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date: 30 May 2017

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900

Summary and Keywords

From Cahokia to Newport, from Santa Fe to Chicago, cities have long exerted an important influence over the development of American religion; in turn, religion has shaped the life of America’s cities. Early visions of a New Jerusalem quickly gave way to a crowded spiritual marketplace full of faiths competing for the attention of a heterogeneous mass of urban consumers, although the dream of an idealized spiritual city never completely disappeared. Pluralism fostered toleration and freedom of religious choice, but also catalyzed competition and antagonism, sometimes resulting in violence. Struggles over political authority between established and dissenting churches gave way after the American Revolution to a contest over the right to exert moral authority through reform. Secularization, the companion of modernization and urbanization, did not toll the death knell for urban religion, but instead, provided the materials with which the religious engaged the city. Negative discursive constructions of the city proffered by a handful of religious reformers have long cast a shadow over the actual urban experience of most men and women. Historians continue to uncover the rich and innovative ways in which urban religion enabled individuals to understand, navigate, and contribute to the city around them.

Keywords: religion, cities, reform, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Judaism

“The truth is, the city of today, the modern city, whether in the East or in the West, is a hell, in which the manhood of the nation is daily being consumed,” Thomas Dixon Jr. lamented in 1896, in The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes. The Social Gospel minister, better known today as the author, in 1905, of The Clansman, argued that Protestant New Yorkers had abandoned the field in the face of a familiar catalogue of urban sins (and the expansion of their Roman Catholic and Jewish competitors); they had uprooted churches from neighborhoods most needful of them, privileged the wealthy over the working-class, and preached outdated theologies unsuited to present circumstances. Dixon celebrated the democratic impulse that guaranteed religious freedom but disparaged the sectarianism that distracted the urban religious with petty squabbles about “small differences.” He held out hope for what might still be accomplished through united effort. “The city is the heart of modern civilization. It is the key to the century. It is the key to the future.”1

By the end of the 19th century, American cities had well earned their reputations for temptation and vice, but the discursive focus of Thomas Dixon and other Social Gospel reformers on the city as a threat to the moral health of individuals and the nation obscures the innovative ways in which the urban religious lived in and through their urban environments. “‘Urban religion’ does not refer simply to religious beliefs and practices that happen to take place in cities (and that might as well take place elsewhere),” historian Robert Orsi explains. Urban religion is what arises from the dynamic engagement of religious traditions with the conditions of urban life. “The results are distinctly and specifically urban forms of religious practice, experience, and understanding.”2 In early American cities, that meant engaging with the hallmarks of an emerging modern society: heterogeneous populations, integrated economies, large-scale participatory politics, technological advancements, and religious pluralism. Rather than shying away, the urban religious embraced the materials the city offered as the basis for religious expression and community building.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 1.A Plan of the Town of New Haven,” by John Davenport (1638).

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

As the city shaped religion, religion shaped the city and the nation. Americans have long entertained Dixon’s idealized vision of the moral city. John Davenport attempted to recreate the heavenly city in his 1638 plan for New Haven. Early 19th-century merchant Divine Bethune saw New York as the heavenly city that saved him from the “den of iniquity” in the slave plantations of Tobago. The Azusa Street revivalists proclaimed Los Angeles the New Jerusalem in 1906. Such visions, however, had to be reconciled with the reality of a competitive urban spiritual marketplace. In America, the Celestial City bore an uncanny resemblance to Vanity Fair. Despite—or perhaps because of this—it was in America’s pueblos, seaports, manufacturing centers, and along the urban frontier that some of the most distinctive elements of American culture—freedom of choice, toleration, reform, and even the welfare state—arose through the efforts of the religious. Where Dixon saw declension, others found opportunities for innovation, adaptation, and negotiation.

Native and Colonial Cities, 1050–1780

Indigenous peoples, European settlers, and African slaves alike knew the value of religious communities in urban settlements for providing opportunities for emotional support, moral discipline, social networking, economic assistance, and political participation. They fought hard to establish and preserve them, sometimes at the expense of others’ efforts. In time, exposure to a diverse range of faiths within colonial cities paved the way for the acceptance of the pluralism characteristic of modern America.

Long before the arrival of European colonizers, Native Americans formed communities with many of the hallmarks associated with urban life. Densely populated permanent settlements at Cahokia, near present-day East St. Louis, and the Ácoma and Abó Pueblos, in modern New Mexico, arose between the 10th and 15th centuries at the crossroads of economic, political, and religious networks. Cahokia’s giant mounds, still visible today, and the rich archaeological remains within, speak to the site’s role as a religious, political, and commercial center. Realizing the symbolic significance (and pragmatic value) of native settlements, Spanish colonizers built St. Augustine, Santa Fe, and San Antonio on their foundations as imperial outposts. Some Roman Catholic missionary orders saw the replication of a European built environment as essential to effecting native conversions. A minority of the population, Spaniards relied as much on evangelization as military might to maintain order over large native populations.

Living in densely settled communities with Franciscan missionaries, Spanish colonial authorities, and an increasing population of mestizo settlers, Pueblo Indians exploited the tensions between these factions. The Pueblos kept their traditional religious culture alive under a veneer of observance, rather than simply submitting to the Catholicism promulgated by European missionaries. After several decades of hardship brought on by famine, disease, oppressive tribute demands, and raiding parties, they found strength through their covertly preserved faith to accomplish what no other indigenous people achieved before or after: the complete setback of European expansion in the New World. But, native religious unity proved no less impervious to factionalism than their European colonizers following the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Pueblos were re-conquered by the turn of the 18th century.

Seventeenth-century Dutch, French, and English colonizers shared with their Spanish competitors an appreciation for the utility of urbanized settlements on North American shores for production, trade, defense, rule, and worship. Old World religious beliefs and practices mingled with New World commercial ambitions as much for the spiritual benefit of colonizers as a justification and means for establishing state authority. Colonial established churches, funded with public monies and supported by civil authority, stood as one arm of a larger effort to replicate European political, cultural, and economic structures in a North American context. They aimed to provide broad, inclusive unity by bringing together people of all ranks and backgrounds. To promote community cohesion while enforcing social discipline, these churches were erected adjacent to government buildings and marketplaces (oftentimes inside a military fort). Here colonizers and their subjects performed complex rituals of incorporation into Christianity, mercantilism, and empire.

