"Dear Christian Friends": Charity Bryant, Sylvia Drake, and the Making of a Spiritual Network.

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    • Abstract:
      For Americans in the early nineteenth century, friendship and faith both carried emotional power. It is no surprise, then, that friendships among like-minded believers intertwined with religious experience. This essay explores the spiritual dimensions of friendship during the early republic by considering one social network that had its hub in the household of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake. Bryant and Drake, who lived in Weybridge, Vermont, ran a tailor shop and were fixtures of their Congregationalist community. They formed an unconventional union; their relationship was devoted and passionate, and friends and relatives acknowledged its romantic nature. But in many ways, their household resembled others in early republican New England. Like other families, they fostered piety in their home, which became a spiritual and social gathering point for neighbors as well as far-flung friends who migrated about the region. Bryant, Drake, and their friends sustained emotional and religious connections through prayer, ritual, spiritual conversation, and correspondence and shared reading and benevolent activity. Their intimate connections suggest how friends forged spiritual communities that existed outside the bounds of formal churches and cohered in the face of dislocation. The emotional experience of friendship lent itself to the emotional experience of religion by heightening a sense of obligation and selflessness and focusing attention on matters of the soul. The intersecting experiences of friendship and religion speak to how spiritual networks helped people navigate a rapidly changing and often incomprehensible world. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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