On the frontiers
of the New World Christianity set aside any notions of cheek-turning
pacifism and universal brotherhood
to embrace the manly notions of rugged individualism and aggressive
acquisition. Frontier Christianity was the faith of the Lord's
conquerors, untroubled by the fate of those who had to perish
make way. The Good Book, as interpreted by a new breed of itinerant
pastors, reassured them that they were Good People. The
guiding hand of Divine Providence
greed and the more wealth they could amass was surely indicative
of God's approval. With
a rifle in
other the new Americans were claiming their inheritance.
Making of a Kleptocratic Republic
"The plague that killed the kings of Mexico, Guatemala,
and Peru – and half their subjects – had struck
equally hard in the unknown kingdoms of the north ... The "tribes" the
English would find, though still considerable, were remnants
of once powerful states.
Homes had rotted away and woods had crept back into fields.
America seemed a virgin land waiting for civilization. But
Europe had made the wilderness it found; America was not
a virgin, she was a widow."
– R. Wright, Stolen Continents, p91.
explorers venturing down the Mississippi Valley only sixty years
Soto's rampage found only a
few tiny villages. Yet all around they saw the
decaying remains of a substantial agrarian civilization. They
noted abandoned towns and
what once had been fertile agricultural land returning
to the wild.
of the largest centres of this vanished civilization
was Cahokia in Illinois, a tribal capital which covered
5 square miles.
At its height, probably the 13th century, its population must have been at
least 10,000, comparable
same time. So awe-struck by the great mounds of the
Ohio valley were the early settlers that
Joseph Smith dreamed up a white race of 'Nephites' to explain
them and gave his mythical heroes a biblical-style
history in the Book of Mormon.
wildly, but before the arrival of Europeans, and more
perhaps as many as twelve
million people lived in what are now the United States. What
is certain is that the Europeans arrived from a world
wrecked by religious conflict,
at the prospect of extracting limitless wealth from an unexploited
land. As the 18th century unfolded the
continent became a vast theatre of
war as three Christian empires wrestled for the riches of this
empire of Spain, having dissipated in war the plunder
already extracted from much of the Americas, was well into decline.
Though the Spanish claimed the entire hemisphere they were in no position
enforce that claim. The
French moved cautiously into the interior along
the river valleys of the St Lawrence and Mississippi, building
forts and claiming a dubious territorial authority over a vast
far the more populous settlements were the
colonies of England (an
estimated 200,000 people in 1700, 1.3 million by 1750),
confined by mountains and her rivals to the eastern coast.
ruin of these races began the day the Europeans landed on
their shores; it has continued since then; it is reaching
its completion at the present time."
– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835.
Americans, weakened by alien-imported disease for more than a
century, were slow to resist the invader. Indeed, their kindness
and curiosity had caused them to feed the first desperate settlers
Christ in the Colonies). In return, the invading fanatics
gave thanks to their own God for using the savages to effect
divine deliverance. So much for Thanksgiving.
for them, the natives who met the intruders were not
a single, homogeneous population but were divided into more than
groups, with many different languages, kinship systems and cultural
This disunity allowed the invaders to form opportunistic alliances
with particular tribes and adopt a successful divide and conquer
the north, the French struck an alliance with the Algonquin and
Huron tribes, which prompted their traditional enemies
the Iroquois to ally themselves with
the complex struggle ahead, the European intruders were only
too willing to supply their native allies with firearms with
which to better exterminate each other. Indeed,
Jesuits and missionaries offered guns as an inducement to
conversion to Christianity. European weapons transformed
the traditional inter-tribal warfare
something far deadlier. Hitherto, "Braves" had
always proven their virility in battle but
allied to the European invader their wars
process of conquest and annihilation which benefitted only
Christians, joyous that their God had covenanted
a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, were ready
to fight to the death of the last
relentless alien assault intruded into every facet of native
life, and most fundamentally into the ownership of land. More
than merely territory, the natives
the earth sacred, venerated as a benevolent Mother,
a notion meaningless to the intruders who took their own sanctity
a book. Common
ownership, as practised by the Indians,
was perceived by Europeans as primitive and unchristian.
The migrants were there, after all, not merely to live
but to acquire,
and that meant essentially personal ownership of land.
