Did Another Bancroft Winner Have Trouble Counting?

Mr. Luker, an Atlanta historian, is the author of The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885-1912 and co-editor of the first two volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King.

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The book was published by Alfred A. Knopf and won a Bancroft Prize. It was widely praised for its elegant prose and provocative interpretation of an important dimension of American culture."... this is a wonderful book --" gushed an editor of the Journal of American History,"-- incisive, far-seeing, and passionate." Its author was criticized, however, for reshaping original sources to make them sustain the book's thesis and offering tables of data that misrepresented reality. No. It is not Michael Bellesiles's Arming America. It is Christine Leigh Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).[1]

Bellesiles and Heyrman first crossed paths in the History Department at the University of California, Irvine. There, as a member of its faculty in the mid-1980s, Heyrman directed Bellesiles's graduate work. [2]For a time, they shared a common publisher and editor, Knopf's Jane Garrett. That may explain why, at least superficially, their two books even look alike: no illustrations or bibliography, but lengthy endnotes and an appendix with tables of data to the rear, lending an aura of empirical authority. Together, the books suggest that award-winning work in history recognizes good writing and a striking thesis. It may have the appearance of statistical authority, but actually undervalue an accurate marshaling of evidence.

In April 1998, as Michael Bellesiles prepared to spend the next academic year writing Arming America at Stanford University's Humanities Center, Columbia University announced that his mentor, Christine Heyrman, had won the Bancroft Prize for her book, Southern Cross. In some ways a sophisticated book, it tracked the course of evangelical preachers as they overcame regional hostility and skepticism by increasingly accommodating a white male patriarchy. Heyrman had won history's gold ring and Bellesiles hoped to do the same. He should have paid close attention to reviews of her book, but the critical ones appeared in obscure places. During the summer, the Evangelical Studies Bulletin, published by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, issued a review by Kurt Berends.

Berends was well qualified to review the book, having just earned his doctorate at Oxford University. His research had taken him through many of the same sources that Heyrman studied. Her book's"often persuasively argued" account of the triumph of evangelical Protestantism in the South, he said, was"imaginative, witty and compelling." Berends was critical of Heyrman's over-reliance on Methodist sources and a premature finding of evangelical hegemony in Southern culture. More to the point, he found that she manipulated her sources to sustain a thesis. [3]

Just as evangelical preachers tamed diabolical imagery in their preaching to achieve mastery, Southern Cross argued, they commonly led gullible listeners to believe that they possessed magical, shaman-like powers, capable of controlling even the weather. It was a theme Heyrman had found in Awash in a Sea of Faith by Jon Butler of Yale University, where she had earned her doctorate. [4]Heyrman recognized an interesting theme when she read about it and, apparently, determined to find it for her book on the South. That is thesis-driven research, comparable in part to Michael Bellesiles's more breathtaking example.

As evidence of Butler's magic/shaman theme in Southern evangelicalism, Heyrman cited the claim of John Early, a Methodist itinerant, who she said,"exulted to his diary in 1808 that when lightning flashed during one worship service, 'I immediately got to my knees and told the people I would ... pray that God in his great mercy would withhold the rain until we were done. The rain immediately blew over....'" [5]Berends remembered the passage otherwise from his own notes from John Early's diary. According to him, the Methodist preacher had written:"I immediately got to my knees and told the people I would, with the help of their prayers, pray that God in his great mercy would withhold the rain until we were done. The rain blew over for a season. About one hundred cam[e] forward to be prayed for and we were again frustrated by the rain which made our meeting break up sooner than it would have."[6]

Heyrman's editorial manipulation of Early's words as primary evidence of her argument was damaging, said Berends, because Early claimed no magical powers for himself. Whatever influence prayer might have on God's control of the weather was exercised by preacher and congregation together. Nor did the rain blow over completely. It blew over"for a season" and it soon returned to break up the meeting."Was Early really bragging about his personal power and ability to manipulate the weather," Berends asked,"when his first call for the rain to cease is made in cooperation with the congregation and the altar call -- the heart of the service and his moment in the spotlight -- was disrupted by a storm?" [7]

Kurt Berends's finding about the use of primary sources in Southern Cross calls for additional examination. Heyrman's evidence that evangelical preachers sought to wean white Southerners from practitioners of witchcraft comes from a book by a prominent Presbyterian pastor, Charles Colcock Jones, whom she mis-identified as a Baptist. [8] Referring to the slaves'"superstition," Jones wrote:"They believe in second-sight, in apparitions, charms, witchcraft, and in a kind of irresistible Satanic influence. The superstitions brought from Africa have not been wholly laid aside." From these words, Heyrman made the following point:"And in the evangelical campaign to weaken the hold of those wonder-workers on southern whites, there could have been few weapons more potent than the clergy's insistence that such credulity was confined to African Americans. As the Baptist minister Charles Colcock Jones suavely asserted in 1842, only blacks embraced the lore of 'second sight ... apparitions, charms, witchcraft, and ... a kind of irresistible Satanic influence .... superstitions brought from Africa [not] wholly laid aside.'"[9]

As the examples from both John Early's Diary and Charles Colcock Jones's book show, Heyrman's use of ellipses is idiosyncratic. Jones's text simply does not say that"superstitions" were limited to African Americans. He referred to those of the slaves, to be sure, but he does not say, as Heyrman twice insists, that white Southerners had no similar beliefs.[10]Most importantly, these two dubious quotations are the only evidence Heyrman offers of Butler's magic/shaman theme in early Southern evangelical Christianity.

