Sects Originating from the Great Revival
Doubtless there were many people truly converted by means of the camp-meetings and sacramental occasions, conducted by the Presbyterians and Methodists, during the great revival. But it is equally certain that great evil resulted. Sectarianism among christians is always an evil to be deplored by all good men. Before the revival, its effects were sufficiently pernicious in Kentucky, when the sects were few and comparatively friendly. But when the number of sects were augumented by the addition of three new ones, the evil was correspondingly increased. Two of these new sects were born of the great revival on the soil of Kentucky, and the third was invited to its territory by the extravagant enthusiasm gendered by sacraments and camp-meetings. To give a brief account of the origin and history of these new sects will be the object of this chapter.
The first was known, in the beginning, as MARSHALLITES, from Robert Marshall, their first leader. They were afterwards called STONITES, from Barton W. Stone, another leader. They were popularly known as NEWLIGHTS,1 from their pretending to peculiar spiritual illuminations, by which they obtained much new light on the subject of religion. They finally adopted the name CHRISTIAN CHURCH. To this name they still adhere, wherever they have a distinct denominational existence. Dr. John P. Campbell, a distinguished Presbyterian writer of the period, traces the paternity of this sect to Thomas B. Craighead, a brilliant Presbyterian preacher, from whom Stone and Houston received their tenets.2
It has been observed that, at the very beginning of the revival, the Presbyterian preachers were divided as to the means
measures, and manner of carrying on the work. The parties were soon distinguished by the terms Revival and Anti-Revival. These parties continued to oppose each other, often with much bitterness, and with frequent shifting or doubtful balance of power during the entire revival period. The Methodists, without exception, sided with the revival party, and gave it its greatest impetus. Dr. Davidson says: “It is a well known characteristic of that sect, to exalt zeal above knowledge. Whatever changes have of late years taken place for the better, they were totally unknown at the period, and in the region of which we write. Then, boisterous emotion, loud ejaculations, shouting, sobbing, leaping, falling and swooning, were in vogue, and were regarded as the true criteria of heartfelt religion. Early admitted to take part in the meetings of the Presbyterians, it was not long before thecontagion of their wild enthusiasm completely outgrew the control of the clergy."3 Their doctrines rose in popularity with their zeal, and soon made decided changes in the doctrinal views of many Presbyterians, and not a few of the clergy. The speculations of Craighead began to be proclaimed by several of the Presbyterian preachers in northern Kentucky.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky had been erected, and held its first meeting at Lexington, October 14, 1802. This body comprised three Presbyters with thirty-seven ministers. At the second meeting of the synod, at Lexington, September 6, 1803, Richard McNemar and John Thompson were arrainged before the body for trial, on the charge of preaching “erroneous doctrines.” The arraignment was made on petition from Washington Presbytery, of which they were members. “Synod now proposed to enter on an examination and trial of Messrs. McNemar and Thompson, agreeably to the prayer of the petitioners. On Saturday, pending the discussion, Messrs. Marshall, Stone, McNemar, Thompson and Dunlavy, offered a protest against the fore-mentioned decisions in the case of Washington Presbytery; and a declaration that they withdrew from the jurisdiction of synod.” Synod appointed a committee to labor with the seceding brethren, and reclaim them. The effort was of no avail. On the 13th of September,
1803, the five seceding ministers came before Synod in person, and informed that body that they had formed themselves into a separate Presbytery. Synod proceeded to suspend them from the ministry, and declare their pulpits vacant. They had given the name Springfield to their Presbytery.
