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One Family Under God

Love, Belonging, and Authority in Early Transatlantic Methodism

By Anna M. Lawrence

Publication Year: 2011

Originally a sect within the Anglican church, Methodism blossomed into a dominant mainstream religion in America during the nineteenth century. At the beginning, though, Methodists constituted a dissenting religious group whose ideas about sexuality, marriage, and family were very different from those of their contemporaries.

Focusing on the Methodist notion of family that cut across biological ties, One Family Under God speaks to historical debates over the meaning of family and how the nuclear family model developed over the eighteenth century. Historian Anna M. Lawrence demonstrates that Methodists adopted flexible definitions of affection and allegiance and emphasized extended communal associations that enabled them to incorporate people outside the traditional boundaries of family. They used the language of romantic, ecstatic love to describe their religious feelings and the language of the nuclear family to describe their bonds to one another. In this way, early Methodism provides a useful lens for exploring eighteenth-century modes of family, love, and authority, as Methodists grappled with the limits of familial and social authority in their extended religious family.

Methodists also married and formed conjugal families within this larger spiritual framework. Evangelical modes of marriage called for careful, slow courtships, and often marriages happened later in life and produced fewer children. Religious views of the family offered alternatives to traditional coupling and marriage—through celibacy, spiritual service, and the idea of finding one's true spiritual match, which both challenged the role of parental authority within marriage-making and accelerated the turn within the larger society toward romantic marriage.

By examining the language and practice of evangelical sexuality and family, One Family Under God highlights how the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century was central to the rise of romantic marriage and the formation of the modern family.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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p. vii

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Introduction: The Transatlantic Methodist Family

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pp. 1-16

In 1771, Freeborn Garrettson had a life-changing conversation with Methodist preacher Francis Asbury. Their talk was so affecting that Garrettson wondered, ‘‘How does this stranger know me so well!’’1 Many Methodists in the eighteenth century described their entry into the group in a similar fashion. ‘‘He spake to me,’’ converts recounted, feeling that the preacher knew their own story, marking the intimacy...

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1. Transatlantic Methodism: Roots and Revivals

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pp. 17-43

The Atlantic world was a crucible of religious exchange in the eighteenth century. The Methodist family flourished in this transatlantic arena as early evangelicals established a missionary project to spread the word, both domestically and universally. The early evangelical movement had three main characteristics: transcendence, sociability, and mobility. Evangelicals repeatedly sought to transcend their physical bodies in order to have a better union with God, and they sought to connect with one another...

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2. Loosening the Bonds of Family and Society

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pp. 44-71

In the eighteenth century, the ideal Methodist convert was a young individual, someone who used her youthful energy to further evangelical growth. In Dee Andrews’s meticulous survey of membership records in the Middle Atlantic region of America, she discovered a ‘‘prototype’’ for Methodist laity in the late eighteenth century: a woman who was sixteen to twenty-four years old, unmarried, and still living at home or making her living...

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3. The Best of Bonds: Joining the Methodist Family

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pp. 72-95

When Susannah Designe wrote to Charles Wesley in 1742, she proclaimed, ‘‘I find greater ties Both of Love and Duty to your Brother and you than my natural parents after the flesh.’’1 While not all Methodists would state this exchange of families in such bald terms, all evangelicals joined a new family when they converted. Methodist laity typically described their relationships to their religious brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers...

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4. Religious Ecstasy and Methodist Sexuality

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pp. 96-132

In 1809, Leigh Hunt railed against Methodists, condemning them as inhuman in their opposition to pleasure.1 Eighteenth-century Anglo-American society viewed Methodists as the new Puritans in many ways. Satirists used this evocation to disparage Methodists as fanatics, highlighting the political and social danger...

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5. Celibacy in the Methodist Family: The Case Against Marriage

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pp. 133-157

When Englishwoman Sarah Crosby wrote this entry in her journal, she was marking the anniversary of starting her new life as a celibate Mother in Israel.1 In 1757, when her husband had deserted her, she had already been a Methodist for over six years, having been inducted into the group by John Wesley. Her husband’s desertion, however, provided the impetus for a new stage in her life...

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6. ''The Whole World Is Composed of Families''

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pp. 158-186

Eighteenth-century popular literature characterized Methodists as being home wreckers or antifamily, at least in the conventional sense.1 One reason for this association was the way that converts left behind their families’ traditions and committed themselves to a new religious family. When it came to the decision of marriage, converts tended to further diminish parental authority by relying upon their own interpretations of divine authority and seeking advice from others in the Methodist family...

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7. One Family, Two Nations

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pp. 187-217

In the late eighteenth century, the Methodist family grew on both sides of the Atlantic, and the transatlantic Methodist family acted as an imagined community of brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers all working in concert to convert themselves and the world around them. In their narratives, transatlantic Methodist converts established a common language and struggled with a common set of religious and social goals for an ideal spiritual community...

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pp. 218-223

The early years of Methodism were an experimental period for laity and leadership alike. Together they forged a new culture, an evangelical family that supported individuals and transformed their families. At its core, this book argues that early Methodists saw themselves as a family, both reflecting and reformulating eighteenth-century notions of family. The Methodist family formed a challenge to eighteenth-century English and American society...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 225-226


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pp. 227-271


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pp. 273-279


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pp. 281-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204179
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243307

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 13 illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Early American Studies
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Daniel K. Richter, Kathleen M. Brown, Max Cavitch, and David Waldstreicher See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700606
MUSE Marc Record: Download for One Family Under God

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Methodist Church (Great Britain) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Marriage -- Religious aspects -- Methodist Church.
  • Methodist Church (U.S.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Families -- Religious aspects -- Methodist Church.
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