Yet as Atlantic World ports, these cities welcomed heterogeneous populations of sailors and slaves, merchants and artisans, laborers and refugees, who brought with them their own ideas of religion (and irreligion), undercutting efforts to unify them around a single established church. Charleston, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia each had congregations of at least eight different religious traditions by the mid-18th century—as well as adherents of an unknowable number of faiths celebrated informally or under cover of darkness. Even John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill,” which came closest to the established church ideal in the 17th century, faced the continual need to suppress those who believed and worshipped differently: dissenting Puritans, Baptists, and Quakers. Not surprisingly, Baptist and Quaker influence in Newport, and later Philadelphia, influenced the outright rejection of establishment in those colonies. Religious difference at times bred fear and hostility in colonial cities. The assumption that two Catholic priests were behind the 1741 “Great Negro Plot” in New York was widely held by the overwhelmingly Protestant urban community despite little credible evidence.

Religion provided a key component of urban identity formation and the cornerstone for the emergence of a genuinely pluralistic society. For New York’s Dutch population, after the English conquered the colony in the mid-17th century, the arrival of new rulers with their own established religious culture did not catalyze a process of assimilation, but rather of ethnicization. Dutch Reformed churches became a focal point around which the children of Dutch residents formed themselves into a self-conscious ethnic group unified by religion, language, and architecture. The process of ethnicization around British identity proved slower in contrast, stymied by divisions between Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians. Decades passed before ties of ethnicity gave way to personal predilection, social class, family, and education in shaping religious preferences.

Houses of worship in a diversity of shapes, forms, and styles could be found throughout colonial seaports by the mid-18th century. Their design reflected the diverse origins of their congregations, embodied their theology, and stated their place within colonial society. Heavenward soaring steeples of established churches, often copied from or modeled on structures in the metropolis, marked their location on land and signaled their dominance to those viewing from the sea.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 2.Landing of British Troops at Boston, 1768.” Engraving by Paul Revere.

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library.

Storefront churches, like the Rigging Loft on William Street in New York, accommodated poor, dissenting congregations before modest, unassuming meetinghouses could be erected on the back of lots on side streets.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 3.The Old Rigging-House,” New York City.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

Judaism did not require a synagogue for prayer, so the act of establishing a congregation and building a synagogue represented a significant financial and psychic investment. Sephardic Jews expelled from Curacao landed in several North American seaports in the late 17th century. In Newport, they completed the Touro Synagogue in 1763, today the oldest synagogue in America.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 4. Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island.

HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS RI, 3-NEWP, 29—1.

The structure’s unassuming architecture resonates with surrounding domestic residences, a choice that reflected the congregation’s modesty and limited financial means, but also its desire to avoid offending the predominantly Christian community.

In time, the conjunction of people, leadership, and events in colonial seaports provided the necessary conditions for rebellion; religion provided a moral sanction, occasions for protest, grounds for united action, but also a source of disagreement. Jonathan Mayhew of Boston’s West Church served as a patriotic lightening rod during the Stamp Act Crisis, while Anglican ministers at King’s Chapel a few blocks away offered loyalist views. Traditional rituals with religious significance, like Pope’s Day celebrations, took on new meaning as protests against imperial authority. With its emphasis on individualism and its challenge to the power of the clergy, evangelicalism provided a language and a forum in which the laboring classes of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia expressed discontent with imperial politics. But in Newport, suspicions of sectarian motives proved a barrier to the formation of political coalitions among the city’s evangelical congregations. Philadelphia Quakers, known for their pacifism, faced a wrenching schism when a group of “Free Quakers” separated in order to take up arms against the British. Anglican ministers in every city had a difficult decision to make: stay true to the Church headed by the British King or make the potentially treasonous decision to support the American cause.

The outbreak of war proved traumatic. The violent conflict led to the dispersal of congregations, the desecration of meetinghouses, and the anxiety of wondering whether Providence had really foreordained a war that stretched on for far longer than either side expected. In the midst of this upheaval, state constitutions created new governments with a radical approach to toleration and freedom of choice. Surrounded as they were by numerous religious traditions, revolutionary city dwellers could not avoid questioning the exclusive claim of theirs being the one true church, the fate of religious truth if all beliefs were free to compete, and the likelihood of organized religion’s continued existence without state support. Such thinking unified an unlikely coalition of urban evangelicals and deists to secure disestablishment and religious equality for all. The result of their efforts marked an important transition in American religion.

Early National United States, 1780–1830

The First Amendment to the Federal Constitution declared, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Freedom of religious choice was theoretically guaranteed across the young nation, laying the foundation for a vibrant post-revolutionary urban spiritual marketplace. Many states had already provided such a right in their constitutions. Previously marginalized groups—evangelicals, African Americans, Roman Catholics, and Jews—embraced this new spirit of toleration (and the legal rights of incorporation also granted at this time) to emerge as active participants in the religious life of 19th-century cities.

America quickly became more urban over the half-century following the Revolution. In 1790, the United States had five cities with more than 10,000 residents, and only one in twenty Americans lived in them; by 1830, that number rose to twenty-three cities, in which resided almost one in eleven. As East Coast seaports grew, so too, did new cities along the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington formed what has been called the urban frontier, cities that preceded and facilitated the establishment of farms in the hinterland. In these frontier cities, counting houses and warehouses stood alongside churches representing a wide range of faith. The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, brought a new accent to American urbanization as cities with French and Spanish ancestry, like New Orleans and St Louis, were integrated into the nation.

