A Short Interview with Professor Adrian Weimer

Adrian Weimer is a historian of colonial America and early modern religion and politics at Providence College. Her research focuses on the history of toleration, martyrdom and Protestant historical imagination, Calvinist resistance theory, the history of spirituality, and Protestant-Catholic relations. Her most recent publications include “Elizabeth Hooton and the Lived Politics of Toleration in Massachusetts Bay” in William and Marty Quarterly and “Martyrdom and Religion in North American” in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. We thank Professor Weimer for taking the time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about her upcoming article in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, which is titled, “Huguenot Refugees and the Meaning of Charity in Early New England.”

How did you come across the topic of your article?
When I stumbled on Ezekiel Carré’s sermon, The Charitable Samaritan (1689) I found it to be an extraordinary piece – historically, theologically, and as a work of literature. I wanted to know more about his life and the circumstances behind this strange, urgent plea for active, heartfelt charity across national, religious and ethnic boundaries.

What inspired you to write this article?
The needs of refugees is an issue that continues to be urgent in our own times. I knew that puritans saw themselves as connected to wide network of international Reformed groups, rather than an isolated or unique “New Jerusalem.” But I was interested to see what they would do when one of those groups showed up on their doorstep. Also, Huguenots were wrestling with many of the same issues as puritans: how to reconcile inclusivity with spiritual nurture; how to develop rituals and institutions that fostered holistic care for the poor. I think there is a lot to be learned from studying the these groups alongside each other – both in terms of social history and historical theology. Their experiences – successes and failures – continue to have relevance for modern times. Political suspicions, cultural misunderstandings, and economic tensions played a role in the refugee crises of the  seventeenth century as they do today.

Is there a particular source you came across during the course of your research that you would like to share with us?
The allegorical second half of Carré’s Charitable Samaritan is a fascinating piece. He interprets Luke 10 as a call to immediate, affective response to human misery, whether the person resembles you or not. In the allegory, the inn where the Samaritan takes the wounded man is the church, a place of refuge where everyone is free to enter and find healing. Carré’s own life was very difficult – he was continually uprooted, financially insecure, and saw family members suffer in the Old World and the New. His words come from a place of learned theological reflection as well as his life experience pastoring a struggling refugee congregation.

I also found a letter in the Thomas Prince Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society that mentioned that the colonists in Rehoboth, Massachusetts opened up their homes to Huguenot refugees for months, to the extent that they were themselves in danger of scarcity. These communities made plenty of mistakes but I think it is also worth considering moments of personal sacrifice.

Abstract of “Huguenot Refugees and the Meaning of Charity in Early New England”
Huguenot suffering inspired fast days, prayer meetings, and collections among Congregationalists in Massachusetts and Plymouth in the 1680s. Ministers used a variety of frameworks to motivate compassion for the French refugees. Some preachers considered the French plight to be the result of an Antichristian attack, one that might soon spread to New England. Others assumed Huguenot suffering generally was a result of their sinful neglect of the Sabbath, and that compassion and honor should extend to those who suffered cheerfully while upholding disciplined purity. As suspicions mounted that there were French Catholic spies within the refugee communities and local harassment increased, the prominent Huguenot minister Ezekiel Carré advocated an alternate framework for Christian charity. In his remarkable sermon, The Charitable Samaritan, Carré shifted the meaning of charity from an apocalyptic framework to one centered on active mercy for the wounded regardless of sect or nationality. A friend of Carré’s and Huguenot supporter, Cotton Mather incorporated Carré’s interpretation of the Samaritan story into his magisterial Bible commentary. Though always contested, Huguenot practices and rhetoric broadened the conversation over the meaning of charity in early New England.

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