You are on page 1of 16

PRESBYTERIANS IN THE EARLY AMERICAN COLONIES

Mid 1600’s – Great Awakening

Norman Ackerman 4/16/2010 HIS330

as well as other religions. England’s plan was to convert Ireland to a Church of England religion. It is important to understand why the Presbyterians. and to drive Catholics from the country. Once in the colonies and due to increasing numbers of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians coming to the colonies they. began expansion into other areas of their new country. Presbyterians played a vital role in the development of early America. of ScotchIrish descent. The Presbyterian immigrants to Ireland came from Scotland in search of better conditions and for land promised by the English government. This persecution. both crops and livestock grazing capabilities. Ireland were persecuted by the Church of England because their religion was not Anglican. They did not know what the country looked like or what it would offer as farmland. like most other religions in the colonies. enduring struggles within their own religion. not knowing what awaited them there. In the early eighteenth century religious differences developed among members of the Presbyterian Church. led the Presbyterians to leave Ireland and migrate to the New World. Anglican.The early Presbyterians living in Ulster. as well as their country. leading up to The Great Awakening. The Presbyterians were not immune to the strife. would even contemplate crossing the ocean to an unknown land. for identity and independence. Unfortunately. They were quite literally taking a leap of faith. at least partially. they felt the Anglican 2 . a goal that was long-lived well past Ulster.

With population swelling.”1 While religious persecution is the familiar reason cited for the mass migration from Ulster to the colonies. did make Ulster a less attractive destination for Scottish Presbyterians in the eighteenth century. When bad crop years occurred. Immigrants from Scotland to Ireland were originally given land leases that extended through two and three generations. While Presbyterians were persecuted. Tyler Blethen and Curtis W. land to lease became hard to find and landlords were changing how they treated their lessee’s. The stifling conditions brought on by the English government and the Irish landlords would only cause even harsher economic conditions. These regulations and measures would prove to be the ‘final straw’ for the Scotch-Irish. therefore. Wood Jr. According to H. They were known to auction off leases to the highest bidders and leases were shortened to years instead of generations. they would 3 . they were not persecuted as severely as Catholics. migrants found it difficult if not impossible to pay the rents. crop failures several years running. but were never the less persecuted. let alone get the food to feed their families and livestock. leaving them open to persecution also. To make matters worse. Ron Chepesuik points out that the plight of the Scotch-Irish would include far more than religious persecution. and in the minds of many already there. a less congenial place to stay. there is solid evidence that economics may have been a more determining factor for the migration. only made the economic hardships worse.. “Religious grievances.religion looked too much like Catholic with the Bishops and such.

this time to the colonies.2 As migration from Scotland to Ireland continued. together with the many difficulties we labored under in Ireland. there was some immigration as early as the middle of the seventeenth century. and others coming in and rents. Hudson would describe the main immigration of Presbyterians to the colonies as not fully starting until 1720. James Patton was one such migrant. They knew not what to expect or where they would go once there. nearly all who came to America came penniless. were making the decision to pick up stakes and move again. induce a wish on my part. to try my fortune in some other part of the world. This. 1756…The death of our landlord. the 4 . on the 13th day of February A. Roughly 80% of those who made the move were able to sell the remaining parts of their land leases.D. In the beginning. John Corrigan and Winthrop S. County of Derry and Parish of Tamlacht. enabling them to pay their transit fees. However. coming in the mid eighteenth century his plight is similar to that of other Scotch-Irish.4 This group was mostly made up of Presbyterians.overwhelmingly decide to make the move to the New World and hopefully a brighter future. “I was born in the North of Ireland. prevented my mother from giving her children more than a very limited education.”3 The Scottish immigrants to Ireland. though there were Anglicans and Catholics coming as well. they only knew they were going to a new home. the conditions the Presbyterians faced were becoming more and more repressive. Immigration from Ireland would actually begin before things in Ireland boiled over. familiar with moving in the not so distant past. albeit sparse.

”6 Makemie would go on to help to establish the first Presbtery in Philadelphia in 1706. having been ordained in Ireland in 1682. the only option for Virginia was to develop towns. These areas would become the areas of strength and influence for the Presbyterians5 One of the first Presbyterians to come to America was Francis Makemie.mid seventeenth century. stepping out of what some may consider the role of a minister. hits the head. he would be quite outspoken on his views. “Is a Christian viewpoint necessarily ‘conservative?’ Or do Christians have any interest in encouraging the state to be more active? One look at his remarkable document. He did however. Donald Fortson III’s view of Makemie. they began moving southward into the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont region. A plain and Friendly Perswasive. most would immigrate into the back country of New England. Most of these early Presbyterians would be absorbed into the Congregational Church. Makemie came to America as a Presbyterian Missionary in 1684. answers that question.”7 In Makemie’s view. But by the early eighteenth century when most of the ScotchIrish would come. have an agenda of his own in that towns would promote a more unified community and ultimately help in the spread of 5 . Makemie would also be a strong voice for the advancement of settlement in Virginia. Randall Balmer and John Fitzmeir would describe him as the “father of American Presbyterianism. likely because of the availability of more land. Makemie would leave an indelible mark on American Presbyterianism. Makemie vigorously urges the government of Virginia to move aggressively away from its rural base toward a society of towns.

