The “New Divinity” Movement and Its Impact on New Hampshire’s Town Churches, 1769-1849
David K. Nartonis

The author is immensely grateful to Dartmouth Professor Jere Daniell for patient guidance during the early stages of writing this article.

Around the time of the American Revolution, New Hampshire’s town churches began hiring a new type of reforming minister and, by adopting the changes these ministers advocated, transformed the town church. By 1815, more New Hampshire town churches employed these new ministers than any other kind. With the help of such reforming ministers, the Congregational churches of New Hampshire were able to satisfy a popular desire for emotional religious experience and, at the same time, successfully withstand a growing threat to their institutional survival. In the end, however, the process strained the relationship between taxpayers and their churches. Not only did this transformation demolish the pre-Revolutionary status quo but it also contributed to the official separation of town and church in 1819.

Town Churches in Danger

Two challenges faced the prevailing religious system in New Hampshire on the eve of the American Revolution. On the one hand, independent churches, whose members had withdrawn from the town church, began to appear and compete for members. On the other hand, reforming ministers began to introduce change within the official town churches. At the root of both challenges was a disagreement -- traceable to the influence of the first English Puritans who came to America -- over the role of emotion in worship.1 From the Swiss theologian, Jean Calvin (1509-15), the Puritans had acquired a belief in predestination, a corollary of which, man’s helplessness in the face of God, was enough to inspire deeply emotional religious experiences.2 By convincing worshippers of man’s utter sinfulness and helplessness, a Calvinist minister could lead his hearers to an experience of direct communion with God as their only hope for salvation.3 Moreover, as an incentive to have such an experience, the Puritans offered full church membership only to those who had had undergone such a transformation. Membership could be earned in no other way.4

Once in America, however, early Puritan leaders discovered problems with this kind of uncontrollable and unpredictable experience.5 Charged with preserving order in their new communities, they before long took decisive steps to de-emphasize direct experience of God.6 As a result, Puritan preaching in America took an increasingly intellectual, as opposed to an emotional, approach. In addition, Congregational ministers began offering a “halfway” option for membership, making the church gradually less restrictive. No longer were all those who joined the church required to have had this type of personally rewarding, yet perhaps socially disruptive, experience.7

Graduates of Harvard College, which had trained ministers for New England churches since its founding in 1636, carried this religious system to the town churches of New Hampshire.8 On the eve of the American Revolution, almost all New Hampshire towns employed Harvard ministers as they had for nearly a century.9

The desire for deeply felt religious experience, though long officially suppressed, never died out in New England.10 In the mid-1700s, Americans fulfilled their yearning for emotion in an unusually large outpouring of religious expression – resulting in the series of revivals later called the Great Awakening. About one-third of New Hampshire’s town ministers and many of its residents joined this mid-century rebellion against the status quo.11 Yet these so-called “New Light” ministers remained in the New Hampshire town churches for only a few years, and by the eve of the American Revolution a town church with a Harvard minister was once again the norm. Outside the town churches, however, a disaffected New Light population was steadily increasing.12

Prior to the 1770s, Quaker meetings offered citizens in a few towns an alternative form of worship, And a Baptist church flourished between 1755 and 1768 in Newton. 13 But most New Hampshire townspeople still attended the community church, usually Congregational though occasionally Presbyterian.

Then, in the five years prior to the colonies’ break with England, a growing New Light population began to assert itself in the establishment of a rapidly growing number of independent churches. At first, the New Lights formed Baptist churches. Later they also established a number of other denominations in New Hampshire from the well-known Methodists to the less familiar Free-Will Baptists. Within these churches, rebellion against the strictures of town religion took a variety of forms. Most New Light ministers simply called upon an audience to reach out to God and were rewarded with a variety of responses, everything from a new feeling of confidence in Christian teachings to extreme physical reactions like “fainting, weeping, [and] shrieking.”14 The growing popularity of this more emotional worship caused the membership in many of the town churches to decline.

New Divinity Reforms

At the same time, the town churches were beginning to feel the effects of reformers from within who wanted to rescue them from decline. These reformers -- popularly known as the New Divinity -- took their religious ideas from the well-known preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) of Northampton, Massachusetts, a leader in the movement to restore an emphasis on direct contact with God within the town churches of New England.15 For Edwards, the life of a Christian began only after experiencing conversion or inner change, which he defined as a reorientation of the affections from self to God. Thereafter, a Christian continued to experience signs of God’s presence.16 In order to bring about this kind of transforming experience through his preaching, Edwards, like his Puritan ancestors, stressed the depravity and helplessness of man and believed that church membership should be restricted to those who had the achieved the required emotional state.

