The "Burned Over District"

Sakib Hoque

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The "burned over district" was located in western and central New York and was home to many ascetic religious groups that had their major revivals in 1820-1830.Many groups such as the Oneida Community, Shakers, Spiritualists, and Mormons established their Utopian societies in this territory.

These areas of New York were known as the "burned over district" because it was thought that in these Utopian communities there was not one unconverted soul left in these sections. Therefore there was no one left to burn (convert) to the local major religion.

Major Beliefs and Practices

The major beliefs practiced in these region of New York were Mormonism, Spiritualism, and Jemima's established religion.

Mormonism, founded by Joseph Smith, was practiced in many regions of western New York. This new religion was made as Mr. Smith claimed that he was contacted by both Jesus and God, and was later led by the angel Moroni to find a transcript hidden in a secret location. Joseph Smith then translated these transcripts and wrote them in the Book of Mormon. This religion was practiced in many regions of western New York.

Founded by Jemima Wilkinson, her religion was created after she had a near death experience. This religion more of a philosophy that attracted many because of its beliefs in equal treatment of all races and celibacy. The followers of this religion later moved to western New York and made the province of Jerusalem.

Spiritualism was first introduced when the Fox Sisters moved into a supposedly haunted house. They claimed that many paranormal activities occurred in this household and they spread their beliefs of spirits to others. Many followed their beliefs and supported them.

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Important Leaders

There were many influential leaders in western New York. The highly regarded individuals from this territory were Joseph Smith, the Fox sisters, and Jemima Wilkinson.

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, grew up in a state of utter confusion. He was confused as he was surrounded by many religions (mostly of the Christian sect). To try and resolve this internal conflict he went into the nearby woods and asked God to tell him what church he should join. Joseph Smith states that God and Jesus Christ told him not to join any of the churches. He also said he was later guided by an angel named Moroni and a text, written by god, was shown to him. Joseph Smith translated this book and called it the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith started a new religion and became its first leader.

Jemima Wilkinson, born and raised in a Quaker community was another preacher of a new religion. She first introduced her philosophy after she almost died because of a near-fatal sickness. As she recovered from her sickness she had a epiphany and decided to only respond to the name Universal Friend. She preached her ideas of celibacy (not necessarily required for her followers) and equality between all races. Jemima preached her ideas in many locations and converted many to her beliefs. Later many of her followers settled in western New York in the "burned over district", making the township called Jerusalem.

The Fox Sisters (Kate, Margaretta, and Leah Fox) are known for their claimed communications with a spirit. These sisters stayed in a haunted house for a long period of their childhood and they said that they experienced many different occurrences of paranormal activity. These sisters say that they communicated with a spirit and asked it many questions. The spirit is said to have responded to their questions and these stories have led to the modern belief in spiritualism.

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The Burned Over District - Religions of Central NY by Dr. Mike McKenzie