The title for this work comes from the Puritan minister Increase Mather, who used the colorful metaphor to express his concern about the state of English Protestantism. Like many New Englanders, Mather’s fears about the creeping influence of French Catholicism stemmed from English conflicts with France that spilled over into the colonial frontiers from French Canada. The most consistently fragile of these frontiers was the Province of Maine, notorious for attracting settlers who had “one foot out the door” of New England Puritanism. It was there that English Protestants and French Catholics came into frequent contact. The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American Frontier shows how, between the volatile years of 1688 to 1727, the persistence of Catholic people and culture in New England's border regions posed consistent challenges to the bodies and souls of frontier Protestants.
Taking a cue from contemporary observers of religious culture, as well as modern scholars of early American religion, social history, material culture, and ethnohistory, Laura M. Chmielewski explores this encounter between opposing Christianities on an early American frontier. She examines the forms of lived religion and religious culture—enacted through gestures, religious spaces, objects, and discreet religious expressions—to elucidate the range of experience of its diverse inhabitants: accused witches, warrior Jesuits, unorthodox ministers, indigenous religious thinkers, voluntary and involuntary converts. Chmielewski offers a nuanced perspective of the structured categories of early American Christian religious life, suggesting that the terms “Protestant” and “Catholic” varied according to location and circumstances and that the assumptions accompanying their use had long-term consequences for generations of New Englanders.
"Laura Chmielewski's The Spice of Popery is an inspired contribution to our understanding of 'entangled Christianities' in early America—erudite, thorough, and eminently readable." —Edwin G. Burrows, Distinguished Professor of History, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
"In her beautifully written and richly researched study, Laura Chmielewski provides an important new interpretation of the borderlands between French and English settlements in North America. She persuasively argues that this boundary was far more permeable than we have imagined, for despite prejudices and hostilities on both sides, these frontier colonists adapted and adopted many of their enemy’s cultural and religious patterns. Connections were made, kinships formed, and histories were shared, and what they—and we—once thought of as a firm barrier turns out to be a middle ground of exchange and synthesis. Anyone interested in early American history should read this book." —Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Baruch College and The Graduate Center, CUNY