Date of Award

Spring 1998

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Charles E Clark


American scholars have long been interested in the intellectual and social impact of the eighteenth-century religious revival, the Great Awakening. This dissertation uses a colonial family as a case study of the significance of this major colonial event. It traces and compares the intellectual and theological development of Michael Wigglesworth, and his two sons, Samuel and Edward. The Wigglesworth family represents both the foundation of Puritan thought in the seventeenth century and the transformation of that thought in the eighteenth century. Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), a tutor and Fellow at Harvard College and pastor of the church in Malden, Massachusetts, was a poet of noted fame. "The Day of Doom" (1662), a long theological poem, was an immediate success; its first printing of 1800 copies were sold out within just over a year, and it became, according to Edmund Morgan, "the most popular book of his time". Wigglesworth would have observed a spiritual and cultural transition in the Colony, away from its Puritan foundations and toward a greater tolerance of other Protestant points of view by the end of the seventeenth century. Samuel and Edward, in turn, exhibited the theological division which arose between the orthodox and the Arminianist traditions in eighteenth-century colonial America. And while one brother supported the historic revival, the other maintained reservations of it. Nevertheless, they were sons of the man who inspired New England and epitomized its Calvinist theological roots through such poems as "The Day of Doom" and "God's Controversy with New England".

Samuel Wigglesworth (1689-1768) was not an extremist in his support of the Great Awakening, nor was Edward (1693-1765) completely hostile to its call for a renewing of faith; and yet, both men found themselves on opposing sides of what has been described as the first historic colonial-wide movement. This study explores the reasons for their differences by using an examination of familial and intellectual heritage. This project, then, analyzes intellectual, professional, and social forces--with the goal that the Wigglesworth family adds to our understanding of the repercussions of a major religious movement, the extension of Puritan theology into the eighteenth century, and the paradoxical transformation of professional authority concerning pastoral leadership in early American society.