Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt

Article excerpt

for Christine Leigh Heyrman

Scattered along the Piedmont where Virginia

Borders North Carolina, a world of pine woods

And tobacco plantations in the 1790s,

Lived scores of women watching for James Meacham,

A Methodist itinerant who'd appear

Every six weeks to pray and preach the Word.

Among his hostesses, a few

Were "mothers of Israel," spiritual virtuosos

Who profited him by praying, comforting

And exhorting other souls under conviction.

One was Susanna Williams

Whose fifth well-documented vision involved

Himself: his journal records

That she had seen "he wrestled hard in prayer

For happiness but yet could not obtain it."

He strove for months to answer this revelation

By "getting more religion," but in vain.

All over the later eighteenth-century South

Godly white women enjoyed the company

Of Methodist and Baptist itinerants

Who in their zeal for preaching showed respect

For the ladies' experience,

Or advertised their broad empathie powers,

Or let them speak in public,

Recounting tales to edify the faithful,

Calling their fellows to hope and moral reform.

But holy women seemed to make bad housewives:

Consumed by visions, they let the spindle drop,

Dust gather, weeds grow up, and children cry.

Even after one Mrs. Reyney recovered

Her housekeeping skills, her faith

"Became as a dagger to her husband's heart,"

Perhaps in despair at his own sinfulness

Or rage that his wife preceded him to grace. …

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