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2.7: The First Great Awakening

Created by: CK-12

Religion was an important factor in the American colonies from their very beginnings, but in the 1740s, the colonies were swept by a religious movement called the First Great Awakening. The most popular preacher of the period, George Whitefield, traveled across the country holding revival meetings attended by thousands. Nathan Cole’s account below shows how intense the movement was. Nathaneal Henchman’s letter to Whitefield shows that some traditional ministers did not welcome the revival.

Letter to George Winfield – Nathanael Henchman

Source: Nathanael Henchman was a minister in Lynn, Massachusetts. He blamed Whitefield for breaking up all of New England’s churches. This document is a letter to the newspaper in which he addresses Whitefield.

Boston Evening-Post, 15 July 1745

To George Whitefield,

It is beyond dispute, that you have sown the pernicious seeds of separation, contention and disorder among us; and by cherishing the separatists, and your injurious insinuations respecting ministers as unacquainted with Christ, you have greatly impeded the success of the gospel, and struck boldly, not only at the peace and good order, but the very being of these churches.--Viewing you in this Light, in faithfulness to Christ, and the souls of my flock; I desire you not to preach in this parish, but rather to hasten to your own charge, if any you have ....

I have little expectation, that you will pay any regard to what I have wrote; but leaving the event, I choose thus to declare against your services with us, as a dangerous man, and greatly injurous to the interest of the undefiled religion of Jesus Christ....

Nathaneal Henchman, Pastor of the first Church in Lynn

Questions:

Opening Up the Textbook: Before answering these questions, students should read an account of the Great Awakening from a typical textbook.

  1. Contextualization: What else was going on at the time this document was written?
  2. Using this document, what can we say about the Great Awakening that goes beyond the textbook account?
  3. Would you add anything from these documents to the textbook account?

Testimony of Nathan Cole

Source: Nathan Cole was a farmer from Middletown, Connecticut, who heard George Whitfield preach in 1740. The experience convinced Cole to find salvation and become born-again.

[O]ne morning all on a Sudden, about 8 or 9 o’clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Weathersfield yesterday and is to preach at Middletown this morning [October 23, 1740] at ten of the Clock. I was in my field at Work. I dropt my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and run through my house and bade my wife get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, and run to my pasture for my horse with all my might fearing that I should be too late to hear him. I brought my horse home and soon mounted and took my wife up and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear....

[A]s I came nearer the Road [to Middletown], I heard a noise something like a low rumbling thunder and presently found it was the noise of horses feet coming down the road and this Cloud was a Cloud of dust made by the Horses feet.... [A]s I drew nearer it seemed like a steady stream of horses and their riders, scarcely a horse more than his length behind another, all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils in the cloud of dust every jump; every horse seemed to go with all his might to carry his rider to hear news from heaven for the saving of Souls. It made me tremble to see the Sight, how the world was in a Struggle....

[W]hen we got to the old meeting house there was a great multitude; it was said to be 3 or 4000 of people assembled together, we got off from our horses and shook off the dust, and the ministers were then coming to the meeting house. I turned and looked towards the great river and saw the ferry boats running swift forward and forward bringing over loads of people; the oars rowed nimble and quick, every thing men horses and boats seemed to be struggling for life; the land and banks over the river looked black with people and horses all along the 12 \;\mathrm{miles}....

When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the Scaffold he looked almost angelical, a young, slim slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance, and my hearing how God was with him everywhere as he came along it solemnized my mind, and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was clothed with authority from the Great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me...

Questions:

Opening Up the Textbook: Before answering these questions, students should read an account of the Great Awakening from a typical textbook.

  1. Contextualization: What else was going on at the time this document was written?
  2. Using this document, what can we say about the Great Awakening that goes beyond the textbook account?

Section Question:

  1. Would you add anything from these documents to the textbook account?

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CK.SOC.ENG.SE.1.History-U.S.-Basic.2.7

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