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“For the benevolent and glorious purpose of diffusing Christian knowledge in the new settlements”: The Connecticut Missionary Society in the Northeastern Borderlands

November 14, 2019 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm |

We invite CHS members and visitors to join us for a brown bag lunch talk with Dr. John Morton, a New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC) fellow who is conducting research here this fall.

Dr. Morton’s research explores how the American republic experienced a remarkable flowering of missionary zeal at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Missionary societies suddenly appeared everywhere in the northeast – at least eleven discrete societies by 1810 – all working to “support and promote Christian knowledge in the new settlements” along the American frontier. Almost anywhere New Englanders chose to settle, from Maine and Vermont to “New Connecticut” in Ohio, missionary societies provided them with preaching, books, and schools…everything they deserved as “sons and daughters of New England.”

Are you surprised to learn that Connecticut Congregationalists were pioneers in this movement?

Their records are invaluable in understanding American perceptions of the frontier and the borderland, US-British relations, and the rise of women’s activism and missionary networks worldwide. The state was one of the first to send missionaries to the settlements, and it assumed responsibility for an enormous swath of land. While Massachusetts’s societies devoted themselves primarily to the District of Maine, Connecticut aimed to serve all of Vermont and upstate New York, and parts of New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Connecticut ministers were some of the first to reach out to like-minded groups, forming partnerships with Presbyterian missionaries in Pennsylvania, and Congregational Societies in Vermont and Massachusetts. Connecticut set an important precedent by choosing not to serve communities in the British Provinces, even though settlers in these towns were from New England. And Connecticut had early success in fundraising, drawing statewide donations and building a substantial treasury. This success eventually hurt the society, however, as a “ladies cent society” phenomenon that arose to support missionary activity in the rest of New England bypassed Connecticut almost entirely.

Please join us as Dr. Morton discusses his research and some of his findings from our collection at the CHS.

We will provide coffee and dessert; bring your lunch to enjoy during the talk. Please RSVP by Tuesday, November 12, by calling (860) 236-5621 x282 or emailing rsvp@chs.org. Questions? Contact Jennifer Busa, Public Programs and Special Events Coordinator, at jennifer_busa@chs.org.

Free for members, included with admission for non-members.

Image: “New York’s Part in History”, by Sherman Williams, 1915.  Map inset: CT Evangelical Magazine from HathiTrust.

The Connecticut Historical Society is closed to the public through August 18. All on-site programs and events are canceled during this time.
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