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Churches from 1741 through 1755: Changes, Consistencies and Cycles
The purpose of this essay is to describe the changing and consistent nature of churches and religious life between the years 1741 through 1755. This essay will be divided by individual years and will attempt to link and contrast the nature of churches and religious life between successive years and as an overarching theme across over a decade. This essay will incorporate one piece of literature from an earlier part of the year and one piece of literature from a latter part of the same year. The keyword that the research conducted to complete this essay was “church,” however, it expounds upon deeper meanings than simply the physical structure used to congregate for religious observance. This essay covers topics ranging from the mundane aspects of church and religious life, to the logistics of managing a church, and to the personal relationships between church members and between church members and their church leaders.
The year 1741 begins with an irascible letter from a Mr. Garden to the much beloved and prominent Reverend, George Whitefield. In his letter, Mr. Garden accuses Reverend Whitefield of slander when the Reverend criticizes the members of the Church of England. Mr. Garden writes, “You cannot but know, that to bring a criminal Accusation against any one, without sufficient Evidence or Proof to support it, is willful and malicious Slander: But this, Sir, you have done against your Brethren of the Church of England in your Sermon, entitled, What think you of Christ.”1 Mr. Garden continues his claim by stating that the Reverend accused church leaders of the Church of England of, “not preaching the Truth as it is in Jesus; of falling from our established Doctrines; and of preaching only the Law and not showing the Way of Salvation by Faith in Christ Jesus.”1 The very nature of this letter speaks to where religion was prioritized by colonial Americans. Somebody, Mr. Garden, believed it necessary to defend the integrity of a group of Christians and believed that his voice, along with his opinions and criticisms, were in dire need of being presented. This was a common theme among many of the resources that were sifted through between 1741 through 1755 to write this essay. The people formed intimate relationships with their Reverends and the doctrines that they preached and relied on them to imbue them with their perceived word of Christ, in an insatiable manner.
However, the people were not simply marching to the beat of their preacher’s voice. There was a genuine belief in what they subscribed to and, therefore, reacted vehemently to those who they perceived represented dissenting voices to their understanding of the word of Christ. A source that I found most compelling when exhibiting how genuine their beliefs were was in an account of a mischievous spirit that had been reported in various countries and had found its way to America. The account reads, “at different Times, as it faults it Humors, it puts on the Antinomian, the Armenian, the Calvinists, or Anabaptist…and they that are well acquainted with the Vestments of both Churches, observe, that its Gown has some Ruffles, and other Things in the Sleeves peculiar to Rome, rather than England.”2 at this point in time in early American history, there was a general consensus among the population that the word of Christ was authentic and that religion was much more than superstition, although there were many superstitions that were believed. There was a general consensus among the believers that, in order to avoid eternal damnation and other misfortunes that befall nonbelievers, the word of Christ must be strictly adhered to, almost like a guide to living successfully through ones mortal life. The strife arose between what the word of Christ actually was and what it stood for for different groups of believers.
There were no documents found for the year 1742, but documents in 1743 contained many sources regarding what appear to be the early stages of a religious revival. Reverend Benjamin Bradstreet documents the religious revival in his area and his parish. He writes, “In my very small Parish (consisting of about eighty Families) we have had in about twelve Months past (when we had before more Communicants than Families) about forty added to the Church.”3 There is a marked difference in discourse about churches and religion between 1741 through 1743. Where believers took the initiative to support their beliefs in 1741, there is much discourse of people rekindling their spiritual flame after it had been blown out for reasons unknown. Perhaps it is no coincidence that there were no documents containing the keyword “church,” in 1742. Reverend Bradstreet exclaims, So that I am far from joining with those, who fay the Present Day in general is a dark Day to our Churches, and looks with a melancholy Aspect.”3 1741 was a year for religious fervor; 1742 left no mention of church life; 1743 initiated a rekindling of the spiritual flame. Although Reverend Bradstreet explicitly makes note that there are still those who are pessimistic about the current state of churches, and proportionately of religion, there is, in fact, as the Reverend points out, a current uptick in church attendance and religious consciousness.