Rejected, not only by his own church in Northampton but also by both Harvard and Yale, Edwards and his colleagues began an educational system of their own. In this system, college graduates obtained private theological instruction while residing in the home of a minister who agreed to be their teacher. As these graduates became ministers themselves, they formed part of an educational chain, leading back to Edwards through the minister who taught them and forward through the college graduates who came to them for further instruction.17

The so-called “New Divinity” movement developed during the 1760s in western Massachusetts from the theology of Jonathan Edwards. Those who first employed the term were actually opponents of the new movement and used it as an epithet. By the mid-eighteenth century, the descendants of the first New England Puritan settlers had over time modified the founders’ beliefs and practices to such an extent that the implications of predestination were totally foreign to them. A Connecticut minister, probably more responsible than anyone else for the term, expressed amazement at the extent to which Samuel Hopkins -- one of the founders of the movement -- carried his beliefs concerning the powerlessness of man before God: “I must say the divinity here exhibited, appears to me strange and new; never before advanced in the Christian world, by any divine of tolerable sense and reputation, so far as my acquaintance reacheth.” Some of the other terms by which this movement was known at different times are “Hopkinsianism” (after Samuel Hopkins)” and “consistent Calvinism,” reflecting the attempt to return to a stricter and unmitigated predestinarianism. 18

By 1775, a few of these ministers, trained in the New Divinity educational system, were already in New Hampshire offering the town churches an alternative to their traditional approach. Job Strong, the only New Hampshire minister directly trained by Jonathan Edwards, briefly served in the established coastal town of Portsmouth from 1749 to 1751. Five New Divinity ministers followed Strong into New Hampshire churches between 1769 and 1774. Isaac Smith, who settled in the central New Hampshire town of Gilmanton, was a Princeton graduate who had studied with a close associate of Jonathan Edwards after college graduation. The other four such ministers settled in towns in the Connecticut Valley that had been established by settlers from Connecticut and Massachusetts.19

Doubtless the most influential of the New Divinity men in the Connecticut Valley was Eleazar Wheelock (1711-79), a Yale graduate who had been a colleague of Edwards. In 1769, Wheelock moved his school for Native Americans from Connecticut to New Hampshire, and two years later opened Dartmouth College to train ministers for northern New England churches. He was the only one of Edwards’ early associates to prepare New Divinity ministers in the formal setting of a school.

Like Edwards, Wheelock preached man’s depravity and helplessness and restricted church membership to those who could convincingly claim personal religious experience. Wheelock found that he was able to inspire conversions. Occasionally under his preaching, there was even a “revival of religion” in which large numbers were converted and the faith of many who were already church members was “revived.” Wheelock preached not only at Dartmouth College but also in towns nearby.20 New Hampshire Congregational churches began hiring Wheelock’s students prior to 1775 and, before long, eight of them had found positions in New Hampshire churches.

Around the same time at Wheelock’s suggestion, two Yale graduates, who had studied with New Divinity teachers in southern New England, settled in towns near Dartmouth. One of these, Isaiah Potter, studied with a New Divinity minister in Connecticut before settling in Lebanon. Several members of Potter’s congregation went on to become important New Divinity ministers in other New Hampshire towns. Wherever they were hired, New Divinity ministers stirred up a high pitch of religious enthusiasm and, by offering the kind of emotional experience that New Hampshire citizens increasingly sought, often restored lagging memberships in the town churches.

Between 1775 and 1810, competition among churches in New Hampshire grew rapidly. By 1810, eleven different denominations -- Congregational, Presbyterian, Calvinist Baptist, Free-Will Baptist, Episcopal, Shaker, Universalist, Quaker, Christian, Methodists, Unitarian -- competed for members. The town churches were soon greatly outnumbered by their New Light rivals.

This religious development echoed the political changes the American Revolution had brought.21 As relations with the royal government broke down, town and provincial leaders urged New Hampshire residents to assert the authority of the electorate in the rebellion against England.22 What American leaders did not expect was that so many citizens would take this opportunity to assert their desire for deeply emotional religious experience.23 But, leaders and the electorate found common cause only as long as they had to contend with defending their rights against a royal government across the sea. When the Revolution removed this government, leaders and voters could then freely contest their long-held differences over the value of individual experience versus established authority, whether political or religious. The fact that the Revolution also enabled men with less wealth and formal education to join the electorate only increased the tension.24 In the context of these social changes and in response to anxiety at this time of upheaval, religious emotion and revival swept New Hampshire in waves, both during and after the war.25

Quite likely as a reaction to this ominous competition, fifty-seven New Hampshire towns hired New Divinity ministers between 1779 and 1809. At first, the movement centered around those towns located near one of the churches which had boasted a New Divinity minister before the war began -- that is, around Hanover in the west, Gilmanton in the center of the state, and Portsmouth on the coast. In time, an additional concentration developed in the southwestern part of the state. In thirty-two New Hampshire towns, a New Divinity minister replaced a Harvard-trained pastor around this time. As a result, the number of Harvard ministers began to steadily decline for the first time in a hundred years and, by 1815, New Divinity ministers formed the single largest group among the town churches. The decline of Harvard ministers and the simultaneous increase of New Divinity ministers continued until mid-century.26

Most of the New Divinity ministers hired in New Hampshire before 1810 were Dartmouth graduates, about half of them prepared at the college by Wheelock and his successors and the rest prepared, after college, by New Divinity teachers like Nathaniel Emmons. On Wheelock’s death in 1779, Sylvanus Ripley, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1771 and was prepared for the ministry by Wheelock, was installed as the minister at Dartmouth College. Under Ripley’s preaching, the town of Hanover continued to experience revivals and, in the first four months after he was hired, eighty townspeople were added to the church.27 In 1780, churches in Pembroke, Sandown, and Thornton all hired Dartmouth graduates trained by Wheelock.28

