- Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865
S. Scott Rohrer's book Wandering Souls explores the relationship between religion, particularly "emotional" forms of Protestantism, and internal American migrations from shortly after the founding of the first American colony until the end of the Civil War. He connects the restlessness he finds in Protestant migrants with their seeking salvation, or "new birth" (74). He also locates these migrations within the culture of dissent emerging in early [End Page 82] America, which created increased competition among churches, including arguments over doctrine and willingness to start new communities at a time when inexpensive land seemed plentiful.
The significance of Rohrer's study is that most scholarly and popular treatments of migration tend to "ignore religion's role in mobility, citing instead the importance of land" (4). Whereas previous studies have explored migration "independently of religion," and have argued that "Americans' mobility weakened Protestantism by drawing members away from their home churches to the frontier" (5), Rohrer argues that religion and migration contributed to each other symbiotically, with both Protestant evangelism and a dissenting American culture contributing to this relationship in complex ways. He establishes that early American Protestant religious migrants were seekers—generally of "new birth" (244), "godly community" (74), reform, or some mixture of these factors.
Rohrer's use of available sources is thorough. He draws on contemporary studies of migration, historical studies of the American frontier, general studies of Protestant religion in early America, specific denominational studies of individual migrations, and primary sources by the migrants and those involved with them.
Rohrer's organization and presentation of the material is helpful, with eight case studies illuminating the question he raises in the introduction and answers in the conclusion: "What was it about Protestantism and America's dissenting culture that made Protestants so restless?" (14, 244). These case studies are presented in three parts, with the first representing a prototypical Puritan migration in New England; the second including Anglican, Presbyterian, Moravian, and Methodist migrants affected by religious, cultural, and economic factors; and the last exemplifying "classic religious migrations led by a church, congregation, or minister," such as the Amana community and the Latter Day Saints (9). The case studies are supported by tables, maps, and an appendix to illustrate demographic information about the migrants and relevant geographical data.
Rohrer accomplishes his overall purpose quite well and achieves a certain geographical and chronological balance, though greater attention to interactions with enslaved Africans (chaps. 2, 5), First Peoples (chaps. 1, 3, 6, 7), and African American Methodists (chap. 5) could have further enhanced the case studies. However, he establishes the importance of migration studies to scholars of early American religion, explaining that by 1810 "approximately one-third of all Americans lived somewhere other than where they had been born" (156). Specifically, chapters five and six contribute to [End Page 83] West Virginia historical studies, exploring Baptist and Methodist migrations in the region, in part due to antislavery sentiment as well as other internal divisions. Most importantly, Rohrer clearly addresses what the varied Protestant migrations he studies have in common and how their American context affected them: "Migration enabled Protestantism to spread across the continent and its followers to recommit to the Lord, while religious values helped prod people to move" (13).