Thomas Jefferson noted in his bemorandum book: “I have subscribed to the building of an Episcopalian church, two hundred dollars; a Presbyterian church, sixty dollars, and a Baptist church, twenty-five.”
On July 14, 1826, the Boston newspaper Christian Watchman printed an unverified story that Jefferson dined at Monticello prior to the Revolutionary War with Baptist Pastor Andrew Tribble. The story described how Jefferson inquired of Pastor Tribble how Baptist church government worked, then Jefferson stated that he “considered it the only form of pure democracy that exists in the world. … It would be the best plan of government for the American colonies.”
Jefferson then “organized” a church, drafting “Subscriptions to Support a Clergyman in Charlottesville,” Feb. 1777, as recorded by Julian P. Boyd in “The Papers of Thomas Jefferson”: “We the subscribers … desirous of encouraging and supporting the Calvinistical Reformed church, and of deriving to ourselves, through the ministry of its teachers, the benefits of Gospel knowledge and religious improvement … by regular education for explaining the holy scriptures. … Approving highly the political conduct of the Revd. Charles Clay, who, early rejecting the tyrant and tyranny of Britain, proved his religion genuine by its harmonies with the liberties of mankind … and, conforming his public prayers to the spirit and the injured rights of his country, ever addressed the God of battles for victory to our arms. … We expect that the said Charles Clay shall perform divine service and preach a sermon in the town of Charlottesville on every 4th … Sunday or oftener if a regular rotation with the other churches … will admit a more frequent attendance. And we further mutually agree with each other that we will meet at Charlottesville … every year … and there make a choice by ballot of three wardens to collect our said subscriptions … for the use of our church.”
The Calvinistical Reformed Church met in the Albemarle Courthouse for seven years. Jefferson supported the evangelical Rev. Charles Clay, who was a distant older cousin of the statesman and orator Henry Clay.
Jefferson noted in his bemorandum book, Aug. 15, 1779: “Pd. Revd. Charles Clay in consideration of parochial services.”
As Virginia’s governor, Jefferson wrote in 1779: “The reverend Charles Clay has been many years rector of this parish and has been particularly known to me. … In the earliest stage of the present contest with Great Britain while the clergy of the established church in general took the adverse side, or kept aloof from the cause of their country, he took a decided and active part with his countrymen, and has continued to prove … his attachment to the American cause.”
The Calvinistical Reformed Church ceased meeting when subscribers Philip Mazzei and John Harvie moved away, and when Jefferson, depressed after the death of his wife and several children, sailed off to serve as U.S. ambassador to France in 1783.
The religious revival in Virginia continued as part of the “Second Great Awakening.” Methodist evangelist Jesse Lee, who traveled a circle of cities, reported in 1787 the “circuits that had the greatest revival of religion” included Albermarle county. Nearly all Baptist and Methodist churches were of mixed races.
In 1788, Rev. John Leland, a friend of Jefferson’s and pastor of Goldmine Baptist Church of Louisa, Virginia, personally baptized over 400. In Charlottesville, attorney William Wirt attended the meetings of Presbyterian Rev. James Waddell. Wirt was later asked by Jefferson to lead the prosecution of Aaron Burr for treason. Wirt was appointed by President Monroe as U.S. Attorney General, where he defended the rights of Cherokee Indians in Worcester v. Georgia, 1832.
William Wirt wrote of the preaching of Presbyterian Rev. James Waddell in 1795: “Every heart in the assembly trembled in unison. His peculiar phrases that force of description that the original scene appeared to be, at that moment, acting before our eyes. … The effect was inconceivable. The whole house resounded with the mingled groans, and sobs, and shrieks of the congregation.”
James Madison, who was a member of St. Thomas Parish where Rev. James Waddell taught, exclaimed of him: “He has spoiled me for all other preaching.”
Madison invited Presbyterian preachers speak his Montpelier estate, such as Samuel Stanhope Smith and Nathaniel Irwin, of whom he wrote: “Praise is in every man’s mouth here for an excellent discourse he this day preached to us.”
Methodist Rev. Lorenzo Dow, nicknamed “Crazy Dow,” traveled over ten thousand miles preaching to over a million people. His autobiography at one time was the second best-selling book in America, exceeded only by the Bible.
