Reluctant Revolutionary: The Life and Legacy of Pastor Andrew Eliot, 1718-1778
(Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, under contract for 2020)
Andrew Eliot’s (1718-1778) significant ministry and writings during a crucial period of colonial and revolutionary American history richly deserve the full biography that Reluctant Revolutionary now promises for the first time.
Born the son of a shoemaker, Eliot was a Boston resident for most of his life. After ordination in April 1742, he served as assistant minister of the Congregationalist New North Church, becoming sole minister from 1750 until his death. Eliot married the daughter of a New North deacon, Elizabeth Langdon, and they had eleven children, all of whom survived childhood. Despite his relatively humble background, large family, and limited pastoral income, he became a well-connected and influential Boston church leader.
Eliot’s pastoral achievements were many and he was a talented author of some thirteen publications. He has attracted periodic, but limited scholarly attention as a result of the more or less Whiggish political positions expressed in his 1765 Election Sermon and other works and of his colourful correspondence from Boston under siege during the first year of the American Revolution. But in otherwise neglecting Eliot, historians have done him an injustice. Despite his relatively low historical profile, Eliot’s life and work shed valuable light on key areas of eighteenth-century Boston’s religious, political and social history.
Reluctant Revolutionary will offer the first comprehensive study of this significant figure. It will provide a rare picture of the everyday life of a Boston minister from that period, thus adding to its social as well as religious history. The biography promises to correct previous interpretations of Eliot’s theology which have overstated his alleged “liberalism” and to re-contextualize Eliot’s political interests and ideas within his social as well as intellectual milieu, repositioning his Whiggism within a broader religious and ideological framework.
Finally, a thorough review of Eliot’s dramatic ministry and powerful writings during the immediate pre-revolutionary and revolutionary periods will present fascinating insights into how he struggled personally, as well as philosophically, to come to terms with the prospect and then reality of war with Great Britain. In the process, Reluctant Revolutionary will offer a fresh interpretation of the vexed question of his [and some others’] apparent ambivalence towards the Patriot cause and contribute a new perspective on the long debate on the place of religion in the American Revolution.