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Editor's note: The revivals that became known as the "Second Great Awakening" began in 1800 in western Kentucky (Logan County) and were noted for some enthusiasm. This report of enthusiasm attracted the "Shakers" who came to that area and established a settlement there. In northern Kentucky the revivals began under the preaching of the frontier Baptist minister John Taylor, who lived in Boone County. By the time the following report was written there was excessive enthusiasm in the outdoor camp-meetings. This is an eye-witness account primarily from Cane Ridge (Bourbon County), KY. Jim Duvall

The Christian Index
January 5, 1833
(W. T. Brantley, editor)


The excitement which occurred in several religious denominations during the year 1802, throughout Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia and South Carolina, was one of the most memorable, in the history of Religion in this country. We therefore make no apology for placing before our readers the subjoined sketch of the times to which we refer. We copy from the New York Evangelist.

Revivals in Kentucky in 1802

As my object is not to write a history, but rather to furnish materials for a history, I do not confine myself to any regular order of events. In bringing toward these several sketches concerning the revivals which took place in the Western and Southern states, about the beginning of the present century, my design has been to furnish my readers with the means of judging for themselves respecting the character and results of these visitations. As we have heard much respecting the "evils of revivals," and the "dangers of revivals," I wish to bring the matter to the test of facts. And it has seemed to me an important question, to be settled only by facts, whether a revival of religion is a period so full of evils and dangers, as some suppose. The Western revivals have been often appealed to, in support of the affirmative; and therefore they require a fuller examination. The pious Milner would not entitle his book, "Ecclesiastical History," but the "History of the Church," drawing a distinction between the history of ecclesiastical affairs and disputes, and the history of true Christians. A man therefore may be familiar with Ecclesiastical history and yet be but poorly acquainted with the "history of the church." So that little, if any importance, would be attached to his opinions in regard to revivals, missions, &c. It has been stated, that those Western revivals "left the churches in a far worse state than they had been before." -- To show what was their moral influence, I now bring forward an "intelligent Christian," who had a "adequate acquaintance with the course of events," and whose testimony, though long, is so full and impressive that I dare not abridge it. It is a letter from the Rev. George Baxter, now head of the Theological Seminary in Prince Edward, Va. to the Rev. A. Alexander, now at the head of the Theological Seminary in Princeton. N. J.

Washington Academy, Va. Jan. 1, 1802.
Rev. and Dear Sir, -- I now sit down, agreeably to promise, to give you some account of the revival of religion in the state of Kentucky. You have no doubt heard already of the Green River and Cumberland revivals. I would just observe, that the last summer is the fourth since the revival commenced in those places: and that it has been more remarkable than any of the preceding, not only for lively and fervent devotions among Christians, but also for awakenings and conversions among the careless; and it is worthy of notice that very few instances of apostacy have hitherto appeared. As I was not myself in the Cumberland county, all I can say about it is from the testimony of others; but I was uniformly told by those who had been there, that their religious assemblies were more solemn, and the appearance of the work much greater than what had been in Kentucky; any enthusiastic symptoms which might at first have attended the revival had greatly subsided, whilst the serious concern and engaged ness of the people were visibly increased.

In the older settlement of Kentucky, the revival made its first appearance among the Presbyterians, last Spring; the whole of that country about a year before was remarkable for vice and dissipation; and I have been credibly informed that a decided majority of the people were professed infidels. During the last winter appearances were favorable among the Baptists, and great numbers were added to their churches; early in the spring the ministrations of the Presbyterian clergy began to be better attended than they had been for many years before; their worshipping assemblies became more solemn; and the peop1e, after they were dismissed, showed a strange reluctance to leaving the place; they generally continued some time in the meeting houses in singing or in religious conversation. Perhaps about the last of May, or the first of June, the awakenings became general, in some congregations, and spread through the country in every direction with amazing rapidity. I left that country about the first of November, at which time this revival in connexion with the one on Cumberland had covered the whole state, excepting a small settlement which borders on the waters of Green River, in which no Presbyterian ministers are settled, and I believe very few of any denomination. The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people; are difficult for you to conceive, and more difficult for me to describe. I had heard many accounts, and seen many letters respecting it before I went to that country, but my expectations, though greatly raised, were much below the reality of the work.

The congregations, when engaged in worship, presented scenes of solemnity superior to what I had ever seen before -- and in private houses it was no uncommon thing to hear parents re1ate to strangers the wonderful things which God had done in their neighborhoods, whilst a large circle of young people would be in tears.

On my way to Kentucky I was told by settlers on the road, that the character of Kentucky travellers was entirely changed, and that they were now as distinguished for sobriety as they had formerly been for dissoluteness; and, indeed, I found Kentucky the most moral place, I had ever been in; a profane expression was hardly heard, a religious awe seemed to pervade the country, and some deistical characters had confessed that, from whatever cause the revival might originate, it certainly made the people better. Its influence was not less visible in promoting a friendly temper; nothing could appear more amiable than that undissembled benevo1ence which governs the subjects or this work. I have often wished that the mere politician or deist could observe with impartiality their peaceful and amicable spirit. He would certainly see that nothing could equal the religion of Jesus for promoting even the temporal happiness of society: some neighborhoods, visited by the revival, had been formerly notorious for private animosities: and many petty law suits had commenced on that ground. When the parties in these quarrels were impressed with religion, the first thing was to send for their antagonists; and it was often very affecting to see their meeting; both had seen their faults, and both contended that they ought to make concessions, till at last they were obliged to request each other to forbear all mention of the past, and to act as friends and brothers for the future. Now, sir, let modern philosophizes talk of reforming the world by banishing Christianity, and introducing their licentious systems; the blessed Gospel of our God and Saviour is showing what it can do. Some circumstances have concurred to distinguish the Kentucky revival from most others of which we have had any account, I mean the largeness of the assemblies on sacramental occasions, the length of time they continued on the ground in devotional exercises, and the great numbers who have fallen don under religious impressions. On each of these particulars I shall make some remarks.

With respect to the largeness of the assemblies. -- It is generally supposed that at many places there were not fewer than eight, ten or twelve thousand people. At a place called Caneridge meetinghouse, many are of opinion there were at least twenty thousand; there were one hundred and forty wagons which came loaded with people, besides other wheel carriages: some persons had come two hundred miles: the largeness of these assemblies was an inconvenience: they were too numerous to be addressed by one speaker: therefore became necessary for several ministers to officiate at the same time at different stands; this afforded an opportunity to those who were but slightly impressed with religion, to wander to and fro between the different places of worship which created an appearance of confusion,. . . .

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. . . . When people fall over during the most solemn parts of divine service, those who stood near were so extremely anxious to see how they were affected, that they often crowded about them so as to disturb the worship. But these causes of disorder weresoon removed; different sacraments were appointed on the _____ Sabbath, which divided the people; and the falling down became so familiar as to excite no distubance. In October I attended three sacraments; at each there were supposed to be four or five thousand people, and every thing was conducted with strict propriety. When persons fell, those who were near took care of them, and every thing continued quiet until the worship was concluded.

The length of time that people continue at places of worship, is another important circumstance of the Kentucky revivals. At Cane-ridge they met on Friday, and continued till Wednesday evening, night and day, without intermission, either in the public or private exercises of devotion; and with such earnestness that heavy showers of rain were not sufficient to disprerse them. On other sacramental occasions they generally continued on the ground until Monday or Tuesday evening; and had they not the preachers been exhausted and obliged to retire, or had they chosen to prolong the worship, they might kept the people ant length of time they pleased,and all this was, or might have been done, in a country where less than twelve months before, the clergy found it difficult to detain the people during the usual exercises of the Sabbath. The practice of encamping on the ground was introduced partly by necessity, and partly by inclination; the assemblies were generally too large to be received by any common neighborhood. Every thing, indeed was done, which hospitality and brotehrly kindness could do, to accommodate the people; public and private houses were opened, and free invitations given to all perswons who wished to retire; farmers gave up their meadows before they were mown to supply the horses. Yet notwithstanding all this liberality, it would have been impossible, in many cases, to have accomodated the whole assemblies, with private lodgings. But besides, the people were willing to suffer any interruption in their devotions; and they formed an attachment to the place where they were continually seeing so many careless sinners receiving their first impressions, and so many deists constrained to call on the formerly despised name of Jesus; they conceived a sentiment like what Jacob felt at Bethel -- "surely the Lord is in this place," -- "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

The number of persons, who have fallen down under serious impressions in this revival, is another matter worthy of attention, and on this I shall be more particuar, as it seems to be the prncipal cause why this work shou1d be more suspected of enthusiasm, than some other revivals.

At Cane-ridge sacrament, it is generally supposed, not less than one thousand persons fell prostrate to the ground, among whom were many infidels. At one sacrament which I attended, the number that fell was thought to be more than 300. Persons who fall are generally such as had manifested symptoms of the deepest impressions for some time previous to that event. It is common to see them shed tears plentifully for about an hour -- immediately before they become totally powerless, they are seized with a general tremor and sometimes, though not often, they utter one or two piercing skrieks in the moment of falling. Persons in this situation are affected in different degrees -- sometimes when unable to stand or sit, they have the use of their hands, and can converse with perfect composure. In other cases they are unable to speak -- the pulse becomes weak, and they draw a difficult breath about once in a minute; in some instances their extremities become cold, and pulsation, breathing, and all the signs of life forsake them for nearly an hour; persons who have been in this situation have uniformly avowed that they felt no bodily pain, that they had the entire use of their reason and reflection; and when recovered, they would relate eyery thing that had been said or done near them, or which cou1d possibly fall within their observation. From this it appears that their falling is neither common fainting, nor a nervous affection. Indeed this strange phenomenon appears to have taken every possible turn, to baffle the conjectures of those who are not willing to consider it a super-natural work. Persons have sometimes fallen on their way from public worship; and sometimes after they had arrived at home; and in some cases, when they were pursuing their common business on their farms, or when retired for secret devotion. It was observed, that persons generally are seriously affected for some time previous to their falling; in many cases, however, it is otherwise; numbers of thoughtless sinners have fallen as suddenly as if struck with lightning; many professed infidels and other vicious characters have been arrested in this way, and sometimes at the very moment when they were uttering blasphemies against the work. At the beginning of the revival in Shelby county, the appearances, as related to me by an eye witness, were very surprising indeed. The revival had before this spread with irresistible power through the adjacent counties; and many of the pious had attended distant sacraments with great benefit; these were much engaged, and felt unusual freedom in their addresses at the throne of grace, for the outpouring of the divine Spirit, at the approaching sacrament in Shelby. The sacrament came in September. The people as usual met on Friday, but all were languid, and the exercises went on heavily; on Saturday and Sunday morning it was no better; at length the communion service commenced, everything was still lifeless; -- whilst the minister of the place was speaking at one of the tables without any unusual animation, suddenly there were several shrieks from different parts of the assembly; instantly persons fell in every direction, the feelings of the pious were suddenly revived, and the work progressed with extraordnary power till the conclusion of the solemnity.

The phenomenon of falling is common to all ages, sexes and characters;, and when they fall they are differently exercised; some pious people have fallen under a sense of ingratitude and hardness of heart, and others under affecting manifestations of the eternal goodness of God; many thoughtless persons under legal convictions, who have obtained comfort before they arose. But perhaps the most numerous class consists of those who fall under distressing views of their guilt, who arise with the same fearful apprehensions, and continue in that state for some days, perhaps weeks, before they receive comfort. I have conversed with many who fell under the influence of comfortable feelings, and the account they gave of their exercises while they lay entranced. was very surprising. I know not how to give you a better idea of them, than by saying that in many cases they appeared to surpass the dying exercises of Dr. Finley; their minds appeared wholly swallowed up in contemplating the perfections of deity, as illustrated in the plan of salvation; and whilst they lay apparently senseless and almost lifeless, their minds were more vigorous, and their memories more retentive:and accurate than they had ever been before. I have heard men of respectability assert that their manifestations of gospel truth were so clear as to require some caution when they began to speak, lest they should use language which might induce their hearers to suppose they had seen those things with bodily eyes; but at the same time they had seen no image nor sensible representatation, nor indeed any thing besides the old truths contaned in the bible. Among those whose minds were filled with the most deligbtful communicaitons of divine love, I but seldom observed any thing extatic. Their expressionswere just and ratiolial, they conversed witll calmness and composure, and on their first recovering their use of speech, they appeared like persons recovering from a violent disease, which had left them on the borders of the grave. I have sometimes been present when persons who fell under the influence of convictions, obtained relief before they arose in these case. It was impossible to observe how strongly the change in their minds was depicted in their countenances; instead of a face of horror and despair, they assumed one, open, luminous, and serene, and expressive of all the comfortable feelings of religion. As to those who fall down under legal convictions and continue in that state, they are not different from those who receive convictions in other revivals, excepting that their distress is more severe. Indeed extraordinary power is the characteristic of this revival, both saints and sinners have more striking discoveries of another world, than I have ever known on any occasion.

I trust I have said enough on this subject to enable you to judge how far the charge of enthusiasm is applicable to it. Lord Lyttleton in his letter on the conversion of St. Paul, observes (I think justly) that enthusiasm is a vain self-righteous spirit, swelled with self sufficiency, and disposed to glory in its religious attainments. If this be a good definition there has been perhaps as little enthusiasm in the Kentucky revival as in any other. Never have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which disclaims the merit of its own duties, and looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the on1y way of acceptance with God: I was, indeed, highly pleased to find that Christ was all and all, in their religion as well as in the religion of the gospe1; christians in their highest attainments seemed most sensible of the entire dependence on divine grace, and it was truly affecting to hear what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ, as the only physician who could give them any help. Those who call these things enthusiasm ought to tell us what they understand by the spirit of Christianity. In fact sir, this revival operates as our Saviour promised the Holy Spirit should, when sent into the word, it convinces sin of righteousness and of judgment, a strong confirmation to my mind, both that the promise is divine; and that this is a remarkable fulfillment of it. It would be of little avail to object to all this, that probably the professions of many were counterfeited; such an objection would rather establish what it meant to destroy; for, where there is no reality, there can be no counterfeit; and besides, where the general tenor of a work is such as to dispose the mere insincere professors to counterfeit what is right, the work itself must be genuine; but as an eye witness in the case, I may be permitted to declare, that the professions of those under religious convictions were generally marked with such a degree of engagedness and fee1ing as willful hypocrisy, could hardly assume; the 1anguage of the heart when deeply compressed, is very distinguishable from the language of affection. Upon the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky, among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the church of Christ; and, all things considered, peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country. Infidelity was triumphant, and religion at the point of expiring; something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people, who were ready to conclude that christianity was a fable, and futurity a dream. This revival has done it; it has confounded infidelity, awed vice into silence, and brought numbers, beyond calculation, under serious impressions. Whilst the blessed Saviour was calling home his people, and building up his church in this remarkable way, opposition could not be silent. As this I hinted above: but it is proper to observe that the clamorous opposition which assailed the work at its commencement, has been in a great measure borne down before it; a large proportion of those who have fallen, were first opposes, and their example has taught others to be cautious, if it has not taught them to be wise.

I have written on this subject, to a greater length than I first intended; but if this account should give you any satisfaction, and be of any benefit to the common cause, I shall be fully gratified.
Yours with the greatest esteem.
G. Baxter

The Rev. A. Alexander, New York Missionary Magazine, Vol. iii. For 1.18.1802, pp.86-92.


[From The Christian Index, W. T. Brantley, editor, January 5, 1833, pages 5-8. Jim Duvall]

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