I am putting the finishing touches on my paper, which will be in Session V, from 1:45pm-3:30pm on Saturday, April 6:
Revivalism and Religious Change
Chair: Dale E. Soden, Whitworth University
David M. Powers, Independent ScholarPreaching on the “Western” Frontier: What the People of Springfield, Massachusetts Heard in the 1640s
Keith Lyon, University of Tennessee
Sacredness and Sociability in God’s Brush Arbor: Camp Meeting Culture, 1800-1860
A Pelican in the Wilderness: Charles Nisbet on Pennsylvania Frontier Life
Keith E. Beebe, Whitworth UniversitySetting the Record Straight: Evangelical Redactions of Religious Experience in Scotland’s First Oral History Project
Respondent: Dale E. Soden, Whitworth University
After researching for my book on John Erskine, and putting together the excerpts for Early Evangelicalism: Reader, I continue to be intrigued with Charles Nisbet, a Scottish minister who emigrated to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the mid-1780s to become the first principal of Dickinson College (For information on Nisbet's emigration, including Erskine's and Benjamin Rush's role, see my book, Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine, chapter 7, "The Friend to America") .
Unlike his friend and older colleague John Witherspoon, Nisbet's experience in America was anything but enjoyable. I have read nearly all Nisbet's one hundred plus extant letters, and I would conservatively estimate that he complains in about 90% of these, with caustic references pertaining to American politicians, the economy, the trustees of Dickinson College, the students, his family (his son became an alcoholic in the years following his emigration to Pennsylvania), the food, the weather, and the intellectual culture. I can't think of any subject related to America that Nisbet holds back from criticizing.
The irony is that while living in Scotland Nisbet was an outspoken supporter of the colonists during the American Revolution. At one time during the conflict, he supposedly delivered a sermon from Daniel chapter 5 in which Nisbet compared the divine message of judgment to the Babylonian ruler Belshazzar, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," with Britain's oppressive government. In my paper, I intend to offer a reason for why Nisbet changed his opinion about America, and further why he chose to use the medium of letters to vent his frustrations. We'll see how it goes. I'm currently finishing up some background reading on Scottish emigration to America in the eighteenth century. I intend to draft a longer version of my paper into a journal article that is suitable for submission.