Other Dartmouth graduates went on to study with New Divinity teachers outside the college. Chief among these teachers was Nathaniel Emmons (1745-1840). After his graduation from Yale in 1767, Emmons studied with a New Divinity minister in Connecticut. Through this teacher, Emmons could trace his educational lineage to Jonathan Edwards himself. When his education was complete, Emmons preached briefly in Campton, New Hampshire, and then settled in the northern part of Massachusetts.29 At his home in Franklin, Emmons trained over eighty ministers, including nearly half the New Divinity ministers hired in New Hampshire in the 1780s and 1790s and more than one-quarter of the ministers hired in the first decade of the new century.

Contributing to this trend was the fact that, even before the war with England, there were not enough Harvard ministers willing to follow new settlers into wilderness regions. Wheelock’s charter for his new college was intended, in part, to make up for this shortage.30 Furthermore, Dartmouth graduates may have been less costly and more responsive to local preferences than graduates of the more distant and sophisticated Harvard. Such considerations might explain some, or even all, of the seventeen known cases where a New Divinity minister was the first pastor of a particular New Hampshire town.

Published town histories for the thirty-two towns in which a New Divinity minister replaced a Harvard minister, however, repeatedly suggest that town congregations at this time were actively seeking a more emotional form of worship as well as welcoming the other theological reforms that New Divinity ministers offered. Furthermore, town and church historians mention again and again that New Divinity ministers, once hired, built up membership in town churches that had declined in the face of New Light competition.31

Prior to the Revolution, Pembroke had both a Presbyterian and a Congregational church. The first three ministers of the Congregational church were Harvard graduates who were content preaching to those already gathered in the church. The dismissal of the last of these ministers in 1775 left the church with only forty members. In 1780, Pembroke hired Zaccheus Colby, a Dartmouth graduate. During the first year of his ministry, he brought about a revival which added thirty members, nearly doubling the church in size. Within a few years, Colby also drew the Scottish Presbyterians of Pembroke into his flourishing Congregational church.32

In 1781, the town of Boscawen, just north of Concord, called Samuel Wood to be its minister.33 He had grown up in the Lebanon church under Isaiah Potter and spent most of his Dartmouth years under Wheelock. Wood had already been responsible for revivals in both Meriden and Newport. He had preached briefly in these Connecticut Valley towns after his graduation from Dartmouth. Until Wood was hired, the Boscawen church, which had always employed Harvard graduates, had experienced no revivals. With the arrival of the new minister, "a precious revival of religion was enjoyed, for the first time in Boscawen. Thirty or forty heads of families were gathered into the church.”34

In other cases, New Divinity ministers helped establish town churches where there had been none before. In the town of Dunbarton, not far from Pembroke and Boscawen, a succession of ministers had provided public worship since 1769. Only in 1789, however, did residents finally form a town church. They hired as their first minister Walter Harris, an Emmons student, who, like Wood, had grown up under the preaching of Isaiah Potter in Lebanon. After two and a half years under Harris, the church experienced its first revival and "his little church of 9 members became 90."35 Thus, in Pembroke, Boscawen, and Dunbarton, as in many other New Hampshire towns, New Divinity ministers rescued or established the town church as a valued social institution, thus helping to extend the original Puritan mission and increase its impact.

In order to inspire deeply moving religious experiences among their listeners, New Divinity ministers revived in New Hampshire’s town churches the Puritans’ original Calvinist emphasis on man’s depravity and helplessness. New Divinity reformers convinced the town congregations that the changes they wished to institute would strengthen the church’s connection to the early American Puritans, despite a general departure from these beliefs and practices during the intervening years.

Epsom’s first town minister was a Harvard graduate. Then, in 1784, the church hired a pastor who had been prepared for the ministry at Dartmouth while Wheelock was president. In a review of his career in Epsom, this minister was praised for “the deep and solemn sense he had of the entire depravity of the human heart, his utter dependence on the mercy of God for salvation.”36 In some towns, New Divinity ministers found the churches they assumed leadership of already moving in this direction even before they were hired. Until 1798, the Congregational church in the south-central town of Pelham was served by Harvard ministers. When the town hired its first New Divinity minister, one of the many prepared by Nathaniel Emmons, he found that the town church had already modified its profession of faith to be “more Calvinistic.” Nevertheless, the New Divinity minister presented the church with an even stronger statement of man’s depravity and helplessness and required each member to subscribe to it. The church enthusiastically adopted both the minister and his statement, and he was ordained the next day. Furthermore, the confession of faith that he wrote for Pelham’s church was still in use half a century later.37

