (details may be forthcoming) that could take up a lot of my research time over the next year or two.
Thanks to Dennis Waters, Lawrence Township Historian, for the invitation to do the Tanner Lecture. Thanks as well to Brooke Hunter of the Rider history department for being a great host and for her role in creating these wonderful posters.
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