Paul E. Johnson

A Shopkeeper’s Millennium

  • 39-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 6 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a background in history
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A Shopkeeper’s Millennium Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “A Shopkeeper’s Millennium” by Paul E. Johnson includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 6 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Changing Relationship Between Classes in 1820s Rochester and Religion as a Tool for Social Control.

Plot Summary

In A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 18151837, historian Paul E. Johnson analyzes the social factors that led to Rochester’s religious revival in the 1830s. This guide follows the first edition of A Shopkeeper’s Millennium, which was first published in 1978. Rochester’s revival was part of a larger religious movement in 19th-century America, known as the Second Great Awakening, during which time numerous Americans joined evangelical Protestant churches. Rochester’s revival centered around Charles Finney, an evangelical minster who spent six months preaching in Rochester from 1830 to 1831.

In his Introduction, Johnson notes that most historical accounts have explained the popularity of revivalism as a response to a loss of social order in Jacksonian America. Johnson believes that such historical arguments are based on generalizations about 1830s society, and he hopes to provide a more concrete analysis of religious revivals with A Shopkeeper’s Millennium. Though Johnson’s book focuses solely on Rochester’s revival movement, he believes that a close analysis of Rochester’s revival can provide important insights into contemporaneous revivals throughout America.

Johnson’s first chapter describes the economy of Rochester in the 1820s and 30s. Rochester was a relatively new city, with its settlement dating to the early 1810s. Following the digging of the Erie Canal, Rochester became an important trade and manufacturing center for the Upstate New York region, and its population grew dramatically. Johnson describes how Rochester’s economy was dominated by a small group of businessmen with intimate ties to Rochester’s surrounding rural villages.

Chapter 2 focuses on the growing divide between Rochester’s working and middle classes in the 1820s. An influx of workers, combined with the industrialization of Rochester’s economy, led to workingmen and middle-class residents inhabiting distinct and isolated social spheres. Rochester’s middle-class residents grew suspicious of working-class drinking, believing alcohol to lead to sin and criminal behavior.

In Chapter 3, Johnson analyzes how political feuds amongst Rochester’s political elite left the city government powerless to enact laws against alcohol. In the 1820s, Rochester’s political life was split into two feuding factions: the Republicans (led by Nathaniel Rochester) and the Clintonians (led by the Brown brothers). A controversy over the Republicans’ ties to the Masonic society deepened the rift between the two factions, leading many of Rochester’s elite to completely withdraw from politics. With the government taking few measures to control working-class drinking practices, many of Rochester’s middle and upper classes felt that Rochester’s was falling into social disorder.

Chapter 4 describes two different movements that sought to curb Rochester’s workingmen population: the temperance reformers, and the Sabbatarians. Temperance advocates believed that they could use social pressure to encourage workingmen to voluntarily give up drinking, believing that any legal measures against alcohol would cause further social unrest. In contrast, the Sabbatarians sought to force individuals to adhere to Christian morals through boycotts and legal campaigns. When both groups’ tactics fail, the Sabbatarian Josiah Bissell invited the minister Finney to come preach in Rochester.

Finney’s subsequent religious revival movement is described in Chapter 5. Finney taught that no individual was innately evil, and that all sinners could be converted and embrace Christianity. Finney’s services drew attendees from across Rochester’s religious denominations, bridging religious and ideological divides that had deepened in the 1820s. Johnson uses town records to argue that Finney’s revival was most popular with middle-class residents, particularly with the manufacturers and businessmen who held the most responsibility for causing Rochester’s class stratification.

Chapter 6 describes how Finney’s teachings encouraged an activist attitude amongst Rochester’s middle class. Finney’s followers sought to convert the working-class population to evangelicalism, establishing missions and other institutions to encourage their participation. Businessowners began requiring that employees join evangelical churches, and workingmen who refused were often left without a job. In the Afterword, Johnson argues that the popularity of Finney’s revival was due to the fact that its teachings aligned with the economic needs of Rochester’s middle class. Rochester’s manufacturers and businessmen were drawn to the evangelical movement as its teachings provided them with a tool to further discipline and control an unruly working-class population.

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