My latest journal article just appeared in the new issue of the William and Mary Quarterly! “Seized by the Jerks: Shakers, Spirit Possession, and the Great Revival” tells the surprising story of the “jerking exercise,” one of the most controversial religious practices in the history of early American Protestantism. Research for this project led me to dozens of archives from Michigan to Mississippi. Altogether, I uncovered more than 200 reports of this notorious somatic phenomenon. Most of these documents will soon be available in a curated digital archive. (Stay tuned!) For a student-friendly version of the article, consider downloading the OI Reader edition, which includes an interactive map and a selection of fascinating primary texts. Many thanks to Joshua Piker for championing this project and to Meg Musselwhite, Kim Foley, Becky Wrenn, and the OI apprentices for providing matchless editorial and design support. Hopefully, “Seized by the Jerks” will help scholars reconsider the origins of southern evangelicalism during the Second Great Awakening.
The Omohundro Institute recently reissued “‘Pale Blewish Lights’ and a Dead Man’s Groan: Tales of the Supernatural from Eighteenth-Century Plymouth, Massachusetts,” on their mobile app, the OI Reader. Originally published the William and Mary Quarterly in 1998, this essay has always been one of my favorites.
“Pale Blewish Lights” examines a richly detailed haunting incident. In 1733, tenants renting the Thompson Phillips mansion in Plymouth, Massachusetts, complained of strange lights and unusual noises, which they attributed to the specter of the recently deceased mariner. Phillips’s father-in-law, a civil magistrate and Indian missionary named Josiah Cotton, responded to the rumors by filing a slander suit against the loose-lipped tenants. The rich documentary record of the resulting lawsuits, which include trial depositions, Cotton’s memoirs and diary, and his unfinished essay, “Some Observations Concerning Witches, Spirits, & Apparitions,” provide a unparalleled opportunity to examine competing supernatural beliefs in eighteenth-century New England.
To access the article, install the free OI Reader from the App Store or Google Play and download the “Bancroft Prize 2018” file. In addition to “Pale Blewish Lights,” the download package also includes links to Part 3 of Darkness Falls on the Land of Light; my recent interview with Liz Covart, host of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast; and “Souls Filled with Ravishing Transport: Heavenly Visions and the Radical Awakening in New England,” which appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2004. Many thanks to Nadine Zimmerli, Kim Foley, and the rest of the OI team for creating this exciting digital platform for my research.