Heyrman's thesis driven research also missed opportunities. Her colorful accounts of divine visions and demonic confrontations are drawn from the diaries and autobiographies of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century counter-cultural white Methodist and Baptist preachers. That literature would put the otherwise exotic divine visions and demonic confrontations of"The Confessions of Nat Turner" in context as another manifestation of that earlier tradition.[11]The religious inspiration of the South's last major slave rebellion makes Nat Turner an authentic heir to an earlier counter-cultural evangelical tradition. But that did not interest Heyrman, who wanted to explain to us that, by 1831, the South's white evangelicals had made their peace with the region's culture.

Yet, for scholars of religion in the American South, Heyrman's Southern Cross and its Bancroft Prize were an important benchmark for the field, granting it increased respectability. So, they launched a new e-journal, the Journal of Southern Religion, with -- not one -- but a symposium of three reviews of the book. One of its reviewers, Ann Taves of California's Claremont Graduate University, raised a second major criticism of Heyrman's Southern Cross. Its author had what Taves called a"boundary between North and South" which was"to say the least, rather fluid." She pointed to Heyrman's frequent references to the Methodist itinerant preacher, Benjamin Abbott. He grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, began his preaching in New Jersey and spent his life on missionary circuits in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. Another reviewer pointed to Heyrman's citations of the Illinois Methodist itinerant, Peter Cartwright. In her rendering of antebellum geography, Cartwright's birth in Kentucky made him no more and no less Southern than either Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln. [12]

For Heyrman, the Allegheny Mountains have only southern exposures. She likes to report dramatic scenes and, twice within seven pages, a location"in the Allegheny Mountains" covers the fact they took place north of the Mason and Dixon Line. The Methodist itinerant, Valentine Cook, confronted the devil" in the Allegheny Mountains," she says. Old Satan tried to tempt Cook with prestigious pulpits -- not in Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah -- but in"New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore." Heyrman did not tell her readers that the devilish temptations took place in six inches of snow outside of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Similarly, the Methodist itinerant, Jeremiah Minter, met the devil and the Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury, says Heyrman,"in the Allegheny Mountains." Specifically, they met about two days by horseback out of the"red stone country" in the Monongahela River valley near Pittsburgh. [13]

Moreover, Taves pointed out, Heyrman's table V, which enumerated Southern Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian church membership by race in 1834-1836, counted Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as Southern states on the theory that they were largely settled by Southerners.[14]

Not since"Bleeding Kansas" had the Southern sense of manifest destiny ever been quite so bold. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery and, thus, most African Americans from those three states. The purpose of Heyrman's table V was to show distribution of Southern church membership by race and denomination, but the inclusion in her table of states where evangelical church membership was overwhelmingly white seriously over-represented white membership in Southern
Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. [15]

The problem of Heyrman's addition of states from the Old Northwest begins with her table IV, which includes Ohio and Indiana, in a count of Southern evangelical church members by denomination and race in 1813. There is no evidence that Heyrman intended to deceive anyone with her tables IV and V, however. Her notes to them point out the inclusion of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois data in her calculations of Southern church membership. Inflating figures for white membership in Southern evangelical churches by including data from states where they were overwhelmingly white, however, may seem to justify the inadequate attention which she gave to the role of African Americans in creating an evangelical South. There are additional reasons to doubt Heyrman's data. A train of authorities, from Charles Colcock Jones in 1842 to Edwin Scott Gaustad in 2001, suggest that Heyrman may have undercounted Afro-Baptists by half and her count of Afro-Methodists in tables IV and V certainly does not include any of those in Delaware and Maryland who organized the separate African Methodist Episcopal, Zion and the smaller African Union Methodist Protestant denominations. [16]

Moreover, even if one accepts Heyrman's geographical definition of the South and uses the data sources she cites, the numbers are simply not what her tables III, IV, and V indicate. In table III, which reports church membership by race and denomination in 1790, she undercounted white Methodists by some 7,000 and black Methodists by some 3,000, undercounts of 22 percent and 32 percent respectively. In table V, she overcounted Presbyterians by some 66,000, an overcount of 70 percent. [17]That overcount apparently caused her to overestimate Southern Presbyterian membership in her tables III and IV.[18]

Inexplicably, Heyrman counts all Presbyterians as white in all three tables. As early as 1790, Cyrus Gildersleeve's Presbyterian Midway Church in Liberty County, Georgia, alone had 49 African American members. In the periods covered by Heyrman's three tables, probably little more than 1 percent of Southern Presbyterians were black, but she seems not to know that black and white missionaries like John Chavis and Charles Colcock Jones built foundations for substantial Presbyterian congregations which, by 1860, were commonly 75 to 90 percent black in the Georgia and South Carolina low country.[19]Thus, beyond her count of states of the Old Northwest in tabulating Southern evangelical church membership, her undercounts, probably of Afro-Baptists and certainly of Afro-Methodists, Heyrman's overcount of Southern Presbyterians and arbitrarily declaring all of them white are additional ways in which her data are bleached.