To the newcomers the land was a "wilderness" to
be mastered, tamed and enclosed into "property".
the first, the guileless Indians ceded tracts of land to
these strangely avaricious
but even in a period of "peace" the
insatiable appetite of Europeans for pelts and hides destroyed
the native peoples had maintained for millennia. Thus
began the steady
eradication of the indigenous wildlife, exacerbated by
the horses and cows of the invader which ate
the grasslands that had previously fed
And everywhere was the pressure of more and more settlers, each and every
one of them wanting "property".
you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land
from before you, and destroy ... And you shall dispossess
the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein."
– Numbers 33.52-53.
in 1675, the exasperated Indians of New England turned their
enmity towards the colonists. Against overwhelming firepower
the struggle was hopeless. In a single incident during the
so-called "King Philip's War" some
600 Indians were massacred. A delighted Cotton Mather, pastor
of the Second Church of Boston, later referred to the slaughter
as a "barbeque". At
the end of the conflict most of New England's Indians
were either dead or had taken refuge in Canada. Some were
sold into slavery in the Carolinas.
the viability of her American colonies firmly established,
in 1684 the English crown replaced the restrictive "Puritan" charter
of Massachusetts with one more to its liking. In Boston
and the coastal cities the "rule of the Saints" was
succeeded by the governance of a practical and
corrupt commercialism. Whaling and pirate vessels
were built, fitted out and supplied from the cities of
The illicit import of molasses from the French West Indies
established another major industry,
the distillation of a coarse rum. Whisky and rum not
only encouraged local drunkenness
and crime: when sold to the Indians it caused
serious debilitation. With metabolisms
ill-suited to the alien fire water the natives were frequently
reduced to addiction and then cheated out of their land.
By 1750 Massachusetts had 63 distilleries. By then the
distillers were rich enough to invest capital
in slave traders keen to ship captive Africans to
toleration: Good for business
he fled in 1688 James II granted fellow Catholics
and French Huguenots religious freedom in Virginia. It
was the last defiant act of a religious extremist.
The Glorious Revolution which displaced James ended decades
of religious intransigence in England and within a generation
that liberality spread to the colonies. The Protestantism
of an incipient empire was not about to allow differences
of religious faith to obstruct global commercial expansion.
In 1750 England's Board of Trade imposed "toleration
and free exercise of religion" on its American
colonies in order to attract new migrants and encourage
trade. Anglicans (but without a local
bishop) were thus able to set up shop in the former outpost
of Puritan separatism, as were the European Anabaptists and Mennonites driven
out of the Rhineland by the religious wars of Louis XIV.
with European migrants and goods came the new science
of the Enlightenment. Many intellectuals rejected
along with its confused nonsense of the Trinity and Calvin's
pessimistic notion of man's "total depravity".
Instead the Deists and Unitarians argued
for the essential goodness of mankind, emphasising reason
and human progress. When it came to souls all might be
baffles the hicks
contrast, settlers on the frontier, outcasts from the sophisticated
society of the coastal cities, persevered with a simplistic
understanding of the "Kingdom
of God", less in tune with a rational God of loving benevolence
than with the Old Testament despot of divine retribution.
the 1740s religious "revivalism" (the so-called "Great
Awakening") brought a campaign of primitive fanaticism
to the whites of the frontier zone. Cheek by jowl with the
heathen savages, these practical, ignorant folk were suspicious
theology and the "sophisticated" faith of the Eastern
seaboard which had mellowed from its puritanical days into
a restrained piety.
The fire that
had once belonged to the Congregationalists and Quakers – now
pillars of respectable commerce – passed
to a new breed of hot gospelling Presbyterians and Methodists.
Their "open air" style of sermonizing and use of
untrained "lay" preachers
servicing a circuit of meeting places can be credited to
the Wesley brothers. These maverick English Anglicans
from English parish churches for their idiosyncratic theology)
ministered in the new penal
Georgia in the 1730s and subsequently John Wesley ordained
a "Superintendent" in lieu of a bishop for the American
itinerant Methodist preachers, able to keep up with, and perambulate
in the way of pastoral
work. A church house
was a luxury, a field might do. Instead they put
emphasising fire and brimstone, "spirit healings", and the Lord's "living
presence". Having whipped up an atmosphere of emotionalism and
hysteria, complete with screaming, shouting and weeping, the
call came for personal conversion – and of course
a little cash.
