Year of Publication

2008

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Daniel Blake Smith

Abstract

Despite the growing population in the colonies throughout the eighteenth century, decreasing numbers of men chose to train for the ministry. New England Congregational clergy not only declined in number; the status, authority and influence enjoyed by their seventeenth-century forbears had drastically declined as well. Early in the century, ministerial authority was bolstered by the clergy’s educational and financial superiority, a virtual monopoly over religious sacraments and the force of localism in small covenanted communities. But the social impact of explosive population growth, a series of currency crises, and warfare throughout the eighteenth century eroded conditions supporting ministerial hegemony.

In the midst of these social and economic changes, clergy faced the temptation to prostitute their ministries for the security of their positions. The loss of educational and financial superiority, their monopoly on the sacraments, and the conforming force of localism, drove eighteenth-century clergy to negotiate for more control over their own futures. Late in the century, Congregational clergy largely managed to escape the confines of a life-long tenure with one congregation, but their newfound freedom did not restore their declining prestige and authority; rather the weakened lay-clerical bond accelerated the decline of the office of the ministry.

Ultimately, ministerial authority was a negotiated process between clergy and congregations throughout the colonial period. In spite of the overall decline of clerical status, the theme of negotiation remained constant as the social and economic developments altered the degree of leverage and type of negotiation each could utilize.

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