I didn't expect to stay so long on the topic of American Revolutionaries' religious views, but this morning I learned that Prof. Larry Cebula of Missouri Southern State has posted some more primary sources on the topic on a page called Faiths of the Founders.
Prof. Cebula is coming from an environment where many students have simply assumed the founders basically shared their own form of Christianity. To help them examine those assumptions, he's chosen several documents in which big-name founders express deistic and Unitarian views. Traditional eighteenth-century Anglicanism, Congregationalism, and Presbyterianism are therefore underrepresented relative to their dominance at the time. We should also remember the minority religions of the colonies: Quaker, Baptist, Shepardic Jewish, Moravian, Sandemanian, Native American, West African, &c. Finally, I think it might be too easy to assume that, say, a Presbyterian service of the 1800s would feel familiar to a Presbyterian today; customs and values have changed so much that it would probably be more like going into a completely new church or temple and trying to follow along.
Prof. Cebula also has a page of primary documents on A Colonial Abortion Drama. This case was first studied by Cornelia Hughes Dayton in a 1991 article for the William & Mary Quarterly. In 1742, Sarah Grosvenor of Pomfret, Connecticut, died, apparently from the effects of a combined medicinal-surgical abortion that had produced a miscarriage. Four years later, Grosvenor's sexual partner, Amasa Davis, and the abortion provider, Dr. John Hallowell of Killingley, were indicted for her murder.
Prof. Cebula has posted the grand jury indictment, written testimony, jury verdict, and notes on what became of the principal figures in the case. I won't give away the ending of the story since the point of his webpage is for visitors to use the documents to figure out what happened for themselves.
But here are some observations:
- This example of abortion in colonial America would never have come to light without the court case. If Grosvenor had survived and/or if the families had decided to keep the situation private, there would have been no public record to examine. Davis and Hallowell were tried to killing Grosvenor, not for inducing the miscarriage.
- It was quite common for couples like Grosvenor and Davis to conceive a child before marrying. Indeed, in the mid-1700s historians have counted 30% of New England couples' first children being born within seven months of their marriage. That number is considerably higher than for the late 1600s, telling me that the oppressive moral regime of the Puritans did affect people's private behavior.
- In eighteenth-century New England, if a young unmarried woman became pregnant, the father-to-be was expected to marry her. Then they'd have as many more children as they could, with little said about the circumstances of the first pregnancy. In some cases, such as Ebenezer Richardson, the father-to-be couldn't marry the mother-to-be because he already had a wife. Amasa Davis was unusual in being free to marry Sarah Grosvenor, but refusing.
- The four-year lag between Grosvenor's death and the legal move is intriguing—as is the jury's focus on Dr. Hallowell. In cases like these, I wonder if there was some knowledge in the community that didn't get into the legal record. For instance, had Grosvenor's family become upset by Davis's behavior in the years after she died? Had townspeople come to distrust Hallowell as a doctor? We'll never know.