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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, July 15, 1745

To George Whitefield,

You have sown the harmful seeds of separation and disorder among us. By supporting the new churches, by claiming that our Ministers are unacquainted with Christ, you have stopped the spread of the Gospel, and hurt the Peace and good Order. You have hurt the very being of our Churches.

I ask you not to preach in this parish...

I do not expect that you will pay attention to what I have written, but I still choose to declare that you are a dangerous man, harmful to the religion of Jesus Christ.

Nathanael 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?

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.

When I heard that Mr. Whitefield was coming to preach in Middletown, I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool and ran home to my wife and told her to hurry. My wife and I rode my horse as fast as I thought the horse could bear ...

When we neared Middletown, I heard a noise like a low rumbling thunder and soon saw it was the noise of horses’ feet. As I came closer it seemed like a steady stream of horses and their riders, all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils with 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.

When we got to the meeting house there were 3 or 4000 people assembled. I turned and looked back and the land and banks of the river looked black with people and horses all along the 12 \;\mathrm{miles}.

When I saw Mr. Whitfield he looked almost angelic; a young, slim, slender, youth. And hearing how God was with him everywhere put me into a trembling fear. 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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