The two autobiographical narratives- so similar in content, structure, and physical appearance-raise intriguing questions regarding the degree to which Puritan gender norms shaped the religious experiences of laymen and laywomen in early New England. Historians remain divided in their analyses of this issue. Two decades ago Charles Cohen posited a spiritual equality in Reformed theology that rendered "androgynous" the language that laymen and laywomen deployed in the oral church admission testimonies recorded by Cambridge, Massachusetts, minister Thomas Shepard during the seventeenth century. Elizabeth Reis recently challenged Cohen's argument by highlighting the "subtle but significant ways" in which women internalized Puritan preaching on the doctrine of original sin.6 Similarly, Barbara Epstein and Susan Juster have traced the emergence of two distinct models of conversion early in the nineteenth century, although they disagree on the social consequences of these divergent narrative structures. Both maintain that the Great Awakening revivals of the 1740s had a leveling effect on church admission narratives. Relations from the mid-eighteenth century were "remarkably similar," according to Epstein, and they reflected what Juster has called the "rough equality of the sexes within the evangelical community." To date, however, no study explores the gendered conventions of the relation of faith genre during the critical decades between the founding era of New England Puritanism and the rise of eighteenth-century evangelicalism. The essay that follows fills an important chronological gap in this interpretive controversy by examining 235 relations from John Brown's pastorate (1719-1742).

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Copyright © 2009 Boston University. This article first appeared in In Our Own Words: New England Dairies, 1600 to the Present- Volume 1: Diary Diversity, Coming of Age.

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