Convulsed States

Earthquakes, Prophecy, and the Remaking of Early America

By Jonathan Todd Hancock

204 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 2 halftones, 2 maps, 3 graphs, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6218-3
    Published: April 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6217-6
    Published: April 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6219-0
    Published: February 2021

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The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811–12 were the strongest temblors in the North American interior in at least the past five centuries. From the Great Plains to the Atlantic Coast and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, a broad cast of thinkers struggled to explain these seemingly unprecedented natural phenomena. They summoned a range of traditions of inquiry into the natural world and drew connections among signs of environmental, spiritual, and political disorder on the cusp of the War of 1812. Drawn from extensive archival research, Convulsed States probes their interpretations to offer insights into revivalism, nation remaking, and the relationship between religious and political authority across Native nations and the United States in the early nineteenth century. With a compelling narrative and rigorous comparative analysis, Jonathan Todd Hancock uses the earthquakes to bridge historical fields and shed new light on this pivotal era of nation remaking.

Through varied peoples' efforts to come to grips with the New Madrid earthquakes, Hancock reframes early nineteenth-century North America as a site where all of its inhabitants wrestled with fundamental human questions amid prophecies, political reinventions, and war.

About the Author

Jonathan Todd Hancock is associate professor of history at Hendrix College.
For more information about Jonathan Todd Hancock, visit the Author Page.


"An incredibly impressive debut monograph, one that will benefit greatly the religious historians of the early American republic. Hancock should be applauded for his exhaustive archival research and careful examination of the varieties and nuances of Christian and Native religiosity. By using the New Madrid earthquakes as a window into the world of early Americans, Hancock demonstrates how religion remained a powerful vehicle in the struggle for the North American continent."--Reading Religion

“Hancock has produced an impressively researched and lucidly written history that will be of interest to readers of all kinds.”--Cynthia A. Kierner, George Mason University

“An innovative work that offers fascinating new insights into early American politics, religion, intellectual history, and the history of science.”--Christina Snyder, Pennsylvania State University

“In this lively, readable account of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, Jonathan Todd Hancock shows how profoundly spiritual interpretations of the natural world shaped the political and military conflicts of the early nineteenth century. Drawing on wide research, Hancock argues that spirituality was critical to nation-building by factions within the United States and Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee, and other Indigenous communities. Convulsed States will be of great interest to readers from seismologists to sociologists, from historians of Native America to historians of science. Hancock demonstrates the environmental and spiritual grounding for American seizures of Native land and traces the contrasting role of religious authority in the communities struggling for land and power across the vast terrain shaken by these mighty quakes.”—Conevery Valencius, Boston College