Black Itinerants of the Gospel: The Narratives of John Jea and George White


The narratives of John Jea and George White, reprinted here for the first time since the early nineteenth century, speak to us in many different ways.1 They amplify our knowledge of a threefold intellectual transformation sweeping the Atlantic basin during the revolutionary era. The autobiographies inform us of the Methodist evangelicalism that overwhelmed orthodoxy and ignited a democratic revolution in American religion. In the late eighteenth century, Methodism hit America at the point of its greatest vigor. Evangelists and itinerants, aided by lay ministers and enthusiastic converts, proselytized throughout the country. As Nathan O. Hatch has indicated, early American religion deeply affected American revolutionary ideals. These narratives illuminate the radical republicanism that charged the American, French, and Haitian revolutions.2 Both Jea’s and White’s stories reveal evidence of a third revolution, the creation of African-American Protestant denominations and theologies, spurred by Methodist evangelicalism, revolutionary egalitarianism, and a nascent black nationalism. Radical black denominations appeared in the United States, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, England, and the West Indies. Black preachers, who combined political and spiritual leadership, shared this transformation with their parishioners. Like their better-known counterparts, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and John Marrant, Jea and White were members of the first generation of free African-American ministers who harvested souls in the early decades of the American republic.3


York City Early Nineteenth Century Slave Owner Black Church American Revolution 
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© Madison House Publishers, Inc. 1993

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