the demonology of the frontier zealots the unrepentant heathen
were minions of the devil and had to be sent back to hell. Thus
it was with the condoning
word of the Lord that American settlers could kill natives
and hound them from the land. Convinced of their own moral superiority,
yet in reality vicious, violent and essentially criminal, the
interlopers could take over land already cleared of, and by,
its former occupants.
by such missionaries the Native Americans had little
option but to pay lip service to the strange and aggressive religion
of the invader.
led Britain to declare war on France in 1756, and on Spain six
In the seven year conflict, in which
local tribes were deployed as auxiliaries on both sides,
Britain wrestled the Ohio valley and Quebec from France,
Spain. The (1st) Treaty of Paris which brought
the Seven Years' War (aka 'French and Indian
War') to an end, parcelled out Canada to Britain and
compensated Spain with a vast territory west of the Mississippi
With the defeat
of the French, a confederation of tribes in the lands south of
the Great Lakes, led by chief Pontiac of the
Ottawa, continued the struggle, attacking forts across a broad
swath of territory. Imperial and colonial forces retaliated with
the conflict Lord Jeffrey Amherst earned eternal infamy by ordering
that blankets infected with smallpox be supplied to the Indians,
an early instance of germ warfare. But the war
left the British wary of trying to garrison all the lands
Instead, Britain's Indian allies were "rewarded" by
a prohibition on colonists settling west of
the Appalachians, although "over mountain men" ignored
the stipulation and immediately began crossing the so-called
"Proclamation Line". In
Mohawk valley passed into the hands of Scots who
themselves had been driven from their homes
by highland clearances.In
1775, Daniel Boone hacked his way through the Cumberland
Gap, opening up a new route into the interior.
the defeat of French and Indian forces the colonies had little
need of British protection – and certainly were not prepared
to pay for it.
1776, more than 2 million people were living in Britain's
North American colonies. With
the elimination of French power a segment
of the colonial population allied itself with the former enemy
to throw off imperial restrictions. The
thirteen colonies of British North America – perhaps
two thirds of their population, that is – rebelled against
British rule. France
supplied the rebels with 90% of their gunpowder and a Prussian
trained their army.
the disparate and scattered colonies would have fallen one by
one to imperial forces. Unity
was therefore of the utmost importance
and religious discord had to be put aside. A
union based upon mutual religious tolerance was a
necessary concomitant of the struggle for independence. The
new nation, led for the most part by Deists and
achieved a shaky federation by ceding rights and liberties to
the disparate communities and settlements. An
ill-defined "unity under God" – however
understood – and a separation of church from state, was the
only formula for success. It
was a formula which particularly appealed to the revolutionary
leaders – Paine,
Franklin, etc. – who
were themselves actually anti-Christian. Thus
at its birth, the republic
endorsed no official mystical creed
nor state-sanctioned church.
the United States of America, 1776, the Christian religion, for
the first time since Emperor Constantine fourteen hundred years
of the state to enforce its will. The multifarious sects
which had set up shop in the new commonwealth had to compete
other for membership and influence. Entrepreneurial
Christianity was born.
were expedients by which ignorant, intractable, and savage
people were induced ... to yield up what civilized
people had the right to possess."
– George Gilmer,
Governor of Georgia, c. 1830 (Wright, p202)
1783 the (2nd)
Treaty of Paris, formally
ending the Revolutionary War, had
disastrous consequences for Native Americans.
the treaty the newly formed United States acquired
title to all lands west to the Mississippi and the
colonial population immediately put unremitting pressure on
the tribes in the northwest and southeast. Abandoned
by their allies, the native confederacies were powerless to
stop aggressive American expansion.
what had been nominal "British" territory beyond
the Appalachians new states were rapidly organized: Kentucky
(1792), Tennessee (1796), and Ohio (1803). Meanwhile,
revolution and turmoil in France brought Napoleon to power,
and in the
small but highly profitable
colony of Saint-Domingue a slave rebellion defeated
French forces. The loss of "Haiti" thwarted French
plans for a new empire in the Americas and in 1803 Napoleon
sold the vast Louisiana territory, retaken from Spain only three
years earlier, to the United States for
the republic doubled in size and laid claim to 800,000
square miles of unknown territory stretching from the Gulf
of Mexico to the Pacific northwest. Much of it was rapidly parcelled
out – Louisiana (1812),
Indiana (1816), Alabama (1817), Illinois (1818), Mississippi
(1819), and Missouri (1821). The pressure of white encroachment
the Plains Indians whilst
what remained of the woodland tribes – Saux, Fox, Cherokee,
Creek and Seminole – fought their last desperate battles.
