Heavenly Merchandize offers a critical reexamination of religion's role in the creation of a market economy in early America. Focusing on the economic culture of New England, it views commerce through the eyes of four generations of Boston merchants, drawing upon their personal letters, diaries, business records, and sermon notes to reveal how merchants built a modern form of exchange out of profound transitions in the puritan understanding of discipline, providence, and the meaning of New England.
Mark Valeri traces the careers of men like Robert Keayne, a London immigrant punished by his church for aggressive business practices; John Hull, a silversmith-turned-trader who helped to establish commercial networks in the West Indies; and Hugh Hall, one of New England's first slave traders. He explores how Boston ministers reconstituted their moral languages over the course of a century, from a scriptural discourse against many market practices to a providential worldview that justified England's commercial hegemony and legitimated the market as a divine construct. Valeri moves beyond simplistic readings that reduce commercial activity to secular mind-sets, and refutes the popular notion of an inherent affinity between puritanism and capitalism. He shows how changing ideas about what it meant to be pious and puritan informed the business practices of Boston's merchants, who filled their private notebooks with meditations on scripture and the natural order, founded and led churches, and inscribed spiritual reflections in their letters and diaries.
Unprecedented in scope and rich with insights, Heavenly Merchandize illuminates the history behind the continuing American dilemma over morality and the marketplace.
"Valeri's reading of theological sources is so satisfying because he is a subtle, careful reader; he resists the temptation to smooth away contradictions, or to oversimplify; indeed, he seems allergic to polemic it is thus not surprising when, at the end of the book--just when the author might be expected to tip his hand about what all this market accommodation means--Valeri is maddeningly even-handed."--Lauren F. Winner, Books & Culture
"I found this book to be an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the working out of the Protestant ethic in colonial New England. Therefore, it is a major contribution to our understanding of American economic morality."--Donald E. Frey, EH.Net
"Students of early New England will find this indispensable; it should also appeal to anyone interested in the relationship between religion and the larger culture."--Choice
"[T]he effectiveness with which Valeri utilizes the small-scale cultural world of Puritan Massachusetts in the colonial era in order to examine developments that have wider ramifications, indicates that, as with Perry Miller and so many others, that time and place is still a fruitful laboratory for thick analysis of religiocultural change."--Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., Interpretation
"Valeri's well-written case studies bring many rewards to the reader. They forcefully demonstrate that no one can understand the changing culture of early America without paying attention to religion."--R. Laurence Moore, Journal of Church History
"The book is noteworthy as much for its method as for its conclusions. Valeri's inferences rise convincingly from his methodology, analysis, and rhetoric. . . . [H]andled artfully in an elegant narrative."--Barry Levy, American Historical Review
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