The second change commonly instituted by New Divinity ministers was the restriction of church membership to those who could claim a life-changing conversion experience. As the minister of the new church in Dunbarton, Walter Harris took a firm stand against the colonial practice of halfway membership. He refused to baptize the grandchildren of a local Scotch-Irish leader as the parents had never themselves experienced conversion.38 In admitting members to his church, Harris, it was recalled, “did not hesitate to apply the severest tests.”39 Furthermore, the hiring of the first New Divinity minister in Hollis was remembered years later as the day the church became “exclusive rather than inclusive.”40

New Divinity on the March

Once installed, New Divinity ministers, moreover, did what they could to spread their religious ideas and practices to neighboring towns. Wheelock and the New Divinity ministers he brought to western New Hampshire often preached in other towns near where they settled. One of Wheelock’s protégés visited Haverhill and preached there some time before the church hired its first New Divinity minister in 1792.41 Both Wheelock and Isaac Smith had preached in Temple before this town in the southwestern part of the state hired its first Dartmouth graduate in 1782.42

New Divinity promotional efforts may explain why the Orford church in western New Hampshire had already tightened its membership requirements by the time it hired its first New Divinity minister in 1787.43 Similarly, the presence of Isaac Smith in Gilmanton may explain why, before Samuel Wood arrived in nearby Boscawen, the membership was already divided over one of the finer points in Jonathan Edwards’ theology.44

New Divinity ministers in New Hampshire frequently became teachers themselves, training students for service in town churches not only around New Hampshire but in other parts of New England also. Dunbarton’s Walter Harris was one of thirteen New Divinity ministers who took ministerial students into their New Hampshire homes for private instruction. Another New Divinity teacher worthy of note was Samuel Wood in Boscawen. He prepared one hundred young men (including Daniel Webster) for college and about sixty college graduates for the ministry.

Harvard ministers and some town citizens, however, resisted the rise of the New Divinity when they could. Following Wood’s settlement, visitors carried news of the revivals in Boscawen to nearby Concord. There, Timothy Walker, a Harvard-trained minister who had served this town since 1730, was opposed to any kind of preaching that encouraged emotional religious expression. A leader of the opposition to the New Lights during the Great Awakening, he was equally opposed to the Puritan doctrines later promoted by New Divinity ministers and vigilantly kept them out of town until his death in 1782. Ironically, Wood preached New Divinity theology at Walker’s funeral and, in 1798, the Concord church hired a Dartmouth graduate and experienced its first revivals.45 Walker’s New Divinity successor, also eliminated the category of halfway membership and drew up new articles of faith for the church which emphasized the depravity and helplessness of man.46

New ministers sometimes faced opposition from residents as well. In the face of citizen opposition, it took one Dartmouth graduate the first nine years of his ministry in the central New Hampshire town of Goffstown to eliminate the option of halfway membership.47 In another case, the church in Hopkinton had employed Harvard ministers for the first thirty years of its existence. Then, in 1789, an Emmons student was hired and within a short time “a considerable number of the people of the town appear to have conceived a strong dislike for him and his teaching.” A group of townspeople, in a written complaint, accused him of “deceiving some of the people in not letting them know his principles before he was settled.” Among the principles in question were a number of Puritan doctrines as interpreted by Edwards and taught by Wheelock and Emmons.48

Again, in the central New Hampshire town of Hillsborough, a Harvard graduate was the first minister. After thirty-one years of ministry, he was succeeded by an Emmons student and under this new minister “the church underwent an important change as to doctrine and practice, -- the half way covenant was abandoned, and vital and [experiential] religion was insisted on as essential to church membership.” However, “his plain, direct, and faithful preaching awakened so much opposition that he was dismissed May 10th, 1808.”49 In spite of this stormy transition, however, Hillsborough continued to hire New Divinity ministers for at least the next seventy years.

Disagreement over New Divinity reforms was sometimes great enough to split a town and its church into warring factions. In 1778, while a Harvard graduate was serving the western New Hampshire town of Cornish, six members withdrew from the church because of their dissatisfaction “respecting receiving members, and on account of errors in doctrine and practice.” The following year, these protesters began to hold their own services on the eastern side of town. “Ministers in the vicinity occasionally preached to them, to prepare the way for the organization of another church that should be Calvinistic in creed.” Under one of these visiting ministers, the separating church experienced a revival in 1780. Then, in 1790, the townspeople who had stayed with the original church hired a student of a New Divinity teacher in Massachusetts. This removed the theological differences between the two groups but they were not reconciled until a second minister, a student of a New Divinity teacher in Vermont, brought them together under his revival preaching. In 1799, united as one church, the two factions hired an Emmons student under whose preaching the revivals continued over the next fourteen years.50

In another revealing example, the adoption of New Divinity reforms split the Henniker church from its town.51 A Harvard graduate, who served until 1782, was the first minister in this central New Hampshire community. For the next eight years, the town voters repeatedly failed to agree about the hiring of a new minister. Finally, a student of a New Divinity teacher preached in Henniker and when the majority of town voters resisted his settlement, the church gave up its connection to the town, formed a “Calvinistic” society, and hired him themselves. He served the former town church for twenty-four years.52

