Religion, Christianity, Religious history, Empire, Christian imperialism, Missions, Missionaries, Settler colonies
In Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic, Emily Conroy-Krutz argues that a consideration of American [End Page 178] evangelism in the early nineteenth century forces scholars to rethink their understanding of empire and the role of Americans in the world. In particular, she focuses on the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and its missions to India, the Cherokee, the Sandwich Islands, Liberia, and Singapore. Conroy-Krutz contends that the ABCFM envisioned a Christian empire based on cooperation with western colonial governments. For the ABCFM, God’s providence meant that the expanding British Empire was to be used as a means of bringing Christianity and civilization to a world they considered heathen.
Conroy-Krutz examines how the ABCFM’s concept of Christian imperialism shifted as its evangelists experienced the challenges of establishing mission stations throughout the world. At a time when most Americans sought to distance themselves from the British, the ABCFM maintained close connections to the London Missionary Society (LMS) and its evangelists. The ABCFM believed that common goals of evangelization and a desire to “civilize” the heathen meant they could easily establish a mission station in Calcutta and begin to convert millions. Instead, the increasing tension leading up to the War of 1812 and British rule under the East India Company (EIC) meant that the position of the ABCFM missionaries in India remained tenuous for years. While they had expected the EIC to support their goals, the American evangelists were frustrated that British administrators were more interested in their efforts to educate rather than evangelize Indians. In the end, the missionaries made few converts.
According to Conroy-Krutz, both in the Sandwich Islands and the Cherokee Nation the ABCFM created “settler colonies” (104–105). She defines settler colonies as focused on obtaining land and removing the indigenous inhabitants rather than on acquiring commodities or labor. While the Sandwich Island missionaries did not remove the Hawaiians, Conroy-Krutz argues that the large number of missionaries, teachers, and workers sent to the islands—around 150 by 1850—and the fact that many of these eventually acquired large tracts of land meant that the American evangelists created a settler colony in the islands. Likewise, the large number and variety of people sent to evangelize the Cherokee meant that here too the ABCFM created a settler colony.
While the Sandwich Islands proved to be one of the ABCFM’s most successful missions, the rise of Andrew Jackson and supporters of Indian removal caused the missionaries to become entangled in politics in a way the ABCFM never imagined. They went from receiving the support of [End Page 179] the American government for their “civilization” efforts to fighting the state of Georgia in the Supreme Court. Their failure to win against Jacksonian forces caused them to rethink the link between Christian imperialism and colonial governments.
The experiences of the ABCFM missionaries in Liberia and Singapore further transformed their views of Christian imperialism. In Liberia, the American evangelists believed that they would have the support of the colonial government because ABCFM had close associations with the Maryland Colonization Society (MCS), which had founded the colony. However, when the MCS appointed an African American director who wished to induct native mission teachers into the militia, the relationship between the mission and the Liberian government soured. Eventually, the evangelists left Liberia and established a mission removed from colonial governments.
In Singapore, the American missionaries investigated the creation of a Christian colony of lay workers and teachers operating separately from the ABCFM. When the Singapore mission sent its proposal for the American Christian colony to the ABCFM, its leaders vehemently rejected the idea. The problems with the U.S. government over Cherokee removal and the contention over militia service in Liberia had taught them to stay out of politics. Consequently, Conroy-Krutz contends, the ABCFM’s vision of a Christian empire linked to western imperialism shifted...