As early as the eighteenth century, New England's ministers were decrying public morality. Evangelical leaders such as Jonathan Edwards called for rulers to become spiritual as well as political leaders who would renew the people's covenant with God. The prosperous merchant Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) self-consciously strove to become such a leader, an American Nehemiah. As governor of three royal colonies and early patron of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), Belcher became an important but controversial figure in colonial America.
In this first biography of the colonial governor, Michael C. Batinski depicts a man unusually riddled with contradictions. While governor of Massachusetts, Belcher deftly maneuvered longstanding rivals toward a political settlement; yet as chief executive of New Hampshire, he plunged into bitter factional disputes that destroyed his administration. The quintessential Puritan, Belcher learned to thrive in London's cosmopolitan world and in the whiggish realm of the marketplace. He was at once the courtier and the country patriot.
An insightful blend of social and political history, this biography demands that Belcher be recognized as the embodiment of the Nehemiah, perhaps as important in his own realm as Cotton Mather was in religious circles. Grappling with the contradictions of Belcher's actions, the author explains much about the complexities of the world in which Belcher lived and wielded influence.