Four Steeples over the City Streets

Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations

320 pages

October, 2014

ISBN: 9781479814275



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Kyle T. Bulthuis is Assistant Professor of History at Utah State University.

All books by Kyle T. Bulthuis

Tells the diverse story of four congregations in New York City as they navigated the social and political changes of the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries.

In the fifty years after the Constitution was signed in 1787, New York City grew from a port town of 30,000 to a metropolis of over half a million residents. This rapid development transformed a once tightknit community and its religious experience. Including four churches belonging in various forms to the Church of England, that in some form still thrive today. Rapid urban and social change connected these believers in unity in the late colonial era. As the city grew larger, more impersonal, and socially divided, churches reformed around race and class-based neighborhoods.  

In Four Steeples over the City Streets, Kyle T. Bulthuis examines the intertwining of these four famous institutions—Trinity Episcopal, John Street Methodist, Mother Zion African Methodist, and St. Philip’s (African) Episcopal—to uncover the lived experience of these historical subjects, and just how religious experience and social change connected in the dynamic setting of early Republic New York.

Drawing on a wide range of sources including congregational records and the unique histories of some of the churches leaders, Four Steeples over the City Streets reveals how these city churches responded to these transformations from colonial times to the mid-nineteenth century. Bulthuis also adds new dynamics to the stories of well-known New Yorkers such as John Jay, James Harper, and Sojourner Truth. More importantly, Four Steeples over the City Streets connects issues of race, class, and gender, urban studies, and religious experience, revealing how the city shaped these churches, and how their respective religious traditions shaped the way they reacted to the city. 

This book is a critical addition to the study and history of African American activism and life in the ever-changing metropolis of New York City.


  • "[…] Bulthuis provides an excellent case study that effectively uses multiple analytic approaches.  Four Steeples joins a growing number of important studies that together show how race relations in churches varied by time and place in early America."

    William and Mary Quarterly

  • “What Bulthuis offers is a careful and sophisticated analysis of four interconnected, but very different Anglican parishes.  He convincingly describes an Anglican community in New York City that clung persistently to the notion of Anglican unity, but a union that was limited in practice.”

    H-Net Reviews

  • “Kyle T. Bulthuis’s carefully researched volume investigates the impact of urban expansion on four New York City churches between the late colonial period and the American Civil War. […] This book is essential reading for those interested in urban churches in antebellum America.”

    The Journal of American History

  • “Many of Bulthuis’ findings are based on his painstaking efforts to determine the social composition of these congregations across many decades.  Using communicant, member, and class lists from the churches along with city directories and other sources of occupational and gender information, he effectively portrays the make-up of these bodies and persuasively employs this material to explain much of their history.” 

    American Historical Review

  • “This is a fascinating study and one worth reading for a glimpse into the evolving religious world of the United States in the decades leading up to the Civil War.”

    Lutheran Quarterly

  • Four Steeples models how social history can enrich our understanding of religion….[T]he book deserves to be read by every church historian and all historians of the early republic.”

    Anglican and Episcopal History

  • “The author has written a fine study with the comparisons, both similarities and contrasts, of how these four congregations, with similar ecclesiological heritages, interacted with society.  That is a considerable undertaking and in this case, executed with skill.” 

    Methodist History

  • "Historian Bulthuis thoroughly merges US religious history with the history of New York City from the Colonial era through the early republic. He combines social history and institutional church histories and argues that scholars have often relegated religion to a secondary role in relation to gender, race, and class. . . . A timely reminder of the contingent nature of history and the strategic role that religion played in the New York City urban landscape."


  • "Kyle Bulthuis's finely tuned, exhaustively researched history deepens our understanding of early American urban interracial worship. Focusing on four significant New York City congregations, Bulthuis shows us how black and white Christians contested theology, slavery, gender, and class. This book will fascinate anyone caring about cities, American religion, and major social issues."

    —Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Langdon Professor of History, Colgate University

  • "An impressive work [that] casts new and important insights onto our understandings of religion, race, and the history of New York. It brings together issues religious history, race class and the city. It will be a great boon to scholars and students in a variety of academic disciplines."

    —Robert Bruce Mullin, Society for the Promotion of Religion & Learning Professor of History, General Theological Seminary

  • "For too long, historians have treated early American religion as a rural phenomenon, shaped by the pressures of the frontier more than the hustle and bustle of urban seaports. Kyle Bulthuis’s Four Steeples over the City Streets challenges these assumptions, recovering the rich stories of some of Manhattan’s oldest congregations over the tumultuous period between the American Revolution and the Civil War. . . . Bulthuis has done for New York’s African American religious communities what Gary Nash and Richard Newman have done for Philadelphia’s: He has recovered forgotten founders, wrenching moments of crisis, and inspiring stories of perseverance in the face of persistent societal racism. . . . A distinctly New York story, reflective of the opportunities and challenges facing that city as it emerged as the nation’s commercial center by the eve of the Civil War."

    —Kyle Roberts, Loyola University Chicago