Frontier Revivalism

The Second Great Awakening


At the end of the 18th century, immoral activities ran rampant throughout the new United States, particularly out in the frontiers. Such immoral activities included vulgarity in speech and action, fraud, drunkenness, gambling, and disinterest in spiritual matter. Ministers took note of the declining morals and soon began to take action. These ministers began to preach around the frontier, promoting more religious values into people's lives. Camp meetings were held to generate a spirit of renewal and people miles away flooded in with great interest of the meetings. Their efforts eventually led to the revivalism of religion or the Second Great Awakening across the frontiers.

Important Leaders

Timothy Dwight (1752-1817)

An American educator, minister, and 8th president of Yale University, Dwight was renowned for being the natural leader of the Second Great Awakening. He attacked Deism and infidelity, promoted revival in Yale, and trained some of his top students to become revivalist preachers. These ministers included Lyman Beecher, Moses Stuart, and Nathaniel W. Taylor. Dwight had a magnetic personality and a forceful character, winning him popularity and influence throughout his life as a teacher of theology and ministry.

James McGready (1763–1817)

A Presbyterian minister and leading revivalist, James McGready was responsible for many important changes and successful revivalism. McGready's success in converting led revivalism in North Carolina in 1790 and later in Kentucky in 1797. His success was largely due to his charismatic preaching and serious personality. Although his sermons were not as polished as other preachers during his time, they were direct and had many good points. He often denounced sin and filled people with guilt and a sense of regret, leading to their conversion and freeing them of an immoral life.

Peter Cartwright (1785–1872)

One of the most colorful revivalist preachers in his time period, Peter Cartwright was known as a bold and fearless man, meeting every challenge head on. He encouraged and insisted on people living a holy, sinless life that pleased God. His philosophy was to "expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God." Cartwright preached around three hours a day, several days a week to thousands and thousands of people. His loud and judgmental voice shook his audience and "won" over their souls. He baptized thousands more, and erected several Methodists churches in order to involve a daily church attendance in people's lives.

Revivalist Practices

Camp meetings were the most common method of getting the message out to the preachers. These meetings were usually held outside rather in churches, hence the term 'camp' meetings. Rude platforms were erected and logs were used as rough seats. The Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists often stood on wooden stumps or the back of a wooden carriage in order to speak to their crowds. During the Great Awakening the different Christian groups worked together on a common goal, to revive the religious morals that people lacked.

The Cane Ridge Meeting

The Cane Ridge Meeting was one of the most famous and influential revivalist meeting that occurred during the Great Awakening. Held in the Cane Ridge meeting house in Kentucky in 1801, over twenty thousand people attended to hear preachers from a variety of different Christian groups; Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist. Future camp meetings, however, never reached the intensity and attendance than that of the Cane Ridge Meeting but the event was still a spark that promoted the growth of revivalism in America.