The post-revolutionary urban spiritual marketplace encouraged individuals to let personal choice, rather than family tradition, determine church membership. To survive, faiths that stayed loyal, like Anglicans and Methodists, severed their connection to the British Crown and reformed themselves as American denominations. Churches discovered they had to actively court new members. Competition among Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Unitarian churches for the patronage of new residents in 1830s. St. Louis, for example, compelled Roman Catholics to rebuild their colonial French chapel into a grand new cathedral. Historians posit this period represented nothing less than the democratization of American Christianity, the rise of a new individualistic and disestablishmentarian style of religious culture. Too often they treat this development as a rural phenomenon—of camp meetings and itinerant preachers spread out across the hinterland—but anyone walking the streets of an early 19th-century city would have run into women and men attending worship at multiple churches (colloquially known as “sermon gadding”), disputing the authority of ministers, or choosing to attend no church at all.

Broadly inclusive churches gave way to a landscape fragmented by denomination, ethnicity, and class. In older cities like Albany, traditional ethnic cultural influences increasingly competed with new political (republican, mechanic) and religious (Calvinist, Methodist, evangelical) ideologies. In Providence, manufacturers and workers both turned to evangelical denominations in times of social ferment, but chose to worship in separate congregations. Decisions about faith had far-reaching ramifications. Privileging individual choice in the spiritual realm reinforced resolutions made in the economic, political, and social realms. No two cities were identical: religion shaped social change in different ways in major commercial centers such as New York and Philadelphia, new industrial cities such as Lowell and Utica, and the urban frontier of Cincinnati and Louisville.

Evangelical denominations enjoyed the greatest success in the post-revolutionary urban spiritual marketplace. Their decision to make conversion—the assurance of salvation revealed through the creation of a personal relationship with God—their primary criterion for membership resonated with the individualistic ethos of the time. In New York City, by 1830, fully half of the city’s houses of worship belonged to evangelical congregations. In Baltimore, the number was even higher. The nation’s most prominent evangelical denominations—Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians—emerged from the margins of colonial society to become dominant denominations across American cities and throughout the nation by the middle of the 19th century. This national ascendancy could not have been accomplished without the organizational, technological, financial, and distributional resources provided by cities.

Urban African Americans did not achieve many of the legal, economic, and political liberties for which they fought in the Revolution, but they did gain the right to found separate congregations and legally incorporate them. Fed up with being consigned to marginal seats in meetinghouses they helped build, African Americans formed their own congregations.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 5.Bethel A.M.E. Church, the first Colored Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Established in 1787.” Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library.

First African Baptist in Savannah (1773), Mother Bethel in Philadelphia (1794), and the African Meetinghouse in Boston (1806) stood as community centers providing opportunities not only for worship, but also for education, economic advancement, socializing, and political activism. At first they remained autonomous, but not independent of white-led denominations. That changed when Richard Allen, a freed slave from rural Virginia who moved to Philadelphia, founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1816. Unity remained as elusive among black urban churches as among white ones: the AME aggressively competed with the New York-based African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church as well as other independent congregations. By and large, African Americans embraced evangelicalism, but the urban milieu accommodated High Church Protestant Episcopal and Dutch Reformed African-American congregations as well.

The prevailing spirit of republicanism sparked a flurry of church constitution writing and championing of the authority of American laity over European clergy among Roman Catholics and Jews. Post-Revolutionary American Catholics, many of English origins, democratized local church government through the adoption of a system of lay trustees annually elected by pew renters to oversee temporal affairs of the church. Jews also put lay committees in charge of church finances, clerical invitations, and disciplinary cases. The scarcity of priests and rabbis in the colonial period had already forced lay leaders to take charge of the operation of their congregations, but this was a significant departure from European tradition. This new model of governance, known as trusteeism, created significant tensions between foreign-born clerics, who expected to run these churches, and powerful lay trustees, unwilling to cede their authority. The influx of Irish and German Catholics with much different views and expectations ensured it did not last longer than a generation among Catholics in Baltimore, New York, or Philadelphia. A few more decades passed before powerful rabbis arrived in the United States and demanded a similar change in Jewish congregations.

Urban religion found a home in churches, meetinghouses, and synagogues of America’s growing cities, but it also was actively performed in the public square. Baptisms happened in the waters of the rivers that ran around and through these cities (often to the delight of pious and profane alike), rioters stormed the homes of upstart radical preachers, and funerals processed through city streets to urban cemeteries (many long since disappeared, although some, like the African Burial Ground in New York, have been rediscovered). Religious belief, practices, and worldviews were created, negotiated, adapted, and modified in and through all the spaces of the city.

Antebellum and Civil War, 1830–1870

Antebellum urbanization transformed seaports into metropolises and materialized new cities at the inland junctures of important transportation routes. Cities at this time produced great wealth for some but reduced others to poverty. In response to the proliferation of intemperance, prostitution, and other urban social problems, pious individuals dedicated vast amounts of time, energy, and resources to campaigns for the moral perfection of American cities and their inhabitants. As Protestant reformers went about their work, they confronted an increasing number of Roman Catholic and Jewish immigrants engaged in their own forms of urban community building. Throughout this period, unity remained elusive, especially when most needed on the eve of the Civil War.

By 1860, one hundred and one cities with more than ten thousand inhabitants stretched from coast to coast. Approximately one in five Americans made their homes there. Urban religious communities arose through the efforts of people as diverse as Jewish peddlers, evangelical Protestant merchants, and Irish Catholic nuns. Initial optimism was often tempered by significant hardship. In 1854, eight Irish Sisters of Mercy and five Presentation Sisters discovered firsthand the realities of these new American cities. Five died in Pittsburgh as a result of the change in climate, long hours of work, and poor living conditions. The remaining sisters ventured on to San Francisco, but the mining-camp mentality there quickly unsettled them. One became mentally ill, another physically unwell. Within two years both groups returned to Ireland, but not before first laying the foundation of institutions essential to the needs of the new city.

Protestant men and women—many, but not all evangelical—formed a variety of benevolent, reform, and missionary associations that actively drew on the financial, organizational, and technological resources of the city. Following British precedent, they founded local, and later national, tract and Bible societies. The American Bible Society and the American Tract Society, headquartered in New York, coordinated the printing of millions of publications on the most technologically advanced presses of the time and distributed them across the city, throughout the nation, and around the world. Denominational publishing houses, like the Methodist Book Concern in New York and the American Baptist Publishing House in Philadelphia, produced some of the earliest national newspapers to knit together believers from coast to coast. Protestants also initiated Sabbath schools, another British import, to provide religious education for poor children feared to be falling through the cracks as a result of accelerating industrialization. The American Sunday School Union, headquartered in Philadelphia, and several denominational societies supported these schools evolve from missionary endeavors to fixtures of middle-class congregations.

