Reign of Witches: A Political History of American Miracles, 1780-1840

Jortner, Adam, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia

The early United States experienced a surfeit of miracles and wonders. Miracle-claims had the power to set divine sanction and republican self-government in competition, especially in the absence of a state church. Thus miracles provided both a reason to believe and presented a political problem. The dissertation opens with a discussion of those groups and their miracles, focusing particularly on the definition of "miracle" and its religious and cultural effects. It then follows the miraculous and political claims of four distinct groups of wonderworkers: Shakers, Cane Ridge revivalists, the followers of the Shawnee Prophet, and Mormons. Each of these groups promoted miracle claims as a justification for hierarchical control of believers in defiance of republican temporal authority. Governments, meanwhile, attempted to defuse such claims by debating the nature of miracles with such groups, or by negotiating compromises-but they were not averse to armed force. This project therefore suggests that miracles and religion were not merely involved in early American politics; they were in themselves political questions, demonstrating the complex interaction between religion and emerging democracy. 2 Contents One: Miracles 4 Two: Witchcraft & Anti-Witchcraft 36 Three: Demons 77 Four: Incarnation 114 Five: Darkness 159 Six: The Golden Plates 231 Epilogue: Mythology 303 Bibliography 312 3 Dedication It is my hope that this work, or some version of it, will someday be a book, and in those hopes, I will forego the stories of how hard the project was and how I thought of it and other trivia usually reserved for dedications and prefaces. There are those people and organizations without whom, however, the project would have been much, much harder. Two years of research funds were provided by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, under the exquisite practical and intellectual leadership of Daniel K. Richter, and by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in the form of a Charlotte Newcombe Fellowship. I am grateful for their support. Other research monies came from the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Maine Historical Society, and the Kentucky Historical Society. Peter S. Onuf provided incomparable help and advice as the dissertation advisor. H.C. Erik Midelfort and Patrick Griffin provided keen insights and expertise from earlier eras, and each oversaw the writing and development of more than one chapter. Pamela D.H. Cochran alerted me to Mother Ann and oversaw the development of my Shaker chapter. My family has been wonderfully supportive, and can't be thanked enough. I've tried, and I'll try again. Thanks to (in order of appearance) Mom, Dad, Susan, David, Michael, Abby, Nathan, John, Maura, and Felicity. This dissertation-and in theory, the book that will come from it-is dedicated to them.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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