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Introduction An Overview of Protestant Migrations, 1630–1865 A hitchhiker, a farmer. Consider these two tales from across the centuries: after the breakup of his marriage, an unemployed college teacher embarks on a restless journey in the 1970s. He pauses to pick up a hitchhiker near Potlatch, Idaho. The hitchhiker greets his benefactor with a question: “Do you want a free Bible course? . . . Jesus is coming.” The professor shudders, wondering what he has gotten himself into. The hitchhiker is a born-again Christian and a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who found Jesus after nearly dying in a car wreck during a mountain snowstorm. Having survived his brush with death, the man feels compelled to take to the road as a missionary and spread the Good Word. “Jesus hitchhikes in me. That’s the work,” he explains to the driver, William Least Heat-Moon. To back up his assertion, the hitchhiker cites Luke 14:23: “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’” Heat-Moon finds the man a most curious companion. He can only conclude about this missionary-hitchhiker, “He seemed one of those men who wander all their lives. In him was something restless and unsatisfied and ancient. He was going everywhere, anywhere, nowhere. He belonged to no place and was at home anyplace.”1 In the 1820s, a Puritan farmer unhappy with life in Concord, Massachusetts, sells the ancestral homeland, loads his belongings into a wagon, and heads to western New York with his family in search of fresh land and a religious new birth. This migration, so quotidian in its motives, was part of a far larger one out of New England and Pennsylvania that transformed New York’s frontier into the “Burned-over District,” a place that became famed by the 1820s for its revivalism and fiery religious spirit. “What New England was fifty years ago, the western section of New York . . . has in many respects already become,” the Orleans Advocate observed in 1827. The migrants were a surprisingly diverse 4 migration in america lot—the Congregationalists from old Puritan villages such as Concord were joined by Methodists, Baptists, Shakers, Quakers, and others. But this motley collection of religious believers shared two fundamental things: an attachment to emotional religion, and a predilection to migrate. For one historian of the district, the migrants’ “moral intensity . . . was their most striking attribute .” Emotional religion, he explained, was “a congenital characteristic, present at birth and developed throughout the youth of the section.”2 Protestantism’s contributions to Americans’ wanderlust between 1630 and 1865 is a fascinating but little understood aspect of U.S. history. Modern treatments of migration, from Hollywood Westerns to scholarly books on the frontier, often ignore religion’s role in mobility, citing instead the importance of land. The image of settlers headed west in Conestoga wagons for the chance to farm is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. During his cross-country jaunt, William Least Heat-Moon came across a North Carolinian who offered a novel theory on how Jimmy Carter, an obscure southern politician, had managed to win the White House in 1976: “He showed us he came from the land. To an American, land is solidity, goodness, and hope. American history is about land.” One of the newest accounts of American expansion largely agrees: “The lure of all that land with its robust yields ensured a constant inflow of settlers, and the more who came, the more who followed ,” writes historian Richard Kluger. “After these irrepressible Americans consecrated their land as a nation . . . their territorial cravings only grew.” A recent book on Andrew Jackson and the American “empire” put it even more baldly: “Land was the principal attraction for western settlement. . . . Land speculation dominated the thoughts of every man who journeyed west seeking a better life.”3 Many contemporaries offered strikingly similar assessments. In an essay published in 1782, French-born J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur stressed land’s importance to American democratic culture, especially when compared with Europe. “Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one,” Crèvecoeur exclaimed. “Some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the earth, from Nova Scotia to West Florida. We are a people of cultivators , scattered over an immense territory communicating with each other by means of...


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