The Pulse of His Soul

Written by Ora Smith
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Genealogist Smith novelizes the life of John Lothropp, a Separatist minister who broke with the Anglican Church and became a forgotten Founding Father: he is the ancestor of six U.S. Presidents and dozens of major figures in American politics, religion, and the arts.

The novel covers Lothropp’s experiences in England before he emigrates. John is a perpetual curate in the Anglican Church when he marries Hannah Howse in 1610. Childhood trauma causes John to have trouble showing love, which creates conflict in their relationship. Hannah is a fervent Anglican, but John grows doubtful over the years that a church controlled by the government is the true path. John rebels against the king dictating what he can say in the pulpit, and in 1622 he renounces his Church of England’s orders, and they move the family to London. Hannah worries that Bishop Laud’s men will learn of John’s Separatist ways and imprison him; the congregation he now leads in Southwark must worship in each other’s homes and keep watch for Laud’s men. Eventually John is able to hide no longer, and he is caught, tortured and imprisoned, leaving Hannah with a large family of children to support.

Smith gives the reader a very impressive fifty-plus pages of supporting material, such as an extensive bibliography, a timeline, and a glossary. I applaud her scholarship; Lothropp deserves to be better known. Smith’s depiction of John and Hannah’s relationship is both contentious and touching. The religious content of the story is necessarily heavy. Even if theological discussions aren’t your cup of tea, Lothropp’s story will bring new insight to American readers who learned about the Pilgrims and Puritans in school but may not have really understood why they left England. Recommended to those interested in religious history, 17th– century England, and early American history.