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May 06 , 2008

Four Steeples over the City Streets

Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations


In the fifty years after the Constitution was signed in 1787, New York City grew from a port town of 30,000 to a metropolis of over half a million residents. This rapid development transformed a once tightknit community and its religious experience. These effects were felt by Trinity Episcopal Church, which had presented itself as a uniting influence in New York, that connected all believers in social unity in the late colonial era. As the city grew larger, more impersonal, and socially divided, churches reformed around race and class-based neighborhoods. Trinity’s original vision of uniting the community was no longer possible.
In Four Steeples over the City Streets, Kyle T. Bulthuis examines the histories of four famous church congregations in early Republic New York City—Trinity Episcopal, John Street Methodist, Mother Zion African Methodist, and St. Philip’s (African) Episcopal—to uncover the lived experience of these historical subjects, and just how religious experience and social change connected in the dynamic setting of early Republic New York.
Drawing on a range of primary sources, Four Steeples over the City Streets reveals how these city churches responded to these transformations from colonial times to the mid-nineteenth century. Bulthuis also adds new dynamics to the stories of well-known New Yorkers such as John Jay, James Harper, and Sojourner Truth. More importantly, Four Steeples over the City Streets connects issues of race, class, and gender, urban studies, and religious experience, revealing how the city shaped these churches, and how their respective religious traditions shaped the way they reacted to the city.
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