Quaker Literary Agrarianism in the Atlantic World, 1650-1800

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation is a literary history of Quaker jeremiad, a genre of agrarian writing that developed throughout the Atlantic world from the English Civil Wars to the aftermath of the American Revolution. While the agrarianism of writers from the early American republic such as J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur and Thomas Jefferson has been well-studied, the tradition of Quaker jeremiad found in pamphlets, promotional writing, journals, diaries, natural history, and novels, is little known. I recover Quaker jeremiad and show how its theological character helped it to formulate an incisive critique of agrarian capitalism. After an introduction that gives an overview of the argument and the medieval and early modern roots of Quaker jeremiad, chapter 1 analyzes Quaker advocacy for agrarian justice in seventeenth-century England, and the theology of creation that informed it. Chapter 2 demonstrates how Quaker rhetoric shifted to promoting agrarian capitalism as the movement spread to the Caribbean and mainland North America, especially in the work of William Penn. Chapter 3 shows how Quaker reformers in the eighteenth century such as Elizabeth Ashbridge and John Woolman reanimated Quaker jeremiad to focus attention to the suffering of indentured servants, enslaved Africans, and Indigenous peoples. Chapter 4 examines how Anthony Benezet and Hannah Callender Sansom combined Quaker jeremiad with the culture of sensibility, extending the genre while also weakening its distinctiveness. Chapter 5 turns to two writers who grew up as Quakers, William Bartram and Charles Brockden Brown, and shows how they were influenced by Quaker jeremiad even as they distanced themselves from Quakerism as adults. The conclusion briefly surveys the legacy of Quaker jeremiad in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature. This dissertation reframes our understanding of early American agrarianism and demonstrates how theology aided writers in recognizing the exploitation caused by agrarian capitalism.


Attribute NameValues
Author Jay David Miller
Contributor Sandra M. Gustafson, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2020-03-27

Submission Date 2020-04-09
  • Agrarianism

  • Quakerism

  • Jeremiad

  • Literary History

  • Environmental Justice

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


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