Last week, legendary historian of colonial America Bernard Bailyn passed away at the age of 97, making his own voyage into the next life. Blogger buddy Gordon Sheaffer at Practically Historical wrote a brief but effective tribute to Bailyn earlier this week.
As Sheaffer wrote Monday:
No other scholar impacted the study of the American Revolution more than Bailyn. His masterwork, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, continues to challenge readers 50 years after it was published. Bailyn was able to express the unique qualities of American civilization without politicizing the history with talk of exceptionalism.
I have not read—to my great shame and discredit—The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, but I have read Bailyn’s The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, a much shorter work that serves as an introduction to a larger study on the settlement of British North America. The book is so good, and gives such a flavor for the various peoples that settled in the original thirteen colonies, I once assigned it as summer reading for my very first AP US History class back in 2011. It’s an accessible book, but it was a bit much for rising high school sophomores.
That said, I’ve been searching for my copy this morning in my classroom, without any luck. Hopefully it will turn up soon. My dad and I were talking about Bailyn’s death, as there was a small bit about it in the newspaper, and he expressed interest in reading it. I also wouldn’t mind rereading it, as I haven’t done so in nearly a decade.
Even so, bits of it stick out to me. Near the end of the book, Bailyn briefly explores the odd religious sects, mostly German, that came to the colonies. I distinctly recall him writing about a self-proclaimed prophet or sage living in a cave in Pennsylvania. There were multiple sects and utopian movements and cults and denominations popping up in British North America during the First Great Awakening, which reached its peak sometime in the 1740s and greatly influenced the American Revolution.
In an age of toppling statues and lurid efforts to erase our national history and faith (to be replaced with… what?), Bailyn’s works take on increased importance. Let us hope he isn’t summarily cancelled like everything else that is good, decent, and doesn’t inherently hate America.