Date of Award

Fall 1981

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study focuses upon ministerial perceptions of the New England wilderness, as seen in sermons preached between 1650-1700. The "wilderness" is understood both in its metaphorical and Biblical sense. This metaphorical and Biblical meaning of the "wilderness" involved three distinct but overlapping meanings.

From 1650-1674, New England's ministers perceived the American landscape as a place of promise for, with proper worship and the lessening of evil, it was the place of God's role. The second meaning of the wilderness emerged during King Philip's War (1615-1677) when New England learned to be the land of promise. During the years it was a place of threat, for the Indians served as God's agents in punishing the saints for their sins. Finally, during the last twenty years of the century, ministers referred to the wilderness within the human heart. This third meaning of the wilderness was abundantly clear, as they stressed that a renewed reliance upon the Spirit would clarify their mission into New England.

This study concludes that, contrary to ministerial claims that the New England saints were increasingly degenerate and less pious than their ancestors, religious fervor did not wane. Noticeable religious fervor existed, evident in the success both of Solomon Stoddard and the Brattle Street Church, in 1700. This fervor, paradoxically, stemmed from the New England ministers' constant references to dependence upon the Spirit for guidance and clarification of the saints' mission in New England.