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The Spice of Popery

Converging Christianities on an Early American Frontier

Laura M. Chmielewski

Publication Year: 2011

The title for this work comes from the Puritan minister Increase Mather, who used the colorful metaphor to express his concern about the state of English Protestantism. Like many New Englanders, Mather’s fears about the creeping influence of French Catholicism stemmed from English conflicts with France that spilled over into the colonial frontiers from French Canada. The most consistently fragile of these frontiers was the Province of Maine, notorious for attracting settlers who had “one foot out the door” of New England Puritanism. It was there that English Protestants and French Catholics came into frequent contact. The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American Frontier shows how, between the volatile years of 1688 to 1727, the persistence of Catholic people and culture in New England's border regions posed consistent challenges to the bodies and souls of frontier Protestants. Taking a cue from contemporary observers of religious culture, as well as modern scholars of early American religion, social history, material culture, and ethnohistory, Laura M. Chmielewski explores this encounter between opposing Christianities on an early American frontier. She examines the forms of lived religion and religious culture—enacted through gestures, religious spaces, objects, and discreet religious expressions—to elucidate the range of experience of its diverse inhabitants: accused witches, warrior Jesuits, unorthodox ministers, indigenous religious thinkers, voluntary and involuntary converts. Chmielewski offers a nuanced perspective of the structured categories of early American Christian religious life, suggesting that the terms “Protestant” and “Catholic” varied according to location and circumstances and that the assumptions accompanying their use had long-term consequences for generations of New Englanders.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiii

Brief Chronology: The Province of Maine, 1688–1727

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-20

In the history of early Maine’s religious culture, few families stand out like the Wheelwrights. The first settlers to bear the name were dissenters, radical antinomian Puritans and associates of Anne Hutchinson who, unwelcome in Massachusetts Bay and having few other options, came to...

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1. “The Land That Was Desolate . . . Shall Flourish Like the Lily”: Christian Diversity in Early Maine

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pp. 21-67

In 1646 Gabriel Druillettes, a Jesuit priest who had long worked among native peoples of New France, established the Catholic mission of Narantsuoak on the banks of the Kennebec River. Known as Norridgewock to the English, it grew and prospered as a center for Christian spirituality...

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2. “Satan’s Prey” or "L'esclavage de l'hérésie calviniste": The Imperial Battles for Maine's Frontier Souls

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pp. 69-122

Maine’s lack of religious cohesion haunted orthodox New England ministers, who feared for the souls of the province’s settlers. The most vocal warnings came from Cotton Mather, who asserted that the province’s religious instability jeopardized New England’s entire holy experiment. ...

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3. “Pits of Hell” and “Ménages des anges”: The Protestant Dilemma of Sacramental Marriage

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pp. 123-164

The Treaty of Utrecht ended Queen Anne’s War in 1713. Among its provisions, the treaty addressed the return of all prisoners seized in the war, including frontier captives. English settlers who had lost family to captivity and were aware of the stipulation no doubt looked...

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4. The Ways of Christian Industry: Missions and Ministries on the Maine Frontier

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pp. 165-209

Sebastien Rale, a Jesuit missionary at the established Catholic mission at Norridgewock, had problems with his neighbors. In 1722 he wrote a long letter to his nephew in France that described his troubles:...

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5. Protestant Ornaments and Popish Relics: Maine's Material Culture of Livid Religion

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pp. 211-242

With Norridgewock destroyed and Sebastien Rale dead, 1724 was a transitional year for Christian religious culture in colonial Maine. By 1727 the effective end of Dummer’s War signaled a turn of the tide favoring the English, who now possessed the means, in times of peace...

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6. “The Lord . . . Will Greatly Reward Me”: The Religious Dimensions of Wordly Goods

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pp. 243-268

In Maine’s contest to establish a dominant Christian culture, even commonplace objects were recast for religious purposes. The elevation of the mundane into the sacred, in the form of inherited land and goods, was one of the few practical measures to curb persisting religious incursions...

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pp. 269-278

When Benedict Fenwick, the Catholic bishop of Baltimore, proposed to construct a memorial to the slain Jesuit Sebastian Rale, he found an unlikely supporter for the project in the person of William Allen, Jr., the president of Bowdoin College and a devout Congregationalist. ...


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pp. 279-280


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pp. 281-338


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pp. 339-353

Index [Includes About the Author and Back Cover]

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pp. 355-366

E-ISBN-13: 9780268076948
E-ISBN-10: 0268076944
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023072
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023077

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: No e-rights for images; text only.
Publication Year: 2011