Spiritual Geopolitics

Reconsidering Religious and Political Boundaries in Seventeenth-Century Northeastern America

in Journal of Early American History
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This article is an attempt at reconceptualizing “Anglo-French relations” in seventeenth-century northeastern America by testing the concept of “spiritual geopolitics” (and its limits) in the case of the Anglo-French “interface” in northeastern America. Spiritual geopolitics is defined as the impact of confessional identities on geopolitical thinking and actions. Building on a binary religio-diplomatic context of the 16th and early 17th-century, the article first makes the case for Puritan spiritual geopolitics, consisting in a revision of familiar events through a new geopolitical lens. It then moves on to French anti-Protestant geopolitical thinking applied to North America, in particular in the second half of the century. While the first two sections argue that documentary evidence confirm “spiritual geopolitics” as a legitimate lens, the third section puts forward instances of religious border-crossing that plead in favor of a more nuanced, multilayered, concept of spiritual geopolitics in the period before the beginning of “Imperial Wars”.

Spiritual Geopolitics

Reconsidering Religious and Political Boundaries in Seventeenth-Century Northeastern America

in Journal of Early American History



  • 1

    M. A. McDonaldFortune and La Tour (Toronto: Methuen1983) vii. Dates from the English sources are rendered “Old Style” unless otherwise indicated.

  • 7

    Nathaniel Millett“Borderlands in the Atlantic World”Atlantic Studies 10 no. 2 (June 2013): 268–95; Groupe de recherches “Interfaces” “L’interface: contribution à l’analyse de l’espace géographique” L’Espace géographique 37 no. 3 (2008): 193–207; Marie Redon “Géographie des interfaces: Une nouvelle vision des territoires” EchoGéo [Online review] 16 (2011) http://echogeo.revues.org/12443 (accessed 13 June 2013).

  • 8

    Evan HaefeliNew Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press2012).

  • 9

    Andrew PrestonSword of the Spirit Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf2012) and Gertjan Dijkink “When Geopolitics and Religion Fuse: a historical perspective” Geopolitics 11 no. 2 (March 2006): 192–206.

  • 10

    François ThualContrôler et Contrer: Stratégies géopolitiques (Paris: Ellipses2000) 5–8.

  • 12

    PrestonSword of the Spirit Shield of Faith20. Mickaël Augeron has carefully researched Huguenot spiritual geopolitics in the second half of the sixteenth century Mickaël Augeron and Laurent Vidal “Refuges ou réseaux? Les dynamiques atlantiques protestantes au XVIe siècle” in Guy Martinière Didier Poton and François Souty (eds.) D’un rivage à l’autre: villes et protestantisme dans l’aire atlantique (XVIe – XVIIe siècle) (Paris Poitiers La Rochelle: Imprimerie nationale / Presses de la mshs 1999) pp. 32–61 and M. Augeron “Coligny et les Espagnols à travers la course (c. 1560–1572): une politique maritime au service de la Cause protestante” in Martine Acerra et Guy Martinière (eds.) Coligny les Protestants et la Mer (Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris Sorbonne 1997) pp. 155–76.

  • 15

    SmithA History of the Modern British Isles p. 245–265; Steven C. A. Pincus Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy 1650–1668 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996); Thomas Kidd The Protestant Interest; Jonathan I. Israel (ed.) The Anglo-Dutch Moment: Essays on the Glorious Revolution and its World Impact (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003) particularly ch. 10.

  • 16

    Ruth Kleinman“Belated Crusaders: Religious Fears in Anglo-French Diplomacy, 1654–1655”Church History 44 no. 1 (March 1975): 34–46 at 37.

  • 18

    Bernard CottretL’Edit de Nantes (Paris: Perrin1997) 287. During the Fronde (1648–53) the Huguenots remained largely loyal to the king unlike the pro-Spanish party among the rebels.

  • 20

    J. F. Bosher“Huguenot Merchants and the Protestant International in the Seventeenth Century”William and Mary Quarterly3rd series 52 no. 1 (January 1995): 77–102.

  • 22

    Ibid. p. 61. The reference to Tycho Brahe’s book is Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata quorum haec prima pars de restitutione motuum solis et lunae stellarumque inerrantium tractat et praeterea de admiranda nova stella anno 1572 exorta luculenter agit (Frankfurt 1610). The reference to the “book of the Morning Star” is less clear: it may be John Bainbridge An astronomicall description of the late comet from the 18. of Nouemb. 1618. to the 16. of December following. With certaine morall progosticks or applications drawne from the comets motion and irradiation amongst the celestiall hierglyphicks (London 1618) 31 interestingly quoted in The Morning Star out of the North or The ruine and destruction of the pope and Church of Rome and the advancement of the Protesant [sic] religion throughout Europe (London 1680) at 5 published anonymously in the wake of the “Popish Plot”.

