Unitarian Congregations in Ante-Bellum Georgia by George Gibson

COLONIES of commercial men in the seaport cities of the ante-bellum South were not unlike enclaves on a foreign shore. The colonists’ birth, education, tastes, and sometimes even their religion and politics were strongly bound to New England. For practical reasons they sometimes sublimated their heritage. Often they went native and adopted with fierce pride the habits and customs of their new homes. Occasionally their alien points of view found a few adherents in port cities, and New Englanders and Southerners struggled to gain respectability for their mutual philosophy.

The latter is the case of Unitarianism in the ante-bellum South. New Englanders found in Richmond, New Orleans, and Charles­ton a native brand of liberal, unorthodox religion in the first quarter of the nineteenth century which they imbued with Unitarianism and which they attempted to foster and nurture in Powhatan (Virginia), Mobile, Augusta, and Savannah in the second quarter of the century.

The experiences of Unitarians in Georgia are typical of those of Unitarians in the Southern ports engaged in the coast wide trade before the Civil War. A congregation with a few native members of the local power structure and a minister with a Harvard education and literary ability could win toleration, even acceptability, and hold its own against the sharp criticisms of the orthodox. A congregation without leaders of local society and without a settled minister quickly eroded and invited bitter attacks from the orthodox who branded Unitarians with heresy and abolition.

The Unitarian congregations in Augusta and Savannah ex­perienced the extremes of acceptability and utter rejection and were typical of Unitarian congregations in the ante-bellum South. The experience of these congregations, therefore, may offer useful insights not only to the history of Georgia but also to the history of ideas in the New England enclaves on the coast of the Old South.

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Unitarian Congregations in Ante-Bellum Georgia
George H. Gibson
The Georgia Historical Quarterly
Vol. 54, No. 2 (Summer, 1970), pp. 147-168
Published by: Georgia Historical Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40579063
Page Count: 22

 

 

 

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