cleansing gathers pace
inhabitants of the United States do not hunt the Indians
down with a great clamor, like the Spanish in Mexico. But
as elsewhere, it is the same pitiless sentiment ... 'The
brandy which we sell to them cheaply annually removes more
than our weapons could manage... God, by his refusal to grant
its first inhabitants the art of civilization, doomed them
to inevitable destruction. The true owners of this continent
are those who are able to take advantage of its wealth.'
with this argument, the American
repairs to church where he listens to a minister of the
Gospel repeat to him that men are brothers and the everlasting
has given them all the duty of helping one another."
Alexis de Tocqueville (Two Weeks in the Wilderness, 1835).
was a slave-owning backwoodsman from South Carolina, of Irish
descent. He was a Presbyterian. He was also
an aggressive and avaricious "second generation" frontiersman
and an aristocrat of the New Order, a politico-businessman
with "connections", a cotton planter, a land-speculator
and a bully. Exploiting his appointment to various public
offices (judge, congressman, senator), Jackson dislodged
thousands of poor
white farmers and sent them streaming into Indian lands,
where new "provocations" would provide an excuse
for Jackson (also a general in the militia) to renew aggression
Andrew" led a savage campaign against the Creek nation long
settled in the rich lands of the southeast. Though all the tribes
fearful of white encroachment the Creeks were divided, both on
issue of an alliance with the
British (then at war with the U.S.) and on acceptance of the ways
of the white man (they were, after all, one of the "civilized" tribes.)
Not that the
difference of tribal opinion really mattered. Determined
and ruthless, Jackson sequestered lands even from tribes
that had fought
as his allies. Vast tracts of Alabama
Mississippi were parcelled out to white settlers, with
Jackson taking much of the land for himself.
In 1818, now
enjoying the rank of Major General in the regular army, Jackson
audaciously invaded the land of Seminole Indians living in Spanish
ostensibly because the Seminole were accepting runaway slaves
as members of their tribe. In command of 3000 troops Jackson
wiped out several Indian villages and annexed Florida. What
In 1829 he
Frontier Mentality - Zealots with guns
'assent' of Indians was often nominal; federal commissioners
bribed important chiefs and if necessary got them drunk enough
to sign anything ... Between 1829 and 1837 several million
acres were relinquished, and many thousand redskins more or
less unwillingly transferred across the Mississippi."
– Morison, et al, p438,9.
had first encountered the white invaders in the 18th century
and had moved further west for safety. But they had also assimilated
some of the ways of the restless newcomer, building houses, laying
out roads, devising their
own written language. The tribes adopted a national constitution
and even accepted Christian missionaries. For a time an autonomous
republic existed on the frontier of the kleptocracy. Unfortunately
for the Cherokee in 1828 gold was discovered in their land
and the new Americans of Georgia now claimed the Cherokee country
with the policy of his predecessor, and ignoring a ruling of
the Supreme Court, Andrew Jackson enthusiastically supported
his rapacious countrymen. He vigorously enforced the Indian
Removal Act of 1830 which required the relocation of all eastern
tribes beyond the
Mississippi. In the winter of 1838, the reluctant Cherokee were
forced marched 1000
miles at bayonet point to an involuntary exile, an ethnic
cleansing known as "The Trail of Tears". At
least 4000 died during the journey. The
sick, despondent and impoverished survivors were confined to "reservations" on
the worst lands of Oklahoma.
in Florida were not so readily subdued. Under their charismatic
leader Osceola the Seminole outwitted the U.S. army
for years. Osceola was eventually captured by treachery, taken
under a flag of truce. He died in a South Carolina prison only
later. Embarassed army officers gave him a military funeral.
Will made manifest
must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have
the people, except what the Methodists can save."
