Puritans and Scots-Irish Sides of American Presbyterianism

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I was wondering if someone can provide a historical work on something that I heard recently from a Church History professor.

Before I note this, I want to make sure I acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule. That said, what he noted was that the Puritan "side" of Presbyterianism in early American history tended toward the New Light side of Presbyterianism while the Scots-Irish tended toward the Old Light side of Presbyterianism.

The Scots-Irish were, generally speaking, more doctrinaire while the Puritan side tended to be more experimental and "evangelistic".

It got me thinking that the Scots-Irish were more established as a Church (since about 1560) while the Puritans in England had to fight more in a competitive environment for the CofE. It also seems that Puritanism in the main was more of an English phenomenon than Scots-Irish. Did the "prophesying conferences" and the fact that Puritans were known for preaching in a somewhat itinerant fashion make them more accepting in the Americas for open-air preaching and preaching that might have occurred outside of established Churches?

On a related note, I sort of wondered why King George thought of the U.S. "rebellion" as a rebellion by "...those Presbyterians..." when Presbyterianism was a minority of the Church population. It seems that the Congregationalists in New England had mostly become Unitarian by the time of the Revolution and many Anglicans were loyalists. The Presbyterians (who represented about 1/3 of the parties for rebellion) appear to have been the most religiously zealous for the Revolution due, in large measure, to the Scots-Irish who still had no love-loss for the Crown who had betrayed the Solemn League and Covenant. Consequently, though a minority of the population during the American Revolution it appears that the Presbyterians had an outsized influence in terms of giving shape to the religious language surrounding the Revolution.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Not my forte, but Hodge's constitutional history plays down this "reading," especially as connected with the adoption of the Confession. If I remember correctly he notes the revival interest of the Scotch and Irish, and the examples of opposition to revivals on the other side.

Ryan J. Ross

Puritan Board Freshman
Leonard Trinterud's work continues to be largely responsible for that interpretation. My own studies in the field find Trinterud to overstate the case. I'd definitely start there, however. The first Great Awakening really did a number on historical varieties of Presbyterianism. Look into the Old Side-New Side Controversy and look at figures like the Tennents, especially Gilbert. There isn't a lot of work done on the field, but an examination of presbyterial and synodical boundaries are helpful. Further, investigating the Plan of Union will fill out the picture in terms of doctrinal/practical issues.

I hope this helps.

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Rich, just a quick comment, but in Histories and Fallacies Carl Trueman warns against the Puritan vs Presbyterian distinction that D. G. Hart and John Muether made in Seeking a Better Country. That book might be worth consulting.
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