Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

First Advisor

Caroline Wigginton

Second Advisor

Peter Reed

Third Advisor

Cristin Ellis

Relational Format



This dissertation examines the connections between cultivating the land and cultivating the soul through select readings of early American conversion narratives composed between 1727-1831. Over a century after British Colonists colonized the shores of New England, members of the United Ministers of Boston championed the efforts of their descendants, who both cultivated the land and the Indigenous and new arrived souls emplaced within the North American landscape. As they told their readers in 1727, their dual cultivating efforts were worthy of universal adulation and imitation. And in 1836, the words of Reverend Nahum Gold echoed those of the United Ministers of Boston in their praising efforts to clear the forests and render what was once wilderness into prosperous farms that fed and sustained the church and their larger missionary efforts. Based on these celebratory attitudes on the part of church authorities, readers might expect to also find the same sentiments within Protestant conversion texts, yet as I argue through studies of conversion narratives authored by Wampanoags of Noepe, Jonathan Edwards, John Marrant, and William Apess, these texts defy this jubilant narrative by evincing anxiety towards increased cultivation and refuting the necessity of cultivating the land to cultivate a godly populace. As such, I argue that the Protestant conversion narratives represent a significant and overlooked genre within early American studies of the environment. In many ways, in their antagonism, ambivalence, and rejection of the importance of colonial cultivation to cultivate religious sensibilities, and in certain instances their championing of less-cultivated or uncultivated landscapes vis-a-vis their conversion experience, these texts may anticipate the rise of American Romanticism, a period where such ideas were commonplace.

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