- Archibald Simpson's Unpeaceable Kingdom: The Ordeal of Evangelicalism in the Colonial South by Peter N. Moore
By the 1770s, approximately 160,000 Scots had migrated to the British North American colonies. Among them were many well-known individuals such as John Witherspoon, Flora MacDonald, and John Paul Jones. The subject of Peter N. Moore's new work, Archibald Simpson, is not as well known, but his significance is in the record he kept of his life and the lives he encountered as a minister in both Scotland and the American South. In part because of his lack of celebrity, Simpson offers unique insights into the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of the often-unnamed men and women in the eighteenth-century evangelical Atlantic world.
With a clear and engaging writing style, Moore approaches Simpson's life, for the most part, chronologically. He relies primarily on Simpson's multivolume journal, but he also draws on the published and personal writings of Simpson's contemporaries, evangelical magazines, newspapers, and the records of the numerous churches and ruling bodies Simpson was associated with. Employing this diverse range of sources, Moore charts the major events in Simpson's life, from his impoverished, sickly, and pious early years through his time at the University of Glasgow; his "irregular marriage" to Jeany Muir and his subsequent removal in shame to a position at George Whitefield's Bethesda orphanage in Savannah, Georgia (p. 47); his later adventures pursuing ministerial posts at a variety of churches between Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina; his rise as a successful plantation owner; his misadventures in courting and his disillusionment with the potential of evangelicalism in the South; and, finally, his move back to Scotland, where he lived the rest of his life except for the year he returned to get his plantation affairs in order. While the events of Simpson's life make for fascinating reading, Moore contends that the significance of Simpson's journal is in what it reveals about the lives of eighteenth-century evangelicals.
Simpson was one of many in the evangelical world who fell between the revivalists such as Whitefield and the moderates such as Francis Hutcheson. Simpson's emphasis on education and gravitation toward institutional frameworks were paired with a drive, stemming from his experience as a youth in the midcentury Glaswegian efforts, for a ministry grounded in intimate congregational relationships and a firm reliance on orthodox gospel preaching rather than enthusiastic populist-driven events. As he distanced himself both from the excesses of revivalism and from moderate Reformed theology, Simpson [End Page 418] occupied a space similar to John Witherspoon in the eighteenth-century Protestant Atlantic world, as noted recently by Gideon Mailer. Moore's work pairs well with Mailer's John Witherspoon's American Revolution (Chapel Hill, 2017) in that while Witherspoon reveals the intellectual framework for this middle ground, Simpson demonstrates how those ideas played out in reality.
Simpson's life highlights the successes, the failures, and the compromises of evangelicals seeking stability and success, especially in the American South. His experiences as a neophyte in southern society taught him that ministry there was more than simply preaching the gospel to benighted souls. His acclimation saw him struggle with elite planters who undermined his ministry to assert their authority; navigate webs of intrigue surrounding courting, conversion narratives, death narratives, and congregational discipline; and embrace the tension-filled marriage between evangelicalism and slavery. Although Moore gives thorough treatment to Simpson's life in Scotland, the high points of the book come when Moore explores the realities of the American South that revealed the strengths and weaknesses of eighteenth-century evangelicalism.
In sum, Moore has crafted an engaging biography that brings Simpson and his world—whether it be Glasgow, Savannah, Charleston, or somewhere in between—to life, giving all involved an almost tangible existence while affording scholars an invaluable insight into the messy but earnest lives of eighteenth-century evangelicals...