Enthusiasm and loyalty: emotions, religion, and society in British North America

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University of New Brunswick


The Enlightenment Atlantic was awash in deep feelings. People expressed the ardour of patriots, the homesickness of migrants, the fear of slave revolts, the ecstasy of revivals, the anger of mobs, the grief of wartime, the disorientation of refugees, the joys of victory. Not only did the events of the period evoke a variety of powerful emotions, but women and men also regarded the cultivation of appropriate feelings as a marker of morality, taste, and sociability. This study examines how people in one community participated in the transatlantic swirl of debates over emotions, and how they adapted emotional practices and discourses to their own communities. The focus is on the emotional communities that overlapped in Cornwallis Township, Nova Scotia, from about 1770 to 1850. At its heart are four case studies of individuals whose lives intersected in the township—Handley Chipman, Jacob Bailey, Henry Alline, and Edward Manning. The contention of this study is that ordinary people and their middling leaders drew upon several kinds of resources to help them make meaning of their emotions, and to navigate revolutionary changes in political and religious communities. In addition to their own sense and experience, they also appropriated the discourses about affections and sentiments that were debated throughout the Atlantic world. “Enthusiasm and Loyalty” aims to recover the wide range of political and religious emotions that were possible—feelable—in the Enlightenment Atlantic. While the burgeoning historiography of emotions has tended to focus on the passions of American Patriots, this study considers the affective dimension of loyalism before, during, and after the American Revolution. Doing so makes it possible to understand loyalism as a coherent set of feelings and convictions with a long history, rather than simply reactionary conservatism. Paying attention to religious affections also adds nuance to the perception of the “emotionalism” of evangelical Protestantism. Even so-called enthusiasts worried about unfeeling hearts, attempted to cultivate an array of affections and sympathies, and reflected on the meaning of their emotions. Ordinary British North Americans were adroit participants in transatlantic debates about emotions, if not always the masters of their own feelings.