Innovative urban missions targeted women and men in the spaces of their work and play—parlors, ballrooms, and boardinghouses—and transformed them into places for worship and prayer. Missionary societies run by Protestant laity sponsored enterprising young college graduates who sought the excitement of missionary work without the dangers (and often early death sentence) of the foreign field. They held Bethel meetings nightly on the decks of ships along the waterfront. They opened missions in rented storefronts and other secular structures, like the Old Brewery in New York’s Five Points, one of the most dangerous and overcrowded tenements in the city. The Ladies’ Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church tore down the latter in 1853 and replaced it with a mission house that combined chapel, classrooms, accommodations for the hired missionary, and housing for the worthy poor.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 6.Old Brewery, Five Points, New York, 1852.”

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

Orphan houses, work rooms, Magdalen asylums, Old Sailor’s Homes, lying-in hospitals, and medical dispensaries were just a few of the many institutions initiated, funded, and operated by the religious to provide essential services to urban communities.

Reform also occurred in the streets, squares, and halls of the city. Some crusaded for temperance pledges, while others sponsored rallies, concerts, and lectures series. A General Distribution scheme put a tract in the hands of every family in New York once a month in the mid-1830s. Reformers solicited signatures on petitions, crossing over the line into political activism in hopes of ending delivery of the mail on the Sabbath, curtailing the granting of liquor licenses, and abolishing slavery. From Sunday school parades to Anniversary Week meetings, the spaces of the city became the stage for enacting a new, moral vision of America. Reform’s prejudicial sister, nativism, also reared her ugly head with increasing frequency. Rioting mobs burned down a Roman Catholic convent on the outskirts of Boston in 1834 and a church in Philadelphia in 1844.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 7. Engraving showing a “Fight between the Rioters in Kensington,” Philadelphia, with the destruction of St. Augustine’s in the background.16

Urban African Americans also found themselves a target for reasons ranging from their competition for scarce jobs to their support of abolition.

Historians have long debated the motivations of urban reformers. Some argue reform reflected an unprecedented optimism in the perfectibility of the individual and society, while others interpret it as a form of middle-class social control. There is an element of truth in both. During Charles Grandison Finney’s 1831 Rochester revival, for example, middle-class manufacturers sought to restore their moral authority over workingmen lost in the separation of the home from the shop, an important contemporary workplace transformation. They deployed implicit and explicit coercion to chasten workingmen who did not attend revivals or join reform organizations. But working men found in the evangelicalism that their employers allegedly used to control them a rich vocabulary and set of symbols to justify their labor protests. It provided them with the foundation for a powerful critique of prevailing social conditions. Reform offered an important means of challenging not only class, but also gender and racial norms.

Most early 19th-century cities had a single Jewish “synagogue-community,” where Sephardim and Ashkenazi from places around the Atlantic World attempted to coexist. Out of these emerged a new “community of synagogues” split along lines of ethnicity in the second quarter of the 19th century. Once they reached a critical mass (and a sufficient level of frustration with their Sephardic congregants), Ashkenazi often opened the second synagogue in a city. Here they could devise their own worship practice and community order. Increasing immigration from Germany and Eastern Europe ensured that several more synagogues followed in quick succession.

Even more significant was the rise of new confessional divides within American Judaism. The advent of Reform Judaism in the United States is often attributed to the efforts of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, in Cincinnati in the 1850s, but a generation earlier, the native-born children of Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue came under the diverse influences of American political reform, evangelical associationalism, and German calls for prayer reform. They established their community as an early Reform society, rather than a synagogue, worshipped in a Masonic Hall, and offered services in English as well as Hebrew. The convergence of a diverse range of influences in America’s cities allowed young Jews and those of other faiths the chance to re-imagine religious traditions in new ways.

Large-scale immigration of Irish and German Catholics, beginning in the 1830s, brought the republican period of trusteeism to an end and marked a decided shift towards more autocratic and hierarchical clerical control. Powerful bishops, many of them European born, refused to contend with lay trustees. The presence of ethnic populations who spoke different languages, preferred various forms of liturgy, and disagreed about the relationship between religion and society led to the creation of national, over terrestrial, urban parishes. By the eve of the great fire of 1871, Chicago had twenty-eight parishes, which included English, Irish, German, French, and Polish Catholics. Irish clergy disproportionately dominated the hierarchy of the immigrant Catholic Church, as historians have referred to it, and continued to do so well into the 20th century.

Roman Catholic religious orders, especially those run by women, embraced urban institution building with all the fervor of Protestant laity. In East Coast cities, these institutions provided crucial support for impoverished and vulnerable Catholic immigrants and their dependent children as well as a key means of countering the designs of Protestant reformers. Irish Catholic nuns in New York, for example, were remarkably successful in securing public support for their orphan asylums, creating what one historian argues was the foundation of the American welfare state. In the new cities of the Great Lakes region—Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee—Protestants and Catholics arrived at the same time and in comparable numbers. Catholic schools, academies, asylums, and hospitals were thus among the earliest public institutions in these cities and served mixed-religious audiences. That changed over time, but such an early civic presence mitigated the intensity of nativism that scarred other cities in the 1850s.

The antebellum urban spiritual marketplace also accommodated a range of faiths beyond the dominant evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish religious traditions. Many remain invisible to us today because they were never listed in city directories, although that anonymity is likely what allowed them to exist in the first place. For example, the Prophet Matthias (also known as Robert Matthews) preached an eccentric theology influenced by Scotch Presbyterianism, African American Methodism, and Judaism that garnered him an equally diverse congregation in New York in the 1830s, including wealthy evangelical merchants, working- and middle-class wives, and a freed slave who later earned fame as an abolitionist. The modernizing city offered Matthias financial wealth, organizational resources, and, in the midst of his sensational murder trial, a communications network to disseminate his decidedly anti-modern ministry.

