The publication of The Minister's Wooing in 1859 marked a turn in Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictional output. Having published two antislavery novels earlier in the decade, the first of which, of course, made her an international celebrity, she turned to what we think of now as the next phase of her writing career, a series of nostalgic, partly autobiographical novels about historic New England, following Minister's Wooing with The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), Oldtown Folks (1978), and Poganuc People (1878).
Set in 18th-century Newport, Rhode Island, The Minister's Wooing is built around the historical character of Samuel Hopkins, one of the generation of New Divinity theologians, who, having studied under Jonathan Edwards, attempted to carry on his legacy. Stowe's Hopkins is historically accurate to the extent that he is identified in the book with one of the theological teachings for which he was known, “disinterested benevolence,” which meant for him that a true Christian duty was to accede to one's own damnation for the glory of God; he is also, as was the historical Hopkins, an antislavery activist, prodding his Newport congregants who are slave owners or are profiting by the slave trade to exercise that disinterested benevolence in a socially conscious way and withdraw from the sinful practice, even though it may cost them dearly. What Stowe adds is the romance plot alluded to in the title: Hopkins falls in love with the daughter of his landlady, Mary Scudder; she loves a young sailor, James Marvyn, who has been her companion since youth but who is, it seems, unre-generate.