Notes to the tables of data at the rear of Heyrman's book, however, suggest that their figures are so soft that a social scientist would simply chuckle at the mush. Church membership data in the period, as she says, are notoriously unreliable. Her endnote quotes a nineteenth century Methodist itinerant as observing that"The careless manner by which the preacher in charge too frequently arrives at the numbers in society cannot be too severely censured." [20] Using numbers of dubious reliability, Heyrman guessed that on average 10 percent of Methodist and Baptist church members in 1790, 20 percent of Methodist and Baptist church members in 1813, and 20 percent of Baptists and 18 percent of Methodists in 1834-1836 were African Americans. This is over a geographical range in which the African American population varied from less than 1 percent to 90 percent. The resulting numbers only look real. Racial identities were assigned to arbitrary percentages of digits and all the Presbyterians were white. Rarely has race been so obviously socially constructed. She might as well have drawn the Mason and Dixon Line at the Canadian border. Despite her claim to be doing so, Heyrman was not actually counting real church members. She was manipulating numerical abstractions. Her student claimed to be counting real guns and his charts were not qualified by extensive methodological notes. The difference is the difference between raising a social scientist's skeptical eyebrows and being held to a social scientist's standard.

Assessing a teacher's influence on a student is always difficult. Christine Heyrman is specifically not guilty by association with Michael Bellesiles, nor he with her. Yet, her attitude toward evidence is perhaps the most Southern thing about her book: it is cavalier. Her practice could shape the attitude of a student, particularly one so talented as Bellesiles. It has problems of the kind that his magnified. Southern Cross was a model for what his prize-winning work in history would be. Her connections with Knopf and the Bancroft Prize committees surely paved a way for his award. It is painful to re-read Arming America's acknowledgment of her influence."... my warmest thanks to Christine Heyrman, my graduate advisor, who taught me to check the sources for myself," he wrote."Good point." [21]


1. Offered a summary of evidence cited in this article, Heyrman replied:

It's hard for me to assess your statistical findings from so a brief summary, but I certainly encourage you to write them up with all the usual scholarly apparatus and to submit the results to a refereed journal. (I'd like a copy, too.) What you say about Nat Turner is right on, but I promised myself that the book would end in the 1820s. [22]

I haven't seen Kurt Berends' review, so I don't know which interpretation of John Early you're referring to (he appears twice on p. 75). But I did check out the Charles C. Jones quotation and I'll stick by my interpretation -- his view is that various"superstitions" are peculiar to blacks and imports from Africa.[23]

I'd be the first to admit that my definition of the South is"expansive," but the migration patterns of the early national period (e.g., settlement of the Ohio valley mainly by southerners) justify that choice. [Christine Heyrman to Ralph E. Luker, 1 May 2003.]

2. Offered a transcription of the passage from John Early's diary cited by Kurt Berends and asked to compare it with her edited version of the document, Heyrman replied:

"Thanks for forwarding the Berends' comments -- I take his point, but I think Early's statement could bear either interpretation. All part of history's fascination, those ambiguities." (Heyrman to Luker, 1 May 2003.)

3. Subsequently, Heyrman responded on statistics:

I was perplexed by the divergence in our numbers on the Methodists in 1790 and the Presbyterians in 1834/36 so I dug out my notes. In the case of the Methodists in 1790, I inadvertantly [sic] left out Delaware, which I believe accounts for the discrepancy. [24] We're agreed on the importance of getting the numbers (and everything else) right, but I don't think that this undercount make much difference in my arguments. Factoring in Delaware for the 1790s, church membership among whites rises from 14.4% to about 16%; for blacks, it goes from 3.7% to about 5% - still a tiny minority. In fact, these higher percentages for 1790 lend support to my argument that evangelical expanion between 1790 and 1813 was surprisingly sluggish. ([Heyrman, Southern Cross,] p. 23).

As for the Presbyterians in the 1830s, have you consulted pp. 143 and 147 in Hayward? Many of these"offbrand" Presbyterians had their early strength in the South and the western country, and the Cumberland Presbyterians were quite numerous in those parts - which is how I came up with the figure of 160,000+ for all Presbyterians. [25]

Speaking of the Presbyterians, we can agree that Afro-Presbyterians were pretty sparse during the period covered by my tables, which is why I state on p. 262 that"virtually all" Presbyterians were white. While I had a few bits of evidence that there were Afro-Presbyterians (Midway Church, as you mention, a diary from the Northern Neck), none of it lent to conjecturing about numbers and percentages. [26]

I will notify UNC Press of these errors for 1790 and ask to correct the statistical tables in any future paperback editions. Thanks very much for bringing them to my notice, and again, good luck with your research.

[1] Steven Stowe, Review of Southern Cross,Journal of Southern Religion, I (1998).For other reviews which uniformly praise Heyrman’s skills as a writer, see: Kurt O. Berends, “Planting the Cross in the South,” Evangelical Studies Bulletin, 15 (Summer 1998): 1-4; William K. Bunner, Review of Southern Cross, American Religious Experience website, Erskine Clarke, Review of Southern Cross, Theology Today, 55 (July 1998): 283-86; Charles B. Dew, “That Old Time Religion,” New York Times, 11 May 1997; E. Brooks Holifield, Review of Southern Cross, Journal of Southern Religion, I (1998).Anne C. Loveland, Review of Southern Cross, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 55 (January 1998): 188-90; Donald G. Mathews, “The Patriarch’s Conversion,” Pew Notes, Fall 1998, [1-5]; Mark A. Noll, Review of Southern Cross, Journal of Southern History, 65 (February 1999): 156-58; Randy J. Sparks, Review of Southern Cross, Journal of American History, 84 (March 1998): 226-27; Ann Taves, Review of Southern Cross, Journal of Southern Religion, I (1998).Grant Wacker, “How Evangelicals Won the South and What They Lost in the Process,” Christianity Today, 27 April 1998. R. Stephen Warner, Review of Southern Cross, Social Forces, 78 (June 2000): 1587-88; Curtis Wilkie, “How the Baptists Won the Soul of the South,” Boston Globe, 17 June 1997; Charles Reagan Wilson, Review of Southern Cross, American Historical Review, 104 (April 1999): 563-64; and Jonathan Yardley, Review of Southern Cross, Washington Post, 20 April 1997.