Two months prior to Reverend Backstreet’s exultation's over his parish’s new-found religious revival, Reverend Thomas Prince, along with an assembly of pastors, recount to one another the religious revival that was sweeping through their own parishes and across New England. He writes, “We Pastors of Churches in the Provinces of the Massachusetts-Bay & New-Hampshire in New-England, met at Boston this 7th Day of July 1743, being persuaded there has of late been a happy Revival of Religion, through a remarkable divine Influence in many Parts of this Land…”4 An early pattern that the year of and between 1741 and 1743 present is a cyclical one between religious fervor and religious apathy. What is most interesting about this cycle is how the stage of apathy acts as an incubator for the stage of fervor, almost as if to say you could not have one without the other. The more profound and elongated the stage of apathy, the more profound and elongated the state of fervor, perhaps?
The year 1744 exhibited an increased interest in religion, not only by laymen, but also by the clergy, specifically in the form of biblical translations and religious theory. The religious revival has overcome its beginning stage and is affecting more people and expanding into deeper subjects of religion. In this year, the discourse becomes more theoretical and complex and expands deeper into religion than who is right and who is wrong. There is an initiative to question one’s own beliefs and test one’s own dedication to Christ. In the Account of the Revival of Religion at Middle-borough Concluded, there is a passage that exemplifies the kind of discourse prevalent in regards to religion in 1744; it reads:
Nor can I think that Men ought to be tax’d with rash judging and Promoters of Strife and Contention, merely because they suspend their Judgment, where they have nothing but a Man’s Life and Profession as a Test of his good Estate, especially in a Place where it has been the Practice to receive Persons into the Communion of the Church, under a notion that the Lord’s Supper is a converting ordinance. Who made me a Judge; 5
This type of discourse is typical throughout 1744, where religious thinkers are beginning to question each other and themselves in order to rethink and gain a better understanding of their new found revival. The demands of Christianity are growing and changing, and preachers are taking action so that their followers are not left in a state of spiritual ignorance. In order to do so, some pastors, “…lead the Church to appoint some of the gravest Men to oversee them in those Intervals, prevent all vain Discourse, and employ the Time in Reading...”6 from religious apathy, to religious revival, to in-depth reconsideration of the demands of Christianity, the cycle continues on.
1745 brings about a new phase of religious revival, demands; demands, not only from the new aspects of Christianity, but also from the masses of new followers who habitually attended sermons to reinforce their belief in Christ and reaffirm their dedication to the Lord for themselves and to each other. In the Accounts of the Revival of Religion in Boston, continued, ministers are forced, by their people, to provide them with more sermons. As an example, “Some of our Ministers, to oblige the People, have sometimes preaches in public and private, at one House or another…And O how many, how serious and attentive were our Hearers! How many awakened and hopefully converted by their Ministers!And how many of such added soon to our Churches…”7 The state of churches and religion became, once again, a significant priority in the lives of the laymen. A correspondence between two friends, one a voyager to Asia, offers us a glimpse at how important churches were in society. The dialogue begins:
“F. And did you destroy the whole Town when you came away?”8
“V. All but the Shells of their Churches.”8
There was an understanding among the people that churches were not simply structures for aesthetic and symbolic pleasures, they were places of gathering that symbolized the rejuvenation of the spiritual flame.
Do you believe that religion played an important role in shaping American society?
1746 stands as the pinnacle year for the religious revival movement. Had the religious revival been represented by a sailing ship, the year 1746 represents the portion of the trip where all sails are set loose and there is nothing inhibiting the ship from progressing forward at a steady and strong pace, although there seems to be trouble on the horizon. An excerpt from a charter “of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts,”9 attests to where the religious revival stood in its aforementioned progress; the excerpt reads, “and there is now a very hopeful and improving Appearance of Religion in the public Worship of God, according to the Liturgy of the Church of England, in a great Number of Churches in our Plantations in America, by the means and through the Procurement of this Corporation.”10 Because 1746 was the pinnacle year for the religious revival, it also symbolizes a time of growing turmoil and frustration with the movement which led to a growing number of “expatriates,” signifying the downturn in the cyclical nature of religious apathy and religious fervor. In a letter to a minister in Boston, Reverend A. Croswel writes, “As for Men’s Leaving their Minters because they will not purify their Churches, by ejecting or suspending those members, in whom they can’t find any Grace; This I have all along look’d upon to be spiritual Antichrist in the highest Degree.”11 There is much foreshadowing in this particular passage, especially since there are little to no documents from 1747 through 1752 that contain the keyword “church.”
The year 1752 produces only one document that contains the keyword “church,” but it is an exemplary once that offers insight into the lowest trench of the cyclical downturn of religious apathy and religious revival. A good measure of how well a church is doing is not only by counting how many families are members of the church, but how well they can support the poor in their community. A passage in On the Importation of MENDICANT Foreigners, offers insight into how poorly one particular church id doing, judged by how poorly they support the poor in their community; the passage reads, “The Small-Pox, by it dismal Contagion, has spoiled the Habitations of our Poor…The Support of their Lives is become intolerably expensive; has exhausted the public Fund raised for that Purpose, and reduced our Church-Wardens, to the Necessity of borrowing One Hundred and Fifty Pounds, upon the Credit of the future year.”12 Perhaps their financial struggles are in direct correlation to the decreased amount of donations made by the lower number of congregational members? This is simply conjecture, however. It is clear that religious revival has once again fallen to a lower spot on the early Americans list of priorities.
The tribulations of the poor continue on into 1753 reflecting the continued troubles of the churches and the religious apathy among the people. One woman is described as, “She lives in a Cellar-Kitchen rented at Thirty Shillings per Annum, tendered by her Daughter, an only Child: And tho’ she receives some Help from the Church to which her Father belong’d, I do not think you can find a more wretched, pitiful Object of Charity.”13 It is the sad nature of their existence that the poor’s suffering is exacerbated when the generosities of those with money to spare find other outlets to entertain themselves. As one can imagine, would this woman have suffered had the population regained a sense of religious consciousness? Through charitable donations to their churches, it is more likely that this woman could have received even more financial assistance.
On a separate note, 1753 is also a testing year for enmeshing religious practices with state constitutions. Beginning in 1753, there seems to be a great push to establish early government foundations based off of Christian doctrines. In an article published under the title The Arguments in Support of an Ecclesiastical Establishment in this Province: impartially considered, and refute, the author seems to be against the idea of an ecclesiastical establishment. He writes, “They who assert, that the Church of England is established in this Province…Nor, indeed, is there the least Ground for such a Supposition. The Acts that establish a Ministry in this, and three other Counties, do not affect the whole Colony.”14 This particular author is against establishing a faith based government. Perhaps he sees the underlying turmoil such a system would create in as a religiously diverse country as America.
This essay will conclude with the year 1755, which, much like 1753, offers documents with discourse regarding government structures emulated from religious structures and laws based off of religious doctrine. 1755 also offers insight into the shallower end of why people choose to attend church dressed in the fashion “of the time.” In John Englishman’s true Notion of Sifter-Churches, he expounds on how government hierarchies are modeled after religious hierarchies. He writes, “Different Nations may have different external Polity, ecclesiastical as well as civil; and all agreeable to the Laws of the Catholic Church, under Jesus Christ, the supreme Head of the Church Catholic: And every National Church must have their own particular supreme Head: And the supreme Authority of the Nation, is the supreme Authority of every National Church.”15 John is making the case that a nation’s structure is almost naturally modeled directly from the Catholic’s hierarchy. Perhaps John is leading the next charge towards religious revival? It would have been interesting to conduct further research and observe how new religious theories might have been created under a religious-political standard.
In A Letter to an unfashionable Gentleman, a man writes to a friend on his friend’s choice of growing an unfashionable beard. It seems as though he is unhappy with his friend’s decision due to the fact that the look that is “in” is a clean shaven face. This document in particular speaks to how far people have transgressed from the religious revival movements in 1741 and 1743. The letter, a rather humorous read, concludes by stating, “for, as Nations at War will seldom make Peace, but on Condition of having some annoying Fortress demolished; so will I never make Peace with thee, till thy Beard is razed and leveled with thy Chin.”16 Only during a time of religious apathy could laymen discuss, or even be allowed to discuss, for the most part, such vain discourse with one another!
This essay has covered topics ranging from the mundane aspects of church and religious life, to the logistics of managing church funds and assisting the poor, to the personal relationships between church members and between church members and their church leaders. It has also discovered a cyclical nature to religious apathy and religious revival and that religious apathy, ironically, acts as an incubator for religious revival. Over the course of fourteen years, what seems to have changed the most was the theoretical rhetoric of religious doctrines and their place in society and in politics. What remained constant over the years was the religious fervor in which the people, when experiencing an upturn in the cycle of religious apathy and religious revival, were able to maintain over a prolonged period of time, at least until they reached the pinnacle of the movement.
Do you believe that America is currently experiencing a state of religious revival or religious apathy?
1. The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (1741-1741)1.5 (May 1741): 300.
2. MISODAEMON, THEOPHILUS. The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (1741-1741)1.2 (Feb 1741): 120-121.
3. Bradstreet, Benjamin. The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) 24 (Aug 13, 1743): 188.
4. Prince, Thomas. The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) 20 (Jul 16, 1743): 156.
5. The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) 72 (Jul 14, 1744): 156.
6. The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) 65 (May 26, 1744): 98.
7. The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) 102 (Feb 9, 1745): 395.
8. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746)2 (Mar 1745): 109-110.
9. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746)3 (May 1746): 207.
10. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746)3 (May 1746): 208.
11. Croswell, A. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746)3 (Apr 1746): 154.
12. Herrick. The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) 5 (Dec 28, 1752): 19.
13. A. The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) 28 (Jun 7, 1753): 112.
14. A. The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) 44 (Sep 27, 1753): 175.
15. John Englishman's True Notion of Sister Churches (1755-1755) 1 (Apr 11, 1755): 1.
16. The Instructor (1755-1755)1.10 (May 8, 1755): 40.
A. "On the Delays in CHANCERY." The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) no. 28 (Jun 07, 1753): 111. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88517447?accountid=13626.
A. "The Arguments in Support of an Ecclesiastical Establishment in this Province, Impartially Considered, and Refused." The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) no. 44 (Sep 27, 1753): 175. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88519608?accountid=13626.
Bradstreet, Benjamin. "No. XIV. from the Rev. Mr. BRADSTREET, Pastor of a Church in Glocester, in the County of Effex." The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) no. 24 (Aug 13, 1743): 187. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88500421?accountid=13626.
Herrick. "On the Importation of MENDICANT Foreigners," The Independent Reflector (1752-1753) no. 5 (Dec 28, 1752): 17. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88517402?accountid=13626.
"John Englishman's True Notion of Sister-Churches." John Englishman's True Notion of Sister Churches (1755-1755) no. 1 (Apr 11, 1755): 1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88493287?accountid=13626.
MISODAEMON, THEOPHILUS. "A True and Gennine Account of a Wonderful WANDERING SPIRIT, Raised of Late (as is Believ'd) by some Religious Conjurer; but Whether in the Conclave at Rome, Or Where Else, is Not so Certain." The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (1741-1741) 1, no. 2 (02, 1741): 120. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88510787?accountid=13626.
Prince, Thomas. "An Account of the Last ASSEMBLY of Pastors &c." The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) no. 20 (Jul 16, 1743): 155. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88500543?accountid=13626.
"A Letter to an Unfashionable Gentleman." The Instructor (1755-1755) 1, no. 10 (May 08, 1755): 39. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88519175?accountid=13626.
"Accounts of the Revival of Religion in Boston, Continued." The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) no. 103 (Feb 16, 1745): 401. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88514696?accountid=13626.
"Account of the Revival of Religion at LYME West Parise in Connecticut, Continued." The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) no. 72 (Jul 14, 1744): 153. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88505167?accountid=13626.
"Account of the Revival of Religion at Middleborough Concluded." The Christian History, Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great Britain & America (1743-1745) no. 65 (May 26, 1744): 97. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88505648?accountid=13626.
"Article 1 -- no Title." The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746) 2, (03, 1745): 106. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88468148?accountid=13626.
"Article 5 -- no Title." The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746) 3, (05, 1746): 207. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88482300?accountid=13626.
"Continuation of Mr. Garden's Six Letters." 1741.The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (1741-1741), 05, 300. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88512327?accountid=13626.
"To the Author of the AMERICAN MAGAZINE." The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746) 3, (04, 1746): 154. http://search.proquest.com/docview/88483220?accountid=13626.