In the southwestern town of Winchester, resistance to the return to a stricter Calvinism took a surprising turn. As the town church tightened its membership requirements and began to emphasize the more extreme doctrines of Puritanism, taxpayers began to feel excluded from the church they paid to support. Such dissatisfaction not only helped hasten the end of tax support for the town church and minister, but also favored the growth of competing denominations. The Winchester church had formed under the preaching of a Yale graduate who opposed revivals in general and Edwards’ theology in particular. He was followed by two Harvard graduates. Then, in 1807, the townspeople hired a minister who had studied privately with a New Divinity teacher in Connecticut. The decision over a new minister split the town: “Before a call was extended to Mr. Porter, 131 persons signed a protest against his settlement because of his views.” The new minister preached the doctrines promoted by Edwards in a fashion designed to encourage revival: “44 were brought into the church during his short stay” and “many embraced [his] doctrines with all their hearts.” But opposition continued and, in 1810, the New Divinity minister was dismissed. Thereafter, the town decided it would no longer undertake “the support of the gospel.”53

Despite such resistance, the town churches of New Hampshire hired an increasing number of New Divinity ministers during and after the Revolutionary War. Together, they instituted a more demanding form of the Puritan religion, promoted a more deeply emotional form of worship, and restricted membership to those who had had a personal conversion experience. In the process, as the town church became more demanding and exclusive, its role as the church for all town citizens was weakened and the relation with some citizens was strained or severed. This, in turn, contributed eventually to the separation of town and church that was taking place gradually and became official through state legislation in 1819.

Despite this dramatic change and continuing resistance from townspeople and established ministers, more and more town churches hired New Divinity ministers as the nineteenth century progressed. Their reforms had given residents the heartfelt kind of religion they wanted, but within, rather than beyond, the established church. The reforms introduced by new ministers allowed them to survive and even prosper in the face of growing New Light competition. In fact, the Congregational churches (after 1819, no longer the town, but former town, churches) increased in number so quickly that they remained the largest denomination of churches well past the middle of the nineteenth century. The period from 1810 to 1849 rates as the high point of this movement in New Hampshire. Yet surprisingly, New Divinity reforms were to become unworkable during this same period, and the supply of New Divinity ministers for New Hampshire pulpits before long dried up.

Changing Conditions

The increase of individual freedom and opportunity after the American Revolution gradually made the Puritan teachings of individual depravity and helplessness less appealing or acceptable to New Englanders. During the war, with the royal government removed, the government of New Hampshire devolved upon community leaders and the established colonial electorate. Soon, however, the initial emphasis on a collective electorate further evolved into an emphasis on the rights and opinions of individual citizens.54 With better printing presses, residents were exposed to a wider range of opinions and a variety of arguments to support them. Voters divided into political parties and candidates began to court individual voters in campaigns. Gradually, deference to this expanded electorate replaced deference to town and social leaders.

No longer part of an elected town “aristocracy,” ministers became employees of the church with their authority now based in their ability to produce the religious experience their congregations desired.55 At the same time, industrialization fostered competition among individuals, thus further atomizing a unified town electorate. In 1819, the state legislature formally ended the system of tax-supported town churches in New Hampshire, a result no doubt inspired in part by the severe doctrines and exclusive membership policies which had come to characterize these churches.56 But the major reason for ending the town church system was the legislature’s acknowledgment that individual choice had become more important than community solidarity.57

As society changed, New Englanders also found the New Divinity teaching of human depravity and helplessness to be more and more out of step with evolving social and economic attitudes. The Puritan doctrines, restated by Edwards, fit comfortably within the pre-Revolutionary society where the individual’s fortunes were determined largely by birth, and where fortunes rose and fell with those of a king or a community. As long as the emphasis was on the community rather than the individual, and as long as individual fortunes were determined largely by birth, many could accept the New Divinity teaching that Adam’s sin was also their own and that they were helpless to save themselves as a result of it.58 After the Revolution, however, society became less rigidly stratified, and Americans came into full possession of the rich natural resources of their new land. At the same time, the industrial revolution offered them new ways to turn these resources into individual wealth. As individuals were freer to rise by their own efforts, their religious aspirations naturally shifted to emphasize opportunity over depravity and ability over helplessness.59

Within this changing climate, a major shift in the New Divinity educational system appears on hindsight to have foretold the rapid decline of the movement in New Hampshire after mid-century. In 1808, Leonard Woods (1774-1854), who had studied privately with a New Divinity teacher in Connecticut after graduating from Harvard, began preparing ministers in a new school in Massachusetts -- Andover Theological Seminary.60 After 1808, Dartmouth graduates intending to become clergymen attended Andover in large numbers. Graduating its first class in 1810, Andover quickly became the major supplier of ministers for New Hampshire’s town churches.61 In addition, a number of other New Divinity ministers followed Woods’s lead and took their teaching into seminary and college classrooms.62

Once this advanced classroom education was available, the number of ministers studying privately with New Divinity teachers declined rapidly. Nathaniel Emmons, who prepared so many New Hampshire ministers in his home, taught a total of only eighty-six, while Woods taught over a thousand during his career at Andover.63 As a result, the system of private home study, begun by Jonathan Edwards, quickly disappeared after Andover was founded.