[2]Michael Bellesiles, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), p. 583.

[3] Berends, “Planting the Cross.”

[4] Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), pp. 90, 228-41; and Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), pp. 280n, 283n.

[5]Heyrman, Southern Cross, p. 75.

[6] John Early Diary, 24 July 1808. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Italics, used by Berends, highlight Early’s words for emphasis. The evidence cited by Kurt Berends is more complicated than it first appears. The original copy of John Early’s diary may be at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, or it may have been lost. Heyrman’s endnote to this passage cites a transcription of it at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. Berends made his notes from a second transcription of it in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Elsewhere in her notes, Heyrman seems to cite the copy of Early’s diary that Berends used in Chapel Hill. Subsequently, Berends confirmed that his notes on Chapel Hill’s transcription of the diary duplicate the Virginia Historical Society’s copy of Early’s diary. Berends to Luker, 9 April 2003.

[7] Berends, “Planting the Cross,” 3. For a comparable example in which Bellesiles’s deletion of words from a quotation changed the meaning of an original source’s intent about the personal use and sale of guns, see: James Lindgren, “Fall from Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal,” Yale Law Journal, 111 (June 2002): 2224. For Heyrman’s response to Behrends’s critique of her use of the Early quotation, see: Appendix, above.

[8] For a consequence of this mis-identification, see below.

[9] Charles Colcock Jones, The Religious Instruction of the Negroes, in the United States (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969; reprint of Savannah: Thomas Burns, 1842), pp. 127-28; and Heyrman, Southern Cross, p. 74.

[10] For a comparable example in which Bellesiles put words in the mouth of an original source about the use of axes as weapons, see: Lindgren, “Fall from Grace,” p. 2223. For Heyrman’s response to my critique of her interpretation of Jones’s words, see: Appendix, above.

[11] Originally published as The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the late Insurrection in Southampton, Va., as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray ... (Baltimore: Thomas R. Gray, Lucas and Deaver, 1831), the document is now most accessible in Kenneth S. Greenberg, ed., The Confessions of Nat Turner and Related Documents (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996). See also: Greenberg, ed., Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). For Heyrman’s response to my suggestion that Nat Turner was an heir to the early counter-cultural evangelical tradition, see: Appendix, above.

[12] Taves, Review of Southern Cross; Bunner; Review of Southern Cross; and Heyrman, Southern Cross, p. 72. For Heyrman’s response to Taves’s and my critique of her expansive definition of the South, see: Appendix, above.

[13] Heyrman, Southern Cross, pp. 65 and 72; Edward Stevenson, A Biographical Sketch of the Reverend Valentine Cook, A.M. (Nashville: J. B. M’Ferrin, 1858), pp. 65-6; and Jeremiah Minter, A Brief Account of the Religious Experience, Travels, Preaching, Persecutions from Evil Men, and God Special Helps in the Faith and Life, &c. of Jerem. Minter, Minister of the Gospel of Christ, Written by himself, in his 51st year of age, 1817 (Washington, DC: The Author, 1817), p. 70.

[14] Taves, Review of Southern Cross, and Heyrman, Southern Cross, Table V, pp. 263-64.

[15] As late as 1836, for example, black Methodists were less than 1% of the church’s total membership in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By contrast, everywhere south of the Ohio River, black Methodists were 10% to 50% of the church’s total membership.

[16] Jones, Religious Instruction of the Negroes, p. 58; Gaustad and Philip L. Barlow, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 73; and  Heyrman,Southern Cross, pp. 263-64. In fairness, neither Gaustad’s 1962 edition, which Heyrman used, nor his 1976 edition, which she did not, would have alerted her to this problem. Heyrman’s conclusion that over 68 percent of African American church members in 1790, 57 percent of them in 1813, and 55 percent of them in 1834-36 were Methodists seems unlikely, but it is impossible to determine that, in part because her data source for Methodist numbers by race, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1773-1839. 2 vols. (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1840), by definition excluded those Afro-Methodists who rejected white Methodist Episcopal authority.

[17] Compare Heyrman, Southern Cross, pp. 263-64 with the sources she cites: John Asplund, The Annual Register of the Baptist Denomination in North America; to the First of November 1790 (Richmond: Dixon, Nicholson, and Davis, 1792); Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1773-1839; David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, and Other Parts of the World (Boston: Lincoln & Edmands, 1813; and John Hayward, The Religious Creeds and Statistics of Every Christian Denomination in the United States ... (Boston: J. Hayward, 1836). For Heyrman’s response to this critique of her data, see: Appendix, above.

[18] Heyrman’s overcount of Southern Presbyterians in table V apparently led her to reject Gaustad’s cautionary judgment, when it should have caused her to recalculate her numbers in table V and re-estimate them in tables III and IV. See: Heyrman,Southern Cross, pp. 262 and 323n.

