Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, New Pilgrim's Progress, Missionary Fantasies


At its core, this paper is a recovery project, focused on a neglected novel, and so I will begin with a brief plot summary. The New Pilgrim's Progress, or, The Pious Indian Convert, first published in London in 1748, tells the story of its narrator, James Walcot, a young Anglican clergyman who, feeling called to convert the heathens of America, emigrates to Jamaica. There he nearly triggers an uprising by telling slaves that he believes slavery to be unjust. He then sails to Charles Town, South Carolina, where he becomes personal chaplain to a wealthy landowner and assists the local rector in his ministry. Several episodes, ranging from the poignant to the unwittingly humorous and bizarre, all praising the Anglican Church in America, fill this narrative, but the novel's title is focused on the final episode. This involves a young Asian slave, Hattain Gelashmin ( described in the text as Chinese but nonetheless called an Indian in the novel's title), transported to South Carolina and placed in the care of Walcot. Having anticipated Gelashmin's arrival through a series of dream-visions, Walcot converts and educates him, baptizes him, and approves his journey inland to convert a tribe of American Indians, the fictional Checkbatoe. This tribe is then attacked by a neighboring tribe, the Gallangois, for their Christian conversion. Appended to the novel is Gelashmin's own narrative, which includes an account of his mission and a description of his moralistic, allegorical dream -vision.