The specter of fragmentation over slavery and a desire for unity and peace pervaded urban religious communities at mid-century. Each national evangelical Protestant denomination split along sectional lines in the 1830s and 1840s, presaging later political divide. A massive awakening in 1857–1858, known as the Businessman’s Revival, developed into the first truly national Protestant urban revival and tried to stem the divide. Confronting economic depression and simmering political divisions over slavery, an unlikely alliance of conservative clergy and secular newspaper editors presented an exaggerated image of cross-denominational unity and overplayed the prominence of men as converts within the revival. Their accounts influenced how the revival was understood across the country. As radical evangelicals abandoned the religious realm for the political arena to advance anti-slavery, conservative evangelicals sought to use revivals and the press in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to promote national unity.

By the eve of the Civil War, religious values provided the underpinning for the country’s reform movements, determined the political party to which one belonged, justified an expansionist ideology that pushed American settlement all the way to the Pacific, and shaped sectional understandings of free labor and republican virtue. Religion supplied the language and imagery people used to understand the war and consolation in the face of unprecedented loss. Cities served as centers of political mobilization, military recruiting and production, financing, and benevolent organizing. Urban ministers, priests, and rabbis gave religious sanction to war in their pulpit addresses; Roman Catholic men demonstrated their patriotism and allegiance to the nation by enlisting, and women of all faiths drew on their deep experience with voluntary associations to fundraise and gather needed supplies, or, in the case of the Quakers, to protect their fellow Friends from conscription. But cities also turned out to be social and cultural battlegrounds. Devastating draft riots over four hot July days in New York, in 1863, revealed a terror in the heart of the city just as fearsome as on the battlefield.

The exigencies of wartime catalyzed new religious beliefs and practices. Southern religion had long privileged a single-minded interest in personal salvation, without the corporate sense of responsibility for the social order that pervaded the North. Yet in the midst of war, urban Southerners invented a civil religion and national identity around the much older, and Northern, genre of the “jeremiad.” Confederates in Richmond politically sanctioned fast days and Thanksgiving Day, previously unknown in a city that rigidly preserved a division between church and state. They sought to bind urban residents in a public ritual that reinforced their sense of being a singular people, a uniquely Christian nation favored by God. As defeats and losses mounted, Richmond’s secular press openly questioned the jeremiad’s strategy of public humiliation and moral reformation to gain God’s favor. In response, the religious press pushed a revitalized model of southern spirituality that tied an emphasis on individual salvation with the sanctification of being a chosen nation. Out of this mix emerged the curious hybrid known as the Lost Cause, a set of religiously undergirded beliefs that shaped the self-perceptions of white southerners, urban and rural, as a chosen people long after the war had ended.

Looking to the Gilded Age and Beyond, 1870–1900

As the postwar urban South retreated into the consolation of a retrospective faith, the urban North, fresh off its victory, built larger and more lavish houses of worship. As pious reformers devoted significant time, labor, and wealth to the search for religious remedies to mounting social and economic problems, others found in religion the more mundane, but no less important, means to comprehend the vast city around them, to create communities, and to understand their place in the urban order.

The number of cities and the percentage of Americans living in them grew steadily in the decades following the Civil War. By 1900, fifty cities had more than one hundred thousand inhabitants. Even more impressive was the growth of smaller cities with populations between ten thousand and one hundred thousand. They swelled from eighty-four in 1860, to 587 in 1900, a more than six-fold increase. This growth was the result, in part, of the ongoing influx of foreign immigrants and expanding opportunities for industrial labor. The completion of transcontinental railroads facilitated the spread of urbanization. El Paso and Butte, Seattle and Omaha, and most other major cities in the West arose as important nodes in this national network. These cities not only provided for the economic and social needs of their new residents, but also their spiritual concerns.

Urban spiritual marketplaces only grew more diversified in the decades following the American Civil War. The monolithic categories of Protestant, Catholic, and Jew do not do justice to the diversity of forms found within them. Evangelical Protestants saw their dominance erode, a reflection of changing urban demographics rather than simple evidence of declension. Black Protestant churches enjoyed a resurgence of membership with the exodus of formerly enslaved African Americans from the Southern countryside. Ethnic Roman Catholic parishes proliferated as Italian, Polish, French Canadian, Mexican, and Eastern European immigrants formed national parishes alongside Irish and German ones from before the war. Conservative Jewish congregations also began to appear alongside Orthodox and Reform ones. But the real story of diversification can be found in the section labeled “Miscellaneous” at the end of the “Churches” section in city directories. Residents of turn-of-the-century New York could attend the Aryan Lotus Circle at 144 Madison Avenue, the Christian Israelites’ Sanctuary at 108 First Street, and perhaps fittingly, the Strangers’ Church at 123 W. 12th Street. Other cities exhibited a similar diversity.

Across the urban landscape, an eclectic array of cathedrals, churches, and synagogues served as visible reminders of diversified urban congregations and their efforts to compete with one another. Gone were the sedate days of the Touro Synagogue and Mother Bethel. Congregations employed an ever-expanding array of architectural styles in the design and ornamentation of their houses of worship. Seeing the church as an enclave in which to preserve the culture of the mother country and to ease immigrants groups into the mainstream of American life, Roman Catholics built large ecclesiastical complexes (often including rectories, schools, and convents) adorned in such a way as to cultivate an explicit ethnic identity well beyond what immigrants would have known in the home country. Evangelical denominations, on the other hand, built structurally innovative auditorium sanctuaries that drew on contemporary advances in secular theater design to accommodate larger crowds, improve acoustics, and give their minister greater freedom of movement. Jews shifted from blending into the urban environment to standing out from it by adopting dramatic Moorish-style architecture. The Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati (1866) exemplified this new style and located itself in the heart of the city across from City Hall and around the corner from leading Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 8. Plum Street Temple, Cincinnati, OH.17

From the efforts of Protestant Episcopalians to express High Church ceremonialism through the ecclesiastical Gothic, to the desire of Eastern Orthodox to replicate provincial Russian churches, the last three decades of the 19th century marked an unprecedented period of experimentation. Yet by the early 20th century, the ongoing assimilation of future generations of immigrants into American life constricted this creative outpouring and led to a greater conformity in architectural styles, although it did not catalyze a comparable unity among the churches. The fruits of this architectural revival were not equally shared or enjoyed. In the constricted urban real estate market, for every grand religious edifice there were an even larger number of congregations that could only afford to worship in basements, storefronts, and rented halls.