[19] On antebellum Afro-Presbyterians, see: Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro: A History (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1966) pp. 3-62; Robert Manson Myers, ed., The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972); Donald G. Mathews, “Charles Colcock Jones and the Southern Evangelical Crusade to Form a Biracial Community,” Journal of Southern History, 41 (August 1975): 299-320; and Erskine Clarke, Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996), pp. 122-41.

[20] James B. Finlay, quoted in Heyrman, Southern Cross, p. 323n.

[21] Bellesiles, Arming America, p. 583. See also: Michael A. Bellesiles, “Life, Liberty, and Land: Ethan Allen and the Frontier Experience in Revolutionary New England.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Irvine, 1986, p. vii; and Heyrman, Southern Cross, p. x.

[22] Had Heyrman kept her promise to herself to end Southern Cross in the 1820s, she would not have included her Table V, which offered church membership data for 1834-36. Nor would she have reached forward to 1842 for a dubious quote from Charles Colcock Jones as evidence of Jon Butler’s magic/shaman thesis in Southern evangelicalism.

[23] Jones does not say, as Heyrman twice says for him, that European American had no similar “superstitions.”

[24] Small as it is, failing to count Delaware when tabulating Methodists in 1790 would ordinarily be akin to ignoring Mississippi when counting Strom Thurmond’s popular vote in the presidential election of 1948 because the Delmarva peninsula was the heartland of early American Methodism. Even so, Delaware accounts for only about 25% of the discrepancy between the figures listed in Heyrman’s Table III and those in the source that she cites: Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1773-1839.

[25] Heyrman is, of course, correct that the numbers for “Presbyterians” are larger, though not as large as she has them, if one adds the numbers of Cumberland Presbyterians to those of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. But, if one adds dissident Presbyterians to the numbers of the primary body for a Presbyterian count, which Heyrman claims to have done, then one would have to add the numbers of dissident Baptists and Methodists, such as the Free Will Baptists and the “Protestant Methodists” or Methodist Protestants (those who regarded having bishops as “popery”), to those of the primary bodies in order to have comparable figures. This, she did not do. In the case of the Methodist Protestants, it makes a very substantial difference because their numbers are as large as those of the Cumberland Presbyterians and, like them, the numbers were concentrated in the South. Compare: Heyrman, Southern Cross, Table V with Hayward, Religious Creeds and Statistics, pp. 118-20, 123-24, 129-30, 143, and 146.

[26] We agree that the total numbers of Afro-Presbyterians throughout the period of Heyrman’s study were small. Even using her inflated number of 20,000 Presbyterians in the South in 1790, however, the 49 African American members of the Midway church would alone be .25% of the total. “Virtually all” did not make it into her Tables. It would be prudent to construct 1% of all Southern Presbyterians as African Americans in Tables III, IV, and V.


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Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2003

I agree with Paul that mutual respect in academic dialogue is essential and that one shouldn't force the other down a slippery slope they don't intend to go down, but in fairness, Paul, didn't Burke say that just here: "You can always defend an interpretation of textual material, though there are bad interpretations and good ones (and bad-faith interpretations and good-faith interpretations)."

Paul Harvey - 9/26/2003

Of COURSE you can't, Mr. Fought, and Mr. Burke never said so. YOu are, it seems to me, deliberateliy mixing up the issue with hyperbole and attempting to force Mr. Burke's argument down your own slippery slope. Be fair with those with whom you disagree, as Luker and Burke have been with one another. Paul

John G. Fought - 9/25/2003

If it is wrong to make up texts, why is it not also wrong to unmake or remake them by excising content ('replaced' by ellipses) in such as way as to make the text appear to say something quite different from what it says in full? Is this covered by your understanding of 'interpretation'? May I then cite the Gettysburg Address as follows: " ... that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall ... perish from the earth."? Is it not also wrong to select and quote only the portion of a document that appears to confirm one's argument, while leaving out of one's account an adjacent portion that contradicts it? You say there are bad interpretations and good ones, but you offer no guidance about how to arrive at one instead of the other. Instead, you seem to regard such questions as issues that died with something you call positivism. Do you actually believe that selective excisions, distortions, and fabrications found in the works of history being examined here and elsewhere are just insignificant differences of interpretation, and that there is no reasonable way to choose among them?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/25/2003

Let me be clear: Heyrman is not Bellesiles redux. Were there an inquiry, I would testify on her behalf. She should not share Michael's fate: not run out of the country, not run out of the profession, and not run out of her job. Her Bancroft should not be revoked nor her book pulped. I've said repeatedly, there is much that I admire in it, but she should publish a revised second edition of it.
So, why the Sturm und Drang? If Burke is disturbed, I am delighted. We should all be disturbed by having awarded Bancroft Prizes to deeply flawed books. Burke should be disturbed, not because Heyrman is Bellesiles redux, but because Bellesiles is Heyrman reflux. His book was modeled on hers and, as we rushed with praise of hers, so we rushed with praise of his. Unthinking, uncritical praise, except in obscure places.