”8 Makemie was very passionate with his appeals. but required entire families to produce. making it very labor intensive to even begin occupation. all religions grew too. Presbyterians. rye. lay no uneasie Burdens upon Trade. “…wheat. The task took him 13 years. Indian corn and hemp. Eventually. you may do nothing at all. I hope it will be no Offense to beg of you. Let our poorer fort of Inhabitants be left to follow the Example of those of greater Ability. And beware of over-doing at first. The land was densely covered with trees.”10 were common for the area. “The SPG 6 . As these people moved through America. in complying with your own Laws. Immigrants coming to Pennsylvania were faced with more than their share of problems and difficulties. especially Presbyterianism. The crops these families grew. “…erected a cabin and could put no more than one acre of trees to the axe his first year.”9 As the land was cleared settlers then had to work what was cleared to feed their families and hopefully make some profits. be the Fore-runners and Patterns to your People.Christianity. As more immigrants came to America the need for expansion grew. to avoid everything that may clog or impede such a good Design. like others spread out through the country. throughout Virginia. for by aiming to do all at once. all the while continuing the clearing process. “But in general. but it is unclear how effective his pleas were. he managed to clear twelve acres of “plough land” and six or seven for meadow. especially to such as settle in Towns. at least in the immediate future. as a deposition of Alexander Mitchell would attest. he requests that the Governor make some move to the development of towns. but make a Beginning. and not imposed on beyond their strength. give all Encouragement to Traders and Strangers. barley. In his 16 page letter to the Governor of Virginia.

Then enter into the situation. At least 400 Presbyterian and Baptist congregations were in this period. This rift. As the Great Awakening picked up steam the reasons for the separation expanded into more refined areas of the Presbyterian Church. 7 . they believed the revivals to be the work of the Holy Spirit… Old Lights. found the essence of true faith in right reason and intelligent orthodoxy-religion of the mind. only some of them through revivalism. The “New Sides” or “New Lights. The “Old Sides” or “Old Lights” were the conservative Calvinists who adhered to the Westminster formularies.”11 There was a wide cross sections of religions represented in early America. (See APPENDIX A) As Presbyterianism grew in America rifts began to emerge within the church. and felt that existing ministers and those ready to be ordained as ministers should also subscribe. saw the essence of true faith as holy lovereligion of the heart. for example.” were the liberals who were unhappy with the formularies and the practice of subscription. “New Lights.”12 The split seemed to continue to grow worse and worse. or schism. Congregational reports would give strong evidence that there was religious tolerance that existed in the colonies. from Baptists to Sandemanians. consisted of the conservatives on the one side and the liberals on the other. established nearly 150 Anglican congregations throughout the colonies between 1740 and 1770. primarily regarding the government of the church. the revivalism movement that took the country by storm in the late 1730’s and the fuel had been added to the fire.[Society for the Propagation of the Gospel].

was likely the most influential of the revivalists in the Great Awakening. “I hope it is not wholly from curiosity that I desire to see and hear you in this place.…”15 After Whitefield had come to Northampton with his brand of revivalist religion and his charismatic sermons. Whitefield has been the great instrument of causing the Divisions and Seperations which have disturbed and rent in pieces so many of the churches in this land…”13 On the other hand. Whitefield was the revivalist that many other revivalists looked to as their inspiration. a Northampton. 11 March 1745. Communities would come alive when Whitefield spoke. an itinerant Anglican minister. that you are one that has the blessing of heaven attending you wherever you go. Edwards like 8 . Jonathon Edwards. or at least his brand of religion. Whitefield’s speaking skills were very impressive. that Mr. from what I have heard. was one of those who would eventually look at Whitefield as the leader in the movement. 26 November 1739. Boston Evening Post. New York Weekly Journal. Whitefield would not be without his critics though. One thing is certain.…WHITFIELD! That Great. but I apprehend. that pleasing name has all my soul possest: for sure some Seraph from above inspires his God like breast…”14 There were some New Light ministers who grasped the revivalist movement with nearly as much fervor as Whitefield himself. who are acquainted with our religious affairs. even suspicious.George Whitefield. ALTHO it us abundantly evident to all unprejudiced persons. “Anonymous Writer. Even though at first having only heard of him and being somewhat apprehensive. New England Congregationalist minister. there would seemingly be as many against him. as with him. “Anonymous Writer.

while he still held to his beliefs in the religious experience and the ensuing conversion. in 1758 both sides made it 9 . was also the founder of the Log College which was created to educate Presbyterian ministers in the New World.”16 Edwards would go on to be a key figure in the Awakening. such as Gilbert Tennent. It has been gradually reviving and prevailing more and more. the Old Lights didn’t feel that the ministers that the college put out met the standards as did those educated in Europe. Others. In fact. Gilbert Tennent would become one of the catalysts to lead the New Lights and Old Lights to reunite. This type of sermon was often referred to as a “terror of the law” type sermon. a Presbyterian minister and the son of the well known William Tennent would take the cause of the New Lights. Gilbert would arguably be considered one of the most outspoken Presbyterian revivalists. William Tennent. His sermons. Both sides began to discuss the possibility of reunion as early as 1754.so many others who had heard him had no reservations about Whitefield at all. such as “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God”. make the listener fearful enough of his present condition to convert. He admitted that. ever since you was here. he would agree that those involved may have been a little zealous and prideful. The Log College would eventually become the New Jersey College and then the present day Princeton University. a Presbyterian minister himself and a New Light. The Log College was one point of contention between the Old and New Lights. Ironically. “I have joyful tidings to send to you concerning the state of religion in this place. would inspire congregants to turn to Christ as their savior.

10 . In a very real sense. The Old Sides would concede that the acts of the Synod could be protested. demonstrates perseverance and hard work. One Presbyterian minister. to accuse any member of heterodoxy.” Both sides would make concessions. would be one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. the New Sides conceded “…shall be esteemed and treated as a censurable evil. as that of the Great Awakening.”17 The Presbyterian journey in America. in a calumniating manner. to find a way to come back together again. like so many other groups. The Presbyterians would prove to be good leaders in the budding country. the “we will do it the new American way versus the old English way” sentiment would prevail throughout the colonies in all things. as Tennent would voice in one of his sermons. John Witherspoon. while. or immorality. insufficiency. or by a regular process according to our known rules of judicial trial in cases of scandal.official with the “Plan of Union of 1758. They demonstrated solidarity in the face of internal strife. or otherwise than by private brotherly admonition.

Rogerene. 1776 Denomination Congregational Presbyterian* Baptist+ Episcopal Quakers German Reformed Lutheran# Dutch Reformed Methodist Catholic Moravian Separatist and Independent Dunker Mennonite Huguenot Sandemanian Jewish TOTAL SOURCE: Paullin (1932) *Includes all divisions such as News Light. Seventh Day. +Includes all divisions such as Separate. etc. Old Light.228 11 .1 Number of congregations per Denominations. Associate Reformed. #Includes all Synods18 Number of Congregations 668 588 497 495 310 159 150 120 65 56 31 27 24 16 7 6 5 3. Six Principal.APPENDIX A TABLE 2. etc.

2000) Corrigon. Jon. Claghorn) http://edwards. Hudson. Henry Warner Bowden. (UNC University Library. http://docsouth. Ed. Stout. James. Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on the Events of the Period.galegroup.unc. Francis. Ed. Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life. David A. 2004) 12 . (Greenwood Press. (WJE Online Vol. Jon Butler and Harry S. 2003) Chepesiuk. MI: Gale) http://galenet. Division of Archives and History. in Bartholomew-Lanee.. (London: Printed by John Humfreys. Tyler H. Series Ed. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina.. The Presbyterians.5. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Jonathan [1716]. Randall and John R. 16. 1998). John and Winthrop S. Religion in Colonial America. Rev. Raleigh. 2000) Butler. By a WellWisher to Both Governments..html (accessed 2/17/2010) SECONDARY DOCUMENTS Balmer. Jon and Grant Wacker and Randall Balmer. (Oxford University Press.com/servlet/HistRC/ (accessed 3/10/2010) Patton. No.edu/fpn/patton/patton. Biography of James Patton. Farmington Hills. Ed. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). George S. Ron. 7th Ed. Fitzmier.BIBLIOGRAPHY PRIMARY DOCUMENTS Copeland. (Oxford University Press. (July 6. The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America.and Curtis W. (Pearson – Prentice Hall. (Raleigh North Carolina Department of Cultural resources. Wood Jr. for Promoting Towns and Cohabitation. Letters and Personal Writings. Inc. 1705. 2000) Edwards.yale. Denominations in America Series. (McFarland & Company. (Greenwood Press 1993) Blethen. Copyright 2004 by the University Library.edu/archive? path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9uYXZpZ2F0ZS 5wbD93amVvLjE1 (accessed 4/1/2010) Makemie. A Plain and Friendly Perswasive to the Inhabitants of Virginia and Maryland. NC 1998) Butler. Religion in American Life: A Short History.

