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Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


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           ALTHOUGH religion in North Carolina at the opening of the nineteenth century may have seemed dead to the casual observer, it was destined soon to rock the State. In 1802 North Carolina was in the midst of the Great Revival. From one rural community to another, religious excitement spread like contagion until the whole State was at fever heat. "You ask me concerning the progress of that religious distemper which has lately passed through your country into this," wrote Joseph Brevard of Camden, South Carolina, in 1802 to his brother, Captain Alexander Brevard of Lincoln County, North Carolina. "In the districts of Newberry & Laurens where I was not long since it had borne down everything before it." 1

No sooner did the excitement die in one community than it burst out afresh in another. "There was never so great a stir of Religion since the day of Penticost," wrote an "Old Soldier" from Caswell County in 1804, ". . . and it still goes on with rapidity throughout the union." 2

           Nothing but the excitement of war could quench the flame of this "religious revolution" when once begun, and the War of 1812 could not quench it for long. Again and again throughout the ante-bellum period smouldering embers of the Great Revival flared up. On the very eve of the Civil War, North Carolina was in another stir of religious excitement. "We don't remember ever hearing of as many religious revivals at any one time as at the present," wrote the Charlotte Democrat in 1857. 3


           Profound as it was, the Great Revival introduced very little that was new in North Carolina. Its antecedents reach far back into history. 4

The Crusades were the result of a revival of religion

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and were accompanied by many of the phenomena which have often been thought to be peculiar to the Great Revival in the United States. Visions, trances, and prophesies followed the Black Death. In 1374 the inhabitants of the lower Rhine country were seized with a religious excitement which was accompanied by involuntary dancing and visions. When the New World was being settled, Europe was in the midst of a religious upheaval which every year sent an exodus of colonists across the Atlantic. These early settlers had seen many strange things take place in the name of religion in their native lands. During the eighteenth century, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales frequently were subject to emotional epidemics during periods of religious revivals.

           The settlers in the New World did not soon forget the pattern for religious excitement which they brought with them. Practically every phenomenon which was to characterize the Great Revival in North Carolina had its eighteenth-century counterpart. The Great Awakening which was at its height in New England in 1740 had been characterized by many "disorders." It was this Awakening which was the forerunner of the Great Revival in North Carolina. In 1755 Shubal Stearns of New England settled at Sandy Creek in North Carolina with his band of Separate Baptists. No sooner had he reached Sandy Creek than "the neighborhood was alarmed and the Spirit of God listed to blow as a mighty rushing wind." 5

Within three years the Separates had increased to three churches and more than nine hundred communicants.

           Stearns' methods of evangelization were largely emotional. One of the chief principles of the new faith which he taught was that the believer must "feel conviction and conversion"; he must be "born again." The Separates of New England, where Stearns had acquired his faith, employed a singular tone of voice and violent gestures while preaching. Congregations frequently interrupted a sermon with "tears, screams, and exclamations of grief and joy." 6

Stearns was an able advocate of the New England school. 7 "His voice," wrote Morgan Edwards, "was musical and

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strong, which he managed in such a manner, as one while to make soft impressions on the heart, and fetch tears from the eyes in a mechanical way; and anon to shake the nerves, and to throw the animal system into tumults and perturbations." 8 Edwards found all the Separate ministers copying Stearns; a few exceeding him.

           Under the influence of Stearns' followers, the new faith spread rapidly. Samuel Harris, leader of the Separates in Virginia, and James Read, first pastor of Grassy Creek Church in North Carolina, were especially successful in arousing the people. Beginning in 1766 they traveled for several years in lower Virginia and upper Carolina preaching as they went. "In one of their visits," writes Semple in his History of Virginia Baptists, "they baptized 75 at one time, and in the course of one of their journeys, which generally lasted several weeks, they baptized upwards of 200. It was not uncommon at their great meetings, for many hundreds of men to encamp on the ground, in order to be present the next day. The night meetings, through the great work of God, continued very late; the ministers would scarcely have an opportunity to sleep. Sometimes the floor would be covered with persons struck down under the conviction of sin. It frequently happened, that when they would retire to rest at a late hour, they would be under the necessity of arising again, through the earnest cries of the penitent. There were instances of persons traveling more than one hundred miles to one of these meetings; to go forty or fifty was not uncommon." 9

           Not long after the Separate Baptists had begun to excite the people with their popular doctrine, Devereux Jarratt, Anglican minister of Dinwiddie County, Virginia, and a forerunner of Methodism in North Carolina, came into North Carolina preaching a peculiar doctrine in a peculiar manner. Like Shubal Stearns, he spoke of the necessity of a new birth obtained through "the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins." He did not confine his labors to the Sabbath or to his parish church. Day and

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night, in private house and in chapel, in Virginia and in North Carolina, he went about "testifying the gospel of the grace of God." 10 It was his custom "to descend from the stiff and formal services of the church, and conduct the exercises in a familiar conversational manner; addressing plain and searching questions to various individuals; and encouraging all present to ask him any questions that they might feel necessary to their better acquaintance with spiritual things, or for the removal of their doubts and fears." 11

           At various times between 1763 and 1775, the Reverend Devereux Jarratt reports that revivals of religion rewarded his efforts to awaken the people. Between 1776 and 1783 he regularly came into Northampton, Halifax, Warren, Franklin, and Granville counties in North Carolina. 12

In 1775 when he and Thomas Rankin, a fellow minister, made a tour into North Carolina, they preached to large crowds wherever they stopped. "Many testified," wrote Rankin, "that they had redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins. While some were speaking their experience hundreds were in tears, and others vehemently crying to God for pardon or holiness." 13 Again in 1776 Rankin brought a revival from Virginia into North Carolina. 14

           The Methodist philosophy was ideally adapted to preparing the way for the Great Revival. "Our call is to save that which is lost," the Methodist preachers declared, at the first conference of the newly organized Church in 1784. "Now we cannot expect them to seek us. Therefore we should go and seek them. . . . Whenever the weather will permit, go out in God's name into the public places, and call all to repent and believe the gospel." 15

Into the mountain coves of Western North Carolina, the rolling hills of the piedmont, across the swamps and through the forests and sand hills of the east, the circuit riders began their march, carrying the message of a salvation free to all through the simple act of accepting it. "Convince the sinner of his dangerous condition," Bishop Francis Asbury and Bishop Thomas Coke urged their traveling preachers. " 'Cry aloud, spare not,

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lift up thy voice like a trumpet, . . .' " 16 The Methodist circuit riders followed the example set by the New England preachers in the Great Awakening and adopted a peculiar manner of speech when addressing their congregations. Like the Separate Baptist preachers, they found that such an expedient obtained results.

           Long before 1800, Methodist circuit riders in North Carolina were starting local revivals of religion. When Jesse Lee preached at Whitaker's in Roanoke circuit in 1783 "the congregation wept under the word preached." 17

When Daniel Deans of Stony Creek, North Carolina, went to Virginia in 1786 to hear the "new gospel" from a Methodist preacher, he came home and converted his neighbors to the faith. There followed an emotional disturbance which upset the whole community. Sarah Howell, with a large family dependent upon her for support, threw open her house as a place of worship for the sect. Here there was a constant revival where "the Holy Spirit came down upon the congregation," where there was much shouting, and where many were seized with peculiar convulsions. 18

           Daniel Deans had gone to Virginia when Sussex and Brunswick circuits were in the midst of a revival begun under the preaching of Phillip Cox and John Easter. 19

Deans was one among several who brought the revival into North Carolina. Wayne and Northampton counties were the centers of the movement. On one occasion when John Easter was preaching in Northampton County to a large assembly of people, the Reverend James Patterson relates that a large cloud drew near. A few drops fell and the crowd began to leave the grounds. With solemn authority Easter commanded them to stop. He knelt and fervently prayed that God should withhold the rain until after the service and then send a heavy shower, for rain was much needed, "and it happened according to his petition." 20 This incident had a profound effect upon those present. In 1788 Bishop Asbury found "life" among the people in Northampton County. "Preaching and prayer is not labour here," he wrote, "their noise I heed not; I can bear it well

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when I know that God and Christ dwells in the hearts of the people." 21

           Time and again Bishop Asbury, during his tours through North Carolina previous to the beginning of the Great Revival, found that portions of the State were "quickening" under the preaching of the gospel. Often, however, he was discouraged over "the barren wilderness." After preaching in Eastern North Carolina in 1790, he recorded sorrowfully, "O what my spirit felt! It is a day of very small and feeble things, and but little union among the people. . . . O Lord revive thy work! One poor black fell to the ground and praised God." 22

           The Presbyterians in North Carolina also "trembled before the Lord" in revivals prior to the awakening at the beginning of the nineteenth century. When the Reverend George Whitefield, that great evangelist and founder of the Calvinistic Methodists, visited North Carolina in 1739, people "came a great many miles to hear him." The Great Awakening in New England, in which Whitefield played an important part, divided the Presbyterians into two parties, the New Light, or New Side, and the Old Side. In 1741 the Synod of Philadelphia excluded the New Brunswick Presbytery for "irregularities," and four years later the schism came. The chief issues were the revival and its extravagancies, the evangelistic training which the Reverend William Tennent taught at his Log College on Neshaminy Creek, twenty miles north of Philadelphia, and the question of the right to itinerate. 23

           The influence in North Carolina was chiefly on the side of the New Lights. James Campbell, the first Presbyterian minister in the Cape Fear region, was a great admirer of Whitefield. 24

Alexander Craighead, the first minister in the vicinity of Sugar Creek, was a member of New Brunswick Presbytery when it withdrew from the Synod of Philadelphia. 25 Before coming to North Carolina, he preached for a time in Virginia where he was closely associated with the Reverend Samuel Davies, the leader of the "great awakening" among the Presbyterians in Virginia. 26 In 1751 Davies himself came preaching into the Roanoke vicinity of North

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Carolina, where he met Henry Pattillo whom he invited to his home to begin a course for the ministry. Later Pattillo returned as the pastor of several churches in the Hawfields neighborhood and was, during the thirty-five years of his ministry, an evangelistic preacher. 27

           At various times after the schism, the New Lights sent missionaries into the southern colonies. In the winter of 1742-1743 New Brunswick Presbytery sent the Reverend William Robinson into Virginia and North Carolina. Wherever Robinson went there was usually a revival of Presbyterianism. 28

After Robinson, there came other New Light missionaries. In 1763 William Tennent, Jr., made a tour into North Carolina, 29 and the following year David Caldwell, a student in the Log College of William Tennent, Sr., came as a missionary. In 1765 Caldwell settled in North Carolina as minister of Alamance and Buffalo churches. Soon he opened a log college of his own where he conducted a constant revival. 30 Many of the men who were later to be the leaders in the Great Revival in Kentucky and North Carolina joined the ministry under Caldwell's teaching.


           To the Great Awakening in New England, the evangelization of the Separate Baptists, the Methodists, and the New Light Presbyterians, to the social conditions following in the train of the American Revolution, and to the apostasies of the French Revolution, rather than to any one religious denomination is due the credit of fomenting the Great Revival in North Carolina. The New Lights from 1742, the Separate Baptists from 1755, and the Methodists from 1772, by their series of local revivals and their constant evangelism, led the way to a revival state-wide in its effect. The American Revolution left the evils of camp life behind. Preachers were alarmed over the prevalence of gaming, card-playing, heavy drinking, and profane swearing which the Revolution seemed to have fastened on the people. 31

The Reverend James Hall began a revival in Concord Presbytery soon

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after the close of the Revolution when he found that the soldiers were reluctant to put aside the ways of the tented field. 32

           James McGready was the immediate forerunner of the Great Revival among North Carolina Presbyterians. When he returned to North Carolina in 1788 after completing his course of study under a Presbyterian minister of Western Pennsylvania he began at once to evangelize. McGready 33

was born of Scotch-Irish parentage in Pennsylvania about 1760. While he was still a boy, his parents moved to Guilford County, North Carolina, and settled in Buffalo congregation where the boy came under the influence of David Caldwell. An uncle took him to Pennsylvania to study for the ministry, and it was while in school there that he had the shock which influenced his later evangelism. Since the age of seven he had never failed to pray regularly; he had never been guilty of profanity, intoxication, Sabbath breaking, or anything which he considered sinful. Thus he had begun to think himself sanctified from birth. Yet to his great astonishment he overheard a conversation between two of his friends in which both declared that he had "not a spark" of sanctification. McGready at once began to examine himself and had no rest until "his heart tasted some of the joys of the Holy Ghost." 34 On his return to North Carolina the young preacher, who had been licensed by Redstone Presbytery in Pennsylvania, passed through places in Virginia which had recently been awakened under the preaching of the Reverend John Blair Smith and the Reverend William Graham, leaders of the revival of 1787-1789 in Virginia, 35 and he visited Hampden-Sydney College, the center of the revival movement.

           Fresh from these revival scenes, young McGready began preaching along Haw River. He wanted to alarm church members and all those who long since had become comfortable in the hope of sanctification. "An unworthy communicant in such circumstances as yours," he declared, pointing his finger at members of the church, "is more offensive to Almighty God than a loathsome carcase crawling with vermin set before a dainty

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prince." 36 This "Son of Thunder" soon alarmed piedmont North Carolina. People wept under his preaching. From Hawfields the excitement spread to Cross Roads, Alamance, Buffalo, Stony Creek, Bethlehem, Haw River, Eno, and the churches in Granville, and those along the Hyco and the Dan. 37

           Other preachers joined the young evangelist in the work. The Reverend David Caldwell, the veteran revivalist, stirred his own congregations. William Hodge, "the Son of Consolation," who had attended Caldwell's log college, joined McGready and frequently made preaching tours with him. William McGhee, a minister of Orange Presbytery, and Barton W. Stone, a licentiate, also began spreading the gospel. While these men were carrying on the revival in Orange and Guilford counties, two young evangelists from Virginia, converted during John Blair Smith's revival, visited the congregations in Granville County. So great was the excitement which they created that many followed them into Virginia to hear more of the Word.

           Opposition soon appeared from those who had favored the Old Side during the schism. 38

At Stony Creek in 1796 McGready's enemies made a bonfire of the pulpit and left him a warning written in blood. 39 Shortly afterward McGready moved to Kentucky. 40 In 1797 he and William McGhee, who had preceded him to the West by several months, had the Great Revival of the West underway. By 1800 Barton W. Stone, William Hodge, Samuel McAdo, and John Rankin had all followed McGready to the West.

           Those whom McGready left in North Carolina carried on the work of revival as best they could, but the people had strangely closed their ears to religious excitement. Word of McGready's remarkable work in Kentucky drifted back to North Carolina, and the Presbyterian preachers renewed their efforts. The Reverend Samuel McCorkle preached constantly on the necessity of a revival

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to his congregations at Thyatira and Salisbury. They hung upon his words and were so eager that his message reach a larger audience that they had some of his sermons printed in pamphlets and scattered through the neighborhood. 41 The women joined in the work. In Buffalo Church, three women, led by Mrs. David Caldwell, met once a week for a year to pray for a revival of religion. Women in other churches followed their example. 42

           During the summer of 1801 the Reverend William Paisley, pastor of the churches at Hawfields and Cross Roads in Orange County, worked feverishly for the coming of a revival. He and his elders met in the session house every Sunday between services and prayed earnestly for a "refreshing." On communion Sunday in August, the Reverend David Caldwell, the Reverend Leonard Prather, and two licentiates, Hugh Shaw and Ebenezer B. Currie, all of whom had either assisted in McGready's revival in North Carolina or had joined the ministry under his influence, were present to assist the pastor. On Monday the communion season was about to come to a close after the final sermon without any unusual manifestation of religious interest. The pastor arose to dismiss the congregation, but his disappointment was so great that he could not speak. "All was still as the grave and every face looked solemn, . . . it was a solemn moment and pregnant with most glorious results. A man, by the name of Hodge, happened to be there who had seen something of the work in the west and he, rising slowly from his seat, said in a calm but earnest voice, Stand still and see the salvation of God!" 43

A wave of emotion swept over the congregation like an electric shock. Sobs, moans, and cries arose from every part of the church. ". . . Many were struck down, or thrown into a state of helplessness if not of insensibility. . . . Bating the miraculous attestations from Heaven, such as cloven tongues like fire and the power of speaking different languages, it was like the day of Pentecost and none was careless or indifferent." 44 The congregation spent the rest of the day in singing, prayer, and exhortation, and it was midnight before they would return home. 45

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           The "manifestations of the presence of the Lord" at Cross Roads was upon everybody's tongue. Almost every night, meetings for singing, prayer, and exhortation assembled in the community. The house was always overflowing with anxious listeners. When the pastor could not meet with the people, the elders took his place. Not a week passed but that "a number were awakened." 46

           In October when the communion season for Hawfields Church arrived, religious excitement was in the air. Many from Cross Roads came to see what wonders their pastor would perform. It was usual for communion seasons to last from Saturday through Monday, but when Monday arrived the people would not leave and preaching continued another day. Those from a distance came in their wagons and remained on the grounds at night.

           Religious services continued all day long and through most of the night. Prayers, singing, sermons, exhortations, and personal conversations followed one after another with short intervals for refreshment and sleep. Here, even more than at Cross Roads, the people, declared the Reverend Eli Caruthers, "felt constrained under conviction to cry out for mercy and continued to cry until they found pardon thro' the blood of atone [ment]. Multitudes were struck down and lay for hours helpless and apparently unconscious of what was saying or doing around them; but when they recovered from that trance-like state, it was generally, tho' not invariably, . . . with exclamations of joy and praise to Him who had loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood." 47

After this meeting, bodily exercises became the characteristic phenomena 48 of the Great Revival.

           Among the Presbyterians, the Great Revival was now underway. The Reverend David Caldwell, who since boyhood had been accustomed to revival scenes, appointed a meeting to be held in January, 1802, 49

in Randolph County at Bell's Meeting House, near Bell's Mills on Deep River. He invited all denominations

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to attend, and he especially urged Samuel E. McCorkle of Rowan County, Lewis F. Wilson of Iredell County, Joseph D. Kilpatrick of Third Creek, and James Hall of Bethany to come and bring their congregations. All except James Hall, who had led his congregation in one of the first revivals after the Revolution, were critical of the revival phenomena. Before the meeting closed they were won to the cause. 50

           After the Randolph meeting, religious excitement spread throughout the two presbyteries of Orange and Concord. When the Reverend James Hall reached home after attending the meeting in Randolph, he found that three revivals had already begun within the neighborhood of his congregations. Other pastors had similar experiences. Following the example of Orange Presbytery, the members of Concord Presbytery appointed a general meeting to be held near the center of Iredell County the last of January, 1802, and after that another to be held at Morganton, and after that still another at Cross Roads in Iredell County, and another in Mecklenburg County.

           The revival was slower in reaching the Cape Fear region than it was in spreading through other Presbyterian sections. The Cape Fear leaders in the movement were Samuel Stanford, pastor at Black River and Brown Marsh, John Gillespie, at Centre, Laurel Hill, and Raft Swamp, and Robert Tate, at South Washington and Rockfish. Murdoch McMillan and Malcolm McNair, who were licensed in 1801 and ordained in 1803, also entered into the revival work. So many joined the church under the preaching of these ardent men that in 1812 the Synod set off the Cape Fear territory as Fayetteville Presbytery.


           While James McGready was stirring up the Presbyterians in Orange County preparing the way for a great revival among them, John McGhee, who was later to join in the work of the Great Revival in the West, and Daniel Asbury, a native Virginian converted during the early revivals in Fairfax Circuit, were also stirring up the Methodists. In 1788 John McGhee entered the Methodist itinerancy. The following year he was associated with Daniel Asbury in the work west of the Catawba, and in 1792 he was in charge of Lincoln Circuit. In 1798 he moved to Sumner County,

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Tennessee. 51 Asbury is reported to have held a camp meeting in Western North Carolina at Rehoboth Church in Lincoln County as early as 1794. William McKendree, afterwards bishop, Nicholas Walters, and William Fulwood, Methodist itinerants, and the Reverend James Hall, the celebrated Presbyterian evangelist of Iredell County, assisted Asbury with the meeting, and 300 were converted. 52 So successful was this meeting that Asbury appointed another to be held the following year at Bethel, about a mile from Rock Spring which in 1828 became the site for the annual camp meeting for Lincoln Circuit.

           It was in this section that the Great Revival first began among the Methodists. 53

The union meeting held in January, 1802, on Deep River in Randolph County, which spread the fire among the Presbyterians, also started an awakening among the Methodists. James Sharp who lived on Snow Creek in Iredell County, was one among a number of Methodists who "fixed up a four-horse wagon" and took his family to the meeting. "And when they came back, they came with a new religion; and from that the fire began to spread. There was preaching or prayer meeting nearly every night at some of the neighboring houses." 54 In November, 1802, Bishop Asbury mentioned in his journal the work going on among the Methodists in the western part of the State. "I have heard of some successful meetings which have been held by encampments upon the Catawba, at Morgantown, Swannino, Pendleton, Greenville--in North and South Carolina: ministers of the different denominations have attended," wrote the Bishop. 55

           At the union meeting held near Statesville in January, 1802, which has already been mentioned in connection with the Presbyterian phase of the Great Revival, 56

one Baptist and two Methodist preachers were present. Phillip Bruce, presiding elder of Richmond District, in Virginia, was one of these Methodist preachers. "From Saturday till Tuesday . . . the cries of the wounded, and singing, continued without intermission; near one hundred were apparently under the operation of grace at a time," wrote Bruce. 57

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Methodists were also present at the Morganton meeting held two weeks later and at the Iredell meeting held in March.

           Methodists now began to appoint camp meetings of their own, which they held in connection with their quarterly conferences. One of the first met not far from Rutherford Courthouse in June, 1802, where "thousands were present" and "many poor sinners felt the power of God." 58

At a quarterly meeting held at Hanging Rock the last of June, 3,000 people and 15 ministers, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian, attended. The Reverend James Jenkins, presiding elder of Camden Circuit, South Carolina, described the meeting in a letter to Bishop Asbury as follows:

           In a letter to Jenkins, Daniel Asbury declared that he had never seen such a work. He joined fifty others in going around the Yadkin Circuit holding meetings at every regular Methodist appointment. 60

Jenkins attempted to start a revival in Fayetteville late in the summer of 1802 without any success. He had better results at a regularly appointed camp meeting at Town Creek, near Wilmington. 61

           When Bishop Asbury passed through Western North Carolina in 1803 on his way to South Carolina he thought that the "encamping places" of the Methodists and the Presbyterians "made the country look like the Holy Land," 62

but it was not until 1804 that the revival spirit had reached its height among the Methodists. Through every section of North Carolina which the Bishop passed on his tour of the State, he was rejoiced at the "life" among the people. 63 "I mark this year, 1804, as the greatest that has ever yet been known in this land for religion," he wrote. The presiding

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elders agreed with the bishop. "I think he was not mistaken," said James Jenkins, "for as great as were the displays of saving grace the last year, they were still greater this." 64

           The practice of holding camp meetings at the time of quarterly conferences had now become a Methodist custom. The Methodists had so enthusiastically taken over the idea of the camp meeting and they used it so effectively that people had to be reminded that the Presbyterians had really made the movement popular. 65


           The work of evangelization went on steadily among the Separate Baptists in North Carolina until the death of Shubal Stearns in 1771. 66

Afterwards, various churches had short seasons of revivals, but among the Baptists, as among the Methodists and Presbyterians, there was no widespread evangelical movement for twenty years after the Revolution. At Grassy Creek Church in Granville County, for instance, "a great meeting" began July 23, 1775, and "many precious souls were converted and added to its number, baptisms occurring at almost every regular meeting throughout the year." 67 In 1786-1787 the revival which stirred the Methodists in Brunswick, Sussex, and Amelia circuits in Virginia crossed over the border into North Carolina and not only revived Methodism, but stirred the Baptists in the Grassy Creek Church and in the Flat River Association. 68 The revival in the Grassy Creek Church was thought to be the greatest in "extent, power, and influence" which the church had ever experienced.

           Despite these brief post-Revolutionary revivals, the Baptist churches in the State suffered greatly from the effects of the war. "Its injurious effects upon morals and religion," swept away some churches and greatly reduced others. 69

As early as 1778, the leaders of the Kehukee Association, fearful of this coldness in religion,

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observed a fast day "to humble themselves" before the Lord and "to solicit the throne of grace for a revival." 70 In 1785 the Association not only observed a fast day but set apart a time between sunset and dark of every day for the churches to unite in prayer for a revival. Again in 1794 the Association set aside the Saturday before the fourth Sunday in every month as a day for prayer meetings in behalf of a revival.

           In 1800 there was "a small appearance of the beginning of the work" in the Camden, Flat Swamp, and Connoho churches. 71

But it was not until 1801 that the Great Revival began and not until 1802 that it got well underway. In 1801 Elder Lemuel Burkitt, leader and historian of the Kehukee Association, went to the West to investigate at first hand the "great meetings" being held in Kentucky and Tennessee under the preaching of James McGready and the McGhee brothers. Returning in time for the regular meeting of the Kehukee Association, he announced from the platform "that in about eight months six thousand had . . . been baptized in the State of Kentucky, and that a general stir had taken place amongst all ranks and societies of people, and that the work was still going on." 72 No sooner had he finished speaking than on all sides people began crying for mercy and shouting praise to God.

           From this meeting, delegates and ministers carried "the sacred flame" home to the churches. People became more interested than usual in attending preaching, and the congregations were more solemn. "Thus the work began to revive in many places within the bounds of the Association," wrote Elder Burkitt. "The word preached was attended with such a divine power, that at some meetings two or three hundred would be in floods of tears, and many crying out loudly what shall we do to be saved . . . old Christians were so revived they were all on fire to see their neighbors, their neighbors' children and their own families so much engaged. . . . Many backsliders who had been runaway for many years, returned weeping home. The ministers seemed all united in love, and no strife nor contention amongst them, . . ." 73

Churches which had not received a new member for years now

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received members at every meeting. Four churches in Bertie, Northampton, and Hertford counties baptized 600 members in two years. By 1803 the churches within the Kehukee Association had added 1,500 new members, and the work was still progressing.

           Some Baptist ministers were present at the great Randolph meeting in January, 1802, which was responsible for the spread of the Great Revival among the Presbyterians and the Methodists. Baptist ministers also attended the succeeding union meetings which the Presbyterians called, and they were present at the first annual camp meetings which the Methodists appointed on their circuits, but their doctrine of close communion kept them from entering as freely into the interdenominational camp meetings as did the members of the other two denominations. 74

The Baptist denomination soon came to forbid its members accepting tokens, or tickets, entitling the holder to communion, customarily handed out to all church members at a camp meeting.

           The Baptists usually held their encampments during association and union meetings. An association meeting, from the organization of Sandy Creek Association in 1758, had always been a "reviving time," largely attended by all within reach of the place of meeting. Elder Burkitt, however, mentions the union meetings as special instruments of the Great Revival. They were ordinarily held by several adjacent Baptist churches for the purpose of "conferring in love, about matters relating to peace, brotherly union, and general fellowship." 75

Within the Kehukee Association there were four such union meetings: east side of Chowan River, Bertie, Flat Swamp, and Swift Creek. During the Great Revival as many as fifteen or sixteen ministers and three or four thousand people attended these meetings. At a union meeting held at Parker's Meeting House in August, 1803, some 4,000 persons were present. Before Elder Burkitt "ascended the stage to preach" threatening clouds arose, and soon the rain began to fall. As in the Kehukee Association, the work progressed within the Sandy Creek Association until all but a few churches had felt the influence of the Great Revival.


           The Great Revival was by no means confined to North Carolina and to the West. It was a religious movement which swept the entire country from New England to Georgia. 77

In North Carolina it reached its climax about 1804. After four or five years the Baptists began to give up the idea of holding numerous encampments. "The Baptists established camp-meetings from motives of convenience and necessity, and relinquished them as soon as they were no longer needful," wrote the Reverend David Benedict, the Baptist historian, in 1813. 78 As early as 1803, the Presbyterian Assembly had thought that it might be better for the church to gain new members in a "calm and ordinary manner." 79 Neither the Baptists nor the Presbyterians, however, entirely gave up the idea of encampments. 80 But it was the Methodist Church which saw in the camp meeting an opportunity to spread the gospel rapidly. From 1802 until the extremities of the Civil War temporarily put an end to them, the Methodists regularly held annual encampments in most of the circuits in North Carolina.

           Although the Great Revival reached its height about 1804, the revival movement continued. Bishop Asbury thought that 1808 exceeded all former years in the number of camp meetings which the Methodists held. "I rejoice to think," he wrote from Ohio, "there will be perhaps four or five hundred camp-meetings this year; may this year outdo all former years in the conversion of precious souls to God!" 81

After 1812 the number of camp meeting notices suddenly dropped off in North Carolina newspapers. In 1818, however, the State was in the grip of another revival movement. "At a camp meeting recently held in Greene County,

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at the Rainbow meeting house, the great Jehovah God made known his mighty power in the happy conversion of about forty souls," wrote a correspondent to the Raleigh Register. 82 Every year from 1818 until about 1827 the papers again carried news of camp meetings. In 1821 the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina rejoiced over a revival underway among its churches. 83 In 1824 "the Lord blessed many of the churches" in the Sandy Creek Baptist Association "with extensive revivals. Prayer meetings were frequent and much blessed in the conversion of souls." 84

           After a short period of "religious coldness" another revival movement got underway in North Carolina about 1829 and continued until about 1835. "A considerable revival has taken place in the Methodist Church in this town, within the last ten days," wrote the Raleigh Star of September 10, 1829. "The preachers and leading members exert themselves in a surprising degree. The church is scarcely closed from morning to midnight, and sometimes even later, and the short intervals they allow themselves there, are filled up by prayer and exhortation in private dwellings." In 1833 the Fayetteville Observer called attention to a four-day meeting near Carthage at which "nearly 200 individuals professed a change of heart, about 100 of whom have joined the Presbyterian Church." 85

Also in 1833 the Reverend John W. Childs greatly stirred the Methodists in Piedmont North Carolina. "He commenced holding camp-meetings as early as July, and kept them up till the middle of October." 86 In 1834 the Baptists had a "reviving time" at their customary camp ground at Dockery's in Richmond County. 87

           For several years newspapers had little to say on revivals. Again in 1840 they published news of "life" among the people for a period of several years. In 1842 the Greensborough Patriot wrote of the "unwonted seriousness" that had "overspread the people of our town and neighborhood; . . . Scarcely any individual speaks of the subject with levity; . . . Divine service is performed daily in the churches, and numerously attended; . . ." 88

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The last significant revival season of the ante-bellum period came in 1857. "We are gratified to learn that the interest in the salvation of souls, so generally manifested for the last week or so by worshippers in the Baptist Church of this City, is increasing," wrote the North Carolina Standard of Raleigh. 89 At the same time the Charlotte Democrat announced that a revival was progressing not only in North Carolina but in Virginia and South Carolina as well. 90 The following year the Standard again called attention to the revival movement which had spread in the North as well as in the South. Wilmington was in the midst of a revival and in Raleigh the pastors of the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches were holding union prayer meetings which were largely attended, 91 and in Oxford the people were "highly distinguished" for their religious interest. 92

           Although these cycles represent the times during the antebellum period when religious excitement was at its height in North Carolina, it must not be understood that revivals were confined solely within their limits. From the time of the Great Revival until 1860 scarcely a year passed that some church in some section of the State did not experience a revival of religion. If there was a "quickening time" at the revival, the movement might spread to a near-by community and even to another denomination. During the Great Revival, the meetings were confined largely to rural communities, which were at that time the strongholds of the evangelical denominations, but as towns developed and the churches became entrenched there, the towns also had their seasons of revivals.


           Camping at a religious meeting was not peculiar to the Great Revival or original with any particular denomination. As has already been pointed out, thirty-five years prior to the Great Revival, hundreds had encamped in Virginia and North Carolina at the "great meetings" held by the Separate Baptists. 93

Methodists were forced to encamp on the ground at their quarterly meetings if they wished to attend all the services. 94 It was the Great Revival, however, which developed the idea of annual camp meetings.

           Encampments during the Great Revival, as at conference and

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quarterly meetings prior to it, arose out of the necessity of the case. 95 No rural community was sufficiently large to accommodate all who attended a four- or five-day meeting. "All who wish to make any progress in Religion, . . . are requested to come with Tents, prepared to stay on the Ground during the Meeting, and not be dependent on their friends, so as to perplex them with secular matters, when they should be employed in the worship of God," 96 warned the preachers in announcing a camp meeting. Rarely did the managers undertake to furnish lodgings other than rudely constructed tents. In 1808, however, Elder Phillip Bruce and Enoch Jones obtained the use of Gates County Courthouse for the accommodation "on reasonable terms" of those who came unprovided. 97

           The tents which the people provided for themselves at the first camp meetings were mere makeshifts, for, as the Reverend James Jenkins pointed out, "In those days we understood very little about the proper method of constructing tents. Some of them were of common cloth; others mere shelters covered with pine bark--none of which would keep out the rain, . . ." 98

After a few years church organizations began erecting rude log or plank shelters for the encampment. In 1822 the tents at Ebenezer Church in Randolph County were made of poles in wigwam style. The doors were so small and low that the occupants had almost to crawl inside. 99

           In New York City, camp meetings were managed with an order and efficiency which could be equalled nowhere in North Carolina. In New York "the entire arrangement and preparation of the meeting, providing tents, putting them up and taking them down, is under the superintendence of a committee," wrote the Reverend Nathan Bangs in 1839, "and each person who chooses to go pays a certain amount, commonly about one dollar, for passage, use of tent, fuel, straw, &c." 100

The committee arranged the tents in a semicircle about the stand in rows from three to six feet deep, each tent being numbered and labelled. The fires for cooking were

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built behind the tents so that the smoke would not annoy the congregation. Lamps were suspended on the trunks of the trees, and on the preachers' stand, in sufficient number to illuminate the entire encampment, and each tent was required to have a light burning in it through the night. 101

           On the first day of a camp meeting in North Carolina 102

all roads leading to the grounds were clotted with people hurrying to the meeting, some on foot carrying their shoes in their hands; others on horseback with a child in front and a bundle of provisions behind; still others in wagons and carts, some drawn by horses, others by oxen, vehicles crowded with women and children and piled high with equipage. The camp ground was heavily wooded; near by was a creek and spring of water. Men and women were tethering horses, erecting tents, cooking meals for the day. Children were frolicking about, in and out among the wagons, frightfully near the horses' heels.

           Not far off women were already beginning to find their places on the rude plank seats in front of the "stage." They were leaving vacant a few seats in front. Those were the "anxious benches." Here the "convicted" would come to be prayed for when the preacher issued the invitation for "mourners." The only covering over the arbor sheltered the pulpit. On the stage was a knot of men solemnly shaking hands and conversing. On all sides of the arbor, row after row of vehicles crowded one another. Men were standing everywhere. The music struck up, quavering; mostly female voices singing two lines at a time as the deacon read them off. After another hymn, a preacher arose and the men came filing in, taking their seats on the opposite side of the arbor if the women had not filled them all; or crowding into the aisles and back of the seats occupied by their women folk. The minister, an ordinary looking man, dragged out an ordinary address while whispered conversations hummed louder and louder. Infants wailed fretfully. A dog fight started somewhere among the wagons.

           At length the evangelist arose. At once the congregation was

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electrified. "And what come ye out into the wilderness for to see?" he asked, fixing his eyes upon the congregation. His voice rose powerfully, "Ayr! ye are come as to a holiday pageant, bedecked in tinsel and costly raiment. I see before me the pride of beauty and youth; the middle-aged, . . . the hoary hairs and decrepit limbs of age;--all trampling--hustling each other in your haste--on one beaten road--the way to death and judgment! Oh! fools and blind! slow-worms, battening upon the damps and filth of this vile earth! hugging your muck rakes while the Glorious One proffers you the Crown of Life!" 103 Women were in tears. "That's preaching!" shouted a gray-haired man. "Lord, have mercy!" another besought.

           With words of doom yet upon his lips, the preacher suddenly stopped. A female voice began a spiritual:

This is the field, the world below,--
Where wheat and tares together grow;
Jesus, ere long, will weed the crop,
And pluck the tares in anger up.
With a mighty roar the congregation burst into the chorus:
For soon the reaping time will come,
And angels shout the harvest home! 104 104 Ibid., p. 202.

           The preachers had come down from the stage. "Sinners come home!" they shouted above the surge of the song. They went through the congregation shaking hands, singing as they went:

For soon the reaping time will come,
And angels shout the harvest home!

           Nerves were taut. The tumult rose. Shouts of thanksgiving and wails of despair joined with the ever recurring pulse of the song. Now a minister was praying; now he was shouting, "Washed in the blood of the Lamb!" One after another, weeping mourners arose and flung themselves in front of the anxious seats.

           It was now two o'clock. After a brief intermission, while the ministers and their helpers continued to labor with the seekers, there would be prayer and exhortation. At candle-light pine torches would be lighted and there would be preaching again. So far, no one had "come through." The ministers had hardly expected

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it. That would not come until the third or fourth day of the meeting. 105


           Throughout the ante-bellum period, camp meetings were always largely attended, especially on Sundays and on the closing day. In 1825 the Fayetteville Observer, in reporting a camp meeting held at Evans' Spring, said: "The congregations were very large, particularly on Sunday, when this town was nearly depopulated; almost every person who could procure a horse or carriage of any description, having gone, besides hundreds went within a short distance of the grounds in the steamboat North Carolina, and hundreds of others walked, the distance being about 8 miles. A gentleman who took some pains to make a correct estimate, supposed the number present on Sunday to be about 6000." 106

           A camp meeting was a time of tremendous excitement. Here one met friends that he probably had not seen in several years. Here the ministers spoke of the equality of man in the sight of the Lord. The poorest Christian was as great as the richest planter. The preachers loudly attacked the evils of the day; they preached against the things which were peculiar to the gentry: dancing, card playing, fine clothes. They dwelt upon the scenes of death and painted hell in such awful terms that one could see it yawning at his feet. McGready, in his famous sermon, "The Character, History and End of the Fool," declared that when a sinner died "his soul was separated from his body and the black flaming vultures of hell began to encircle him on every side. . . . When the fiends of hell dragged him into the eternal gulf, he roared and screamed and yelled like a devil." He fell, "sinking into the liquid, boiling waves of hell, down even to the deepest cavern in the flaming abyss." 107

Hell, he said, is the place where is heaped "all the rubbish and off-scouring, the filth and refuse of the moral world, which a holy God deems unfit for any other place." 108

           Such fearful preaching made even the stoutest tremble, but, if the sermon did not stir the congregation, the singing probably

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would. Camp meeting leaders abandoned the usual church hymns and composed, sometimes extemporaneously, songs which more nearly suited the spirit of the meeting. These songs they called spirituals. Many Negro spirituals have been based upon them. 109 The slaves so readily took over the camp meeting spirituals and adapted them so well to their own use that many, unfamiliar with the camp meeting movement, think that they are wholly original with the Negro race.

           Elder Burkitt, writing in 1803, declared that camp meeting singing greatly aided the work of converting sinners. "We might truly say," he wrote, "the time of singing of birds had come, and the voice of the turtle was heard in our land. At every meeting, before the minister began to preach, the congregation was melodiously entertained with numbers singing delightfully, while all the congregation seemed in lively exercises. Nothing seemed to engage the attention of the people more; and the children and servants at every house were singing these melodious songs." 110

Often at the opening of a service the people would sing a spiritual and go through the congregation shaking hands with one another. The ministers also used frequently at the close of worship to sing a spiritual and go through the congregation shaking hands. "Several when relating their experience, at the time of their admission into church fellowship," says Burkitt, "declared that this was the first means of their conviction. The act seemed so friendly, the ministers appeared so loving, that the party with whom the minister shook hands, would often be melted in tears. The hymn
. . . Take your companion by the hand;
And all your children in the band,
--many times had a powerful effect."

           The baptismal and sacramental occasions, the relating of "experiences," and the mourners' bench also were "greatly blessed in this revival" movement. The anxious seat, seekers' bench, or

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mourners' bench, as it was variously called, came into use as a natural development of the Great Revival. At first those who were moved by the preaching invited themselves to the front. For instance, in 1796 when James Jenkins was preaching at Jeffrey's Creek Meeting House in the Great Pee Dee Circuit in South Carolina, a young woman who had been sitting near the door came down the aisle weeping and begging him to pray for her. 112 Others, too shy to come to the front, might fall where they were, and the preachers would have to push their way through the congregation to get to them. To avoid this confusion, the preachers began inviting "those who felt their need of religion to approach the altar, that prayer might be offered up in their behalf." 113


           The excitement of the Great Revival, as of the Great Awakening in New England which preceded 114

it, aroused emotions which were in many instances accompanied by peculiar physical manifestations, commonly known as the "exercises." 115 The sinner "under conviction" often trembled violently, suddenly fell prostrate, remained in a state of coma for varying lengths of time, and finally arose shouting praises to God. Those who had already been converted were also similarly affected. Other exercises frequently seen during the Great Revival were involuntary jerking, dancing, wheeling, laughing, and barking. A person might be affected with several of the different exercises but ordinarily he was subject to only one of them. The Reverend Jesse Lee mentions in his Memoir "the wild enthusiasm displayed by a certain female" at a camp meeting which he attended in 1806. "Her exercises were such as to attract the attention of all present, and were of a character novel enough to be sure; for she exhibited at some times the jerking exercise, at other times the dancing exercise, and not unfrequently the barking 116 exercise; and taking them all together, made as ridiculous a set of exercises as ever attracted the gaze of

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the multitude." 117 These exercises were frequently violent enough to bruise and injure the victim and, in some instances, even to cause death. 118

           As in previous revivals in the United States, the most common phenomenon of the Great Revival in North Carolina and of the revivals which followed it during the ante-bellum period was that of "falling down." Sometimes only a few persons fell; at others a whole section of a congregation or, indeed, the entire congregation might be swept down. When a person fell, he might either become unconscious at once or he might lie where he fell groaning and praying until he was exhausted. Ebenezer H. Cummins, after attending a Presbyterian encampment near Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1802, gave the following account of the exercises:

           A man who was taken with the falling exercise at a camp meeting in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, in 1802, says that his first impression was that he had been "struck in the forehead, as if by the end of a person's finger." Fearing that he had apoplexy, he desired to have blood drawn, crying out, "I cannot live." Gradually he lost his fear of death and spent the night quietly. Toward morning, however, he awakened the camp with his bitter and piercing cries. "O God, what a night I have spent in struggling against thy spirit," he called out. He continued to cry aloud, revealing, so thought the Reverend Samuel McCorkle who attended him, the

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exercises of his soul "under the convictive operations of God's spirit." 120

           While the heart-beat of some remained regular when they were exercised, that of others was so slow as to make the victim seem scarcely to be alive. The Reverend Joseph Travis, a Methodist minister at various times pastor of churches in the Cape Fear region, saw persons "stricken to the floor, as if shot by a deadly arrow," who "for an hour or so remained speechless, breathless, pulseless, and, to all appearances, perfectly dead." Then "with a heavenly smile," they would "look up, stand up, and shout aloud, 'Glory, glory to God! my soul is converted, and I am happy'." 121

Some reported that they were conscious of what was going on about them while they were lying stricken but that they were unable to speak. Others declared that they were having visions. The Reverend Jesse Lee noted in his journal the case of a young woman who fell in a nine-day trance at a camp meeting in Brunswick Circuit in Virginia in 1806. 122

[122 Memoir, p. 296: "On Sunday night, she fell down, and lay helpless; they took her into a tent, and set up with her all night; she continued helpless and speechless, all the time. Next morning I had a tea spoon full of water given her. About 9 o'clock in the forenoon she revived and said, Love, love, love! Glory, glory, glory! and then died away again, and appeared like a person in a sweet sleep. In the afternoon she was taken home in a wagon, but she remained as she had been before. Her parents, . . . sent for a physician, who came, and then sent for another. The physicians both agreed, that they could not perceive that she had any bodily complaint, believing it to be a super-natural power. They did not attempt to do much for her, only took a little blood, gave a few reviving drops, and put a small blister on the back part of her neck, but took it off in a little time. One of the physicians continued with her until the following Sunday, but saw very little alteration. She continued thus until Tuesday night, at which time she revived, and spoke freely and sensibly, though apparently in a weak and feeble state. The next day she went about the house, and out of doors, just as she pleased, and was quite well and happy in God. She had been in that state from Sunday night, until the next Tuesday night week, which was nine days and nights. I understood that during that time she ate nothing except such things as were poured into her mouth, and she took but very little of that. She was, for the most part of the time, sensible of everything that was said or done in her presence."]


           The most common form of the "falling-down" exercise was that described by the Reverend John McGhee as having taken place at Shiloh sacrament in Tennessee in 1800: "Sinners were cut to the heart, and falling to the ground, cried for mercy as in the agonies of death, or from the brink of hell, till God spoke peace to their souls; then rising from the earth with angelic countenances, and raptures of joy, gave glory to God with a loud

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voice." 123 So usual was this exercise that preachers and congregations alike came to estimate the success of a meeting by the number who fell.

           The jerking exercise, 124

or the jerks, as it was commonly called, together with the dancing and barking exercises, did not appear at the beginning of the Great Revival. The Reverend Eli Caruthers refers to these phenomena as "fungi which grew out of the revival in its state of decay." 125 At first the jerks were manifested by an involuntary twitching of the arms; later this twitching spread over all the body. It was perhaps the most contagious of the exercises. Sometimes the mere mention of it was enough to set most of a congregation to jerking. A young lady, in describing the jerks to Caruthers, told him that she had been jerked so that the combs and pins flew from her head and her hair cracked like a whip. The next day her neck would be so sore that she could scarcely move it. 126

           Whenever a woman was taken with the jerks at a camp meeting her friends formed a circle about her, for the exercise was so violent that she could scarcely maintain a correct posture. Men would go bumping about over benches, into trees, bruising and cutting themselves, if friends did not catch and hold them. Some were ashamed of having the jerks, but most persons agreed that it was impossible to resist them. "The jerks often seized upon the good as well as the bad," Eli Caruthers explained, "but I believe, no one ever said or tho't or dreamed that he was saved or even made any better by them. I have heard of men who would be swearing very profanely just before they began to jerk and swearing again as soon as the fit was over." 127

           Involuntary dancing was a phase of the jerks and it was often encouraged as a means of warding off a more violent form of bodily agitation. "At a prayer meeting one Sunday afternoon," says Caruthers, "I saw a young lady whom I had seen not very long before at a ball dancing till midnight, dancing over the floor of the large room in wh[ich] the prayer meeting was held until

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she became apparently exhausted and sunk down helpless as in a swoon." 128 This involuntary dancing consisted chiefly of skipping and leaping movements as if the person was in such an ecstasy that he could not keep still. Closely akin to involuntary dancing was the "wheeling exercise" in which the victim spun around like a top or rolled over and over or sometimes turned handsprings. 129

           Newly made converts were frequently so at peace with the world that they smiled constantly at all who looked their way, but when they laughed openly, involuntarily, and for long periods at a time, they were said to have the laughing exercise. Barking like a dog and mewing like a cat were less frequent phenomena of the Great Revival. The person so affected would get down on all fours and go about the congregation barking or mewing as the case might be.

           In a few instances, congregations in North Carolina were subject to extreme exercises, such as the marrying exercise, and the "impression" exercise. One afflicted with the marrying exercise professed to have a revelation that the Lord wished him to marry a certain person, and the person thus designated felt compelled to consent to the marriage for fear of being damned. "Thus," wrote the Reverend Joseph Moore to the Reverend Jesse Lee in 1806, "many got married, and it was said some old maids, who had nearly gotten antiquated, managed in this way to get husbands." 130

The "impression" exercise was similar to the marrying exercise in that the person under the influence of this exercise had an impression that the Lord wished a certain thing to be done. The congregation at Knobb Creek, a Presbyterian church in Rutherford County, was the only congregation in North Carolina which seems to have been especially subject to this exercise. 131 On one occasion an old woman in the congregation had an impression that one of her neighbors should break her crop of flax, and he accordingly broke the flax as the Lord directed. At the evening meetings the congregation might assemble at two or three different places in one night because one of the members might suddenly have an impression that they ought to go elsewhere.

           While most persons who were subject to the revival phenomena were exercised at a meeting, many were seized while at home or

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at work. 132 The Reverend Samuel McCorkle tells in 1802 of a young bride who was struck soon after the wedding ceremony. She said that when she was taken she was not thinking seriously about anything. 133 There are also many instances of persons being exercised when alone. Joseph Thomas, "the white pilgrim," was frequently exercised whenever he prayed in secret. McCorkle cites the instance of a middle-aged man in Rowan County who was struck while asleep in his bed. 134 Once having been exercised, a person might continue to be exercised the remainder of his life or he might never again be affected. The Reverend James Hall reported to the North Carolina Synod in 1810 the case of a prominent woman in the Cape Fear region, intelligent and well instructed in Christian doctrines, who was almost constantly under bodily agitation every time she went to church. 135

           The exercises were not confined to those interested in religion. Frequently, persons who had come to ridicule the meeting were seized, some while looking on, others while attempting to get away from the scene. At a meeting in 1801 in piedmont North Carolina three young men were struck down in the act of cutting whips to punish some Negroes who were crying for mercy. 136

"We had three persecutors struck with the power of God," wrote the Reverend James Jenkins, describing a camp meeting held in Wilmington in 1840; "two fell, and never rose until God spoke peace to their souls." 137 At a revival which the Reverend Joseph Travis attended in 1802, many became afraid to enter the church because of the contagion. "Profane sinners, downright skeptics, and God-defying wretches, would enter the church with their sarcastic grins," said Travis, "and in less than ten minutes the very vilest of all such would be stricken to the floor." One day the men sitting in the tavern drinking and gossiping about the revival asked if any one present would venture to the church and bring back the news of what was going on. A certain Mackey, amiable but "wild and heedless about religion," offered to go, declaring he was afraid of nothing. Entering the door, he began counting the number of those fallen. Suddenly he came down and remained prostrate for an hour. 138

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           The exercises affected the religious attitude of the victims in various ways. By no means all who were struck were converted. A man at a camp meeting at Waxhaw in 1802 was urged to pray when he was struck down. He peremptorily refused to do so and when urged again to pray swore that he had rather be damned than to pray. After lying prostrate all night, he crept away in the early morning. 139

While many declared that their exercise greatly increased their piety, others said that it did them no good. 140

           As the revival progressed, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist preachers alike came to frown upon all phases of camp meeting phenomena except the falling-down exercise. They preached against "the extravagancies" until the people themselves came to be ashamed of them. In 1809 the North Carolina Synod sent a minister to Knobb Creek congregation in Rutherford County to investigate the exercises which had prevailed so extensively among them. 141

A member of the congregation reported to the investigator: "When I fell into those extraordinary exercises I found such pleasure in them that I could not think of parting with them; yet when they wore off, I found the power of religion so declining in my heart, that I was conscious that in that state I never need expect to enter the kingdom of heaven; and they have cost me many sleepless hours in prayer and wrestling with my own wretched heart, before I could give them up." 142


           The explanations of the phenomena of the Great Revival as well as of revival movements in general are to be found in the field of social psychology. 143

In a state in which the masses of the people were as illiterate and consequently as superstitious as they were in North Carolina throughout the ante-bellum period, 144 it is natural to suppose that some extravagances would flourish. Rural life was so isolated and the opportunities for recreation were so few that the mere fact of having some place to go was an excitement

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in itself. With these factors given, the results of a revival were almost inevitable. The successful revival preachers such as James McGready, John McGhee, Lorenzo Dow, and James Jenkins, were all men of powerful, dramatic voices. They laid stress upon one central idea, such as salvation or hell, and hammered away at this idea, playing upon the people's superstitious fear of the devil, arousing their emotions until they had the crowd in a fever of excitement. Group psychology did the rest. With the congregation at a high emotional pitch it was only necessary for one person to shout or to fall down for hundreds to do likewise. Emotions of fear and joy now became muscular activity.

           At a camp meeting in Orange County in 1837 the revival had progressed five days "without even a grunt," when the "spirit of preaching" came upon Brantley York, who was delivering a sermon from the text, "Sir, we would see Jesus." "When about two-thirds through the sermon, there was a display of divine power, that I have never witnessed before or since," wrote York. "I felt like my feet would leave the floor of the stand so that I involuntarily grasped the bookboard. In looking over the congregation I saw many falling from their seats. Some were shouting aloud, while others were crying as loud for mercy. I called for mourners and it appeared to me as if the whole congregation was trying to get into the altar, and such was their eagerness to get there that they paid but little attention to the manner in which they came, for they fell over the benches or whatever came in their way." 145

           Mere suggestibility and sympathetic like-mindedness are not sufficient, however, to explain all of the different phases of the revival phenomena. As a correspondent of the Raleigh Register pointed out in 1841, hypnosis produced some of the exercises. 146

Undoubtedly auto-suggestion was largely responsible for a person's being seized with an exercise when alone. Moreover, many of the exercises correspond to the muscular movements and other symptoms typical of epilepsy, hysteria, or chorea. A confirmed deist, converted at a camp meeting in Cabarrus County in 1802, gives an account of his exercise which closely resembles epilepsy. 147

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           It was so customary for the masses of the people of North Carolina to attribute circumstances which they could not readily explain to the work either of God or of the devil that when a person was struck at a camp meeting, he naturally thought the power of God was upon him. Superstitious folk for centuries attributed epilepsy and other nervous disorders to the devil. During a period of religious excitement it was easy to declare these same disorders to be a visitation of the Lord. Undoubtedly many persons feigned an exercise either to play a practical joke on camp meeting leaders or to attract attention to themselves and thus compensate for some feeling of personal inferiority. The loudest shouter was often looked upon as the most devout person at a camp meeting.

           The explanations which modern psychologists give of revival movements advance very little that is new except the terminology. At the time of the Great Revival there were educated ministers and laymen in North Carolina and elsewhere who understood the underlying principles of the Great Revival and offered explanations to the public from the pulpit and the press. 148

Early in 1802 the Reverend Samuel McCorkle, who later accepted the work of the Great Revival as the act of God, pointed out the fact that those of "weak nerves," women, adolescents, and Negroes, were more frequently struck than were able-bodied men and that it was at the close of a meeting, when the body was worn out and the mind impressed with a long series of dreadful sights and sounds, that by far the greater number fell. 149

           "In a thinking mind," wrote Ebenezer H. Cummins, after attending a camp meeting near Spartanburg in 1802, "an approach to the spot" of a camp meeting "engendered awful and yet pleasing reflection. The ideas which necessarily struck the mind were, thousands in motion to a point, where to meet, tell, hear, see and

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feel the mighty power of God. Believe me, sir, no composition can exaggerate the spirit of one of these occasions, . . ." 150 A correspondent of the Raleigh Star of September 10, 1819, attributed the success of a camp meeting to its environment. ". . . there is no form of worship," said he, "so well calculated to work upon the feelings or sympathies of the obdurate, as the nightly devotional exercises practised at a Methodist Camp-meeting; for if the reasoning and persuasive powers of the preacher prove abortive, there are attending circumstances, which never fail to produce the desired end." Of the physical manifestations of camp meetings, the Reverend Nathaniel Blount wrote in 1805 to his friend the Reverend Charles Pettigrew, ". . . when people work themselves up to a very violent agitation of mind, it is no wonder if it should have some very extraordinary and surprising effect on the body." 151 More than thirty years later, after the study of mental diseases had greatly advanced, a correspondent of the Raleigh Register, calling himself "A Lover of the Right Thing," offered the following explanation of the exercises:

           The Reverend Eli Caruthers, while accepting revivals as a means of spreading the gospel quickly, did not approve of camp meeting extravagances. In referring to the Great Revival he says: "Some say that the people were mad and that the preachers were making mad; . . . Others said that those who were crying so earnestly for mercy were only scared into it by the vivid descriptions

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of future torments and the awful denunciations of God's wrath wh[ich] they heard from the pulpit; . . . Many then, as they do now, ascribe the whole to sympathy, first with the preacher and then with others; and no doubt sympathy had something to do with it as it always has to do with religion and everything else." 154


           Many educated ministers and laymen were from the first opposed to the Great Revival. Some, of course, condoned it because they thought that it was a means of bringing the masses rapidly under the restraining influence of religion, but they did not approve of the emotional excitement which a revival produced. To Captain Alexander Brevard a revival was a "religious distemper." John Forbis, an elder in Alamance Presbyterian Church, made it a rule not to attend a night meeting of a revival or to permit his family to attend. One Sunday night, however, he took his family, but he kept them by him and took them all home at 11 o'clock. His house was scarcely a mile from the camp ground. As they walked home, they found the road lined on each side nearly the whole way with people in exercise, "some shouting praise to God for their deliverances, but most of them praying and crying most earnestly for mercy." 155

           Although most revival leaders who have left accounts of their work mention the fact that "many of the first quality in the country" wallowed "in the dust with their silks and broadcloths, powdered heads, rings and ruffles," 156

the gentry, as a rule, held aloof from camp meetings. In 1806 Ebenezer Pettigrew, son of an Episcopal minister and planter, described a camp meeting to his friend, James Iredell, as a thing of curiosity. 157

           A revival usually met with some active opposition. "Scoffers" were always present to heckle the preacher or to steal among the fallen, feeling their pulse or, in some cases, if there were any Negroes among the fallen, applying coals of fire to their feet. James Jenkins tells of the attempt of a "clan of wicked fellows, headed by a sea captain" who came to one of his camp meetings "to have

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their sport." 158 The Reverend Samuel McCorkle, after attending the great Randolph meeting in the winter of 1802 wrote, "I see criminal disorder [here] through roving eyes, and vacant features. I see it in the giddy crowd running from camp to camp, without a fixed object, and I see it in the conduct of those profane persons who have overturned the sacramental tables, and trampled them under their unhallowed feet." 159

           Camp meeting officials always had trouble with drunkenness. Lorenzo Dow writes of a few drunkards at a camp meeting in Franklin County who "strove to make a rumpus." 160

McCorkle frequently mentions the presence of drunkards at camp meetings and especially mentions one man at the Waxhaws meeting in 1802 who had drunk so freely that it was doubtful when he fell whether it was from intoxication or the spirit of the Lord. 161

           Enterprising persons, wishing to take advantage of the presence of the enormous crowds attending camp meetings, sold liquor and produce from their wagons or erected stands on the camp grounds. These stands were so great a source of disorder that religious leaders as early as 1800 obtained the passage of a law to prevent their erection. 162

It was almost impossible, however, to enforce the law. In 1807 Elder Phillip Bruce pleaded for good order at a Hertford County meeting which he advertised in the Edenton Gazette of September 24. In 1808 when advertising a meeting in Northampton County he wrote, "We trust that every gentleman and lady who may be at this appointment for worship, will endeavor to set good examples, and promote decorum; and if any are accustomed to behave bad at other places of worship, we pray them not to attend here." 163 Frequently a notice of a camp meeting read as follows: ". . . all persons are strictly forbidden bringing spirituous liquors, or any thing of that kind to sell or give away, during the meeting." 164 It was, therefore, with much pride that a correspondent of the Raleigh Register in 1818 announced that there was very little disorder on the camp ground at a meeting held that year in

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Greene County. "The Peace Officers deserve great credit for their vigilance," wrote the correspondent. However, "there was some rabble from about Greenville in Pitt County, and out of Contentney Neck in Lenoir county, who made up a Ball at a house a few miles from the Camp-ground, on Saturday night where considerable disorders took place." 165

           While the revival leaders regretted the disorders which grew out of the work of the "opposers," they did not fear it so much as they did laxity within their own ranks. As early as 1804 James Jenkins lamented the turn for the worse which the movement was taking. "Preachers generally do not pray so much as formerly," he pointed out, "they are not so much in the spirit of the work. There is too much company in the preachers' tent; too much smoking of tobacco, and light, frothy, and trifling conversation." He thought there was not enough of singing and praying in the tents in the intervals between preaching. "I am grieved to see so much labour and parade about eatables, and such extravagance in dress," he continued. "I think we might do without pound-cake, preserves, and many other notions. . . . Many, I have no doubt, live much better, and dress much finer at camp meetings than they do at home; and this is one great reason why more good is not done; for while they come to serve tables, to eat, drink, and dress, the poor soul is little regarded, whereas it ought to be the all-engrossing care." 166

           Camp meetings had always been times of recreation, and as Jenkins pointed out, the people came to lay almost as much stress upon that feature of the meeting as they did upon its spiritual phase. Surely the young woman who wrote in 1819 that she had no new clothes to wear to the camp meeting was thinking of her personal appearance as well as the improvement of her soul: "I feel myself a candidate for the camp meeting if fortune will favor me with the opportunity of getting thare [sic] I am making very little preparation for it. them that dont like to see me in my old clothes will have to let me be." 167

           By 1804 the Great Revival had reached its climax in North Carolina but the revival movement continued at intervals throughout the remainder of the ante-bellum period. The revival made

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its greatest appeal to the common folk but the upper classes did not escape its influence. It was confined chiefly to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, although at the beginning some Lutheran, German Reformed, and Episcopal ministers in the State also attended camp meetings. 168 Despite its extravagances, the revival was a liberalizing movement. For a while it turned men's thoughts away from creed. It focused attention upon the individual. It joined with forces in other fields of thought to emphasize the welfare of mankind. Churches progressed beyond the narrow limits of their colonial interests. They now turned their attention to the establishment of schools, missions, poor relief, and other humanitarian reforms.

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