Before the Throne of Grace:
An Evangelical Family in the Early Republic

By Laura S. Steitz & Elaine D. Baker

$12.98 (plus tax & shipping)

ISBN: 1-57736-148-2
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 470
Publishing Information: 1999, Province House Publishers


Before the Throne of Grace gives an unusual context from which to understand the changes in American religious life at the end of the twentieth century because it shows the evolution of a Reformed Church religiosity from the founding of the Republic to the middle of the nineteenth century….An enjoyable read for anyone interested in the wide-reaching roles of religion, especially Protestant Christianity, in American history.

– E. Ann Matter, R. Jean Brownlee Term Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Nineteenth-century minister and theologian James Ricahrds was instrumental in the founding of Princeton Seminary and was the acknowledged mainstay of Auburn Seminary. Richards was also the nurturing head of an engaging family that left a legacy of personal letters providing an intimate glimpse into the domestic lives of the Richardses as well as a fascinating account of the religious, business, and institutional life of the northern evangelical middle class during this dynamic period in the nation’s history.

Before the Throne of Grace is the story of two generations of the Hames Richards family. Based primarily but not exclusively on a collection of family letters, it begins with Richards’s boyhood in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War and extends nearly a century to end with the death of his youngest son, James Richards Jr., in the mid-1870’s.

Family themes and church themes are intricately interwoven, The evolving theological loyalties of the elder Richards, reflecting the growing pains of nineteenth-century Presbyterianism, form a large part of the narrative. Of equal drama is the narrative of James Richards Jr. and his wife, Elizabeth Beals, whose marriage later became the emotional nucleus of this extended family. A wayward youth, he converted after a life threatening illness and became a minister of great promise, only to struggle later in life with heartbreaking circumstances he was never able to fully transcend.

Laura S. Seitz is the great-great-granddaughter of James Richards Jr. and Elizabeth Beals Richards. Born in New York and raised on Long Island she graduated from Smith College with a history degree and then earned a master’s degree in the same subject at Yale University. For many years she taught history and social studies in private and public high schools and spent frequent summers as a fellow of seminars or institutes under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Taft Institute of Government, and the Coe Foundation. 

The mother of three children and five stepchildren, Ms. Seitz has traveled extensively. She has served as the chief lay officer of her Episcopal Church.

Elaine D. Baxter was born in Los Angeles and raised in San Marino, California. She graduated from Stanford University as an English major and received her master’s degree from the University of Virginia in social studies education. Upon graduating from college, she taught English for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea. After five years of research and editorial work in a government planning office and a  university research project in health care, she became a teacher of English and social studies in public and private high schools.

When her two sons were small, Ms. Bacter lived in Japan for two years. She and her husband have recently taken up residence there again, in Kyoto. 

Both Ms. Seitz and Ms. Baxter have been active in local politics and community-based organization in their village of Croton-on-Hudson, New York.