Scotland and the Birth of the United States – Donald Fortson – March “Tabletalk”

Scotland and the Birth of the United States by Donald Fortson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The fourth and final featured article on “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation” in this month’s Tabletalk focuses on the influence of the Scottish Reformation on the beginnings of the United States of America. It is written by Dr. Donald Fortson, associate professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, and has the above-linked title.

Being interested in early American history and knowing precious little about how the Scottish Presbyterians played a part in our country’s beginnings, I was highly interested in getting to Fortson’s article. I did yesterday, and I was not disappointed. It is an important and fascinating story – and not without controversy. But you will have to read that for yourself.

I quote a portion of it here and encourage you as always to read the entire article at the Ligonier link above. Your eyes will be opened to a connection between Scottish Presbyterian history and U.S. history that you perhaps did not know much about before.

One of the reasons American Presbyterians had organized themselves was a belief that joint effort could strengthen religious toleration. Under the 1689 Toleration Act of William and Mary, Makemie and other ministers had secured Dissenter licenses. Makemie’s house had been designated as an authorized preaching point in Anglican-established Virginia, but he was arrested in New York by the governor, Lord Cornbury, for illegal preaching. He was jailed and eventually tried, but was acquitted in 1707. Makemie’s exoneration was a notable milestone in the advancement of religious liberty in the colonies and made Presbyterians popular with Dissenters.

Within a decade of Makemie’s trial, the massive immigration of Scots-Irish would commence. Beginning in 1717, a steady stream of Ulster Scots populated the Middle Colonies, particularly the frontier in western Pennsylvania. By the time of American independence, nearly five hundred thousand Scots-Irish had come to America. The Virginia and Carolina Piedmont areas were unoccupied before 1730, but Scots-Irish settlers coming down the “Great Philadelphia Wagon Road” began to populate the backcountry. By 1750, they had moved into the South Carolina Piedmont and north Georgia. Scottish Highlanders settled along the North Carolina seaboard and coastal areas of Georgia.

The most remarkable spiritual event to shape Scots-Irish colonists in the generation preceding the Revolutionary War was the revival known as the First Great Awakening. Many Presbyterians were keen supporters of revivalist preachers George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, who deepened American passion for freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

One fruit of the revival was renewed Christian piety, which many American clergy saw as central to God’s blessing on the colonies. There were also millennial overtones to the Spirit’s work as a sign of America’s providential destiny. These elements helped create fertile soil for the American Revolution, and Presbyterian ministers utilized these themes as advocates for independence from Britain.

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