Advertisement

Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 125–134 | Cite as

The Covenanter sensibility across the long Atlantic World

  • Joseph S. MooreEmail author
  • Jane G. V. McGaughey
Article

Abstract

This article introduces the Covenanters and posits them as a phenomenon that was both transatlantic and chronologically transcendent rather than simply as Scottish and seventeenth century. Covenanter beliefs and practices lived on, and Covenanter peoples dialogued with one another over three centuries in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the USA. Each generation reached back across the Atlantic and across time for inspiration and meaning in contemporary confrontations with the secular world. We argue that sensibilities history provides a fitting framework for understanding how this unique cultural group remained an ongoing Atlantic experience from 1638 until the twenty-first century.

Keywords

Atlantic World Covenanters Presbyterians Seceders sensibility 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Donald Harman Akenson, God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 9.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Akenson’s God’s Peoples was a break from this tradition of examining Covenanter societies in isolation; however, the main focus for his argument is the respective covenants’ concerns with land and territoriality. Our purpose here is to examine the malleability of Covenanters’ cultural and political identities in the North Atlantic world over a period of four centuries, rather than each society’s specific nationalist claims.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Colin Kidd, Union and Unionisms: Political Thought in Scotland, 1500–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    There has been a wealth of conversations regarding the uses, limits and validity of the Atlantic World as an interpretational rubric. Atlantic studies share an ability to transcend nation-state driven narratives and place local events in terms of their broader interconnected patterns. Chronologically, there are two dominant discourses. The first involves the twentieth century following the Second World War, and the other the Atlantic diasporas of African, American Indian and European migrants moving to, from and around the Americas. We believe the Covenanters spanned and connected both periods and epitomise these Atlantic experiences. See Jorge Canizares-Esguerra and Erik R. Seeman, eds., The Atlantic in Global History, 1500–2000 (Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), xvii–xxviiiGoogle Scholar
  5. 4a.
    Jack P. Greene and Philip D. Morgan, Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)Google Scholar
  6. 4b.
    Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Professor C.A.M. Nobles in association with Dr Ian R.K. Paisley, ‘The United States’ Debt to Ulster: A Call to Remembrance and Action’, 2 February 1998, available on the European Institute of Protestant Studies website at https://doi.org/www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp? ArtKey=dupusa (accessed October 18, 2011). Bob Jones was also a frequent contributor to the Protestant Telegraph, the newspaper most affiliated with Paisley.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    We are not claiming, anachronistically, that Covenanter and Fundamentalist are synonymous terms. The historical links from the one to the other, however, are not coincidental. For a helpful discussion of these links, see David W. Miller, ‘Searching for a New World: The Background and Baggage of Scots-Irish Immigrants’, in Ulster to America: The Scots-Irish Migration Experience, 1680–1830, ed. Warren R. Hofstra (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012), 16–20.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    For Covenanters confrontation with slavery, see Joseph S. Moore, ‘Covenanters and Antislavery in the Atlantic World’, Slavery & Abolition, (forthcoming 2013).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Derk Visser, ‘Covenant’, in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 445.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    For the names assigned to Covenanters see Emily Moberg Robinson in this issue; for ‘Phanaticks’ see Joseph S. Moore, ‘Irish Radicals, Southern Conservatives: Slavery, Religious Liberty, and the Presbyterian Fringe in the Atlantic World, 1637–1877’ (PhD diss., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2011), 5–6, 176.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    David Stewart, The Seceders in Ireland (Belfast: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1950), 44.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    A Lover of the Good Old Way’, Observations on A Wolf in a Sheep-skin (1753), i.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Sir Walter Scott, The Waverly Novels, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: E.L. Carey and A. Hart, 1839), 233. Scott also noted scathingly that Richard Cameron ‘was slain in a skirmish at Airdsmoss, bequeathing his name to the fanatics still called Cameronians’. Such aspersions served political and cultural purposes for Scotsmen keen to clean up their nation’s image in the new British Union.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Peter Brooke, Ulster Presbyterianism: The Historical Perspective, 1610–1970 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    The declaration, protestation and testimony of a suffering remnant of the anti-Popish, anti-Lutheran, anti-Prelatick, anti-Erastian, anti-Latitudinarian, anti-Sectarian, true Presbyterian Church of Christ in America (1743).Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    For instance, see The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, vol. II (Pittsburgh, 1864), 28, 182, 203. News of American churches regularly appeared in the Irish Covenanter publications.