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A Land Not of Our Own: Irish-Catholics Immigrants and the Rochester Revival

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Abstract:

During the winter of 1830-31 Charles Grandison Finney brought his Protestant Revival to Rochester, New York. Over the next few months Rochester would become the most thoroughly evangelized town in the United States. Many historians consider this revival as a landmark in the evolution of American religion. In his 1950 The Burned Over District, Whitney Cross wrote of Finney “His eminence lay not so much in what he did as in the striking way he had of doing it. The rampant optimism of the period was the cupid who whispered that this ceremony would consummate happiness for all…The Rochester Revival marked the maturity, indeed the climax, of Finney’s measures.” However, this was not the case for the large Irish-Catholic immigrant community of the area. Instead, the nature of the subsequent 1831 revival was in many ways coercive, its adherents seeking to impose their religious beliefs and social norms upon their neighbors, at the expense of the destruction of the others’ cultural heritage (especially Catholics), because as Paul Johnson wrote in A Shopkeeper’s Millennium the revival “promised to eliminate sin from society and pave the way for the Second Coming.”
In the introductory chapter of Culture Wars: the Struggle to Define America James Davison Hunter pointed out that political and social discrimination as well as outright physical violence directed against Catholics was commonplace in Protestant Northern Europe and that it was imported to the shores of America. Finney’s Revival touched not just upon ecstatic religious fervor in the Protestant community, but old Northern European prejudices toward Catholics. The 1831 revival launched a wave of anti-Catholic print materials and newspaper rhetoric in Rochester as well as intrusive waves of Protestant missionaries infiltrating the Irish districts of the town. This contention has in the historical record either been overlooked or dismissed by most religious historians. Whitney Cross wrote, “Hostility to Catholicism, real as it was, must thus be considered on the whole a minor, relatively inactive manifestation of religious radicalism in western New York” in 1950 and this dismissal has echoed throughout the historiography.
This dismissal is based on inaccurate population demographics for Rochester, New York in 1830-1831, however. New population statistics which will be included in this proposed paper based on census data, tax records, and parish records will demonstrate that this conclusion is false. This paper will argue that up to 1/3 of the population of the Rochester area was Catholic, most Irish and immigrants, and that the Protestant crusade which was the Rochester Revival was as much a xenophobic reaction against Catholics as it was a reordering of Protestant religious sentiment. The work will study the Catholic reactions to the efforts of the Finneyites to target their communities. It will also compare this persecution to the treatment of Catholics in Canada under a much more tolerant British majority (30 miles across Lake Ontario from Rochester) where many of the Rochester Irish had previously settled.
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MLA Citation:

Hughes, David. "A Land Not of Our Own: Irish-Catholics Immigrants and the Rochester Revival" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243800_index.html>

APA Citation:

Hughes, D. M. "A Land Not of Our Own: Irish-Catholics Immigrants and the Rochester Revival" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243800_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: During the winter of 1830-31 Charles Grandison Finney brought his Protestant Revival to Rochester, New York. Over the next few months Rochester would become the most thoroughly evangelized town in the United States. Many historians consider this revival as a landmark in the evolution of American religion. In his 1950 The Burned Over District, Whitney Cross wrote of Finney “His eminence lay not so much in what he did as in the striking way he had of doing it. The rampant optimism of the period was the cupid who whispered that this ceremony would consummate happiness for all…The Rochester Revival marked the maturity, indeed the climax, of Finney’s measures.” However, this was not the case for the large Irish-Catholic immigrant community of the area. Instead, the nature of the subsequent 1831 revival was in many ways coercive, its adherents seeking to impose their religious beliefs and social norms upon their neighbors, at the expense of the destruction of the others’ cultural heritage (especially Catholics), because as Paul Johnson wrote in A Shopkeeper’s Millennium the revival “promised to eliminate sin from society and pave the way for the Second Coming.”
In the introductory chapter of Culture Wars: the Struggle to Define America James Davison Hunter pointed out that political and social discrimination as well as outright physical violence directed against Catholics was commonplace in Protestant Northern Europe and that it was imported to the shores of America. Finney’s Revival touched not just upon ecstatic religious fervor in the Protestant community, but old Northern European prejudices toward Catholics. The 1831 revival launched a wave of anti-Catholic print materials and newspaper rhetoric in Rochester as well as intrusive waves of Protestant missionaries infiltrating the Irish districts of the town. This contention has in the historical record either been overlooked or dismissed by most religious historians. Whitney Cross wrote, “Hostility to Catholicism, real as it was, must thus be considered on the whole a minor, relatively inactive manifestation of religious radicalism in western New York” in 1950 and this dismissal has echoed throughout the historiography.
This dismissal is based on inaccurate population demographics for Rochester, New York in 1830-1831, however. New population statistics which will be included in this proposed paper based on census data, tax records, and parish records will demonstrate that this conclusion is false. This paper will argue that up to 1/3 of the population of the Rochester area was Catholic, most Irish and immigrants, and that the Protestant crusade which was the Rochester Revival was as much a xenophobic reaction against Catholics as it was a reordering of Protestant religious sentiment. The work will study the Catholic reactions to the efforts of the Finneyites to target their communities. It will also compare this persecution to the treatment of Catholics in Canada under a much more tolerant British majority (30 miles across Lake Ontario from Rochester) where many of the Rochester Irish had previously settled.


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