Given a tip about a finding in an obscure place, I pursued its lead and was, frankly, astonished to find errors of the kind, if not the magnitude, in the teacher's book that recently had so much attention in her student's book. Given my findings, it would have been irresponsible of me not to take note of their relationship. It wasn't just an ordinary student/teacher relationship: same publisher, same editor, same Bancroft. Ultimately, I think, this a lesson both about what we publish and about what and how we teach.
I am happy to learn from Burke that "the vast majority of scholarly historians have turned their back on the kind of positivistic sensibility that would see having a thesis before you go into the archives as an intellectual sin." This is a sophisticated historian speaking, but if we have learned nothing else from the Bellesiles episode, surely it is that his sophistry must be revised. Such sophistry betrayed us. Historians who know what they will find before they look at evidence are simply propagandists. Bellesiles knew what he would find before he looked at the evidence and he shaped it to fit what he knew it would be. We wanted him to be right about that, but he wasn't. We had rewarded Heyrman for reshaping primary sources to say what they did not say, why wouldn't we reward him? We did.
How did Heyrman exemplify that for him? By using ellipses to cause a source to say what it did not originally say. She knew before hand that Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis was provocative. He had found evidence to sustain it for his book. It must be there in all the sources she would consult. Lo, here's one. If I ellipse all the qualifiers, it will say what I want it to. "Ralph Luker is an unemployed historian, who has a book which might have won a Pulitzer Prize." can be: "Ralph Luker is an ... historian, who ... won a Pulitzer Prize." I like that. It isn't true. But if I believe it before I go into the archives, I can make it so. I like the aspiration, but all the luck, the labor, and the sorrow, the real agony, are lost in the ellipses. Ultimately, I don't believe that "you can always defend an interpretation of textual material," neither "bad interpretations" nor "bad-faith interpretations." They are fabrications.
If I can ellipse the troubling qualifiers in small, as Heyrman and I just did, why can't I ellipse the troubling qualifiers in large? I can go to the archives with the thesis that no Holocaust occurred in Europe, that no lynchings occurred in the South, and that there were few guns in America before the Civil War. Troubling evidence to the contrary can be reshaped to sustain what I already believe. If you don't respect the hard contours of evidence, then anything can have been true and, however skilled at propaganda, you are no longer a historian.
I am no positivist, but objectivity is the impossible necessity or the necessary impossibility: impossible to achieve in any absolute sense, necessary as a valued goal to constrain fantasy. Empirical data should ground us in what is and was so. They should curb our flights of fancy. What value do they represent otherwise? My criticism of Heyrman's data was on four levels: a) the sources of her data were flawed by exclusions (she should have known that); b) even if you added up the numbers from her sources, as she claimed to have done, they didn't result in the numbers she reported; c) only one of the reasons that they did not is that she used incomparable numbers in some cases; and d) her quantitative errors repeatedly overcounted white folk and undercounted black folk The last quantitative blinder re-enforced a point about her qualitative evidence. I am astonished, given Burke's professional interests, that he so easily excuses work written about the South which still thinks Southern means "White." Michael's numbers feinted in the direction of empiricism. Christine's didn't. They were numerical abstractions, so despite the fact that we knew there were black Presbyerians, she could count all the Presbyterians as white. What's up with that? What is the difference between "a guess" and "making up numbers"? Or, for that matter, what's the difference between ellipsing a text so that it says what it didn't say and making up a text? Christine's "guesses" were poorly informed, but equally insistent ones. Stubborn wrong-headedness is foolish. I'm a witness.
Finally, to return to the "guilt by association" charge, I have linked student to teacher. I see nothing wrong with and much to be learned from doing that. My critics might as fairly link me to my greatest teacher, my rabbi, Will Herberg, the best I've ever known. His mind was encyclopedic, but Will was also a liar. He fabricated every one of the academic degrees he claimed in order to be able to teach. He lied about his age in order not to be forced to retire. Am I Herberg reflux? Please. I am not worthy of mention in the same breath.

Timothy Burke - 9/22/2003

I'm somewhat disturbed by this particular criticism by Ralph Luker. Not because its substance is unfair or unjust, but because he chooses to link it to the Bellesiles case in a way that is rhetorically inflammatory but substantively deceptive, a sleight-of-hand ad hominem.

Let me say parenthetically that I admire the way that Bellesiles' critics stuck to their guns and called both Bellesiles himself and the profession to account. That was an important achievement, and they were especially correct that many academics were unprepared to hear the criticism because their political sympathies lay with Bellesiles.

But let's consider what Bellesiles' critics found, or at least what I think they found: they found that there was good reason to think that he'd outright falsified quantitative data. You can always defend an interpretation of textual material, though there are bad interpretations and good ones (and bad-faith interpretations and good-faith interpretations). Making up numbers (or making up texts) is another thing altogether.

As I read Luker's criticism of Heyrman here, much of the substance of it is an attack on the idea of "thesis-driven research". Well, first off, this is an old historiographical chestnut and for many reasons, most of them good, the vast majority of scholarly historians have turned their back on the kind of positivistic sensibility that would see having a thesis before you go into the archives as an intellectual sin.

More to the point, arguments about whether a historian's interpretation of material is in some respects strained or slanted in a particular way are the bread-and-butter of scholarly argument between historians. There's no need for the Sturm und Drang of Luker's critique here: all he's doing is what historians ordinarily do to each other, which is questioning a particular interpretation. No accusation required: this is just good, healthy scholarly argument.

Even the arguments here about numerical data are not about right and wrong, but about the basic difficulties involved in demographic assessments of populations prior to the modern era. Thousands of historians have struggled with those difficulties, and no "social scientist" could waft in on the wings of a dove and somehow do better, I think. In many cases, it's important to make the best guess you can (and to describe how you made your guess): the alternative is to say almost nothing quantitative at all about any period prior to 1850 in the US or Western Europe, and before 1900 in much of the rest of the world. In this respect, some of Luker's criticisms of Heynman's guesses seem fair enough, or at least a valuable debate, but they're not accusations of wrong-doing, or at least they shouldn't be.