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Constitution of the National Reform Association, as Amended at the Meeting of the National Reform Association in Allegheny (21 December 1897), Article I. See William Lyons Fisk, The Scottish High-Church Tradition in America (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 95.Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    D.B. Wilson, Civil Rulers and the People: An Address at the Opening of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Pittsburgh, PA: Allegheny, 1901), 1.Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    JM. Foster, Can Christian Citizens Swear Allegiance to the Immoral Constitution of the United States and by Loyal to Christ the King (Boston: 1902), 7–8.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    Miller, ‘Searching for a New World’, 19–20. Ian Paisley, Sermons by W. P. Nicholson: Tornado of the Pulpit, with a Biographical Sketch (Belfast: Martyrs Memorial Productions, 1982). Another interesting transatlantic connection between Paisley’s Covenanter image and American fundamentalism can be found in the 142 books, articles and sermons by Paisley located in the Mack Library at fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The university library catalogues of the entire Ivy League have less than 100. https://doi.org/encore.bju.edu/iii/encore/home?lang=eng (accessed August 3, 2012).Google Scholar
  22. 20.
    Daniel Wickberg, ‘What is the History of Sensibilities? On Cultural Histories, Old and New’, American Historical Review, 112, no. 3 (2007): 661–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 21.
    James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard, 1988), 338–9.Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Introduction: Inventing Traditions’, in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (New York: Cambridge, 1983), 4.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    Valerie Wallace, ‘Presbyterian Moral Economy: The Covenanting Tradition and Popular Protest in Lowland Scotland, 1707-c.1746’, The Scottish Historical Review, LXXXIX, no. 227 (2010): 54–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 24.
    Akenson, God’s Peoples, 355.Google Scholar
  27. 25.
    One recent attempt to interpret the Covenanters beyond their traditional regional and organisational boundaries was David Miller’s emphasis on the ‘haggling tradition’. This tradition was essentially salvation by correct answer. The way one articulated faith was very important. And though the right answers remain rather static over time, the questions do not. Each generation adapts this approach to hone in, often with laser-like intensity, on the burning challenges to a godly society of its day. Because the correct answers have the ‘feel of orthodoxy’ about them, and equivocation is not tolerated, lay people unschooled in the finer points of theology are actually the masters of perceptive analysis. Covenanters knew when ministers, outsiders or politicians were trying to use language to hide innovations with subterfuge. This process has been harnessed by Covenanter laity in each generation and tied to specific social issues seen as the greatest danger to the community. These include Catholicism and the state (seventeenth century), national independence and traditionalism (eighteenth century), slavery and worship music (nineteenth century) and biblical literalism and protestant nationhood (twentieth century). Miller has argued that it is no accident that the heartland of Covenanter and Seceder immigration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - western Pennsylvania -became in the late twentieth century ground zero of the fundamentalist Confessing Church. In the early twenty-first century, this network of traditionalist Presbyterian congregations seeks to apply orthodoxy to the specific issues of their own day, namely, demanding traditional Calvinist answers on questions of God’s nature and homosexuality. The publication arm of this movement, Miller wryly notes, is titled The Layman. David W Miller, ‘Religious commotions in the Scottish diaspora: a transatlantic perspective on ‘evangelicalism’ in mainline denominations’, in Ulster Presbyterians in the Atlantic World: Religion, Politics and Identity, ed. David A. Wilson and Mark G. Spencer (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006), 25–37.Google Scholar
  28. 26.
    Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)Google Scholar
  29. 26a.
    John Witte, Jr. ‘Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations’, Law and History Review, 26, no. 3 (2008): 545–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 27.
    Ian R. K. Paisley, ‘My Letter to President Reagan’, The Revivalist, 1983, available on the European Institute of Protestant Studies website at https://doi.org/www.ianpaisley.org/revivalist/1983/Rev83apr.htm (accessed December 14, 2012).Google Scholar
  31. 28.
    Geddes, real or imagined, became the iconic figure of the Prayer Book Riot in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh in 1637. In a way she, or the very real women for whom she stands in composite character, began the Covenanter movement from below.Google Scholar
  32. 29.
    George Grier was the slave of ARP minister Robert Grier in Abbeville District, South Carolina. He was convicted of seditious speech when overheard preaching a sermon on Covenanting doctrine to other slaves. Moore, ‘Covenanters and Antislavery’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesGardner-Webb UniversityBoiling SpringsUSA
  2. 2.School of Canadian Irish StudiesConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations