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
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6219-0
    Published: February 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6113-9
    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

“An innovative work that ties together studies of the environment and natural disasters with studies of religion and politics. . . . With impeccable research and pulling from a multitude of sources, Hancock explores the significance and understanding of the New Madrid Earthquakes for people across racial, geographical, and educational lines.”—H-Environment

“Hancock is a gifted cultural historian. . . . Convulsed States will appeal to scholarly and popular audiences alike.”—North Carolina Historical Review

Convulsed States models a new kind of American religious history, one that works across traditional scholarly divides and uncovers fascinating and unexpected connections among disparate peoples, events, and cultures.”—Journal of Church and State

“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