Rev. Lorenzo Dow held a preaching camp meeting near Jefferson’s home, writing in his journal that on April 17, 1804: “I spoke in … Charlottesville near the President’s seat in Albermarle County … to about four thousand people, and one of the President’s daughters (Mary Jefferson Eppes) who was present.”
In the lawless Kentucky frontier, Rev. James McGready and his small church agreed in 1797: “Therefore, we bind ourselves to observe the third Saturday of each month for one year as a day of fasting and prayer for the conversion of sinners in Logan County and throughout the world. We also engage to spend one half hour every Saturday evening, beginning at the setting of the sun, and one half hour every Sabbath morning at the rising of the sun in pleading with God to revive His work.”
In June of 1800, 500 members of James McGready’s three congregations gathered at the Red River for a “camp meeting” lasting several days. This revival was similar to the 18th century Scottish “Holy Fairs,” where teams of open-air preachers rotated in a continuous stream of sermons.
On the final day of Rev. James McGready’s Red River Camp Meeting: “‘A mighty effusion of the Spirit’ came on everyone ‘and the floor was soon covered with the slain; their screams for mercy pierced the heavens.'”
In July of 1800, the congregation planned another camp meeting at the Gaspar River. Surpassing their expectations, 8,000 people arrived, some from over 100 miles away: “The power of God seemed to shake the whole assembly. Towards the close of the sermon, the cries of the distressed arose almost as loud as his voice. After the congregation was dismissed the solemnity increased, till the greater part of the multitude seemed engaged in the most solemn manner. No person seemed to wish to go home – hunger and sleep seemed to affect nobody – eternal things were the vast concern. Here awakening and converting work was to be found in every part of the multitude; and even some things strangely and wonderfully new to me.”
On Aug. 7, 1801, though Kentucky’s largest city had less than 2,000 people, 25,000 showed up at revival meetings in Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Arriving from as far away as Ohio, Tennessee, and the Indiana Territory, they heard the preaching of Barton W. Stone and other Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian ministers.
Rev. Moses Hodge described: “Nothing that imagination can paint, can make a stronger impression upon the mind, than one of those scenes. Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convulsed; professors praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress, for sinners or in raptures of joy! … As to the work in general there can be no question but it is of God. The subjects of it, for the most part are deeply wounded for their sins, and can give a clear and rational account of their conversion.”
Prior to the Revolution, there was a First Great Awakening. It was influenced by Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Rev. William Tennent, Rev. Jonathan Edwards, Rev. George Whitefield, Rev. Theodore Frelinghuysen, Rev. Gilbert Tennent, Rev. Samuel Finley and other preachers. The First Great Awakening resulted in the founding of the Universities of Pennsylvania (1740), Princeton (1746), Columbia (1754), Brown (1764), Rutgers (1766), and Dartmouth (1770).
The Second Great Awakening led to the conversion of a third of Yale’s student body through the efforts of its eighth president Timothy Dwight IV. Spreading to other colleges, hundreds of students entered the ministry and pioneered the foreign missions movement which made a global impact. Young men, along with the first women missionaries, were sent to the American West, and as far away as the Caribbean, Burma and Hawaii.
The Second Great Awakening contributed to the founding of the American Bible Society, the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
Christians helped reform prisons, cared for the handicapped and mentally ill, started hospitals, and worked to end slavery with the abolitionist movement.
Attorney turned preacher Charles Finney preached on revival, inspiring William Booth to found the Salvation Army and George Williams to found the Y.M.C.A (Young Men’s Christian Association).
George Addison Baxter, a skeptical professor at Washington Academy in Virginia, published an account of his travels throughout Kentucky, which was printed in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, March of 1802: “The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people, are difficult for you to conceive, and more so for me to describe. … I found Kentucky, to appearance, the most moral place I had ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country. Never in my life have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which…looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God. …”
Baxter continued: “I was indeed highly pleased to find that Christ was all and in all in their religion … and it was truly affecting to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ, as the only physician who could give them any help. Those who call these things ‘enthusiasm,’ ought to tell us what they understand by the Spirit of Christianity. … Upon the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the Church of Christ, and all things considered, peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country. … Something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable, and futurity a dream. This revival has done it; it has confounded infidelity, awed vice to silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions.”
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