Having moved out of the homes of rural ministers and into a small number of seminaries and schools, the New Divinity educational system became more vulnerable to new influences not characteristic of the rural setting where most of its ministers had previously been trained. In fact, Emmons vigorously opposed the opening of Andover because not all of its founders advocated the New Divinity reforms and because he saw that the school would be exposed to important shifts in popular culture that could work against the New Divinity movement. Emmons’ judgment proved correct in 1846, when Edwards Amasa Park succeeded Woods as Andover’s professor of theology. Park was not a believer in New Divinity doctrines and his leadership marked the end of thirty-six years of New Divinity education at Andover.64

After mid-century, the number of New Divinity ministers in New Hampshire pulpits declined rapidly. Woods’s last student at Andover graduated in 1849 and, after this, Andover graduates no longer benefited from contact with New Divinity teachers. For a while, New Hampshire Congregationalists hired many of their ministers from seminaries in Bangor, Maine, and Hartford, Connecticut, where New Divinity teachers still controlled the theology curriculum. But after 1857, ministers trained in the New Divinity way were no longer available from these schools either.

Many of the former town churches might have gone on hiring New Divinity ministers for a long time, but after the collapse of this theology in the schools, there were no more for them to hire. As a result, in the 1860s, New Divinity ministers accounted for only one out of every six new hires in the New Hampshire Congregational churches and, by 1870, they formed just one-quarter of all those ministers serving former town churches. The New Divinity era that began in New Hampshire on the eve of the American Revolution was all but over by the outbreak of the Civil War.

During the period of New Divinity ascendance, the majority of New Hampshire’s people, possibly driven by Yankee pragmatism, appear to have believed that what was asserted by religious authority should be solidly confirmed in individual experience. Some found this experience by leaving the established churches. Others found a way to bring this kind of experience into the town church and, by hiring a new kind of minister, helped to dramatically transform it. This opened rifts, however, between the town churches and some of the taxpayers who supported them. Yet, in spite of serious threats to its existence from separating factions, the Congregational church, reinvigorated by New Divinity reforms, managed not only to survive but also to remain one of the largest denominations in New Hampshire.


Where not otherwise cited, the information in this article derives from the author’s tally of Congregational churches and ministers in New Hampshire which is now in the collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society Library as “Churches and Ministers in Early New Hampshire,” 280 N532. Subsequently, approximately thirty biographical reference sources were consulted to produce a comprehensive list of Congregational ministers, together with an analysis of their educational background and careers. The data for this tally was collected with the help of two research assistants, Sarah Ellen Edgington and Clare Gates Turner. William Copeley, librarian of the New Hampshire Historical Society, and Rev. Harold F. Worthley and his staff at the Congregational Library in Boston also assisted. This present article is the first step in a projected study of the religious and intellectual atmosphere in which Mary Baker Eddy – New Hampshire native and founder of the Christian Science Church – was raised.

1. The roots of Puritanism are described by Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 70-98 (esp. 84-98), and John von Rohr, The Shaping of American Congregationalism: 1620-1957 (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1992), 1-114 (esp. 27-34). The religious and political development of Puritanism in America are described by Ahlstrom, 99-165; Francis J. Bremer, The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards, rev. ed. (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995); David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989); and Joshua I. Miller, The Rise and Fall of Democracy in Early America, 1630-1789: The Legacy for Contemporary Politics (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991), 22-49. Donald M. Scott, in From Office to Profession (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), traces the political and religious heritage of the New England ministry, 1-17, and Dale S. Kuehne, Massachusetts Congregationalist Political Thought, 1760-1790: The Design of Heaven (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996), 25-70, explores the heritage of Harvard-trained ministers.

2. Bremer, 10-12, 15-19; Hall, 12-13, 21-70, 100-101; Ahlstrom, 135-50, 153; Miller, 23-30, 41-42; Kuehne, 46.

3. Bremer, 19-28; Hall, 139-44.

4. von Rohr, 86-87; Ahlstrom, 152; Bremer, 106-13; Hall, 12-13, 94-99, 100-102, 123-25.

5. The disruptive nature of religious enthusiasm in the seventeenth century is described by Hall, 71-118, and by Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 7-97.

6. Some of these steps were dramatic. When Anne Hutchinson spoke with the authority of her own religious experience, she was banished from the Bay Colony in 1637, and Quakers who came to Boston to promote direct contact with God were hung on the common from 1659 to 1661. Ahlstrom, 107-8, 153; Bremer, 62-70, 137-39, 154-58; Hall, 94-99, 106-10, 117-23, 186; Kuehne, 45-47, 55.

7. Ahlstrom, 152-64; Bremer, 136-37, 161-65, 228; Jon Butler, 55-63, 170-71; Kuehne, 48-49; Hall, 62-68, 136-39, 147-57; Miller, 29-30, 42. The increasing emphasis of Harvard ministers on religious education over religious experience is traced by Ahlstrom, 22, 343-59.