Finney (1792-1875), apostle of religious hysteria, pastor
of the First Church in Oberlin, Ohio.
the wake of the Revolutionary and Indian wars, ever greater numbers
of settlers migrated into the newly conquered lands. The
practitioners of priestly deceit
followed the population westward. In
frontier areas lacking churches, schools and newspapers, a
vast clientele might have been lost to heathendom. But, thankfully,
the zealots were there to save them.
a pattern similar to events on the
old northeast frontier a century earlier, the notion
of "revival" served
the divine purpose. Large camp meetings allowed
an assortment of competitive preachers – Presbyterian,
Methodist and Baptist – to peddle their
drum up business. Many thousands were drawn to the periodic hullabaloos,
as much as anything else enjoying a welcome break from
isolation and drudgery of frontier life.
preachers themselves were often poorly educated, but then
the gatherings were no seminars
for the close study of theology. On the contrary,
would have obscured the message. Sermons
were energetic and emotional. The illiterate believer
was encouraged not to think but to “feel” God
through personal experience. In an atmosphere deliberately designed
euphoria, many surely did.
the Lord's salesman moved his audience through a cycle of guilt,
despair and hope, building
to a climax of “born
again” conversion, personal salvation
– and of course, a little financial gratitude for the furtherance
work. To sustain the message in the quieter days ahead, music
and hymns took the place of literacy and rational discourse.
conveyed enough of the "good news" to suffice and
songs had the merit of being easily memorized by all.
breeding ground of cults
the frontier lands of avarice and toil any slick-tongued hustler
of limited means and unlimited ambition could "sell the Lord" to
the hicks and the hillbillies. By such means he – or she – secured
a fast track to fame and fortune. An early example was a migrant
washerwoman from England, Ann Lee. By the age
of 30 Ms Lee had birthed and lost four children. She turned to
got messages from God, who told her carnal relations were
the cause of all the world's troubles. God also told Ann to go
to America, the land of religious opportunity.
there, in 1774, Ann's husband ran off, leaving the wild Quaker – now
styling herself the female Christ – to
organise a band of relatives and groupies into the "United
Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming" at
Watervliet, New York. They gained the nickname Shakers for
their holy spirit driven animations. "Millennial
Laws" introduced in 1821 regulated every hour of
the day and would have made a penal settlement proud. Toiling
away in their holy servitude the Shakers built a reputation
for finely made chairs, including the rocker which would grace
the quintessential American homestead.
In a land rich
in natural resources and few restraints, the Shaker
cult showed what a charismatic leader could achieve with a
little biblical knowledge and a following of poorly educated
acolytes. A bewildering number
of other such cults would follow in the two centuries ahead.
Joseph's shakedown with the "Shakers"
"Mother" Ann Lee presided over her small, celibate and teetotal community until her death in 1784, aged 48. Former Baptist minister "Father" Joseph Meacham now became the guru-in-residence and in 1787 announced a "separation from the world" – communal living, uniform dress, and spirit messages.
Joseph regimented the spontaneous hysteria of the Shakers into line-dancing conformity. Enforced frugal living and disciplined hard work initially brought commercial success to the Christian cooperative and about twenty daughter communities followed.
At its peak Shakerism had several thousand members. Terminal decline set in after the Civil War and the arrival of more dynamic enthusiasms.
Why not start your own religion?
the first charismatic leaders died and the hot gospel cooled
a little, an opportunity arose for new saints and charlatans
to move among the people, restoring the excitement and ecstasy
time religion" and whipping up a profitable frenzy
Thus was born
the chronic factionalism in which any forceful
patriarch could establish a church and a following, a formula
uniquely suited to a land of expanding frontiers and unrestrained
Christianity was about to enter a golden age of creative
theology, borrowing freely from Freemasonry, Egyptology,
socialism, occultism, spiritualism and plain old fashion nonsense.
It would ultimately produce several major corporations in the world
of Jesus marketeering. Christianity may have been in retreat in the
Old World but in the New World Christianity was on the march, as
blood soaked as ever.
Postscript: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492
J. C. H. King, First Peoples, First Contacts (British Museum, 1999)
Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Simon & Schuster,
Taylor (Ed.), The Native Americans
Andrew Sinclair, A Concise History of the United States (Sutton, 2000)
Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (Yale University
Jerald C. Brauer, Protestantism in America (Westminster Press, 1953)
Robert T. Handy, A Christian America (Oxford University Press, 1971)
Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion (Oxford University Press,
Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America (Norton, 1976)
J. Spiller, et al, The United
States 1763-2001 (Routledge, 2005)
Morrison, Commager, Leuchtenburg, The Growth of the American Republic (OUP,
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
a friend e-mail this page
Copyright © 2006
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.