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Great Awakening
First (c. 1730–1755)
Second (c. 1790–1840)
Third (c. 1850–1900)
Fourth (c. 1960–1980)

The First Great Awakening (or The Great Awakening) was a period of heightened religious activity, primarily in the United Kingdom and its North American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s.



The Great Awakenings were a time of religious advances mainly in the American colonies. The First Great Awakening led to changes in American colonial society. In New England, the Great Awakening was influential among many Congregationalists. In the Middle and Southern colonies, especially in the "Backcountry" regions, the Awakening was influential among Presbyterians. In the southern Tidewater and Low Country, northern Baptist and Methodist preachers converted both whites and blacks, enslaved and free. The Baptists especially welcomed blacks into active roles in congregations, including as preachers. Before the American Revolution, the first black Baptist churches were founded in the South in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia; in Petersburg, Virginia, two black Baptist churches were founded.

Although the idea of a "great awakening" is contested, it is clear that the period was a time of increased religious activity, particularly in New England. The arrival of the young Anglican preacher George Whitefield probably sparked the religious conflagration. Whitefield, whose reputation as a great pulpit and open-air orator had preceded his visit, traveled through the colonies in 1739 and 1740. Everywhere he attracted large and emotional crowds, eliciting countless conversions as well as considerable controversy. Critics condemned his "enthusiasm", his censoriousness, and his extemporaneous and itinerant preaching. A famous literary example of the new style of preaching can be found in Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". His techniques were copied by numerous imitators both lay and clerical. They became itinerant preachers themselves, spreading the Great Awakening from New England to Georgia, among rich and poor, educated and illiterate, and in the back-country as well as in seaboard towns and cities. The first new Congregational church worship building in Massachusetts in the Great Awakening period of 1730–1760, was at the newly incorporated town of Uxbridge[1]. It was pastored by the newly called Pastor Rev. Nathan Webb, a native of Braintree, who remained in the ministry here for the next 41 years. His student, Samuel Spring, started the Andover Seminary and the Massachusetts Missionary Society.

Benjamin Franklin became an enthusiastic supporter of one of America’s great evangelical ministers, George Whitefield,“the most popular of the Great Awakening’s roving preachers.” [2] Franklin did not subscribe to Whitefield’s theology, but he admired Whitefield for exhorting people to worship God through good works. Franklin printed Whitefield’s sermons on the front page of his Gazette, devoting 45 issues to Whitefield's activities. Franklin used the power of his press to spread Whitefield's fame by publishing all of Whitefield’s sermons and journals. Half of Franklin’s publications in 1739-1741 were of Whitefield, and helped promote the evangelical movement in America. Franklin was a lifelong friend and supporter of Whitefield, until his death in 1770. [3]

The evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic concepts in the period of the American Revolution.[4] The Enlightenment period taught an ideal based on ancient Rome of republican government based on hierarchical social orders of king, aristocracy and commoners. It was widely believed by secular Enlightenment writers that English liberties relied on the balance of power divided between king, elite and commoners, and that social stability required hierarchal deference to the privileged class.[5]Puritanism … and the epidemic of evangelism of the mid-eighteenth century, had created challenges to the traditional notions of social stratification” by preaching that the Bible taught all men are equal, that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not his class, and that all men can be saved. [6] Franklin, who grew up a Puritan and became an enthusiastic supporter of the evangelical movement, rejected the salvation dogma, but embraced the radical notion of egalitarian democracy. The evangelical revivalists who were active mid-century, such as Franklin’s friend and preacher, George Whitefield, were the greatest advocates of religious freedom, “claiming liberty of conscience to be an ‘inalienable right of every rational creature.’”[7] Whitefield’s supporters in Philadelphia, including Franklin, erected “a large, new hall, that…could provide a pulpit to anyone of any belief.”[8]

In Virginia, the existence of Baptist preachers challenged the established Anglican Church. Young Baptist preachers were arrested and tried in Fredericksburg before the Revolution. The issue of religious freedom was incorporated into the new constitution by James Madison, who as a young lawyer had defended some early Baptist preachers.

See also


  1. ^ Clarke, D.D., Joseph S. (1858). A Historical Sketch of the Congregational Churches in Massachusetts, from 1620 to 1858. Boston (Digitized by Google books): Congregational Board of Publication. p. 148. ,
  2. ^ Isaacson, Walter. Benjamim Franklin, An American Life. Simon & Schuster 20032003, p.110
  3. ^ Isaacson.2003, pp.107, 110,112,113
  4. ^ Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard University Press, 1992 p. 249,273-4, 299-300
  5. ^ Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard University Press, 1992 p. 273-4, 299-300
  6. ^ Bailyn, 1992 p.303
  7. ^ Bailyn, 1992, p. 249
  8. ^ Isaacson, 2003, p. 112

Further reading


Primary sources

  • Jonathan Edwards, (C. Goen, editor) The Great-Awakening: A Faithful Narrative Collected contemporary comments and letters; 1972, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-01437-6.
  • Alan Heimert and Perry Miller ed.; The Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences 1967
  • Davies, Samuel. Sermons on Important Subjects. Edited by Albert Barnes. 3 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1845.
  • ________. The Reverend Samuel Davies Abroad: The Diary of a Journal to England and Scotland, 1753-55. Edited by George William Pilcher. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1967.
  • Gillies, John. Memoirs of Rev. George Whitefield. New Haven, CN: Whitmore and Buckingham, and H. Mansfield, 1834.
  • Jarratt, Devereux. The Life of the Reverend Devereux Jarratt. Religion in America, ed. Edwin S. Gaustad. New York, Arno, 1969.
  • Whitefield, George. George Whitefield's Journals. Edited by Iain Murray. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1960.
  • ________. Letters of George Whitefield. Edited by S. M. Houghton. Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976.

Secondary sources

  • Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People (1972) (ISBN 0-385-11164-9)
  • Brekus, Catherine A. Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 University of North Carolina Press, 1998
  • Bonomi, Patricia U. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America Oxford University Press, 1988
  • Bumsted, J. M. "What Must I Do to Be Saved?": The Great Awakening in Colonial America 1976, Thomson Publishing, ISBN 0-03-086651-0.
  • Butler, Jon. "Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretative Fiction." Journal of American History 69 (1982): 305-25.
  • Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People. 1990.
  • Conforti, Joseph A. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition and American Culture University of North Carolina Press. 1995.
  • Gaustad, Edwin S. The Great Awakening in New England (1957)
  • Gaustad, Edwin S. "The Theological Effects of the Great Awakening in New England," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 4. (Mar., 1954), pp. 681–706. in JSTOR
  • Goff, Philip. "Revivals and Revolution: Historiographic Turns since Alan Heimert's Religion and the American Mind." Church History 1998 67(4): 695-721. Issn: 0009-6407 Fulltext: in Jstor and Ebsco
  • Goen, C. C. Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening 1987, Wesleyan University Press, ISBN 0-8195-6133-9.
  • Goff, Philip. "Revivals and Revolution: Historiographic Turns since Alan Heimert's Religion and the American Mind." Church History 1998 67(4): 695-721. Issn: 0009-6407 Fulltext: in Jstor and Ebsco
  • Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity 1989.
  • Heimert, Alan. Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution Harvard University Press, 1966
  • Isaac, Rhys. The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 1982, emphasis on Baptists
  • Lambert, Frank. Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals; Princeton University Press, 1994
  • Lambert, Frank. "The first great awakening: Whose interpretive fiction?" The New England Quarterly, vol.68, no.4, pp.650, 1995
  • Lambert, Frank. Inventing the "Great Awakening"; Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Middlekauff, Robert "The Glorious Cause: the American Revolution", Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • McLoughlin, William G. Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 1978.
  • McLaughlin, William G. "Essay Review: the American Revolution as a Religious Revival: 'The Millennium in One Country.'" New England Quarterly 1967 40(1): 99-110. Issn: 0028-4866 Fulltext: in Jstor
  • Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism (2001)
  • Schmotter, James W. "The Irony of Clerical Professionalism: New England's Congregational Ministers and the Great Awakening", American Quarterly, 31 (1979), a statistical study
  • Stout, Harry. The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism William B. Eerdmans, 1991
  • Tracy, Joseph. The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield, 1842; republished by Banner of Truth in 1989. ISBN 978-0851517124.

External links


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