  • 23

    Robert C. BlackThe Younger John Winthrop (New York: Columbia University Press1966) 31–2; Liliane Crété La Rochelle au temps du Grand Siège 1627–1628 (Paris: Perrin 2001) 79–110.

  • 25

    John G. Reid“The Scots Crown and the Restitution of Port Royal, 1629–1632”Acadiensis 6 no. 2 (Spring 1977): 39–63 at 47; Andrew D. Nicolls A Fleeting Empire: Early Stuart Britain and the Merchants Adventurers to Canada (Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press 2010).

  • 45

    PritchardIn Search of Empire230–49 262–3; Havard and Vidal Histoire de l’Amérique française 99–102.

  • 63

    Fanny Cosandey Robert DescimonL’Absolutisme en France: Histoire et historiographie (Paris: Seuil2002); Bernard Cottret L’Edit de Nantes (Paris: Perrin 1997) 287 293; Philippe Erlanger Richelieu (Paris: Perrin 2006 [1967]); Françoise Hildesheimer Richelieu (Paris: Flammarion 2011).

  • 65

    McDonaldFortune and La Tour 33–6; George MacBeath “Claude de Saint-Etienne de la Tour” in dcb (accessed 14 June 2013). Another instance of working for the “other side” would be René Augier a Huguenot who became a diplomat for the English from the late 1620s to the 1650s Loïc Bienassis “The Diplomatic Career of René Augier” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland 28 no. 2 (2004): 199–211.

  • 68

    PopeFish into Wine289–96; Champlain Les Voyages de la France Occidentale 224 253 264.

  • 75

    SmithA History of the Modern British Isles226; Ronald Hutton “The Making of the Secret Treaty of Dover 1668–1670” Historical Journal 29 no. 2 (June 1986): 297–318.

  • 84

    Steven C. A. Pincus“From Butterboxes to Wooden Shoes: The Shift in English Popular Sentiment from Anti-Dutch to Anti-French in the 1670s”Historical Journal 38 no. 2 (June 1995): 333–61.

  • 86

    Linda ColleyBritons: Forging the Nation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press2002) 11–54 324–34; Stanwood The Empire Reformed; Kidd The Protestant Interest.  For “God’s British Israel” Nathan O. Hatch “The Origins of Civil Millennialism in America: New England Clergymen War with France and the Revolution” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd series 31 no. 3 (July 1974): 407–30 quote at 426. References to a “British Israel” are more numerous notably in commemorative sermons: Alexander Webster Heathens professing Judaism when the Fear of the Jews fell upon them. The substance of two sermons preached in the Tolbooth Church Edinburgh On Occasion of The Thanksgiving June 23d 1746 appointed by the late General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the Victory obtain’d over the Rebels at the Battle of Culloden April 16th 1746 (Edinburgh 1746) (dedication); Joseph Treat A Thanksgiving Sermon occasion’d by the Glorious News of the Reduction of the Havannah (New York 1762) 3 9; Nathaniel Appleton A Thanksgiving Sermon on the Total Repeal of the Stamp-Act. Preached in Cambridge New-England May 20th in the afternoon preceding the public rejoicings of the evening upon that great occasion (Boston 1766) 23; William Smith A Sermon on the Present Situation of American Affairs. Preached in Christ-Church June 23 1775 At the Request of the Officers of the Third Battalion of the City of Philadelphia and District of Southwark (Philadelphia and London 1775) 10 11; Thomas Howe Virtue and Patriotism Founded on Religion: A Sermon preached at Yarmouth Feb. 4 1780; being the day appointed for a general fast (Yarmouth: W. Payne 1780) 21; William Jarvis Abdy A Sermon on the Occasion of the General Thanksgiving Thursday November 29 1798. Preached at the unanimous request of the corps of loyal volunteers of Saint John Southwark at their Parish Church On Sunday December 23d (London 1799) 13.  For “God’s American Israel” Ezra Stiles The United States elevated to glory and honor. A sermon preached before His Excellency Jonathan Trumbull Esq L.L.D governor and commander in chief and the Honorable the General Assembly of the state of Connecticut convened at Hartford at the anniversary election May 8th 1783 (New Haven Conn. 1783) 7 36. This election sermon was on Deut. 27 19 “And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made in praise and in name and in honor ; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God”.



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