This is an over-reach, and a dangerous one, because it muddies the waters about what was wrong with Bellesiles' work. Luker says he has no intent to propose "guilt by association" but this is what it comes close to. If historians are held to have committed unethical behavior for interpreting evidence and for making quantitative guesses from fragmentary data, then scholarly history (and indeed, almost all historical writing) is dead, or reduced to an undead positivistic corpse. Surely that's not what Luker has come to do?

Michael Goldberg - 6/21/2003

There's a significant difference between the types of minor errors we found and "creative writing." Photocopying would be a nice way of backing up one's notetaking—I'll try to remember that the next time I do a research project with an independent income! But I would agree that there is too much stress on speed and "productivity" and not enough on quality, be it accuracy or interpretation.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2003

Oh, anonymous questioner, I suppose I don't think so. Professor Heyrman seems to think she doesn't need to add correctly if she doesn't want to. I think that is a bigger issue, but come out of your closet of anonymity and we'll talk about it.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2003

"We sent off for photocopies of original manuscripts, checked quotations of scholarly sources, recalculated data, etc. We found far more errors than we expected, of all sorts. For my own selection, a very well-regarded history of early 19th-century America, I discovered errors in four of the ten footnotes, including one miscalculation of data and one scholarly quotation taken out of context. In none of the cases, however, did the errors change a specific analysis or the broader interpretation."

This is disturbing. Getting the quotes right, and the context right, is much easier than the interpretation. If objective facts are so often wrong, how much confidence can we have in the subjective aspects of writing history?

I can tell you that while I am used to finding errors in scholarly history books, they are seldom at the density or severity that appeared in _Arming America_. Dr. Luker's criticisms of _Southern Cross_, while disturbing, are orders of magnitude less severe than _Arming America_.

I fear that an awful lot of history is really creative writing. Perhaps the pressure to publish is encouraging quantity instead of quality.

One of the steps that I take to encourage accuracy in my writing is to photocopy anything that I intend to quote, and to rely heavily on sources that are available online (such as Journals of the Continental Congress). I've had several occasions recently, while finishing up my manuscript, _Armed America: Firearms Ownership and Hunting in the Early United States_ to wonder if I had scrambled a quote, or missourced it. Having all the photocopies and online sources available means that I have been able to check them, and make a few corrections. I fear that the tendency of archives to discourage making copies of documents (such as Historical Society of Pennsylvania's ban on digital cameras) may encourage carelessness.

HNN Reader - 6/20/2003

In that case, don't you need to correct your June 16 posting?
I don't see how "My contact with journalists had nothing to do with specific criticisms of Heyrman's work" (June 16) is consistent with saying that your contact with journalists "included reference to those criticisms" (June 19).

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2003

Clayton, My recollection is that Abraham Lincoln traveled to New Orleans where he observed the slave markets. Given all this new latitude, it looks like we'll have to re-write ante-bellum political history by making Abraham Lincoln a characteristic spokesman for the ante-bellum South.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2003

My contact with journalists was not motivated by the specific criticisms of Heyrman's work. It included reference to those criticisms; but it was motivated by questions about what causes a journalist to be interested in historical disputes.

HNN Reader - 6/19/2003

A question for Mr. Luker: On June 16 you state: "My contact with jounalists had nothing to do with specific criticisms of Heyrman's work." But your May 24 blog stated: "First, I shared summaries of the article with jounalists who had raised such an uproar about Arming America."
How can both those statements be correct?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2003

Professor Goldberg's comments are on target, underscoring the awesome challenge of doing good history. Accuracy is one of several values it must satisfy. Say the aim is to achieve the good, the true, and the beautiful, I take that to mean that it must be theoretically provocative or narratively evocative, it must be accurate, and it should be well, even beautifully, written. But a historian writing a book must never forget that she or he is affecting to be the expert on the subject and if it isn't accurate, the good and the beautiful limp along alone rather badly.

Michael Goldberg - 6/19/2003

In 1984, in response to a scandal about historical sources, academic honesty, etc. (involving a dissertation about the Holocaust, I believe), Nancy Cott asked her students in a graduate women's history seminar to choose a work of American history and check ten of the footnotes for accuracy. We sent off for photocopies of original manuscripts, checked quotations of scholarly sources, recalculated data, etc. We found far more errors than we expected, of all sorts. For my own selection, a very well-regarded history of early 19th-century America, I discovered errors in four of the ten footnotes, including one miscalculation of data and one scholarly quotation taken out of context. In none of the cases, however, did the errors change a specific analysis or the broader interpretation. (I should note that one student checked on Cott's _The Bonds of Womanhood_ and found nothing amiss--not surprisingly).

I'd like to say that these revelations chastised me to such a degree that I'm sure my own work is totally error-free, but honestly I don't know. I was certainly more aware of the potential for error, but I also know that like most historians I spent countless hours in a number of regional historical centers far from home, spooling through what seemed like miles of microfilm and poring over faded, handwritten manuscripts. I am fairly certain, however, that like the object of my inquiry, if I made any errors they would not have changed my analyses or interpretation.

