Four Steeples over the City Streets

Religion and Society in New York's Early Republic Congregations

By Kyle T. Bulthuis

From The NYU Press

320 pp / 22 halftones / 2014

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In the fifty years after the Constitution was signed in 1787, New York City grew from a port town of 30,000 to a metropolis of over half a million residents. This rapid development transformed a once tightknit community and its religious experience. These effects were felt by Trinity Episcopal Church, which had presented itself as a uniting influence in New York, that connected all believers in social unity in the late colonial era. As the city grew larger, more impersonal, and socially divided, churches reformed around race and class-based neighborhoods. Trinity’s original vision of uniting the community was no longer possible.

In Four Steeples over the City Streets, Kyle T. Bulthuis examines the histories of four famous church congregations in early Republic New York City-Trinity Episcopal, John Street Methodist, Mother Zion African Methodist, and St. Philip’s (African) Episcopal-to uncover the lived experience of these historical subjects, and just how religious experience and social change connected in the dynamic setting of early Republic New York.

Drawing on a range of primary sources, Four Steeples over the City Streets reveals how these city churches responded to these transformations from colonial times to the mid-nineteenth century. Bulthuis also adds new dynamics to the stories of well-known New Yorkers such as John Jay, James Harper, and Sojourner Truth. More importantly, Four Steeples over the City Streets connects issues of race, class, and gender, urban studies, and religious experience, revealing how the city shaped these churches, and how their respective religious traditions shaped the way they reacted to the city.

Reviews & Quotes

"An impressive work that casts new and important insights onto our understandings of religion, race, and the history of New York. It brings together issues of religious history, race, class, and the city. It will be a great boon to scholars and students in a variety of academic disciplines."
— Robert Bruce Mullin, Society for the Promotion of Religion and Learning Professor of History, General Theological Seminary

"For too long, historians have treated early American religion as a rural phenomenon, shaped by the pressures of the frontier more than the hustle and bustle of urban seaports. Kyle Bulthuis’s Four Steeples over the City Streets challenges these assumptions, recovering the rich stories of some of Manhattan’s oldest congregations over the tumultuous period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Bulthuis has done for New York’s African American religious communities what Gary Nash and Richard Newman have done for Philadelphia’s: He has recovered forgotten founders, wrenching moments of crisis, and inspiring stories of perseverance in the face of persistent societal racism. A distinctly New York story, reflective of the opportunities and challenges facing that city as it emerged as the nation’s commercial center by the eve of the Civil War."
— Kyle Roberts, Loyola University Chicago

"Kyle Bulthuis’s finely tuned, exhaustively researched history deepens our understanding of early American urban interracial worship. Focusing on four significant New York City congregations, Bulthuis shows us how black and white Christians contested theology, slavery, gender, and class. This book will fascinate anyone caring about cities, American religion, and major social issues."
— Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Langdon Professor of History, Colgate University

About Kyle T. Bulthuis

Kyle T. Bulthuis is an Assistant Professor of History at Utah State University.

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"The Early American Places series is an exciting development in scholarly publishing, one that will highlight the most important part of the study of history: the local and particular dimensions of global issues and trends. This is where the rubber meets the road, where ordinary people's lives help to make, and are made by, the bustling wider world in which they live. Early American Places is an original series, and it will publish important scholarship."

— Stephanie M. H. Camp, University of Washington