8. Jere Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1981), 17-19, 30-62, 171, 174, 180-81; William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 1630-1833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 834-40; Bremer, 83-84, 119-20, 215; Kuehne, 77-79; Scott, xi, 1-3, 9-16; Miller, 97-98; Butler, 98-128, 177-91, 194-95. The role of Harvard ministers during this period is specifically described by Kuehne, 51-86, 98-102, and Ahlstrom, 388-402.

9. Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire, 62, 162, 176.

10. Mark A. Noll, “The Rise and Long Life of the Protestant Enlightenment in America,” in William M. Shea and Peter A. Huff, Knowledge and Belief in America: Enlightenment Traditions and Modern Religious Thought (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), 101; Jon Butler, 177-91; Kuehne, 66-70, 139-51; Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 4-5, 19-24; Ahlstrom, 280-94; and McLoughlin, 329-59.

11. Laura Broderick Ricard, “The Northern New England ‘New Light’ Clergy and ‘Declension’ Reconsidered,” Historical New Hampshire 42 (summer 1987): 124-49.

12. Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire, 179-81; C. C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962); Jon Butler, 177-80; Marini, 4-5, 19-39; Ahlstrom, 292-93; Bremer, 227-33; McLoughlin, 360-85, 841-42; Scott, 36-51. The term “New Light” is sometimes used to describe any Protestant minister who urged on the members of his congregation an experience of direct contact with God.

13. Richard D. Stattler, “Guide to the Records of the North East Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends” (unpublished draft, 1995). Only the earlier Quaker meetings, prior to 1735, offered a more emotional alternative. See also McLoughlin, 277, 842-43, 855-76.

14. Marini, 12-13; Ahlstrom, 287; Bremer, 81-82, 158-61; McLoughlin, 421-39, 491-511, 697-750.

15. Marini, 11-20; Ahlstrom, 295-313, 403-14; Bruce Kuklick, Churchmen and Philosophers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 1-42; and Allen C. Guelzo, Edwards on the Will: A Century of American Theological Debate (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989).

16. Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 48, 55-59, 63-64, 69-76, 79-81, 85, 118, 190-91.

17. Ahlstrom, 295-313; Conforti, 1-7, 23-40, 175-90, 227-32; Guelzo, 87-139; Kuklick, 43-65.

18. The terms “New Light” and “New Divinity” can be confusing. For the purposes of this article, the New Lights were outside the town churches, competing with the them for members, and the New Divinity were inside the town churches helping them to survive the threat posed by this competition. New Divinity ministers were trained in an educational system begun by Jonathan Edwards. While the argument of this paper turns on differences between New Divinity and Harvard ministers, it should be noted that ministers trained in these systems were in agreement on a substantial number of religious issues that defined them both as “Congregational.” Joseph A. Conforti, Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian University Press, 1981); William Kern Breitenbach, “New Divinity Theology and the Idea of Moral Accountability” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1978); and Jedediah Mills, An Inquiry Concerning the State of the Unregenerate under the Gospel... (New Haven, 1767), vi, quoted in Conforti, 71.

19. Robert F. Lawrence, The New Hampshire Churches (Claremont, N.H.: Claremont Manufacturing Company, 1856), 490.

20. David McClure, Memoirs of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock (Newburyport, Mass.: n.p., 1811), 13-14, 116, 143, 165, 210-11; Vera M. Butler, Education as Revealed by New England Newspapers Prior to 1850 (Philadelphia: Majestic Press, 1935), 81-97.

21. Two books by Jere Daniell have been most helpful in understanding the political and religious situation in revolutionary New Hampshire: Experiment in Republicanism: New Hampshire Politics and the American Revolution, 1741-1794 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), and Colonial New Hampshire.

22. Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire, 225-37; Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism, 121; Miller, 23-46, 70-71; Jon Butler, 199-202; Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967), vii, 51-52.

23. Jon Butler, 194-224; Hatch, 5-16, 22-46, 128; Kuehne, 128-51; Scott, 18-75.

24. Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire, 227-28, 231, 241-42, 247-48; Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism, xi, 57, 60-62, 75-86, 96, 108, 202-5; Miller, 8-14, 24-30, 51-59, 62, 67, 70-71, 73-74, 97-98, 106-29; Scott, 21-22; Kuehne, 53-66, 89-98, 102-6; Hatch, 3-46.

25. Marini, 5-6, 22, 40-59; Jon Butler, 221-23; Ahlstrom, 360-84, 403-28.

26.The few churches that retained their Harvard ministers often became Unitarian and, by 1850, these made up about half of the small Unitarian denomination in New Hampshire. See Ahlstrom, 388-402.

27. Lawrence, 553.

28. Also in 1780, the church in Durham hired Curtis Coe, a Brown graduate who had studied with an associate of Edwards. See Charles E. Clark, “Disestablishment at the Grass Roots: Curtis Coe and the Separation of Church and Town,” Historical New Hampshire 36 (winter 1981): 280-305.

29. Lawrence, 517.

30. Daniell, Colonial New Hampshire, 176.

31. Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 34, 55. A good overview of the Revolutionary era in American religious history can be found in Ahlstrom, 360-428.

