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328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 illus., 8 tables, 9 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-1-4696-1507-3
Published: April 2014

Wandering Souls

Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865

By S. Scott Rohrer

Popular literature and frontier studies stress that Americans moved west to farm or to seek a new beginning. Scott Rohrer argues that Protestant migrants in early America relocated in search of salvation, Christian community, reform, or all three.

In Wandering Souls, Rohrer examines the migration patterns of eight religious groups and finds that Protestant migrations consisted of two basic types. The most common type involved migrations motivated by religion, economics, and family, in which Puritans, Methodists, Moravians, and others headed to the frontier as individuals in search of religious and social fulfillment. The other type involved groups wanting to escape persecution (such as the Mormons) or to establish communities where they could practice their faith in peace (such as the Inspirationists). Rohrer concludes that the two migration types shared certain traits, despite the great variety of religious beliefs and experiences, and that "secular" values infused the behavior of nearly all Protestant migrants.

Religion's role in transatlantic migrations is well known, but its importance to the famed mobility of Americans is far less understood. Wandering Souls demonstrates that Protestantism greatly influenced internal migration and the social and economic development of early America.

About the Author

S. Scott Rohrer, an independent scholar, is author of Hope's Promise: Religion and Acculturation in the Southern Backcountry.


“Rohrer’s serious treatment of religion is a refreshing addition to a body of scholarship that often ignores its powerful psychological and social power. . . . Makes an important contribution to the scholarly narrative on migration.”

“Presents a persuasive case. . . . Both widens and deepens readers’ understanding of American Protestantism and the motivations of migration in shaping it. . . . Recommended.”

"Rohrer adds complexity and depth to the historiography of American migrations. . . . A useful introduction to Protestantism's role in influencing population movement and a welcome addition to the historiography."
--Maryland Historical Magazine

"Scott Rohrer has made his point well."

"Rohrer provides his readers with a useful survey of early America's dominant religious groups and their progressive dispersal across the country. . . . Ultimately, the Americanness of religious migration is Rohrer's central concern. He has ably shown the pervasiveness of such resettlement in early America."
--North Carolina Historical Review

"Rohrer's use of available sources is thorough. . . . [The] organization and presentation of the material is helpful. . . . Rohrer accomplishes his overall purpose quite well and achieves a certain geographical and chronological balance."
--West Virginia History

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