S. Scott Rohrer: Current Books

Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865
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Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865

University of North Carolina Press, 2010; now available in paperback

By S. Scott Rohrer

A path-breaking book that challenged the conventional wisdom for why people migrated in early America, told in a series of deeply researched case studies about some of the most colorful religious groups in the colonies and young nation.

From the publisher:

Popular literature and frontier studies stress that Americans moved west to farm or to seek a new beginning. Scott Rohrer argues that Protestant migrants in early America relocated in search of salvation, Christian community, reform, or all three.

In Wandering Souls, Rohrer examines the migration patterns of eight religious groups and finds that Protestant migrations consisted of two basic types. The most common type involved migrations motivated by religion, economics, and family, in which Puritans, Methodists, Moravians, and others headed to the frontier as individuals in search of religious and social fulfillment. The other type involved groups wanting to escape persecution (such as the Mormons) or to establish communities where they could practice their faith in peace (such as the Inspirationists). Rohrer concludes that the two migration types shared certain traits, despite the great variety of religious beliefs and experiences, and that “secular” values infused the behavior of nearly all Protestant migrants.

Religion’s role in transatlantic migrations is well known, but its importance to the famed mobility of Americans is far less understood. Wandering Souls demonstrates that Protestantism greatly influenced internal migration and the social and economic development of early America.

Praise for Wandering Souls:

“S. Scott Rohrer has written an ingeniously conceived book on the connections among religion, economics, and migration in early American history. Migration history is a time-honored subdiscipline within the American field, and few subjects are more studied today than religious history. But no book before Rohrer’s has connected the two themes on so broad a scale…. Rohrer’s originality also lies in his focus not on transatlantic immigration but on migrations within America itself. His command of the overarching themes of religious migration is impressive.”
Thomas S. Kidd, American Historical Review
“Rohrer’s informative, well-organized, and carefully argued account makes an impressive case concerning the religious motives for many significant migrations in American history and draws important conclusions about how the American environment opened up space for those migrations to occur.”
Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame
“The Protestant pilgrim has long been a stock character in early American history. In the schoolbook version of the colonial origin narrative, thousands of persecuted people fled Europe for the freedom of the New World…. Alongside this familiar story, S. Scott Rohrer proposes another…. The thesis is compelling.”
Owen Stanwood, Journal of Southern History
“Rohrer makes a strong case for examining religion’s role in spurring migrations in America. Though he is careful to note that economic, demographic, and social factors pushed and attracted Protestants from their original settlements, Rohrer passionately argues that historians must re-examine internal migration through a religious lens in order to fully capture the complexity of movement within America…. Overall, Wandering Souls is a useful introduction to Protestantism’s role in influencing population movement and a welcome addition to the historiography, one that is sure to inspire further serious investigation into religious migration.”
James M. Woytek, Maryland Historical Magazine
“Rohrer’s study is well organized and well informed by current scholarship. He supports his analysis of religious migrations with extensive research in the sermons, diaries, and correspondence of such figures as Thomas Hooker and Brigham Young…. Wandering Souls offers a helpful corrective to the dominant portrayal of westward migration as harmful to religious cohesion on the early American frontier.”
Timothy D. Hall, Kentucky Historical Society
“Rohrer’s case studies—especially his treatment of the Inspirationists, New Jersey Baptists dissenters, and the Moravians—shed light on underexplored religious groups and their early American wanderings. Overall, Rohrer’s book makes a significant contribution to the study of restlessness that has long defined American culture.”
John Fea, Journal of American History

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