Postwar urbanization also exacerbated social and economic problems associated with the city. The widening chasm between the slum-dwelling poor and the suburb-fleeing middle- and upper-classes created a volatile mix that led to rising poverty, crime rates, and occasional labor strikes and nativist riots. Reformers aggressively sought to address these problems, but their inability (or unwillingness) to confront their source—industrialization and capitalism—has led many modern historians to find their efforts wanting. A new generation of professional reformers traded their work bringing women and men to conversion for a more humanitarian response to the social and economic concerns of the working class through institutional churches, settlement houses, non-sectarian missions, and cooperative efforts with other denominations. Yet 19th-century critics feared these initiatives subordinated piety to charity, spiritual guidance to temporal relief, an age-old tension. Only in the early 20th century, when the number of Americans living in cities surpassed fifty percent, did reformers significantly rethink their strategy and trade a focus on individuals and families for a fundamental restructuring of urban environments.

Gilded Age reformers, however, were anything but anti-modern in their efforts. They displayed a sophisticated understanding of how secular resources offered by the modernizing city could forward their religious agendas. From 1875 to 1877, urban revivalists Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey led an evangelistic campaign stretching from Boston to Chicago that successfully harnessed the power and reach of modern mass media. They formed strategic alliances with secular newspaper editors to drum up interest before they arrived in town and to provide daily coverage as their work progressed. The Salvation Army, another English import, enjoyed success by embracing an urban culture driven by commerce and fueled by consumption. Through pageants, parades, and distinctive uniforms, the Salvation Army sought to saturate the secular with the sacred and pioneered a new way of doing religion.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 9. Salvation Army’s Band.18

Alert to changing trends within popular culture, it pitched its message and medium to the tenor of the times. The Salvation Army eventually attracted public support disproportionate to its actual membership, at the cost of transforming from an evangelical faith to a philanthropic organization.

Despite the fragmentation brought by pluralism and ongoing secularization, faith not only persisted but also flourished amongst postwar urban residents. Social Gospel reformer and minister Walter Laidlaw, who worked under the aegis of the New York Federation of Churches, gathered data that revealed remarkable rates of identification with institutional religion by urban middle-class whites at the end of the 19th century. Laidlaw’s findings correlate with Census Bureau data that showed the religious affiliation of adults in principal cities increasing from 37.9 percent to 46.9 percent between 1890 and 1906, as compared to a rise from 31.2 percent and 39.1 percent in rural areas.

To understand the appeal of the faith that Laidlaw uncovered, one need only look further north up Manhattan Island. Religion helped Roman Catholic residents of Italian Harlem make sense of the problems inherent in their urban experience: persistent poverty; the crime and filth that contaminated the streets; economic, social, and geographic isolation from the larger city; and degradation in the eyes of their neighbors. In the annual Festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel, they saw their own experience reflected and refracted through the symbol of the Madonna, linking the rural past with the urban present, the individual with the community. The history of this community reminds us that urban religion is as much about what reformers did for poor immigrants as the world immigrants created for themselves in cities: the spiritual topographies they carved out of a landscape designed by others, the rituals they observed that simultaneously offered connection with the old world and the new, and the urban selves they fashioned in response to their surroundings. Their rituals of the streets were enacted in many forms by a variety of faiths across the nation’s cities.

By century’s end, a spirit of optimism animated the urban religious. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago, offered an ideal of urban harmony for cities reeling from labor unrest, immigration, and crime. As crowds flocked to the utopian White City, liberal and conservative Protestant urban clergy saw an opportunity to promote religious unity out of the fragmentation of faiths that surrounded them, albeit in different ways. A Parliament of World Religions organized by liberal Protestant ministers drew religious leaders from around the world for an unprecedented international summit, while an enormous evangelistic campaign spearheaded by the hometown favorites, Moody and Sankey, targeted evangelical fairgoers.

Religion in the American City, 1600–1900Click to view larger

Figure 10. “An Actual Scene at One of the Sessions of the Parliament.” A Parliament of World Religions, Chicago, IL 1893.

The most dramatic response to the spirit of the fair came in 1894, with the publication of reporter and reformer William T. Stead’s sensational and scathing indictment of the city, If Christ Came to Chicago!3 Imagining Christ’s response to modern day Chicago in a critique that spared few, Stead looked to the 20th century in his final chapter, returning to a familiar theme in urban religious thought. A great civic revival would turn Chicago of the future into an ideal city, a New Jerusalem, in which all denominations and sects subsumed their differences as branches of a single Church of Chicago and functioned as moral arbiters of the city. Copies of Stead’s vision flew off the shelves of booksellers. His vision, however, has yet to materialize.

Discussion of the Literature

Historians have produced much of the literature on urban religion over the past forty years. Before that point, urban history and religious history typically were treated as separate fields of study. Urban historians generally avoided engaging with religion as a component of urban experience or growth other than in the context of ethnicity, specific institutions, or, like Thomas Dixon, as evidence of Protestant declension. Religious historians tended to focus on denominational or congregational histories and did not take into account the larger urban context. They also did not distinguish between the history of congregational leaders and the lived experience of the laboring and middle-class men and women in the pews. More recent work takes institutions and practice equally seriously, but tends to be micro-historical, overly focused on a single congregation, denomination, or city. As the field continues to develop, more expansive books will surely be published.

Several excellent overviews explicitly, and more often implicitly, deal with the urban context of their faiths. On Jews, see Hasia Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654–2000; Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History; and Deborah Dash Moore, Urban Origins of American Judaism. On Roman Catholics, see Jay Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present; John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom; and James O’Toole, The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America.4 For an illuminating discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of urban religion, see Robert A. Orsi, ed., Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape; and Jon Butler’s article, “Religion in New York City: Faith That Could Not Be.” For a helpful overview of American urban history, see The Evolution of American Urban Society.5

Historians influenced by 19th and 20th-century urbanism continue to debate what constitutes an urban settlement in pre-19th-century North America. On early Native American urban religion, see Andrew Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. A classic overview of the development of colonial seaports in British North America can be found in Carl Bridenbaugh’s Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America, 1625–1742; and in Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743–1776. Valuable studies of religion in particular cities include Joyce Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730; David G. Hackett, The Rude Hand of Innovation: Religion and Social Order in Albany, New York, 1652–1836; and Darrett B. Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston: A Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630–1649.6

Works that discuss the role of religion in cities during Revolutionary upheaval and war include Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution; Benjamin L. Carp, Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution; and Alfred Young, Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution.7

The period between 1780 and 1830 witnessed disestablishment, the foundation of the spiritual marketplace, and the ascendancy of evangelical denominations. On pluralism and toleration, see Richard Pointer, Protestant Pluralism and the New York Experience: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Diversity. On Methodists, see Dee Andrews, The Methodists and Revolutionary America: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture. On the African American church, see Gary Nash, Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720–1840; Kyle Bulthius, Four Steeples Over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations; and Craig Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City. On constitution writing and trusteeism among Roman Catholics, see Patrick Carey, People, Priests and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism.8

Urban reform movements in the period between 1830 and 1870 have especially captured the attention of historians. Early works argued for reform as social control, most influentially in Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Religion and the Rise of the American City: The New York City Mission Movement, 1812–1870; and Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920. On revivalism and reform, see Paul Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837; and Terry Bilhartz, Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening: Church and Society in Early National Baltimore. On the importance of class, Mark S. Schantz, Piety in Providence: Class Dimensions of Religious Experience in Antebellum Rhode Island; and Jama Lazerow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America. On the importance of gender in reform, see Nancy Hewitt, Women’s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822–1872; and Bruce Dorsey, Reforming Men and Women: Gender in the Antebellum City. On the Businessman’s Revival, see Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America; and Kathryn Long, The Revival of 1857–1858: Interpreting an American Religious Awakening.9

There is a small but growing literature on antebellum urban Catholics and Jews. For Catholics, the place to start is Jay Dolan, The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865. On the contributions of women religious to cities, see Maureen Fitzgerald, Habits of Compassion: Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of New York’s Welfare System, 1830–1920; and Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community.10 On the shift from a “synagogue-community” to a “community of synagogues” see Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History; and Howard Rock, Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654–1865.11

For a religious leader who defies simple categorization, see Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in Nineteenth-Century America.12

Pathbreaking works by J. Matthew Gallman, Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia During the Civil War; and Thomas O’Connor, Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield, interweave religion into a much broader analysis of urban wartime experience. For an excellent study of Confederate Richmond during wartime, see Harry S. Stout and Christopher Grasso, “Civil War, Religion, and Communications: The Case of Richmond,” in Religion and the American Civil War.13

Literature on urban religion in the half-century following the Civil War is even more voluminous than the periods before. Late 19th-century accounts of urban Protestant declension include Thomas Dixon Jr. The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes; and William T. Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago! A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer. Highlights of more recent histories include: on Protestant evangelicals, Bruce Evensen, God’s Man for the Gilded Age: D. L. Moody and the Rise of Mass Evangelism (2003); and Mathew Bowman, The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism. On mainline Protestants, Jon Butler, “Protestant Success in the New American City, 18701920: The Anxious Secrets of Rev. Walter Laidlaw, Ph.D.,” in New Directions in American Religious History. On reformers, Aaron Abell, The Urban Impact on American Protestantism, 1865–1900. On religion and the working classes, Herbert Gutman, “Protestantism in the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age,” American Historical Review; and Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago. On the Salvation Army, Diane Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army. On Roman Catholics, see Robert A. Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950. On Jews, see Annie Pollard and Daniel Soyer, Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration.14

Primary Sources

A vast array of primary source material survives in many different repositories for the study of urban religion in cities before the 20th century.

  • Individuals. Manuscript journals, diaries, and correspondence for the urban religious can be found in city, state, and national historical societies and libraries. The popular interest in biographies in the 19th century ensured that the papers of many leading religious figures, clerical and lay, were published as memoirs or collected letters. For example, Isabella Marshall Graham, an evangelical Presbyterian who lived in New York City and was active in benevolent causes, is documented in three publications: The Power of Faith, Exemplified in the Life and Writings of the Late Mrs. Isabella Graham; The Unpublished Letters and Correspondence of Mrs. Isabella Graham; and The Life of Mrs. Isabella Graham.15

  • Churches. Manuscript materials, such as membership records; vital records; trustee, elder, and deacon’s minutes; financial accounts; Sunday school lists, Torah rolls, and a host of other information related to urban congregations survive to varying degrees. Some can still be found in the safes and cupboards of those churches today, while others have been gathered into local historical societies or denominational archives. Printed materials include hymnbooks, psalters, Bibles, church manuals, sermons, congregational and denominational histories, and broadsides. The Presbyterian Historical Society, in Philadelphia; the American Baptist Historical Society, at Mercer University, in Macon, Georgia; and the United Methodist Archives and History Center, at Drew University, Madison, NJ, are just a few of the leading denominational repositories. Records for Roman Catholic churches survive in diocesan and archdiocesan archives in cities across the country. For a good overview of church records in general, see United States Church Records. Urban development has claimed many pre-20th-century urban houses of worship, but a number still survive, allowing for the study of their style, form, and layout. Also surviving are many material artifacts—communion vessels, vestments, paintings, and relics—which provide insight into religious beliefs and practices not recorded in printed sources.

  • Institutions and Organizations. Non-denominational and denominational voluntary associations produced a range of documentary material. Printed materials include tracts and books, annual reports, and newspapers. Manuscript materials include constitutions, meeting notes, registers of beneficiaries of assistance, and more. Some archives of major organizations are still held by them, while others have been deposited with historical societies and archives. The archives of the American Sunday School Union Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, for example, has a wealth of materials related to 19th-century evangelical print culture. Occasionally, the physical structures of these institutions survive, but many were torn down after they were no longer useful.

