The Open Letter and the War Dance: Osage Dance, Protestant Preachers, and Postcolonial Struggles for an American Protestantism

In Baltimore, July of 1804, a series of letters were published in the local papers arguing about the spectatorship of various protestant preachers at a public performance of a war dance by members of the Osage nation. The centre of the dispute was between George Dashiell of St. Peter's Protestant Church and John Hargrove of the New Jerusalem Church. Dashiell critiqued the dances by defaulting to a generalized stance on theatrical spectacle. He argued against giving audience to Osage war dances by describing theater as "generally considered by pious people to be a regular battery against virtue and religion." For his part, Hargrove defended preachers who witnessed the war dance, by noting that "the utmost order and decorum prevailed during the whole scene, in which the rude affections of savage nature were displayed to the life, and were worth the attention of the Historian, the Philosopher, and the Divine." In this presentation for the Oxford Dance Symposium, I will analyze the rift between "Reformed Episcopalianism" and "Swedenborgianism" amongst American Protestants, its ties to Baltimore at the end of the 18th century, through its early ideological explication in a dispute conducted via open letters on spectatorship of Osage war dance. 

Lindsey Drury
Author affiliation
University of Kent at Canterbury & Freie Universität Berlin