Ed. W. The Presbyterian Enterprise: Sources of American Presbyterian History. (Rutgers University Press. A Documentary History of Religion in America to the Civil War. http://americanphilosophy. Roger and Rodney Stark.. Issue 3. 1992) Forston III.html (accessed 3/25/2010) Westerkamp. 58. 2nd Ed.3/griffin.A.history. 1956) White.cooperative. (The New York Publishing Company. M. “Division. Donald Forston III.Finke. 2007) Gaustad. http://www.pdf (accessed 4/1/2010) 13 .. by Maurice W. Patrick “The People with No Name: Ulster’s Migrants and Identity Formation in Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania” The William and Mary Quarterly Vol. Charles A..net/presb_awakening.. Marilyn. Anderson. (Lefferts A Loetscher.. Dissension. Edwin S. S. The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. and Compromise: The Presbyterian Church during the Great Awakening” Journal of Presbyterian History 78: (Spring 2000).org/journals/wm/58. (William B. Southern Presbyterian Leaders. 1911) SCHOLORLY DOCUMENTS Griffin. S. PhD.. Colonial Presbyterianism: Old Faith in a New Land. PhD. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 71. Pickwick Publications. Westminster Press.L. 1993) Jenkins. Donald. Armstrong. Henry Alexander. Ed. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

NOTES 14 .

103 Edwards.org/journals/wm/58. 2000). http://www. Marilyn. 1705. Division of Archives and History). in Bartholomew-Lane.. (Pearson – Prentice Hall 2004)).com/servlet/HistRC/ (Accessed 3/10/2010). James.unc.. S. Randall and John R. (McFarland & Company.pdf (accessed 4/1/2010). NC. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina.. Letters and Personal Writings. (Raleigh North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 194 Forston III. 40 Makemie. The People with No Name: Ulster’s Migrants and Identity Formation in Eighteenth-Century Pennsylvania. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 71. 70 6 5 1 2 3 4 Balmer and Fitzmeir. David A. Dissension. Claghorn http://edwards. and Curtis W. 7th Ed. MI: Gale). 114 14 13 Copeland.history. The Presbyterians. (Henry Warner Bowden. A Plain and Friendly Perswasive to the Inhabitants of Virginia and Maryland. (Greenwood Press.cooperative. Wood Jr. 2000). Ron. John and Winthrop S. http://galenet..html. (UNC University Library. Raleigh. 8 Copeland. Donald. 1993). Ed. Farmington Hills. Hudson. Journal of Presbyterian History 78: (Spring 2000). 1998. Reproduced in History Resource Center. (Works of Jonathon Edwards Online Vol. Religion in America: An Historical Account of the Development of American Religious Life. (The William and Mary Quarterly Vol.yale.html (accessed 3/25/2010). Issue 3). Francis. 7 Griffin. “Division. S. for Promoting Towns and Cohabitation. Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on the Events of the Period. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Tyler H.edu/archive? 15 . http://americanphilosophy. Pickwick Publications 2007). Patrick. 1998). July 6. 1 Corrigon. Ed. George S. 99 12 11 Westerkamp.. http://docsouth. Donald Forston III. 95 Patton. 70 Balmer.3/griffin.net/presb_awakening.edu/fpn/patton/patton. Ed. The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America. Paragraph 14 10 9 8 7 Griffin. Greenwood Press. Ed. Jonathan [1716].galegroup. Biography of James Patton. Copyright 2004 by the University Library. By a Well-Wisher to Both Governments London: (Printed by John Humfreys. Colonial Presbyterianism: Old Faith in a New Land.Blethen. 58. Rev. and Compromise: The Presbyterian Church during the Great Awakening”. 16). Inc. Paragraph 14 Westerkamp. 18 Chepesiuk. Fitzmier.

Roger and Rodney Stark. 25 18 . 16 http://edwards.path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9uYXZpZ2F0ZS5wbD93amVvLj E1 (Accessed 4/1/2010) Edwards. The Churching of America 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. WJE Online Vol. (Rutgers University Press 1992).yale. 177 Finke.edu/archive? path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy4xNT o1OjI4LndqZW8= (Accessed 4/1/2010) 17 16 Fortson III.