269: A Shopkeeper’s Millennium by Paul E. Johnson

by Gerard


269.20974789: Johnson, Paul E. A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990 [1978]. 141 pp. ISBN 0-8090-0136-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 260: Christian social theology
  • 269: Spiritual renewal
  • 269.2: Evangelism
  • +0974789: Rochester, New York

The early 1800s in America were a very interesting time. The Revolution was behind us and the population was moving inland. Most U.S. cities were concentrated around sea ports, but the vastness of the interior of the new United States was a big temptation for land speculators and budding farmers. Along with them came a new era of quasi-lawlessness and country justice. Rushing to fill this moral vacuum were local ministers and preachers fostering a sense of personal responsibility and religious living. This was the Second Great Awakening.

Paul E. Johnson’s Shopkeeper’s Millennium traces the effects of the Second Awakening in the town of Rochester, New York. By looking through the tax, census, church, and news records of the city from 1815 to 1837, he posits an interpretation of how the religious revival of 1831 changed the social, political, and economic landscape of the city. The beginning chapters recount the history of the city and how the business relationships shaped the manner by which the revival would shape Rochester’s future. After that, he details the struggle of the economic elite, the Masons, and the evangelicals Charles Finney and Josiah Bissell against the new middle class of business owners burgeoning in Rochester. Later, the evangelical movement actually split the economic elite against itself. Johnson posits that this new religious movement was the impetus behind the Whig party and that its passing signaled the end of the new party.

The sheer amount of Johnson’s research is staggering; the bibliography is worthy of the Yale history professor that he is. His reading of the events isn’t exactly riveting, however. There’s a ton of statistics combined with the feeling that this is definitely a professor’s work. Granted, a whole lot of the general public isn’t clamoring for work on local religious 19th-century history, but this could be a bit better. If you’re a Rochesterian or a American religious scholar, then this is for you. If not, that’s OK.