32. Lawrence, 402-3.

33. Ibid., 348.

34. Edmund Wheeler, The History of Newport, New Hampshire from 1766 to 1878 (Concord, N.H.: Republican Press Association, 1879), 114-15; Lawrence, 461; Eleazer Smith, Nine Years among the Convicts; or Prison Reminiscences (Boston: Merril and Merriam, 1856).

35. Emerson Davis, Biographical Sketches of the Congregational Pastors of New England (Congregational Library, Boston: n.p., n.d.).

36. Jonathan Curtis, A Topographical and Historical Sketch of Epsom, New Hampshire (Pittsfield, N.H.: Analecta Publishing House, 1885), 7-10.

37. Lawrence, 238.

38. A. W. [Amos Wood] Burnham, Address by Rev. A. W. Burnham , D.D., of Rindge, N.H. at the Centennial Celebration at Dunbarton, New Hampshire, September 13, 1865 ( n.p., n.d. ), 8.

39. Record of the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Dunbarton, N.H., on Wednesday, September 13, 1865 (Manchester, N.H.: Henry A. Gage, 1866), 20.

40. Charles Darwin Adams, The Church of Christ in Hollis, the First Two Pastorates, 1743-1831: An Address Delivered on the Occasion of the Dedication of the New Meeting House, August 20, 1925, by Professor Charles Darwin Adams of Dartmouth College (Nashua, N.H.: Phaneuf Press, 1925), 18.

41. John Quincy Bittinger, Centennial Discourse: A History of the First Congregational Church, Haverhill, New Hampshire (Claremont, N.H.: Claremont Manufacturing Company, 1876), v-vi.

42. Henry Ames Blood, The History of Temple, New Hampshire (Boston: George C. Rand and Avery, 1860), 127.

43. Edwin Deeks Harvey, A History of the Orford Church, 1770-1945; Also, a Manual of the Two Orford Churches, of the First Church from 1770 to Date; and, of the Second or West Church 1822 to Date (Bradford, Vt.: Green Mountain Press, 1945), 11-13.

44. Agnes Pillsbury, The Story of Boscawen Church (Concord, N.H.: W.B. Ranney Company, n.d.).

45. Nathaniel Bouton, Two sermons, Preached 21st November, 1830, in Commemoration of the Organizing of the First Church in Concord, and the Settlement of the First Minister, on the 18th November, 1730 (Concord, N.H.: Asa M’Farland, 1831).

46. Lawrence, 353.

47. Samuel Gerould, A Brief History of the Congregational Church in Goffstown, New Hampshire (Bristol, N.H.: R.W. Musgrove, 1881), 10.

48. Charles Chase Lord, Life and Times in Hopkinton, N.H. (Concord, N.H.: Republican Press Association, 1890), 78-80.

49. Lawrence, 181.

50. Ibid, 437-43.

51. See also Clark (n. 28).

52. Lawrence, 387-88.

53. Ibid., 306-12.

54. Charles B. Kinney, Church and State: The Struggle for Separation in New Hampshire, 1630-1900, Teachers’ College studies in education (New York: Columbia University, 1955), 99-100; James T. Kloppenberg, “Knowledge and Belief in American Public Life,” in Shea and Huff, 34; Miller, 8-14, 23-46, 51-59, 62, 67, 70-71, 73-74; Kuehne, 89-98, 102-6, 128-51; Scott, 18-75.

55. Daniell, Experiment in Republicanism, 114-15; Scott, xi-xv, 30-35, 36-51, 112-32, 148-55; Hatch, 6-7, 17-27, 40, 44.

56. This is also Charles Clark’s conclusion in his case study of one such town church. See Clark (n. 28).

57. Kinney, 86-108; Jon Butler, 257-68; Hatch, 9-11; McLoughlin, 894-911.

58. Bremer, 86-91, 104-5.

59. Noll in Shea and Huff, 107-8; Bremer, 225, Hatch, 5-16, 22-46; Butler, 221-23.

60. Henry Warner Bowden, Dictionary of American Religious Biography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977); Leonard Woods, History of the Andover Theological Seminary (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1885); and Harold Young Vanderpool, “The Andover Conservatives: Apologetics, Biblical Criticism and Theological Change at the Andover Theological Seminary, 1808-1880” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1971).

61. Not all the churches could afford Andover graduates and a small but increasing number began to hire ministers with no education at all. Historically, ministers with no college degree held ten percent or less of the colonial New Hampshire town pulpits but, by 1850, such ministers held thirty percent of the pulpits in the former town churches. For a while, Andover graduates operated a special seminary in Gilmanton to prepare those with no college education for the ministry. See George H. Williams, “The Seminary in the Wilderness: A representative Episode in the Cultural History of Northern New England,” Harvard Library Bulletin 13 (1959): 369-400, and 14 (1960): 27-58.

62. Scott, 60-64.

63. Ahlstrom, 410-12; Bowden, 530-31.

64. Kuklick, 205; Ahlstrom, 396; Vanderpool, 280-82. Edwards Park was named after Jonathan Edwards. Even where the term New Divinity continued in use, it no longer implied a belief in man’s helplessness and depravity.