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.
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