Consecrated Merchants and Midnight Criers: Commercial Evangelicalism and a Jazz Theory of Gender Distinctions in Nineteenth-Century America

By Noddings, T. R. | Early American Studies, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Consecrated Merchants and Midnight Criers: Commercial Evangelicalism and a Jazz Theory of Gender Distinctions in Nineteenth-Century America


Noddings, T. R., Early American Studies


In 1843 the image of William Miller flooded America in tracts, magazines, and books proclaiming the end of the world. Four years earlier Miller had been a regional Jeremiah in the burned-over district of western New York, only one voice in a sea of prophets and exhorters who continued to fire the heartland of the Second Great Awakening. But when the Christian publisher Joshua Himes decided to publish Miller's theories in a semimonthly journal titled Signs of the Times, Miller was transformed in a matter of months from a local celebrity to the leader of a national movement. "Millerism" was made in four million tracts and books distributed across the United States in four years, a religion created, sold, and consumed through its own press, demonstrating the new power of commercial consecration in a rapidly changing America.

Yet Himes and his magazines influenced no one by themselves. Tracts and books were purchased and distributed by converts who volunteered to spend their time and energy warning Americans of the imminent Second Coming. Known as tract sellers or colporteurs, these workers were crucial to the success of both fledging movements such as Millerism and established antebellum publishing empires such as the American Tract Society. Colportage was a term born in the braiding of religion and selling in the nineteenth century. Adapted from the French colporteur, literally a cognate of col (neck) and porteur (bearer), the term entered English parlance by the 1840s to mean a seller of religious tracts and books. Though at first it was used interchangeably with the terms peddler and hawker, gradually it grew into a distinct term for sellers of religious works.1 Millerite colporteurs were referred to as watchers or "midnight criers," terms adapted from the parable of the ten virgins in the Gospel of Matthew. Ten virgins are invited to a wedding and told to wait outside in the night for the arrival of the bridegroom. At midnight, the cry announcing the bridegroom is raised, but only five of the virgins have bought oil to light their way to him. These virgins are welcomed into the feast while the others scramble to find oil sellers.2 Millerites were the midnight criers, traders in oil, and wise virgins who filled and trimmed their lamps: identities written and comprehended in terms of both the Bible and the market revolution. Less concerned with millenarianism, the American Tract Society preferred to refer to its colporteurs as "consecrated merchants," a label that also implied that selling was a mark of election that fused secular markets with spiritual work. Both identities connected the modern world of print and selling to the spiritual romance of sanctification and service as workers in Christ's harvest.

Nineteenth-century colporteurs lived in a fluid world that conflated the metaphorical identities of seller and evangelist. Consecrated merchants and midnight criers, colporteurs and volunteers who sold tracts and magazines were at once militant entrepreneurs and passive servants of Christ. They formed themselves through distinctions that were messy, tangled, and blurred at the edges, combining traits that were conventionally both masculine and feminine. In doing so, they were a group whose identity raises questions about how gender was understood and articulated among many evangelicals in the nineteenth century. The spiritual worlds of colportage and tract selling suggest that, for at least some evangelical Protestants, distinctions of gender remained complex, unclear, and irreducible to the gender binary.

Gender historians have long been interested in how religion has shaped, limited, empowered, or otherwise defined the lives and bodies of women. Protestant religion has frequently been interpreted by feminist historians as an integral piece of the nineteenth-century "cult of domesticity." By the 1840s women were marked as more spiritual and less worldly than men, isolated inside the private sphere along with the feminized Victorian church. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Consecrated Merchants and Midnight Criers: Commercial Evangelicalism and a Jazz Theory of Gender Distinctions in Nineteenth-Century America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.