Make a Donation to the NBN

The NBN is run by volunteers, but the network has expenses. If you like what we do, consider making a contribution

Kevin Kenny

View on Amazon

It’s hard to be a Christian. It’s even harder to be a good Christian. But being a good Christian on the frontier of Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century seems to have been next to impossible. That’s one possible gloss of Kevin Kenny‘s eye-opening new book  Peaceable Kingdom Lost. The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment (Oxford, 2009). William Penn was a Quaker, which means he and his followers were trying to be very good Christians indeed. They hoped to take their good intentions to the New World, where they would create (as Penn said) a “peaceable kingdom.” Alas, it was a poor choice of venue to begin a Utopian experiment in godly-living. Pennsylvania was wild and woolly, a mixture of idealistic English Quakers, German Lutherans and Mennonites, Ulster Presbyterians, and, of course, aggrieved Native Americans of many different sorts. Also, just to stir the pot further, the British and French kings were, shall we say, in a rather “heated discussions” about which parts of the New World each would control. It’s not surprising that the lion did not lie down with the lamb in Pennsylvania, or that William Penn’s “holy experiment” broke apart on the rocky shoals of North America. Kevin does a wonderful job of telling the sad, though distressingly familiar, tale of good intentions gone horribly wrong.

Please become a fan of “New Books in History” on Facebook if you haven’t already.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

hugolane August 28, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Very interesting. Hope to get to the book sometime. Regarding relations with Indians in Pennsylvania Quakers speak of an oral treaty made between William Penn and a tribe, I’m not sure which one. that is the only treaty between native Americans and Europeans that was never broken. Kevin Kenny makes me wonder if the truth is more complicated just as it is with Quaker attitudes towards slavery, where there are some real heroes, but lots of others who were less so.

Frank Harvey August 3, 2010 at 4:21 pm

This is an interesting and useful book from a superficial perspective but be very cautious in accepting any of its “facts”. Regard this book as a source for the backiground and flavour of the period but check every statement with authoritive sources before using it. I almost stopped reading it before the end of the third page of the Introduction with the references to the “hill country” of Lancaster County and the claim that some of the Rangers were squatters form Cumberland (which Blunston patroled and licensed from 1734 on). Page 11′s reference to the origins of the Conestoga and the “return” of the Shawnee from Maryland do not concur with any accepted authority. There are so many other discrepancies that I would only recommentd this book as useful historical fiction.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: