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The Trouble with Christian History: Thomas Prince's “Great Awakening”

  • Timothy E. W. Gloege


The Christian History, a revivalist newspaper edited by the Boston minister Thomas Prince, is perhaps the most important cultural artifact of eighteenth-century revivalism in New England. It provides source material for countless studies, and more recently served as an exemplar of how revival participants constructed a “Great Awakening.” This essay undertakes a close historical, textual, and quantitative analysis of this two-volume periodical. It reveals complex divisions among revival supporters and surprising alignments among those who disagreed over revivalism. Attitudes toward the social order were a key factor. The Christian History was central to the construction of the “Great Awakening,” (a process shaped both by social power and contingencies), but failed to promote moderate revival activity as intended. Ironically, the newspaper designed by Prince to unite the Congregationalist establishment only contributed further to existing controversies.



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1 The Boston Weekly Post-Boy, October 12, 1741.

2 The Boston Weekly Post-Boy, May 3, 1742. Numerous other examples of fears about lay-exhorting exist. See for example, The Boston Weekly Newsletter, December 23, 1742.

3 The Declaration of a Number of the Associated Pastors of Boston and Charles-Town relating to the Rev. Mr. James Davenport (Boston: S. Kneeland and T. Green, 1742).

4 Circular letter, reproduced in Lambert, Frank, Inventing the “Great Awakening” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 146.

5 The best study of the Christian History is found in Richardson, Lyon N., A History of Early American Magazines, 1741–1789 (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1931), 5873. See also de Wetering, John E. Van, “The Christian History of The Great Awakening,” Journal of Presbyterian History 44 (1966), 122–29; Lisa Thurston Brown, “Perspectives of Pro-Revivalism: The Christian History and The Great Awakening,” (Masters Thesis, Brigham Young University, April 2004). A citation list of the Christian History would mirror an exhaustive bibliography of the Great Awakening; practically every historian references a revival narrative from it. The most recent full-length monographs devoted to the Great Awakening both draw heavily on the document: Crawford, Michael J., Seasons of Grace: Colonial New England's Revival Tradition in Its British Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lambert Inventing the “Great Awakening”; and Kidd, Thomas S., The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009).

6 John Fea, “Wheelock's World: Letters and the Communication of Revival in Great Awakening New England,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (April 1999), 99–144.

7 Kidd's important study, The Great Awakening, treats the “Great Awakening” as a collection of local revivals (and carefully examines the events themselves), but is less interested in the issue of the “Great Awakening” as narrative (the conscious selection and editing of these raw materials into a coherent history).

8 Butler, Jon, “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction,” The Journal of American History 69 (1982), 305325. Frank Lambert, Inventing the “Great Awakening,” argues that the revival was a creation of the participants themselves, but this is the logical extension of preceding work on transatlantic revivalism. See O'Brien, Susan, “A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735–1755,” American Historical Review 91 (1986) 811832; Crawford, Seasons of Grace.

9 O'Brien perhaps emphasizes Prince's control too much: interpreting his editorial decisions without attention to the constraints he faced—especially the persistent lack of material (“A Transatlantic Community of Saints,” esp. 828).

10 On the centrality of Boston and the resources they commanded to the success of Congregationalism in New England, see Peterson, Mark A., The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997). Recent studies of the Great Awakening emphasize radical revivalists over establishment supporters like Prince. Winiarski, Douglas L., “Souls Filled with Ravishing Transport: Heavenly Visions and the Radical Awakening in New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 61 (2004): 346 and Kidd, Thomas S., “Daniel Rogers' Egalitarian Great Awakening,” Journal of the Historical Society 7 (2007): 111–35.

11 This interpretation of the Brattle Street incident and its repercussions is taken from Thomas S. Kidd, “From Puritan to Evangelical: Changing Culture in New England 1689–1740,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 2001), 52–89. It argues that Colman's installation at Brattle Street Church was a direct challenge to the Mather hegemony and represented the rise of a new group to cultural power in Boston. It highlights the ecumenical component of “catholick” thought, but also demonstrates their commitment to Calvinist dogma, challenging suggestions that they represent “proto-liberals” (meaning Universalists or deists). Corrigan, John, The Prism of Piety: Catholick Congregational Clergy at the Beginning of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1991), examines a similar group (sans Thomas Prince). Silverman, Kenneth, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), 146–56 outlines a similar narrative, but sees Colman as more impudent and his truce with Mather as more tentative. Crawford, Seasons of Grace, 67, curiously places Cotton Mather as the head of the catholick ministers. On Colman, see Shipton, Clifford K., Sibley's Harvard Graduates (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1945), 4:120–37 [hereafter SHG]. On Prince, see SHG, 5:341–68. The merchants who rebelled against the Mathers included Thomas Brattle, John Mico, Thomas Cooper, and John Colman—the older brother of their new minister Benjamin.

12 Kidd, “From Puritan to Evangelical,” 15; Corrigan, Prism of Piety, 225.

13 SHG 5:347, 352. Prince held the same policy of an open table. Christian History (Boston, 1745) 2:396 [Hereafter CH];

14 Prince, Thomas, Earthquakes the Works of God and Tokens of his just Displeasure . . . (Boston: D. Henchman, 1727), 2. See also, Prince, Thomas, An Account of a Strange Appearance in the Heavens (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1719).

15 “Enthusiasm,” originally equated with spirit possession, by the eighteenth century had gained a plasticity that covered any number practices including, but not limited to, visions, prophecies, and direct communication with God, uncontrolled vocalizations, aural sensations and various physical fits. On enthusiasm see David Lovejoy, S., Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985); Garrett, Clarke, Spirit Possession and Popular Religion: From the Camisards to the Shakers (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); Marini, Stephen A., Radical Sects of a Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 159; Taves, Ann, Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), especially 174; Schmidt, Leigh Eric, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000). On the special role of the Salem Witch Trials in catholick ascendency, see Kidd, “From Puritan to Evangelical,” 52–89, especially 66–68. On changing attitudes towards supernaturalism, see Winship, Michael P., “Prodigies, Puritanism, and the Perils of Natural Philosophy: The Example of Cotton Mather,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 51 (1994): 92105, especially 102; Harley, DavidExplaining Salem: Calvinist Psychology and the Diagnosis of Possession,” American Historical Review 101 (1996), 307330; Boyer, Paul and Nissenbaum, Stephen, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974). On the connection between rejecting supernaturalism and maintaining elite power, see Butler, Jon, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990); Hall, David, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990); Seeman, Erik R., Pious Persuasions: Laity and Clergy in Eighteenth-Century New England (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 116–46.

16 For an example of the tensions between Boston Catholicks and Anglicans, see Stenerson, Douglas C., “An Anglican Critique of the Early Phase of the Great Awakening in New England: A Letter by Timothy Cutler,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 30 (1973): 475–88, especially 483–84.

17 Linebaugh, Peter and Rediker, Marcus, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon, 2000).

18 This was shared by a London correspondent, who envisioned unity would come by minimizing “little Externals” (in which he included both “Church Government” and “the Time or Mode of Baptism”) and using only the criteria that one has had a “saving acquaintance with the Lord Jesus.” As a result, he predicted, “all of every Sect that are begotten of the same royal Seed, will be inclin'd by that Spirit which God has sent into their Hearts, to lay aside all their Prejudices against each other, and be united together, bearing with each other” (CH, 2:56–57).

19 Boston's revivalists promoted the revival as neither exclusively colonial nor inclusively international, but specifically British. Revival news covered Scotland, Wales, and British colonies as far away as the East Indies, but contained only one item from outside the British Empire. This sole item was an extract August Hermann Franck's Pietas Hallensis or An Historical Narration of the Orphan House, which recounts the history of German Pietism. Prince reprinted the excerpt under the title Revival of Religion in Germany. See CH, 2:262–284.

20 Since Edwards never left the colonies and lived in a peripheral town, he depended upon Benjamin Colman and other Boston revivalists for entry to the transatlantic ministerial network. Even after his entre to the larger revival network, his strongest connections were to colonial Scotland rather than the London metropolis. Marsden, George M., Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), 170–173.

21 See Boston Evening Post April 4, 1743 where an antirevivalist reprints a passage from Edwards Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival in which he suggests that the failure of government authorities to call for a public day of Thanksgiving might be “interpreted by GOD, as a denial of Christ.” Also compare Edwards's narrative found in the Christian History (CH, 1:367–81) to that of Thomas Prince (CH, 2:374–415). On Jonathan Edwards and radicalism, see Winiarski, Douglas L., “Jonathan Edwards, Enthusiast? Radical Revivalism and the Great Awakening in the Connecticut Valley,” Church History 74 (2005): 683739. Winiarski argues that Edwards's letters to Prince are revised from an earlier radical stance. For the tensions between Edwards and his Boston and London supporters, see Goen, C. C., ed., The Great Awakening, The Works of Jonathan Edwards 4 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972) 3239; 59–60.

22 Kenney, William Howland, “George Whitefield, Dissenter Priest of the Great Awakening, 1739–1741,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 26 (1969): 7593. Kenny makes a case for Whitefield's popularity being tied to his “unusual position as an Anglican priest who confirmed dissenter claims” not only about the Church of England, but also their Calvinism. This was done in an ecumenical manner that “deplor[ed] the ‘bigotry’ of allegiance to any one earthly institution” (77–78). The Boston revivalists' embraced Whitefield without input from English evangelicals, however. When queried later, Isaac Watts would speak of Whitefield ambivalently, warning that he “was rash and relied too heavily on inward impulses” (Crawford, Seasons of Grace, 153).

23 CH, 2:380.

24 See the preface by Colman and Cooper dated June 7, 1740, repr. CH, 2:366–70.

25 CH, 2:382.

26 Stout, Harry S., The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 132. Only when Whitefield repudiated separatism prior to his second trip to the Colonies in 1745 did he reconcile himself to the Boston revivalists (189–192). Prince downplayed this rift, insisting that “tho' now and then he dropped some Expressions that were not so accurate and guarded as we shou'd expect from aged and long studied Ministers; yet I had the Satisfaction to observe his Readiness with great Modesty and Thankfulness to receive Correction as soon as offered” (CH, 2:380–81).

27 CH, 2:384.

28 CH, 2:386, 403. Benjamin Colman concurred: “We have neither had those Outcries and Faintings in our Assemblies, which have disturbed the Worship in many Places.”

29 CH, 2:397. Despite Prince's optimism that the revival reinforced established religion, the actual outcome was ambiguous. Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra, 190–93.

30 There were close connections between radical itinerants and Whitefield, which were widely recognized at the time. The South Carolina correspondent reporting the antics of Hugh Bryan, for example, called it “the Workings of Whitfieldism [sic] in its native Tendency.” The Boston Weekly Post-Boy, May 3, 1742. On the connections between Hugh Bryan and Whitefield, see The General Magazine, March 1741, 202 and Jackson, Harvey H.Hugh Bryan and the Evangelical Movement in Colonial South Carolina,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 43 (October 1986): 594614.

31 Colman, Benjamin, The Great GOD has magnified his WORD to the Children of Men. A Sermon Preach'd at the Lecture in BOSTON, April 20, 1742 (Boston: T. Fleet, 1742).

32 The Declaration of a Number of the Associated Pastors of Boston and Charles-Town Relating to the Rev. Mr. James Davenport (Boston: S. Kneeland and T. Green, 1742). Signers included both strong supporters of revivalism and so-called antirevivalist ministers. Davenport responded to the declaration as he had to other opposition: he denounced them, ignored their prohibitions and preached on the Common. The Boston Weekly Post-Boy, July 5, 1742. On Davenport see Stout, Harry S. and Onuf, Peter, “James Davenport and the Great Awakening in New London,” Journal of American History, 70:3 (December 1983): 556578; Brockway, Robert W., “The Significance of James Davenport in the Great Awakening,” Journal of Religious Thought 24 (1967–68), 8694. Most major monographs on the Great Awakening also figure Davenport into their narrative. For example, Goen, C. C., Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740–1800 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1962), especially 17–31 and Lambert, Inventing the Great Awakening, 213–14; 242–43. Davenport's increasingly irregular techniques were reported in Boston's newspapers, beginning in late 1741. Easily accessible accounts are found in Bushman, Richard L., ed., The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740–1745 (New York: Antheneum, 1970), 4553.

33 Charles Chauncy's letter to Davenport and his commencement sermon warning against “Enthusiasm” to which it was attached differed little in substance from the original pastoral declaration. See Chauncy, Charles, Enthusiasm described and caution'd against (Boston: J. Draper, 1742). Some historians have interpreted this sermon as a broader attack on revivalism, though the Boston revivalists were equally concerned with “enthusiasm” and Davenport specifically. No pro-revival minister responded in print. Chauncy later reported that his criticisms had ended friendships with revival supporters Joshua Gee (pastor of the Old North Church) and William Cooper. However he made no such claims about Colman or Prince, and claimed to have remained “considerably intimate” with Joseph Sewall. Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 61n110. Thomas Prince recorded in his diary that he had Chauncy preach to his congregation as late as 1737 (after the publication of Edwards Faithful Narrative). See “The Diary of Thomas Prince, 1737,” The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 18 (1917), 337. Harper, George W., “Clericalism and Revival: The Great Awakening in Boston as a Pastoral Phenomenon,” New England Quarterly, 57 (1984): 554–66, claims that Boston Old Light concerns over the Great Awakening centered on ecclesiology rather than soteriology—mirroring the Boston revivalists. A similar lack of clear party affiliation is evidenced in subsequent conflicts. In 1743 William Cooper invited Jonathan Ashley to preach at his church; he later concluded the sermon was overly critical of the revival movement. In his defense, Ashley noted Benjamin Colman's approval. See The Boston Gazette January 11, 1743; February 1, 1743; February 8, 1743.

34 Boston Evening Post, July 26, 1942.

35 All studies of the Christian History minimize the agency of the younger Prince, (about whom little is known) following the suspicions of the time that Thomas Prince, Sr. was the driving force behind the project. See, for example, Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 58–73; Crawford, Seasons of Grace, 304n2; Van de Wetering, “The Christian History of The Great Awakening,” 122–23. I adopt a similar position on Prince, Sr.'s intimate involvement. At the same time, it is clear that Prince, Jr. did more than simply execute his father's wishes. In letters to the newspapers, Prince, Jr. insists that he is more than the nominal editor. See The Boston Gazette, May 31, 1743. For a brief biographical sketch of Prince, Jr., see SHG 10:531–34.

36 CH, 1:2–3.

37 This outline was printed at the beginning of each volume. The same was printed in advertisements in the local Boston newspapers. See The Boston Gazette, March 1, 1743; The Boston Weekly News-Letter, March 3, 1743, March 10, 1743, March 17, 1743; The Boston Post-Boy, March 7, 1743.

38 Thomas Prince, CH, 1:1.

39 On the beginnings of similar magazines in England and Scotland, see O'Brien, Susan, “Eighteen-Century Publishing Networks in the First Years of Transatlantic Evangelicalism,” in Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, The British Isles, and Beyond, 1700–1990, eds. Noll, Mark A., Bebbington, David, and Rawlyk, George A. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 4850. Scottish revival news (and James Robe in particular) was an important component of the Christian History's content. Thirty-eight percent of the Christian History's issues had news from Scotland and England. Of the thirty-three issues devoted to the Scottish revival, twenty-three of these came from James Robe. Robe's account explicitly connected the Scottish and American revivals—both in its structure, (which was nearly identical to Jonathan Edwards's Faithful Narrative) and in its repeated mentioning of earlier revival occurrences in the colonies. See CH, 1:7 for an example of Prince's notations. On the connections between Scottish and Colonial awakenings, see Michael Crawford's thorough treatment in Seasons of Grace. It does not appear that news of the Scottish revival had a reciprocal effect in the North American colonies.

40 CH, 1:14.

41 CH, 1:6. A footnote from Prince, Sr., reiterated his belief that the current revival movement was not enthusiastic because it produced an increased interest in Reformed doctrine. CH, 1:13.

42 Samuel Kneeland and Timothy Green were publishers of The Boston Gazette, one of the oldest newspapers in the city. Thomas, Isaiah, The History of Printing in America (New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 93100.

43 Boston Evening Post, April 4, 1743.

44 CH, 1:55, 57.

45 The final week of printing Robe's narrative was dated April 16, 1743; the extant letter is hand-dated two days later, April 18, 1743. See Lambert, Inventing the Great Awakening, 145–7, which includes a photo reproduction of the letter.

46 For a complete timeline and summary of the content of the Christian History. Approximately half of issue 10, all of issue 11 and a brief portion of issue 12 were given to a few personal letters and larger portions of reprinted material received from Scotland.

47 The Boston Gazette, April 12, 1743. The incident pushed a number of clergy into outright opposition to the revival; even Davenport's most ardent defender, fellow radical Andrew Croswell, fell into a stunned silenced. On Davenport's troubled ministry after the bonfire incident, see Cray, Robert E. Jr.James Davenport's Post-Bonfire Ministry, 1743–1757,” Historian 59 (1996): 5973.

48 CH, 1:77.

49 Some correspondents suggested that while Whitefield was using the Georgia orphanage for fundraising purposes in Scotland, he was not forwarding the resulting funds to it. Boston Evening Post, May 9, 1743; May 16, 1743; May 23, 1743.

50 Prince printed personal letters from Scotland from “prudent, and pious Minister[s]” who vouchsafed the substantial benefits Whitefield was bringing. CH, 1:77.

51 The Boston Gazette, May 24, 1743. On The Boston Gazette see Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 61.

52 Boston Evening Post, May 30, 1743. An anonymous letter was published later in The Boston Weekly News-Letter, May 26, 1743 challenging the charges leveled against Whitefield's orphanage in Georgia. Fleet responded (Boston Evening Post, May 30, 1743) as if Prince, Jr. had written it as well, though it is unlikely, considering Prince's distaste for anonymous writings and his willingness to sign his name to other published correspondence.

53 On the conference as “antirevivalist,” see Lambert, Inventing the Great Awakening, 190. Contrast this with Boston Evening Post, June 27, 1743. Nathaniel Eells, served as the first convention's moderator, but also attended a second convention in support of the revival and signed its attestation. Joseph Sewell initially objected to an early draft of the first convention's report, but gave no public opposition to the final draft. Other specific names are not mentioned, but contemporaneous accounts suggest other Boston revivalists also participated. Most historians draw their conclusion that the conference was anti-revivalist from Charles Chauncy's participation and the vitriolic open letter written by Joshua Gee (though he was also at the meeting!), A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Nathanael Eells (Boston: J. Draper for N. Procter, 1743). Gee's combativeness place him at odds with Boston's catholick revivalists and his youth makes it highly unlikely that he was speaking for them. When his response (often used as the sole account of the conference) is contextualized with other sources a different picture emerges. See, Prescott, Benjamin, A Letter to the Reverent Mr. Joshua Gee, in Answer to His (Boston: Green, Bushell and Allen: 1743) and Hancock, John, An Expostulatory and Pacifick Letter, by Way of Reply to the Revd Mr. Gee's Letter of Remarks (Boston: Rogers & Fowle, 1743). Prescott believed that the vast majority of participants were unified on the issue of Errors and Disorders, though split on the nature of a present revival of religion. He also asserted that true partisans were limited to two or three individuals on either side. Prescott's tone, though firm, was not combative. The advertisement for his pamphlet quotes Galatians 2:11 wherein the apostle Paul recalls confronting Peter over a theological disagreement, intimating the present conflict was between coworkers, not enemies. The Boston Weekly News-Letter, July 21, 1743. The official record of the conference deliberations was sparse, only stating that the document was “read and accepted Paragraph by Paragraph,” by a majority of participants. Muddying the waters in this matter is J. F., Remarks on the Reverend Mr. Joshua Gee's Letter (Boston: s.n., 1743), which, though anonymous, shares John Fleet's initials and caustic sarcasm. The document contains no evidence that the author attended the meeting and no doubt was this religious outsider's commentary on an internal Congregationalist dispute.

54 “The TESTIMONY of thePastors of the Churches in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New England, at their Annual Convention in Boston May 25, 1743. Against several Errors in Doctrine, and Disorders in Practice” (Boston: Rogers and Fowle, for S. Eliot in Cornhill 1743), 2, 12. The convention occurred the day after Prince, Jr.'s response to Fleet was printed in The Boston Gazette. Boston revivalists agreed with the Testimony's “Errors in Doctrine” (“secret Impulses upon their Minds, without due Regard to the written Word” believing “none are converted but such as know they are converted and the Time when; that Assurance is of the Essence of saving Faith,” and “that Sanctification is no Evidence of Justification”) and its list of “Disorders in Practice” (“Private Persons of no Education . . . without any regular Call . . . taking upon themselves to be Preachers of the Word of GOD,” “The ordaining . . . of any Persons to the Work of the evangelical Ministry . . . without any special relation to a particular Charge,” “The Spirit and Practice of Separation from the particular Flocks to which Persons belong,” “Persons assuming to themselves the Prerogative of GOD, to look into and judge the Hearts of their Neighbours”).

55 The testimony limited its criticisms to the most extreme forms of itinerancy, but its concluding recommendation that ministers “guard . . . against the Intrusions of Itinerants and Exhorters,” clearly discouraged the practice more broadly. Ibid, 7.

56 The characterization of recent revival activity as being dominated by enthusiastic excess was a serious critique, but one made with the utmost delicacy. “Though we deny not that the human Mind, under the Operation of the Divine Spirit, may be overborn with Terrors or Joys, yet, the many Confusions that have appeared in some Places . . . we judge to be so far from an Indication of the special Presence of God…that they are a plain Evidence of the Weakness of human Nature” (Ibid, 12). This was far from a complete rejection of revivalism. Although they rejected recent excesses, the document insisted “where there is any special Revival of pure Religion in any Parts of our Land, at this Time, we would give unto GOD all the Glory.”

57 It stated a number of ministers were convinced that an extraordinary revival event was underway and to encourage its continuance wished to meet to discuss “whether they are not called to give an open conjunct Testimony to an Event so surpsizing and gracious,” as well as against “the Errors in Doctrine and Practice” that were evidenced.

58 See The Boston Gazette, May 31, 1743. This was also reprinted in CH, 1:155–56. This geographical strategy is further evidence that Gee was not a leading figure in the second conference, since one of his complaints about the first conference was that those outside of the Bay Area were allowed to participate in the convention.

59 CH, 1:106. Prince commented that he had much more material.

60 CH, 1:114.

61 The Boston Gazette, June 28, 1743, 1.

62 CH, 1:137.

63 Boston Evening Post, July 4, 1743.

64 CH, 1:150–151.

65 CH, 1:155.

66 Specifically, that “there has of late been a happy Revival of Religion, thro’ a remarkable divine Influence in many Part of this Land,” and that it was their duty to give a “Testimony, to the glory to God” as well as “against those Errors in Doctrine, and Disorders in Practice,” (“The Testimony and Advice of an Assembly of Pastors of the Churches in New England, at a meeting in Boston,” 7).

67 CH, 1:157. Three members of the committee were from Boston churches; the other five members represented the outlying counties: Rogers and Samuel Wigglesworth from Essex, Nathaniel Leonard from Plymouth, William Hobby from Middlesex, and Joseph Adams from New Hampshire.

68 The full title is as follows: “The Testimony and Advice of an Assembly of Pastors of Churches in New-England, at a meeting in Boston July 7. 1743. Occasion'd by the late happy revival of religion in many parts of the land. To which are added, attestations contain'd in letters from a number of their brethren who were providentially hinder'd from giving their presence. By order of the Assembly” (Boston: S. Kneeland and T. Green, 1743). “Late” might ambiguously mean either that which was recently started and ongoing, or to that which recently was, but no longer is. This wording is striking when compared with the announcement of the meeting which far less ambiguously requested attendance from “Brethren as are persuaded there has of late been a happy Revival of Religion” [emphasis added], which more clearly emphasizes its continuance into the present (The Boston Gazette, May 31, 1743).

69 The attestation insisted that most converts did not have radical experiences (rather they were “wrought on in a more gentle and silent Way”), that these expressions were not evidence of the direct working on the Holy Spirit (only indirect manifestations not integral to God's working in themselves) and that such experiences were meaningless without “a rational Account.” Still, it compromised with radicals by granting positive significance to behavior that more conservative ministers would consider evidence of error. Addressing “Disorders and Excesses,” the conference recommended that “secret Impulses on their Minds” not be “the Rule of their Duty” without reference to scripture, but again assumedly allowed such impulses if guided by the Bible without any degree of specificity. This contrasted with the Boston statement against Davenport, the Boston revivalist's attitude towards enthusiasm more generally, and Prince's ongoing attempts in the Christian History to strip any significance from enthusiastic practice. CH, 1:159.

70 CH, 1:162–63.

71 On Leonard who worked with and imitated Croswell, see SHG 6:324–27, esp. 325. On Rogers's various disruptive activities, see SHG 6:556–60, esp. 557.

72 As Prince later explained: “as People of all Denominations and Opinions in the Christian World reckon it lawful in many cases for Ministers to preach in the Parishes of others without their Knowledge and against their Consent: Thus the Protestants preach in the Parishes of Papist Ministers in Hungary, and formerly in France; the Presbyterians Congregationalists, Baptists and Quaker in the Parishes of Episcopalian Ministers in England, Ireland, Virginia and Carolina; the Episcopalians, Baptist and Quakers in the Parishes of Congregational Ministers in New-England; and this Liberty cannot be invaded or denied without inhumanly invading the essential Rights of Conscience; So it must be left to the serious Consciences both of Ministers and People: And in the free Exercise of Conscience they are doubtless to be indulged with great Tenderness, Meekness and Forbearance; as every Man desired to be indulged in the Liberty of his own Conscience” (CH, 1:198).

73 “The Testimony and Advice,” 11, 7.

74 CH, 1:198.

75 “The Testimony and Advice,” 12–15.

76 See Boston Evening-Post, August 15, 1743, for a contemporaneous analysis of the signatures which came to similar conclusions.

77 CH, 1:210–11.

78 Boston Evening Post, August 15, 1743. The writer defined a senior minister as “Ministers that are of 40 Years standing at College.”

79 Boston Evening Post, August 22, 1743.

80 CH, 1:197–8.

81 Prince noted specifically that the overwhelming majority of signers had been out of college for ten years, that nearly half had taken their degree twenty years ago, and a quarter over thirty years ago. CH, 1:210–11.

82 CH, 1:201.

83 CH, 1:208.

84 CH, 1:205–7.

85 “That our less intelligent Readers may learn that Outcries and bodily Distresses attending a Work of the divine Spirit, are no new Things” (CH, 1:215).

86 CH, 1:215–24.

87 CH, 1:225, highlights the irregular demonstrations that accompanied the preaching of Robert Rollock “a renowned Minister of the City of Edinburgh in Scotland, the first Professor of Divinity, and the first Principal and Rector of the University erected there in 1583,” quoting a description that “He was a person of great Worth and Learning, and in great Esteem with all good Men for his Learning Holiness and Moderation.”

88 CH, 1:228. Prince's use of extracts after Parks, unlike other occasions, was a clear instance of narrative construction, since he already had in hand a second narrative.

89 Boston Evening Post, September 5, 1743. Another correspondent pointed to Parks's narrative as reason for discontinuing his subscription. Boston Evening Post, February 27, 1744.

90 CH, 1:239, 241, 249, 250.

91 These include the narrative sent to Prince, Sr. by Peter Thatcher in 1741, a letter sent to Thomas Foxcroft by Presbyterian Jonathan Dickinson, who described revivals that occurred prior to 1741. See CH, 1:252, 412. A final narrative was found among Peter Thatcher's papers after his death.

92 The Boston Gazette, December 20, 1743.

93 CH, 1:341.

94 The narratives written by William Shurtleff, James Allen, and Samuel Allis were found among Cooper's papers. Not surprisingly, these constitute three of the four highest lag-times between when the narrative was written and when they were printed. It is not clear why Cooper had failed to send them to Prince earlier, though their composition dates would have done little to promote the “present” revival.

95 In contrast to Jon Butler's assertion that revivalists were conservative, Harry Stout concludes that it was the opponents of revival who were conservative. Stout, HarryReligion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 34 (1977): 519-541. George Harper concurs, asserting “while the New Lights were indeed generally quite traditional in their understanding of the work of redemption . . . at least in Boston they joined this characteristic to a genuine openness to change and innovation in their view of the church, the one area in which the Old Lights remained dogmatically conservative” (Harper, “Clericalism and Revival,” 565). The crux of the matter is that it is impossible to fit the complex debates surrounding the Great Awakening into present definitions of “conservative” and “liberal.” At play was a range of issues related to theology (soteriology, ecclesiology), sociology (social organization, social power), and science (Enlightenment thought, views of the supernatural, and so forth). Thus, for example, if the Boston Revivalists were open to theological innovations in ecclesiology, their opposition to the excesses of James Davenport, radical itinerancy, lay-exhorting, and enthusiastic behavior suggests a profound social conservatism combined with a moderate enlightenment-inspired intellectual liberalism.

96 CH, 1:409–11. Allis also spoke of “various Impression . . . upon the minds” of participants, but limited them to traditional ideas of the majesty and holiness of God.

97 CH, 1:395.

98 CH, 2:17–18.

99 CH, 1:257.

100 CH, 2:45.

101 CH, 2:20.

102 CH, 1:267.

103 CH, 2:19.

104 CH, 1:243

105 CH, 2:45.

106 CH, 2:115–16.

107 Parsons was also associated the radical with Andrew Croswell. See CH, 2:153–56, 141.

108 SHG, 7:345–59.

109 Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, 6 vols. (New York: H. Holt, 1885–1912), 1:389–93.

110 SHG, 6:324–27.

111 CH, 2:138–139. Parsons believed “none ought to speak or pray with a loud Voice in the Time of publick Worship,” but he was far more open to outcries than conservative and moderate revivalists.

112 CH, 2:335, 355.

113 CH, 2:354.

114 CH, 2:347.

115 CH, 2:106.

116 CH, 2:111.

117 CH, 2:131.

118 CH, 2:347.

119 South Carolina Gazette, June 14–21, 1742.

120 Untitled Manuscript in Cotton Families Collection, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Mass. The account may have been penned by Josiah Cotton. The extant copy of the account dates to the late eighteenth century.

121 Plymouth Church Records, 1620–1859, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. 22 (Cambridge, Mass.: The University Press, John Wilson and Son, 1920), 292–296.

122 CH 2:313–17.

123 Cotton, Josiah, “Account of the Cotton Family: Appendix, 1728–1755,” in The Memoirs of Josiah Cotton and Allied Documents, ed. Winiarski, Douglas (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, forthcoming), 95140. I deeply appreciate his sharing this and several other manuscripts from his collection.

124 Ibid.

125 Ibid.

126 Only twenty-one percent of issues from the first volume had material composed explicitly for the Christian History; twenty-three percent had unpublished material that Prince appropriated for the newspaper. In contrast, an overwhelming eighty-five percent of issues from the first volume had previously published material.

127 This includes Prince's republication of the revival attestation from the second ministerial meeting (covering seven issues) and other creative acquisitions. “Present” news and revival narratives have been defined generously to include any material covering events after 1740; a more rigorous definition (limiting “present material” to the dates of the Christian History, for example) would decrease these low numbers even further.

128 Only twenty-seven percent of issues in the first volume contained colonial revival narratives; this increased to sixty-one percent in volume two—an average of forty-six percent across both volumes. A finer grained accounting (in pages rather than issues) reduces these numbers further. Only twenty-four percent of the first volume was colonial revival narratives; this increased to fifty-six percent of volume two, for a total of forty percent across both volumes. See Table 1.

129 See Table 1.

130 See for example, CH, 2:1. Three narratives dominated the second volume each at a length of approximately forty pages compared with an average that otherwise hovered around ten pages. Two of these were among the most radical and the final narrative was written by Prince, Sr. himself. These removed, narratives constituted a mere twenty-six percent of issues in the second volume (twenty-four percent of total pages).

131 Conservative-leaning and moderate narratives totaled seventeen and fourteen percent respectively. Prince's creative acquisitions constituted twenty-five percent of the total. See Tables 2 and 3.The conservative narratives were written by some of the oldest and most conservative ministers of the group. Two thirds of ministers who graduated by 1710 wrote conservative narratives. The most recent graduate who wrote a conservative narrative was Samuel Allis, who graduated in 1724.

132 According to the biographical sketch in Sibley's Harvard Graduates, Cotton “probably turned against the revival in its later stages, for he was a member of a group which in 1745 voted not to admit Mr. Whitefield to their pulpits” (SHG 5:522). Likewise Allen rejected the revival movement within a year of writing his narrative, probably because of “the apostasy of some of the early converts.” As a result some New Lights in his parish seceded. SHG 5:506–510.

133 Quoted in Crawford, 304n3.

134 McLoughlin, William G. Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald, 1959).

I would like to thank George Marsden, Thomas Kidd, Bryan Bademan, and Jeffrey Bain-Conkin for helpful comments on an early draft. Douglas Winiarski generously provided both comments and essential documents used in this essay. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewer for Church History.


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