Colonial Canada: Canadian history in the early modern era

Module 6: Loyalists and Protestantism (but it's really about sex)


Sex and evangelicalism may not strike many of you as an obvious topic for colonial Canada, but they are both important and intimately connected (pun definitely intended!). Our topic this week is in fact broader than that, but religion and identity are very much at its core. Our work this week forms part of one of the oldest themes in colonial Canadian history: the connection between Protestantism and power in Loyalist Upper Canada. The best known expression of that is the place of the Church of England (Anglicans) as dominant figures in elite Upper Canadian (and to a lesser extent Nova Scotian) political culture. We’ll talk about this more in the screencasts, but for the time being it’s enough to note that part of British officialdom’s efforts to secure the loyalty of Upper Canada after the American Revolution came from ever stronger support and enhanced power for the Church of England. By giving the Church of England great power, the British highlighted the benefits of such strong expressions of loyalty and made Anglicanism part of the power base for the “Family Compact”.

But loyalty could be measured in many ways. Many of the “Loyalists” seeking refugee status in Canada after the American Revolution came suspiciously late, and many were accused of coming only for the free land, not devotion to the Crown. In normal times, that cast aspersions on the character of some. In times of war, especially a war with the former enemy, the United States, it meant that that potential disloyalty brought the colony’s existence into peril. On the eve of war with the United States in 1812, many Upper Canadains look suspiciously upon their neighbours asking, “Are you with us, or against us?". Staunch Loyalists saw the United States as the epitome of disloyalty: they had rebelled against the Crown, and now they were invading us. But this taint of anything American - including democracy - came to be seen as suspect. Those who called for political reform were often dismissed as disloyal, importing American-style ideas in Canada, threatening our core British values.
Thus, the Church of England held a powerful place in early Upper Canada. But many Upper Canadians (and increasingly so over the course of the 19th century) were dissenting Protestants. Drawing on evangelical traditions within Protestantism, these dissenters rejected the authority and privileges of the established churches and insisted that Christians have a closer relationship with God than with their churches. They argued (in varying degrees) that Christians did not need intermediaries (priests, bishops, etc) in coming to God; they needed only the fellowship of the Word of God, and their fellow Christians. Thus older churches, like Roman Catholic and Anglican with their hierachical structures were increasingly coming to be seen as out-of-step with modern Christianity. Of course, not everyone agreed and herein lay a source of social and political tension in the colonies.  
For some, though, rejection of an official faith was not simply a private act of conscience; many considered it an act of public of defiance. In rejecting the established churches, even the Protestant ones, evangelicals were calling on people to do what many thought a dangerous subversion of the social order: think for themselves. Evangelicalism in this sense then a source of an emerging emphasis on individual liberty - i.e. liberalism  - in the nineteenth century. Evangelicalism was not the only cause of emerging liberal ideals in the 19th century, but it was a powerful and highly visible one that many believed was shaking the foundation of good and proper British society.
Thus, in some ways, evangelicalism encouraged the expansion of early liberal thought in British North America. Good Christians voluntarily chose to become good Christians, they chose to follow Christ. They did not need a religious elite to tell them how to be good Christians. And many conservatives feared that such thinking spilled over into secular spheres; not only were Christians rejecting the authority of religious leaders, but such thinking also encouraged workers to reject the authority of bosses, wives and children to reject the authority of fathers, and citizens to reject the authority of their political elites. Good citizens voluntarily chose to become good citizens, they chose to follow be good citizens. Thus, for many, the parallel between faith and democracy was clear: ordinary people could make their own decisions, that women and men should be treated equally, before the laws of God, and of human authority. Evangelicalism rattled many traditional cages.

To really simplify this, evangelicalism allowed for a kind of democratisation of spiritual life – that women, the poor, Indigenous peoples, African-Americans stood in the same relationship to God and if so then they could also stand in the same relationship to political authority, or patriarchal authority. In sum, that it freed people from some of the traditional hierarchical constraints in Christian societies. Not everyone believed this, but it was an increasingly common and thus powerful belief. It was chaing not only the religous landscape of early Canada, but also its political landscape.

And, as we'll see in our forum readings, that new emphasis on people having the freedom to make their own choices also spilled over into the much more privvate domains of family, gender, and sexuality. Look for this in your readings. You will see lots of what you might think are very old-fashioned beliefs on sexuality, but you should also see openings where people were reimagining their abilities to govern their own lives.

Loyalism and the War of 1812

Religion in British North America


Read Chapter 5 in Visions, "Gender, Sexuality, and Evangelical Protestantism"

Last week, our examination of the "Nova Scotia Yankees" and their reaction to the American Revolution generated lots of interesting discussion. It’s also perhaps the clearest, or most easily differentiated, set of readings we have in this course. Five writers all focussing on pretty clearly different dimensions of that story.
This week’s readings are much subtler. Two historians, both writing in the 1990s, feminists, interested in the social and political contexts of women and gender, explore the impact of evangelical Christianity on women, and gender and sexuality more generally, in the first half of the 19th century in Upper Canada.  Their questions, and indeed their topics are not exactly the same, although they’re quite closely related, and it allows us a general exploration of the connections between sex, gender, and evangelicalism in this time period. 

NEW THIS WEEK: I want you to read the primary sources. More below in instructions. 

An Introduction to Gender, Sexuality, Evangelicalism 

A Discussion About Gender, Sexuality, Evangelicalism


As always, we want to explore the historiographical patterns evident in these readings. While focussing on slightly different topics, and asking slightly different questions, these two authors have both broadly similar, and broadly different findings.  Again, as always, we want to be able to describe the questions being asked, and the answers being found. What do these two historians of women and gender tell us about the place of evangelicalism in the social worlds relating to sex in British North America?

Differently, however, this module I also want you to read the primary documents (and from now on - note that your second assignment requires you to discuss the primary AND secondary sources).

In your forum posts, in less than 200 words, describe the argument and evidence of ONE of the two secondary historians, AND one primary source whose evidence you think supports, or doesn't, that argument. Historians work with primary evidence. They build their arguments from that evidence. Indeed, as you'll see, some of the primary sources we read this week are in fact used by the historians. Do you see that it work? That is, does it support the argument? If so, show how. If not, show how not. 
Some hints: Look at the titles for assistance in coming up with a question. Also, look for where the author of the introduction writes directly about the authors of the two excerpts. The obvious point in the title this week is the juxtaposition of gender/sexuality and evangelicalism. These topics are commonly associated and so an obvious question will relate to an exploration of the relationship between the two. Look carefully at the evidence being used. Where does it come from? Is it effective? Does it allow these authors to sustain their arguments?

Exploring some particular questions might also help you explore the bigger question. Did evangelicalism affect women more than men? Why did missionaries target women?  Can you see why authorities felt evangelical churches threatened the social order?
And again as always, engage with each other!


This page has paths: