tv Lectures in History Salem Witch Trials and the Great Awakening CSPAN August 8, 2021 8:00pm-9:17pm EDT
colonies, and we're getting now into the 1700s. today and this week i want to focus mostly on religion in the late colonial period and the coming of the great awakening in the 1730s and '40s. and i know this has been on you all's minds since you have a paper coming up. we're going to get to some background on religion in the colonial period and the leadup to the great awakening, some of the overview of what happens in the great awakening and, hopefully, that'll set you up better for your papers. you can see here on the screen we have an image of george whitfield who is the most famous preacher of the great awakening preaching in london there in the 1730s, 1740s. he is the sensation of the age, but we'll talk more about him when we get there. first, i want to take a look at the background to what's happening in 18th century
america with regard to religion. we've talked about some of this already before in class about the scope of religion and religious commitment across the colonies. if you look first at the southern colonies from maryland down to georgia, mostly what we have is a formal commitment to the church of england. and the church of england, of course, is the national official church of england, of britain, and most of those colonies adopt what we would call a kind of formal establishment of the church of england. but the southern colonies overall are probably the least religious of all the colonial regions which, if you think about that for a second, you'll see why that's a little weird. we think of the southed today as the bible belt, correctly.
but in the colonial period, it's different. in the colonial period, there is a kind of formal establishment at least of the church of england, but once you get out past the colonial cities, places like williamsburg, charleston and savannah, the rates of church going and commitment to the church of england is pretty limited. and part of the reason for that if you remember going back to the founding of jamestown these colonies are mostly being founded for business. and it's a little difficult to set up churches in the back country where settlement is so scattered. and so people living in the rural south in the early 1700s, i mean, they might have been christians, for sure. i'm sure most of them would have considered themselves christians. if they were literate, they probably read the bible. maybe they had family devotions. but many, many of them did not
go to church because maybe the nearest church was 50 miles away. if that's the case, you're going on a wagon, you're not going to go to church, right? so the south -- and people in the north, in the northern colonies recognized that, it isn't just looking back as a historian. people in new england would talk about their worry for the south and its relative godlessness. there just weren't that many people going to church there, and there weren't enough churches, weren't enough pastors. and so the south was really regarded as the least religious part of the colonies. the middle colonies -- and here we're talking about new jersey, pennsylvania, new york, delaware -- is a real mix of different kinds of christian denominations. you have -- and they're often connected to a particular ethnicity. so you have scottish
presbyterians or scots irish presbyterians. you have dutch reform people. this is the group who founded new netherlands in the 1620s, the dutch reformed church. german lutherans. there are quakers, of course, we've seen that. there's different baptist groups in the middle colonies. and so the middle colonies, i think it's representative of the kind of diversity that you see in modern america. there was just a lot of different kinds of religious groups. a lot of kinds of ethnicities. sometimes they don't get along with each other, they're competing for adherence, but it's kind of hard to tell the one single, linear story of the south and slavery, new england and puritanism. the middle colonies is more like that. and in new england when you get into the early 1700s, and you're talking about the 18th century, we mean the 1700s,
new england sees the decline of puritanism. remember, they had been founded in massachusetts, connecticut especially, these kind of colonies were founded as puritan colonies. and puritanism by the early 1700s is in decline. now 70, 80 years past the time of the founding. and the puritan movement has started to fade away. historians e debate about just how much puritanism is really declining. some of this may just be taught because you know that pastors especially but lots of christians will talk about, oh, you know, our founders were much more committed than we are. i don't know if you've ever heard that in a church service or something. but, you know, it used to be so much better, but now we've fallen away. that's a very common rhetorical
movement you get in churches, and you started to see that in the puritan churches in the late 1600s, early 1700s, and it breeds a type of sermon, a characteristic type of new england sermon that you get in this period that historians call the jeremiahad. if you know your bible, that's from jeremiah who was a very gloomy kind of prophet. and he was the sort of prophet that said to israel you've fallen away from god, you need to straighten up or else judgment is coming. and that kind of sermon became very common in new england too starting in the, say, 1670s, 1680, early 1700s. the pastors would say you've fallen away from your first love, you've fallen away from that original mission of the
founding puritan generation in the 1630s, and you need to turn around, turn back to god and renew your devotion to the lord. now, how reflective this is of actual reality on the, i mean, had the people really turned away from god? it's sort of hard to know how to measure that. hard, obviously, to judge people's hearts. but there is some evidence that at least new england is becoming more diverse, not just exclusively puritan. you may remember that we talked about that in the 1690s england started requiring massachusetts to tolerate other kinds of protestants. not just puritans, but now you have to tolerate quakers and baptists and other kinds of protestant groups. there are some intriguing pieces of evidence about rising at least access to sort of immorality and so forth.
in the 1680s it looks like boston probably gets its first brothel. you know, the characteristic of colonial cities in london and so forth at the time. but puritan boston gets a brothel, a house of prostitution. this is horrifying to a lot of people. there occasionally are dancing classes in boston. so, you know, the puritans were not keen on dancing. especially between unmarried couples. you know, so there's, there are actually some pieces of evidence that you can look at and say, well, maybe this is becoming a sort of more diverse, non-puritan kind of society. you know, maybe there is something there to that jeremiahad kind of theme. probably the most horrific episode for the pastors in new england in the late 1600s for sure is the salem witchcraft.
and we read a document on this for today if you want to pull your book out and look at that. the salem witchcraft crisis is horrific for the leaders in new england, first and foremost for them because they see it as a great attack of satan on their society. the puritans believe that they had this very high calling from god, and is so they thought, well, of course. what would you expect, that satan is going to break out in these attacks against us. and that's how they saw what happened in 1692, is that satan had raised up a cohort of witches to come and attack their people and try to disrupt new england society. so that's how they, first and foremost, interpreted what was going on in salem. and so dozens of people start being accused of being witches. probably if you remember system of the story even from maybe
reading something like the crucible by arthur miller in that there was a group of mostly teenage girls who probably had gotten involved in at least some kind of white magic type of practice trying to tell the future and so forth, and then those girls started to have signs of what the puritans would have considered to be demonic attacks, demonic oppressions and having convulsions and being tormented. and they would say that it was this woman, that woman who was coming especially in the spirit realm to attack them spiritually and to physically harm them. and so ultimately, now, by the way, it's mostly younger women accusing older women of being witches. so almost are all the accused are women.
but almost all the accusers are women too, and so one interesting historical investigation that some historians have engaged in was this a kind of what you would call a misogynystic or woman-hating kind of gender episode, a loathing of women especially these kind of older will who were, you know, difficult to deal with, maybe they'd gotten into altercations with their neighbors and so forth. and that's an interesting thesis. but one kind of problem with it is it's almost always women, too, who are accusing. it would be a little more convenient if it was men accusing women as a misogynistic episode. but there are some men who get accused of being warlocks, and it ends up being hundreds of people who get accused across the region. it's not just in salem, but
ultimately some very elite people are getting accused, and i think not coincidentally that's when the judges and other officials start thinking about closing the thing down because they can see that the accusations are starting to just go completely viral, haywire, and they say, wait a minute,s this is too many people, and they start to doubt some aspects of the trials. now, everyone in salem, inland, i think approaching 100% of everybody, believes that witches exist. so even the critics of the trials are saying, well, now we know that witches exist, but there are problems that we have with the way that the trials are being run, okay? and we'll talk about why in a minute. but that's a really important aspect to understand. this is not, you know, the
puritans who in their religious fervor believe in the existence of witches and standing outside of that you have these skeptics that say, you fools, don't you realize? no, everybody realizes or believes at the time that the supernatural is real and that at least in isolated cases that people can make a covenant with the devil in order to have malevolent spiritual power so to be able to cast spells on people and maybe to torment them in the spirit realm at least. okay? so let's take a look at this document, and i'll get you to give me sol comments about this. -- some comments about this. on page 43 in your book, you see we have an indian woman. now, it's debateable exactly who she was, but she seems to have been maybe an indentured servant
or slave in the household of one of the pastors who's involved. and when they say indian, we think it might mean native american, partly native american, but it's more likely that she's probably from the caribbean. okay? so you remember when columbus came from the indies. so sometimes when they said an indian, that meant somebody from the caribbean. so we don't know a whole lot about her other than these testimonies. but she's being interrogated, and they start off on page 44, and they say -- the judge says to her, what evil spirit have you familiarity with? and she says, none. why do you hurt these children? i do not hurt them. who is it then? the devil for all i know. and so on and so forth. now, when you lead in like that in this trial, what does that
tell you about the way that judicial proceedings went in the 1600s? >> [inaudible] >> what does that tell you? >> it's very face value. there's no, like, evidence to back it up, it's just straight up asking and seeing if it happened. >> yeah. i mean, it's very matter of fact. including about the spiritual. i mean, they're very willing to take testimony about what the devil is doing. what else does it tell you about judicial -- >> based on this case, that there isn't much of an innocence until proven guilty. they just believe that she is guilty, but they don't necessarily have the evidence to back the claim. but they do believe she is
guilty, without a doubt. >> yes. so there's no presumption of innocence. and that is not unusual in the 1600s. i mean, in the english legal system at this time there's no guarantee that you're going to be assumed to be innocent, for sure. and so the way they interrogate these people is if you've been accused, you're assumed to be guilty. and so what they're really trying to do is to get her to admit that she's guilty. and you may have picked it up that she initially says, as we saw her, i didn't hurt them. but it's not too long into the interrogation that she goes ahead and admits that she is a witch. now, whether she is doing this because she wants to be let off, it becomes clear that the people who won't admit that their witches are the most likely to get executed. you're in a kind of catch 22 here about, well, should i go
ahead and admit it even if you don't actually believe that you're a witch, but it could be that in some of these cases, maybe in her case, some of these people may have actually been engaged in what they thought of as at least magical practice. and there may be a few of them who actually did regard themselves as witches. so that makes it a real conundrum can about how to to run these things, i mean, because if you have people who consider themselves to be witches, you know, in a society where everybody believes in witches, then that becomes a law enforcement matter, doesn't it? do you see what i mean? i mean, it's tough for us to know, you know, in our kind of secular age how do you deal with these kinds of issues, okay? and so if you look on further, they say, well, what's this appearance you see? and she says sometimes it's like a hog and sometimes it's like a
great dog. well, what is this, what does this animal, being say to you, they say. and she says the black dog says, serve me. okay? but i said i am afraid. and he said if i did not, he would do worse to me. who's the black dog? who do you think the black dog is? >> is it supposed to be say tan? >> i think so. satan? >> maybe a demon but probably the devil who's taken on this kind of animal specter. now, when she's testifying about -- and lots of people testified along these lines, either this animal spirit attacked me, talked to me or at the bottom of the page she's talking about what else have you
seen,ing two rats, a red rat and a black rat. do you see who it is that torments these children now? yes, it's good wife. she hurts them in her own shape. so she's come to them in the spirit, and she's tormenting them in the spirit realm, but it can have physical consequences. so what do you think is going on here when pitchevah testifies to seeing these things sort of in the spirit realm? i mean, what do you think -- does she believe this? what do you think? i mean, this is speculative, there's no wrong answer. >> i don't think she actually believes what they believe in, i think she's just muppet -- manipulating them because she doesn't really want to be a slave anymore? >> okay. so tell telling them what she thinks they want to hear. >> yeah. >> and also it's gad news if
you're -- bad news if you're goody good. maybe they're people that they're trying to settle scores with. do you think that most of these accusations are people who are thinking consciously i'm going to lie about the accusation? and, again, there's no right answer on this. it's speck lalative -- speculative. or do you think there are people who are so deeply convinced that witchcraft -- i mean, this is a riggs call christian believe, at least in demons, right? demons are in the bible. so are remember their mentality, 1600s, medieval mentality in effect. so do you think that there are people who really do believe in these kind of things, or is it just a big sham? what do you think? >> i think that there probably are some people who generally,
like, do, like, believe in it. but i think the people who, like, are being accused of it at that a point in time, they probably don't go into it like, yeah, i'm going to lie about this. but when they're put on the spot, they probably just get so desperate that they don't want to, like, get in trouble for something that didn't happen, that they didn't do, they probably just end up pushing the blame on someone else. >> yeah. and i think we can verify that. i think there are cases where late in the trials some people start recanting their testimony. and among the things that they say is i was put under so much pressure, and i think some of them would say i even started kind of imagining those things were happening to me, but now that i think about it, i'm not sure. but some people definitely say they were put under so much psychological duress that they just went ahead and admitted the things that they knew weren't really true. and there are even a couple cases where we know that people
were physically tortured. which is, they're also not supposed to be doing that in english law. you're not supposed to extract confessions from people, but a couple people were. and so one of the things of torture is to say whatever you think the people want you to say. but i think it's true. i think that there probably are some people, and it's hard to know exactly what their mentality is, you know, but they think something is happening to them spiritually like this. and, of course, everybody involved pretty much believed that the devil was doing something in these trials, either making covenants with these witches or duping the people, deceiving the people who were making the accusations. to opponents said how do you know that the devil isn't deceiving people into believing that these attacks are real? so it's tough to interpret them. but in the end,19 people were
executed for being witches. most of them were executed by hanging. one poor man was pressed to death with boll -- boulders until he suffocated. they were trying to get him to -- there's an incidence of to torture. they were trying to get him to admit that he was a witch, and he wouldn't. and so tragic situations. a few dogs were executed. under suspicion of being witches familiars. you know, because a witch has a little animal companion that goes along with the witch -- [laughter] and does their bidding and so forth, so there were a few dogs that got executed as part of it. but by the end, most people involved, even some of the judges, realized that taking
testimony about a person's spirit, their specter as they would call it, that taking testimony about this person's specter coming to me and encouraging me to sign the devil's book, their specter came to me and physically tormented me, the judges, even some of the judges said that's not enough to convict somebody of witchcraft. and so we need to take a step back. shut things down. but by that point, 19 people had died. by far the biggest outbreak of witchcraft in the colonial american period most cases before and after this were just one person. and there were witchcraft episodes after this, with but they were kind of on their way out by this point partly because of the embarrassment in salem.
okay? so salem is definitely feeding into a broader sense in the late 1600s, early 1700s of reliberties crisis in the colonies -- religious crisis in the colonies, especially in new england. and new england, again, is kind of the easiest story to tell about the coming of the great awakening because there's such a linear colonial story in new england of the puritan founding, the decline of puritanism, a sense of building religious crisis in the early 1700s, and then in the 1730 and '40s an outburst of new reliberties commitment has signaled the great -- religious commitment has signaled the great awakening. a lot of what i'm going to talk about is really tracing the story most specifically of colonial new england which is the epicenter of the great
awakening in america. but the other colonies are definitely affected. okay? so why, why do they have a sense of religious crisis? well, one reason here is a rise apparently in greed, immorality, we've already talked about this about the signs that people were falling away from their puritan commitment. the pastors are talking all the time about how people are consume ised with business affairs -- consumed with business affairs and are forgetting about their love for god. they're worried that society is becoming dominated by greed, business and the kinds of immorality that they see coming along with that. another reason for the sense of religious crisis is the rise of what we call enlightenment thought and a related trend
which is the rise of rational theology, quote-unquote. now, the enlightenment -- a term i'm sure you've come across before in other classes -- is a controversial term among historians. historians these days are not necessarily so keen on talking about the enlightenment as if it's just this one thing capital e that works the same way everywhere. we know for sure that there are different kinds of enlightenment depending on whether you're in, say, france or you're in cotland or you're in america. some art parts of the enlightenment are a lot more anti-christian, and then say in america the enlightenment tends to be fairly friendly to christianity. we'll have maybe a little bit of an updated version of christianity, a little more modern version of christianity, but most of the advocates would say, well, of course we're
christian. christianity is the best religion of all, and it accords with rationality and modern learning. so they wouldn't have seen a tech between those things -- tension between those things. one of the ways that this plays out is there's a growing tendency to explain things naturally. and for sure, when you compare the mentality of americans from, say, 1692 and the salem witchcraft trials happen to 1800 and years after the american revolution, something has definitely changed on a popular level. now, there's still people who believe in strong supernaturalism and even things like witchcraft. but if you go from 1692 to 1700 to 1750 to 1800, there's a declining tendency to see things in exclusively supernatural terms.
so say your cow dies unexpectedly. [laughter] your cow's fine one day, and the next day the cow is frothing at the mouth and keels over and dies. what do you think can has happened? right? in 1692 you might think, especially if you had a recent argument with sort of a spooky neighbor, that a spell has been cast on your cow. and you don't, you know, it's just reflexive. i mean, that's the world you live in. it's a world of wonders and magic and these kind of things, and so you might just think maybe it's a ma live lent, you know -- malevolent spiritual attack on my livestock. in 1800 some people might still think that, but it's a lot more likely that people will think, oh, well, they just, they got a disease. these things happen. there's a medical reason for it. you may not still have a very good medical explanation for it,
but you tend to think about it not in terms of spiritual powers, but just the natural world. things happen. there's not really any explanation for it. not god is getting us or witches are getting us. just my cow got sick and died. that's a very important mental change though, isn't it? i mean, this is -- you see that at the beginnings of the modern secular world. even today many devout religious people, if something bad happens to them, they don't naturally think it's a spiritual attack on them. some people might, but most people say, well, what can you do? bad things happen. okay? and in theology there's a related tendency to say we still study theology, we still want to understanded god as best we can, but anything we believe biblically about god must accord with rationality, okay? and so you take something like
the doctrine of predestination which we talked about with the puritans where god elects only certain people to be saved and leaves everybody else to their own devices which means judgment and damnation, well, the rational theologians say to my mind that doesn't make sense. i don't think god would act like that. i think god would give people all the freedom to decide for themselves whether to believe or not. that accords with normal standards of rationality. but you can see -- and i'm sure some of you may agree with that, but you can see what you've done is there's a little step towards a kind of human-centered type of theology. because god must be understandable, god must be accessible, god must live are up to kind of our standards of rationality, and that starts to influence the way that you
interpret the bible. okay? now, that sort of theology, rational theology, had become dominant at harvard college by the early 1700s. harvard had been founded, the first american college founded almost exclusively for training puritan pastors in the 1630s, and by the early 1700s it had become captured by still absolutely christian theology, but this kind of rational, non-predestinarian, in some ways non-puritan type of theology. and so new englanders start a new college as a more conservative alternative that will kind of go back more towards puritan type of theologies, and that college was yale. [laughter] you know, yale was sort of the conservative bible college, right? [laughter] in the early 1700s so that we can have an alternative to
harvard. okay? almost all the colonial american colleges, the ivy league schools, most of them were founded in the colonial period, and they're almost all founded as colleges for the training of pastors. and almost nobody else goes to college. no women went to college. almost no men went to college in those days. and if you were a man who went to college, it was almost always in the colonial period to become a pastor, okay? so what they saw as a rise in immorality, enlightenment thought, more modern kind of my philosophy and theology, and then a third reason for the sense of crisis, this ongoing war with catholic france and spain and their native american allies. starting in the 1690s, the colonies but especially new england go through a couple of generations of imperial war
between britain and the british colonies and then either france or spain. and in new england, the main issue is fighting against the forces of france coming out of canada, or new france. what they called new france. there's no natural boundary there. you think about it, you know, england and france are fighting in the psalm time period too, but the -- same time period too, but the english channel separates them. and for the colonists in new england, there's no natural barrier. and so the french, and they had more native american allies than the british did, so is you would have attacks from the french on frontier villages, native american raids on frontier villages sometimes even when britain and france weren't technically at war, you would have new england and new france fighting these kind of low-level but vicious wars with one another. 1720 there's a war, you know, on
the eve of the great awakening, there's a war between new france and new england that's inspired by a french catholic missionary who's operating in maine, and he's telling the indians, stick up for your rights against the english. don't let them take your land. and they, you know, they have this war, and the new englanders commission a bounty against this priest in maine, this catholic priest who's, you know, encouraging the native americans. and they send out a war party against him, and they shoot him and kill him. and they scalp him, the missionary, right? they scalp him and bring his scalp back to boston. traditionally we talk about the native americans are barbarians. who's barbaric? the english are commissioning scalp bounties against a catholic are missionary. it's just a vicious time all the way around. so if you've got these kind of
troubling intellectual changes, you've got social changes, you've got more war, such a contributing factor, the fear, the judgment of god, if we don't stick close to god, we may be overrun by the french, we may be overrun by native americans. in all these things feeding into salem witchcraft, feeding into a sense of religious crisis through the colonies i think in general, but especially in new england. 1720s, 1730s and then, guess what? you get the great awakening. now, i mean, most people, i think, feel like the time they live in is a time of crisis. but there's no doubt that the colonists felt that crisis in the 1730s and i think culturally, religiously that set
