The South Carolina low country has long been regarded--not only in popular imagination and paperback novels but also by respected scholars--as a region dominated by what earlier historians called "a cavalier spirit" and by what later historians have simply described as "a wholehearted devotion to amusement and the neglect of religion and intellectual pursuits." Such images of the low country have been powerful interpreters of the region because they have had some foundation in social and cultural realities. It is a thesis of this study, however, that there has been a strong Calvinist community in the Carolina low country since its establishment as a British colony and that this community (including in its membership both whites and after the 1740s significant numbers of African Americans) contradicts many of the images of the "received version" of the region. Rather than a devotion to amusement and a neglect of religion and intellectual interests, this community has been marked throughout most of its history by its disciplined religious life, its intellectual pursuits, and its work ethic.
The complex character of this Calvinist community guides Clarke to an exploration of the ways a particular religious tradition and a distinct social context have interacted over a 300-year period, including the unique story of the oldest and largest African American Calvinist community in America.