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Rare Book and Special Collections Division



The Domestic Sphere
arrow graphicReligion and Spirituality
Indian Capitivity Narratives
Shakers, Christian Scientists, and Sabbath School Founders
Reform Efforts
Women in Popular Culture
Collections Formed by Women
Literary Works



Religion and Spirituality

Religious topics dominate in titles published before 1801 in what is now the United States, nearly half of which are organized chronologically in the American Imprint Collection (see Microfiche 85/431 (Z) in the Microform Reading Room). There are numerous sermons and most of the works about individual women are funeral sermons. Increase Mather, Cotton Mather, and other leading ministers eulogized relatives and members of their congregations, extolling their piety and virtue. Pastor Benjamin Colman's The Honour and Happiness of the Vertuous Woman (Boston: B.Green, 1716; HQ1221.C73 Am Imp) , memorializing Elizabeth Sewall Hirst (1681-1716), is representative.

A handful of execution sermons may be of particular interest to those studying early American women. Cotton Mather and Benjamin Colman both preached about the life and death sentence of Margaret Gaulacher, who murdered her illegitimate child in 1715. Colman's sermon is entitled The Divine Compassions Declar'd and Magnified . . . a Sermon Preach'd . . . upon the Sorrowful Occasion of a Miserable Woman Present, under Sentence of Death for the Murder of her Spurious Infant (Boston: T. Fleet, 1715; BV4627.M8 M38 1715 Am Imp) . Mather's work, A Sorrowful Spectacle in Two Sermons Occasioned by a Just Sentence of Death on a Miserable Woman for the Murder of a Spurious Offspring . . . with Some Remarkable Things Relating to the Criminal, Proper for all to be Informed of (Boston: T. Fleet, 1715; BV4627.M8 M38 1715 Am Imp) , goes beyond a sermon and includes some titillating facts about this fallen (and soon to be deceased) woman.

Henry Channing preached at a 1786 execution, publishing the sermon under the title God Admonishing His People of their Duty . . . a Sermon . . . Occasioned by the Execution of Hannah Ocuish, a Mulatto Girl, Aged 12 Years and 9 Months, for the Murder of Eunice Bolles, Aged 6 Years and 6 Months (New-London: T. Green, 1786; E90.O2 C5 Am Imp) .

Similar works can be identified using the subject heading “Sermons,” often subdivided by denomination, or the more specific “Funeral sermons” or “Execution sermons.” The subdivision “Early works to 1800” is currently used in the catalog to separate out those works published before 1800 and is an effective way to retrieve early religious materials.

The doctrinal writing of English Quaker Mary Brook (ca. 1726-1782), Reason of the Necessity of Silent Waiting, was reprinted in several editions in colonial America, as were the devotional exercises of her countrywoman Elizabeth Singer Rowe (1674-1737) and the religious tracts of Hannah More (1745-1833). Religious poems of Martha Brewster, Jane Dunlap, and Phillis Wheatley are also represented, as well as Hannah Adams's (1755-1832) dictionary of religion, An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects which have appeared in the World from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day (Boston: B. Edes & Sons, 1784; BL31.A3 1784 Am Imp) .

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