I think it's fine to "set the record straight," and certainly a useful effort to inform the historian of his or her errors. But I would like to see less "gotcha" and more productive exchanges about topics that matter. It would be nice if all historians were like Nancy Cott, as meticulous as she is historically imaginative, but I suspect most of us fall somewhat short in either if not both categories.

NYGuy - 6/18/2003


Thanks for taking the stand you did. You article and the comments by Clayton and Heyman opened an area of history I did no have much knowledge of. My interest was primarily from the beginnings of this country through NY, Pa etc until after the Revolution War.

What made this so enjoyable was the manner in which each of you conducted your replies and expressed your opinions. This is what I believe most readers are looking for on the HNN site.

My daughter-in-law includes in her education a Master in Divinity from Harvard and I am sending a copy of each of your posts to her. I know she will be very interested.

Again, Thanks to all three of you for showing what can make history so much fun.


NYGuy - 6/18/2003


Thanks for taking the stand you did. You article and the comments by Clayton and Heyman opened an area of history I did no have much knowledge of. My interest was primarily from the beginnings of this country through NY, Pa etc until after the Revolution War.

What made this so enjoyable was the manner in which each of you conducted your replies and expressed your opinions. This is what I believe most readers are looking for on the HNN site.

My daughter-in-law includes in her education a Master in Divinity from Harvard and I am sending a copy of each of your posts to her. I know she will be very interested.

Again, Thanks to all three of you for showing what can make history so much fun.


Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2003

I meant quite literally that such a move was a move West. Take a look at the map. Families moving west to take advantage of newly opened lands is a recurring part of American life. Moving from Kentucky to Indiana or Illinois is a move directly west.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/17/2003

No, Clayton. You're talking about Kentucky, now, and I know a bit about it. For most Kentuckians, Indiana and Illinois are moves North. Also, for a 19th century Methodist itinerant, a trip to Baltimore isn't evidence of southern-ness. In the early 19th century, a Methodist going to Baltimore is more like a French Catholic going to Rome or a Muslim to Mecca. It doesn't have quite that much meaning, but a Pakistani going to Mecca doesn't cease being a Pakistani.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/16/2003

I don't doubt that there were white Southerners who moved into the Northwest Ordinance lands to get away from slavery; we have plenty of evidence, however, that many just moved into new territories where lands were readily available, and slavery was not something that they moved away from--they brought slaves with them. (Remember that for nearly all Kentuckians, Indiana and Illinois were a move WEST not NORTH.) In addition, there are petitions from residents of Indiana to Congress asking them to repeal the Northwest Ordinance provisions prohibiting slavery.

I don't recall Cartwright's account of his life in great detail, but he was doing at least some of his work in Maryland--he describes a journey through the mountains to Baltimore (a Southern state).

Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2003

Thanks for the criticism, Clayton. I agree with you, in part. But white southerners moving into the Ohio valley often moved into southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to get away from the South's "peculiar institution." My point would be that to count these states, including their northern tiers, is bound to scew data on the South. North of the Ohio River in 1834-36, fewer than 1% of Methodist Episcopalians were African Americans; everywhere south of it at least 10% and as much as 50% of MEs were African Americans. That's important information in a Table which is supposed to distinguish Southern church membership _by race_. My point isn't that there were no African Americans there. It is that, by counting those three states in Southern data, Heyrman blurred a distinction that was obvious to Yankees and Cavaliers in 1835.
Heyrman corrects me by pointing out that Cartwright was born in Virginia, grew up in Kentucky, and spent most of his ministry in Illinois. If he were the only preacher Heyrman baptizes as a Southerner after the fact, the point would hardly be worth making. The point is that she knows a good story when she finds one and, if it happens to be about someone who is at most marginally Southern, he gets rebaptized as such. Ann Taves's makes the point very well about Benjamin Abbott. He itinerated a bit in Maryland, but otherwise, he calls New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania home.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/16/2003

If you tell me that another Bancroft Prize winner has some problems, I can't claim to be terribly surprised. I do have a few nits to pick on your criticism.

1. Including "Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as Southern states on the theory that they were largely settled by Southerners" is somewhat defensible, at least in the first couple of decades of the 19th century. Indiana and Ohio's southern sections were quite definitely dominated by Southerners before 1820. As late as the mid-1830s? A lot of the population would have been native-born to those states by then--but still Southern in culture.

2. "The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 banned slavery and, thus, most African Americans from those three states." Uh, no. The Northwest Ordinance banned slavery from these states, but slaves were actually held there for a number of decades after statehood. The courts seem to have regarded the Northwest Ordinance's ban as only applying to slaves newly brought into these areas, and existing slaves were grandfathered in. There are also slaves in everything but name in these states as well at the beginning, held on 99 year indentures, and some held without even that pretense of legality.

There are restrictive state laws adopted to keep free blacks out, and some of this was justified on the grounds that masters from adjoining slave states were dumping disabled, feeble, and mentally ill slaves into these free states. My analysis of the census data suggests that while this might have been an excuse, it does seem as though there was some truth to it. On this subject, see my book _Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860: A Sourcebook_ (Greenwood Press, 1997).

3. My recollection from reading Cartwright's memoirs are that he spent a good bit of his time preaching in border but still Southern states, such as Kentucky.

Mike Strickland - 6/16/2003

agin that could square dance on the head of that pin?

"Sweet Home Alabama" my Lynyrd Skynard just about says all that needs saying. Except that Leonard Skinner would fall right in with these educated fools.

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