"Matters having now come to a crisis, and a separation being actually made, the war commenced in earnest. The Schismatics entered on a course of sleepless activity. The five suspended ministers, already highly popular, exerted themselves to the utmost to attract the multitude, and appealing to their sympathy as persecuted persons, endeavored to convert the censures of the church into so much additional capital in their own favor. A torrent of mad enthusiasm swept over the entire territory of the synod. Several tracts and pamphlets were published, breathing a spirit of confident exultation, and indulging in the boldest language of anticipated triumph." Before the end of the year, 1804, they had constituted sixteen churches on purely democratic principles, and multitudes of their sentiments were dispersed through Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania. These persons are described by McNemar as praying, shouting,jerking, barking, or rolling; dreaming, prophesying, and looking, as through a glass, at the infinite glories of Mount Zion, just about to break upon the world. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds. An extraordinary shower, of reddish hue, readily believed to be blood, which fell during the summer in the vicinity of Turtle Creek Meeting House, was eagarly seized on as a convincing illustration of the prophecy of Joel, and an additional confirmation of the approaching advent
Soon after their secession from the Presbyterians, the Newlights published an apology, in which they set forth their distinguishing tenets. They denied the position of the confession of faith in regard to the divine decrees, the atonement and the special influence of the spirit in producing faith. They maintained that all creeds and confessions ought to be rejected, and that the Bible alone, without note or comment, should be the bond of christian fellowship.
On the 14th of June, 1804, Springfield Presbytery met at Cane Ridge, only nine months after its organization, and in a document, which they farcically enough, titled "The Last Will
and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery." announced to the world the dissolution of that transitory body. The following ministers, of which it was composed, signed the “Will and Testament” as witnesses: Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, Richard McNemar, B. W. Stone, John Thompson and David Purviance. To this document the witnesses appended an address, giving their reasons for dissolving the Presbytery. Soon after this, they adopted a congregational form of government for their churches, and assumed the name of THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. In the spring of 1805, Matthew Houston, pastor of Silver Creek and Paint Lick Presbyterian churches, joined the Newlights. Malcom Worley had been set apart to the ministry among them. They were greatly encouraged, and, no doubt, anticipated the speedy dissolution of all the sects, and the union of all christians in the Christian Church, which was "founded on the New Testament alone." But they were doomed to speedy disappointment.
The Shakers at New Lebanon, New York, having heard of the dancing and other singular practices prevailing in the great revival, sent three of their members as missionaries to the west. They arrived in Kentucky, in March, 1805. Matthew Houston appears to have been their first convert, and his popularity was such that he carried a number of his people with him. He was elevated to the office of Elder, and went about preaching. He pretended to have literally become "as a little child," and rode about on a hobby-horse, and performed other childish tricks. From Madison county, the Shakers went to Cane Ridge, in Bourbon county, here they were warmly received by Mr. Stone, and permitted to preach to his congregation. This was in April. Mr. Stone sent a letter "by friend Bates" to Mr. McNemar, who now lived on Turtle Creek in Ohio. Coming thither, the Shakers introduced themselves to Malcom Worley, and through him, to Mr. McNemar, and were permitted to address the congregation, next day, which was Sabbath. By the 23d of May, they had formed a society of thirty or forty members, among whom were McNemar and Worley. In June, they came to Eagle Creek, and made a few converts there; in July, they succeeded in winning over Dunlavy, with twenty or thirty families under his influence. In August, through the efforts of Matthew Houston, Samuel,
Henry, and John Bonta, Elisha Thomas, and others, they obtained a foothold in the middle of Kentucky; and a number of families embraced their views, and formed a community near Harrodsburg, in Mercer county.
These things could not fail to alarm the hitherto over sanguine Newlights. Stone and Thompson, especially, denounced the Shaker emissaries, in no mild terms, through the press, by letter, and at camp-meetings. At a general meeting at Concord, in August, four of their leaders, Thompson, Marshall, Stone and Purviance spoke freely against them in their discourses. A solemn council was held, which enjoined silence on Youngs, McNemar, Dunlavy and Worley, who were present, thus, as Youngs observed, "abusing their own light."
Meanwhile, Mr. Stone had published his views, in a series of letters on "The Atonement," early in the same year. Some of his positions were so shocking as ultimately to produce alarm and division in the ranks of his own people. Messrs. Marshall and Thompson returned to the Presbyterian church, in October, 1811. Of the five fathers of "the Christian church," Mr. Stone only remained faithful. McNemar and Dunlavy having gone to the Shakers some years before, he was now deserted by Thompson and Marshall, who returned to the bosom of their first love.
In 1814, Mr. Stone published a bulky "Address to the Christian churches in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio." As in his letters on the Atonement, he had given his strength to the defense of Pelagianism, he devoted a large part of the present pamphlet to the defense of Socinian or Arian views. Another edition of this address was published, in 1821. In 1826, Mr. Stone commenced the publication of "The Christian Messenger," a small monthly. This, it is believed, was the first and only periodical published in the interest of the "Christian connection," as the denomination was often styled. The sect enjoyed but small prosperity in Kentucky, after its first burst of enthusiasm had subsided. It however extended rapidly over the northern states, from New England to the far west. It found a few people whose genius it suited, in every locality to which it was introduced, but never became numerous anywhere.
When the doctrinal views of Barton W. Stone and those
of Alexander Campbell were brought to a comparison by means of the Christian Messenger, edited by the former, and the Christian Baptist, conducted by the latter, there were so many points of agreement, that a union between the two sects was soon proposed. To carry the proposal into effect, a great mass-meeting, composed of members of both sects, was held in Lexington, January 1, 1832, and days following. The union was agreed to, by preachers and people. John Smith, Campbellite, and John Rogers, Stonite, were appointed to visit the churches of both sects, together, and endeavor to consummate the-union. Their labors were successful, and the union was completed, so far as Kentucky was concerned. At the time of the union, the numbers of the two sects were supposed to be nearly equal, each embracing about 8,000.4 The rod cast down by the Presbyterians, and becoming a serpent, was sallowed up, by the rod cast down by the Baptists, nearly thirty years later, and which had also become a serpent.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church This body, like the last one treated of, grew out of the great revival. It originated in the southwestern part of Kentucky, and the adjoining region of Tennessee, commonly known at that period, as the Green River and Cumberland River settlements. In the former of these settlements, then all embraced in Logan county, the revival begun under the ministry of James McGready, as early as 1799. By means of Sacramental meetings and camp-meetings, held by the Presbyterians, and freely participated in by the Methodists, the work spread very rapidly, and many new Presbyterian congregations were formed. The young congregations were without pastors, and there were no preachers in the country to minister to them. The confession of faith, of that denomination, requires that none shall enter the ministry without a classical education. Men of this character, with other suitable qualifications for the Christian ministry, could not be found in the newly settled country.
Under these circumstances, David Rice, or as he was reverently called by his brethren, "Father Rice," advised Transylvania
Presbytery, within whose bounds the destitute congregations were located, to license men, for the present emergency, who were not classically educated. This advice was hesitatingly agreed to, and, in October, 1801, Finis Ewing, Samuel King, and Alexander Anderson, were licensed to catechise and exhort in the vacant congregations. On their return from Presbytery, they immediately formed “circuits,” after the manner of the Methodists, including all the vacant congregations. Without the formality of taking a text, they preached Christ to the people with much zeal and effect. The following spring, Mr. Anderson, by a majority of one, was licenced to preach, and, by the same majority, Ewing and King were refused license, for the time. In October, 1802, they also were licensed, but against the protest of three preachers and two elders.
At the first session of the Kentucky Synod, which convened at Lexington, in October, 1802, Cumberland Presbytery was set off from that of Transylvania, by a line running down Big Barren river to its mouth, and thence to the mouth of Salt river, and hence comprised all the Green River and Cumberland settlements west of that line. The Presbytery was much divided in sentiment from the beginning. It held its first meeting at Ridge Meeting-house, April 5, 1803, and comprised ten ministers. Of these, Thomas B. Craighead, Terah Templin, John Bowman, Samuel Donnel and James Balch, were opposed to the revival, and consequently to all the measures by which it was promoted, including the licensing and ordaining of uneducated men to preach. The other five, whose names were James McGready, William Hodge, William McGee, John Rankin and Samuel McAdow, favored the revival and the measures by which it was promoted. By order of the Presbytery, at this and the following session, several additional exhorters were licensed, and Messrs. Anderson and Ewing were ordained to the ministry. Mr. King was ordained, and several other exhorters and preachers were licensed by order of Presbytery at its sessions, in April and October, 1804.
The revival party in the Presbytery, having now an overwhelming majority, continued to supply preachers and exhorters, according to the demands of the work. The opposing party
became restless, and sent to the Synod at its session, held in October, 1804, a remonstrance signed by Craighead, Donnel and Bowman, against the proceedings of Cumberland Presbytery. Synod appointed a committee to visit the Presbytery, and observe its proceedings. Of this committee, only Cameron attended. He was denounced as a spy.
The next meeting of the Synod was at Danville, October 15, 1805. The records of Cumberland Presbytery were laid before it, from which it appeared that the Presbytery had received Hawe, a Methodist, licensed seventeen illiterate exhorters, established circuits, recommended the people to contribute to the support of the exhorters, and committed some other irregularities. The Synod was not prepared to act on the case, and yet the offenses were so grave that they could not afford to wait another year. They fell upon the expedient of appointing a commission, with full synodical powers, to meet the following December, at Gasper River meeting-house. The commission assembled according to direction. They were regarded by the revival party of the Presbytery as having no legal authority, and as being mere inquisitors. The populace was so indignant that only one man, James Read, was willing to entertain them. Each member of the commission received an opprobrious nickname, and there was some apprehensions of a mob from the excited populace, who supposed they had come to stop the revival. The commission, however, proceeded in the discharge of its duty. It was ascertained that the Presbytery had received Mr. Hawe, a Methodist minister, without examining him in divinity and requiring him to subscribe to the confession of faith. Twenty-seven persons had been licensed, or ordained to preach, or exhort, who had adopted the confession only "as far as they deemed it agreeable to the word of God." The commission condemned these and some other proceedings. The Presbytery refused to submit to the decision, and the commission, having finished its business, dissolved.
The revival members of the Presbytery formed themselves into a council, composed of ministers, elders and representatives from vacant congregations. This council seems to have been of the nature of a Baptist association, and to have met only for counsel and advice. Under the advisory supervision of this council, the ministers and exhorters continued to labor with
great zeal, notwithstanding the prohibition of the commission, and the work greatly prospered.
Shortly after the organization of the council, James McGready, under whose ministry the revival had begun, and who was the chief leader and adviser of the revival party, withdrew from among them. He was a strong Calvinist, and loved the Presbyterian church. He saw a tendency in the new party towards Arminianism, and a strong probability that the party would be severed from the mother church. His defection was a great loss to the council. He moved to Henderson and was fully restored to the Presbyterian church.
At the meeting of the Synod, in October, 1806, Cumberland Presbytery was dissolved, and its members added to Transylvania. The council now became the medium of communication with the Synod, and the General Assembly. Various attempts were made to reconcile the existing differences between the council and Synod, till both sides despaired of success. All the original leaders of the revival party, except McAdow, had either abandoned the council, or died. Those who remained in charge of the affairs of the excluded revival party, felt the need of providing for themselves and the people they had been instrumental in leading in the way of salvation. Accordingly, on the 4th day of February, 1810, Samuel King, Finis Ewing and Samuel McAdow, met at the house of the last named, in Dixon county, Tennessee, and organized Cumberland Presbytery, independent of the Presbyterian church. The first act of the new Presbytery was to ordain Ephraim McLean.
Thus did the Cumberland Presbyterian church come into existence, and take its position among what is termed orthodox denominations of Christians. At its first regular meeting which was held at Ridge meeting-house, March, 1810, it included four ordained ministers, viz: Samuel McAdow, Finis Ewing, Samuel King and Ephraim McLean; six licensed preachers, viz. James B. Potter, Hugh Kirkpatrick, Robert Bell, David Foster, Thomas Calhoun, and James Farr, and even candidates for the ministry. The number of congregations and membersare unknown. Another attempt was made to secure a union with the Presbyterian church, but it signally failed, and the Cumberland Presbyterians were debarred from the communion tables of their
former brethren. Feeling now that they must act independently, they entered the field with renewed zeal and energy. Their labors continued to be abundantly successful. In 1813, Cumberland Presbytery was divided into three, called Logan, Nashville and Elk Presbyteries.
The members of these Presbyteries met at Beech church, Sumner county, Tennessee, October 5, 1813, and constituted Cumberland Synod. They now set forth a brief view of their doctrine and discipline, which was published in Woodward’s edition of Buck’s Theological Dictionary. The denomination had a rapid growth from its beginning. In 1820, it was not only numerous in Tennessee and western Kentucky, but had many flourishing societies in Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas. In 1822, they had 46 ordained ministers, who reported 2,718 conversions and 575 adults baptized. In 1826, there were 80 ordained ministers, who reported 3,305 conversions, and 768 adults baptized.
In 1826, the Synod resolved to erect a Manual Labor College. Princeton, Kentucky, was selected as a location, and so rapidly was the plan executed, that the school went into operation the following March. Under the style of CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN COLLEGE, it was chartered by the Kentucky Legislature, the same year. This was a valuable and flourishing institution of learning, during many years; but it finally began to wither, and became extinct several years past.
In 1827, the number of ordained ministers in the Cumberland Presbyterian church was 114, the number of professions that year, was 4,006, and the number of adults baptized, 996. The General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian church was instituted of four Synods, and held its first session in Princeton, Kentucky, in May, 1829. From the minutes of the General Assembly of 1833, it appears that the Assembly had under its care six Synods and thirty-two Presbyteries. During the previous year, 5,937 persons had professed conversion, and 1,150 adults had been baptized. The numerical strength of the church, in 1834, was put down at 9 Synods, 35 Presbyteries, 300 ordained ministers, 100 licensed preachers, 75 candidates for the ministry, 10,688 professions during the year. The number of communicants was estimated at 50,000.
This schism, rent from the Presbyterian church by measures
growing out of the Great Revival, soon grew to such dimensions as to rival the Mother church in the field of its operations. It was far more stable and consistent in its course, in proportion as it was nearer scriptural in its doctrine, than was the "Christian church." Its doctrine was, and still is, a compromise between those of the Methodists and Presbyterians. It has nothing peculiar to itself. It is manifestly a Hybrid, partaking of some of the best qualities of its diverse parents. It had a vigorous, healthy growth, and continues to be a respectable religious denomination. It has manifested much zeal, energy and perseverance, and has, doubtless, accomplished much good. But it has already begun to manifest the tendency of the universal law of hybrids, to return to the original stock. Its members have already begun to return to the parent churches, and it is probable that, within a few more generations, the CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH will cease to exist.
The Millennial Church [Shakers] The implantation of this society of harmless, dreamy enthusiasts, on the soil of Kentucky, and in the Mississippi Valley, generally, was a result of the Great Revival, and like the "Christian church" and "Cumberland Presbyterian church," was an ultimate outgrowth of the Presbyterian church. But little need be said about it. It has done no good, and comparatively but little harm, religiously. It was, especially during its early and medieval history in the west, of no small advantage to the agricultural, horticultural and mechanical interest of those neighborhoods in which its societies were located. The Shakers, wild and vague in their religious notions, but wise and practical in their management of their material resources, were the fore-runners in the improvement of live stock, agricultural and mechanical implements, and the methods of farming and gardening. On this account, if for no other reason, they deserve a brief notice.
This sect originated in England, early in the 17th century. Their most distinguished leader was a poor, illiterate woman of the name of Ann Lee, who, after being separated from her husband, to whom she had borne four children, and while in prison for having profaned the Sabbath, pretended to have
received most wonderful revelations. She succeeded in convincing the small religious community of which she was a member, that in her person was fulfilled the promise of the second coming of Christ: that as Christ had come the first time in the male body of Jesus; so now he had appeared, the second time, in the female body of herself. This extraordinary event occurred in the year 1770, in the 25th year of her age. After being imprisoned several times in England, she came to New York, in 1774. In that State she lived ten years, during which time a number of Shaker “families” were gathered in different parts of New England and New York. She died in 1784, having been imprisoned on a charge of being a spy, in 1780.
The largest and most influential body of Shakers in the United States, at the time of which we write, was that of New Lebanon, New York. This community is dignified by the name "the church," while all other communities in the country, are only appendages to it, and are called "families." Under ordinary circumstances, they made few proselytes. For keeping up their communities, they are dependent on two sources. As their religion does not allow marriage, they have no children of their own, but, especially in time of fatal epidemics, when many poor children are left without parents, they send out their agents and gather up the little orphans, which they bring up in their faith. In time of extraordinary religious excitement, they send missionaries to the scene of enthusiasm, and make proselytes of the most enthusiastic. Their church at New Lebanon was built up by "Mother Ann Lee" and her family, in time of great religious excitement, in 1780, and was the first fruits of their labors in America. In a small volume, titled "A Summary View of the Millennial Church.” etc., printed at Albany, in 1848, we find an account of the first visit of their missionaries to the Mississippi Valley. It is, in substance, as follows:
About the beginning of the nineteenth century, a most extraordinary revival of religion, commonly called The Kentucky Revival, commenced in the western states. The subjects of this wonderful work, besides the marvelous operations of the power of God upon their bodies, were greatly exercised in remarkable dreams, visions, revelations and the spirit of prophecy. In these gifts of the Spirit they saw and testified that the great day of God was at hand; that Christ was about to set up his
kingdom on earth, and that this very work would terminate in the full manifestation of the latter day of glory. The believers in the eastern states received repeated intelligence of this work from the public papers, and well remembering the prophecy of Mother Ann, concerning the opening of the gospel in the western country, they began to look for its speedy fulfillment. Accordingly, near the close of the year 1804, the church at New Lebanon was impressed with a feeling to send out messengers to visit the subjects of the revival. John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs and Issachar Bates were selected for this important mission. They set out on the first day of January, 1804, on a pedestrial journey of more than a thousand miles. They arrived in Kentucky about the first of March.5
The proceedings of these missionaries have already been narrated. Several communities were formed in Ohio and Indiana, and two in Kentucky. Among the leading converts to Shakerism were “Malcom Worley, a man of respectable character, handsome fortune, and liberal education, and who had been a leader in the revival,"6 John Dunlavy, David Purviance, Matthew Houston and Richard McNemar. Worley had been set apart to the ministry by the Newlights. The other four had been Presbyterian preachers. McNemar was a "minister of great celebrity." The community formed in Mercer county, Kentucky, was called Pleasant Hill, and, in 1823, numbered near 500 persons. Another "family" was collected at South Union (Gasper Springs) in Logan county, of the same State, which contained about 400 members. Among the early converts to the Shakers, was John Rankin, who had been a Presbyterian minister, and as enthusiastic leader in the revival. These "families" have probably remained nearly stationary, for the last half century." They are a frugal, industrious people, and have acquired considerable wealth. Their religious tenets are too silly and absurd to be worth studying. ______________
1 By the name they are still distinguished from the Campbellites in some of the North-Western States. 2 History of the Presbyterian Church, p. 271. 3 History of the Presbyterian Church, p. 140. 4 Life of Elder John Smith, by J. A. Williams, p. 437. 5 Millennial Church, pp. 78, 79. 6 Ibid., p. 79. ====================
[John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; rpt. CHR&A, 1984.]
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