  • The City. Because urban religion occurred not just in churches and synagogues, but in all spaces of the city, there is a broad range of materials in which evidence of it can be found. Most cities published annual directories that listed houses of worship, benevolent organizations, and other relevant information. City maps were not published with the same frequency, but they can be used to chart the locations and movement of the religious over time. Council minutes and court records reveal when the religious requested government support (or were called in to defend themselves). City histories often include a chapter or section on religious life. Census records in the second half of the 19th century record more information about religious adherence.

Digital Resources

Scholars are increasingly creating new digital resources with primary and secondary material related to urban religion in urban America. To get a sense of the range of work being done, see:

Further Reading

Bilhartz, Terry D. Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening: Church and Society in Early National Baltimore. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Boyer, Paul S. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.Find this resource:

Dixon, Thomas, Jr. The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes. New York : Strauss and Rehn, 1896.Find this resource:

Dolan, Jay. The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975.Find this resource:

Dorsey, Bruce. Reforming Men and Women: Gender in the Antebellum City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Goodfriend, Joyce. Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Knaut, Andrew. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Moore, Deborah Dash. Urban Origins of American Judaism. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Orsi, Robert A. Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Winston, Diane. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Failure of Protestantism in New York and Its Causes (New York: Strauss and Rehn, 1896), 112, 110; also by Dixon, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1905).

(2.) Robert A. Orsi, ed. Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape (Burlington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 43.

(16.) Covering the Civil War period, see J. Matthew Gallman, Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia During the Civil War (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Thomas O’Connor, Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997); and Harry S. Stout and Christopher Grasso, “Civil War, Religion, and Communications: The Case of Richmond” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall Miller, Harry Stout, and Charles Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

(17.) The post-Civil War period is covered in Dixon, The Failure of Protestantism in New York; also William T. Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago! More recent histories include Bruce Evensen, God’s Man for the Gilded Age: D. L. Moody and the Rise of Mass Evangelism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Mathew Bowman, The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). On mainline Protestants, Jon Butler, “Protestant Success in the New American City, 18701920: The Anxious Secrets of Rev. Walter Laidlaw, Ph.D.” in New Directions in American Religious History, ed. Harry Stout and D.G. Hart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 296333. On reformers, see Aaron Abell, The Urban Impact on American Protestantism, 1865–1900 (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1962). On religion and the working classes, see Herbert Gutman, “Protestantism in the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age,” American Historical Review 72 (1966): 74101; and Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). On the Salvation Army, see Diane Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). On Roman Catholics, see Robert A. Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985). On Jews, see Annie Pollard, Deborah Moore, and Daniel Soyer, Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration (New York: New York University Press, 2012).

(18.) Isabella Graham, Joanna Bethune, and Divie Bethune, The Power of Faith, Exemplified in the Life and Writings of the Late Mrs. Isabella Graham (New York: American Tract Society, 1843); Isabella Graham and Joanna Bethune, The Unpublished Letters and Correspondence of Mrs. Isabella Graham (New York: J.S. Taylor, 1838); and Joanna Bethune, The Life of Mrs. Isabella Graham (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1842).

(3.) The image of rioting is from J. B. Perry, A Full And Complete Account of the Late Awful Riots in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Nafis and Cornish, 1844), opposite page 6.

(4.) F. W. Brown, Cincinnati And Vicinity: An Alphabetically Arranged Index And Descriptive Guide to Places, Institutions, Societies, Amusements, Resorts, Etc., In And About the City of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH: Press of C. J. Krehbiel, 1898), opposite page 46.

(5.) W. T. Stead, General Booth, a Biographical Sketch (London: Isbister, 1891), 79.

(6.) William T. Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago! A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer (Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1894).

(7.) See Hasia Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654–2000 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004); and Deborah Dash Moore, Urban Origins of American Judaism (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014). On Roman Catholics, see Jay Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985); John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: Norton, 2003); and James O’Toole, The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2008).

(8.) Orsi, Gods of the City; and Jon Butler, “Religion in the City: Faith That Could Not Be,” U.S. Catholic Historian 22 (Spring 2004), 5161. Howard P. Chudacoff and Judith E. Smith cover urban history in The Evolution of American Urban Society (Boston: Pearson, 2015).

(9.) Andrew Knaut, The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995); Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America, 1625–1742 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); and in Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743–1776 (New York: Knopf, 1955). See also Joyce Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); David G. Hackett, The Rude Hand of Innovation: Religion and Social Order in Albany, New York, 1652–1836 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Darrett B. Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston: A Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630–1649 (New York: Norton, 1965).

(10.) Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979); Benjamin L. Carp, Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Alfred Young, Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

(11.) Richard Pointer, Protestant Pluralism and the New York Experience: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Diversity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998). On Methodists, see Dee Andrews, The Methodists and Revolutionary America: The Shaping of an Evangelical Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000). On the African American church, see Gary Nash, Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720–1840 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988); Kyle Bulthius, Four Steeples Over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations (New York: New York University Press, 2014); and Craig Townsend, Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). On constitution writing and trusteeism among Roman Catholics, see Patrick Carey, People, Priests and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1987).

(12.) Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Religion and the Rise of the American City: The New York City Mission Movement, 1812–1870 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971); and Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978). On revivalism and reform, see Paul Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837 (New York, Hill and Wang, 1979); and Terry Bilhartz, Urban Religion and the Second Great Awakening: Church and Society in Early National Baltimore (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986). On the importance of class, Mark S. Schantz, Piety in Providence: Class Dimensions of Religious Experience in Antebellum Rhode Island (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); and Jama Lazerow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995). On gender in reform, see Nancy Hewitt, Women’s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822–1872 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); and Bruce Dorsey, Reforming Men and Women: Gender in the Antebellum City (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002). On the Businessman’s Revival, see Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Abingdon, 1957); and Kathryn Long, The Revival of 1857–58: Interpreting an American Religious Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

(13.) Jay Dolan, The Immigrant Church: New York’s Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975). On women’s contributions, see Maureen Fitzgerald, Habits of Compassion: Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of New York’s Welfare System, 1830–1920 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); and Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).

(14.) For synagogues in community, see Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004); and Howard Rock and Deborah Moore, Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654–1865 (New York: New York University Press, 2012).

(15.) Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).