The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) occupied an unusual position in the British Atlantic as an internationally minded voluntary organization rooted in Anglicanism but also able to unite members of different Protestant groups. Its history during the American Revolution provides opportunity to examine the ideal of international Protestantism in the latter part of the eighteenth century. This investigation indicates that, despite many international ties and a strong sense of politically based international Protestant unity during the early decades of the century, members of the SPCK did not experience the Revolutionary crisis that ruptured the British Atlantic as a spiritual separation from their fellows in North America. International Protestant engagement within the SPCK was largely personal in nature, based on the experiences of a few individuals. Though the SPCK's regular publications create the impression of an organization leading an international Protestant community, an analysis of its membership reveals a profoundly English group. Thus, during the Revolution, the SPCK rallied to the British cause without a sense that an idealized Protestant union had been divided by fratricidal violence. This article builds on and supports the transnational perspective put forth by scholars in recent years and suggests that international Protestantism was varied and, in the case of the SPCK, politically limited.
Katherine Carté Engel is an Associate Professor of History at Texas A&M University.
The author would like to thank Troy Bickham and the members of the 2007–2009 Young Scholars of American Religion at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture for their many helpful suggestions on this project. She would also like to thank the American Philosophical Society, the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, and the Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs for their support.