them up for a new religious awakening. and the first great awakening 1730s and '40s is kind of the main event although cascading effects of the revivals keep on going into the revolutionary period, 1770s. and it's hard to explain why did the great a awakening happen exactly. you could look at social and cultural factors, you could look at the history of the decline of puritanism, and for sure some of you would look at spiritual factors that, you know, still today people will say that there are spiritual, define reasons why god -- divine reasons why god made this happen. in history class we don't spend much time on that kind of thing, but there's no question that in the 1720s, 1730s you find evidence of pastors across the colonies and in new england
telling their people that they need to pray for revival which is a term that's occasionally used in the bible, psalms, revive us again. and what they're talking about is that they want for the people to be praying for an outpouring of the holy spirit, third person of the trinity, to be poured out so that people will come back to god, that lots of people will convert to christianity for the first time even though basically all these people were at least nominally christian so they'll have a conversion experience and maybe people who had fallen away from god will return to god and return to their commitment to god. and so in the jeremiahads the message had been we need to straighten up and start living
right and doing what we know god wants us to do. and essentially, in the '20s and '30 they tweak the message just a little bit, and they say we're so far gone that what we need is define rescue. right? we don't -- it's not about morality anymore. what we need is a revival created by god through the holy spirit. we need that to change our society. and so i think we can reasonably expect that if pastors are calling on people to pray like this, that some people were responding to the pastors' calls and praying for revival. and so in the 1730s and '40s, revival comes in a big way. and what you think about that, i think, has everything to do with what your, you know, belief is about prayer, does prayer do anything and this sort of thing. a lot of christians, for sure, would say, well, people prayed and god responded to those prayers. itto a significant extent.
it also could be if you were more skeptical, they would say, look, the more they talk about revival, the more likely it is to happen. and, actually, i think those two explanations probably can work together. so what's different about the first great a awakening? and one is it's now of great religious intensity and fervor, individual passion, conversion, life-changing events. people's autobiographies. but another thing that's different is the role of the itinerant preachers in the great awakening. before this point, the standard model for a pastor is -- and this is most of the time in church history -- is that you have a pastor who pastors his congregation and doesn't do much traveling around and speaking. your parish, your church, that's who you speak to. but in the first great
awakening, you start to see a critical role for traveling preachers who cause a sensation everywhere with that they go, and they're brilliant preachers. george whitfield is number one on the list. they're brilliant preachers who travel around, and they become famous at least regionally if not internationally, whitfield becomes famous internationally, having a reputation of being this brilliant preacher. and you can't wait for them to get there, and it's new, it's exciting, and they have a laser focus, these itinerants do, on the message that you need to accept christ's free offer of salvation and that you need to be born again. born again. if you'll remember, jesus talks about the born again experience in the gospel of john chapter three in order to see the kingdom of god, you must be born again. so they're not inventing this kind of experience out of
nowhere. it's a longtime biblical message, but people in the past maybe have had different understandings of what born again meant. people in the first great aa wakening are real -- awakening are real clear. what you need is that as an adult or at least, say, a teenager, you need to understand for yourself that you're a sinner, that your sin has caused a serious problem between you and god. god is offering you forgiveness through christ, what christ has done on the cross, and that you need to personally accept that offer of forgiveness in order to be in right standing with god. and when you do that, usually in a time of at least a short spiritual crisis for you, when you do that, that is your moment of being born again and that everybody needs to have this experience. okay? so the parish minister, parish pastor, you know, might be talking about a lot of different
topics from week to week and preaching from the bible, various -- but the itinerants are really focused on you need to be born again. they travel and tell people in these impassioned sermons that you need to be born again. that's the center of their message. sometimes they don't talk about much else. now, the greatest mind, the greatest theologian of the great awakening is jonathan edwards who we have a picture of in the upper right-hand corner. edwards is best known for his sermon sinners in the hands of an angry god, 1741. and edwards is a minister in northhampton, massachusetts. he does a little bit of
traveling. most of the time he just sticks to his church like most average pastors do. but sinners in the hands of an angry god he actually gives in a nearby village in connecticut while he's crafling around in the -- traveling around in the summer of 1741. so edwards is not the most famous pastor, preacher at the time, but edwards has come down to us as the greatest intellectual figure of the first great awakening. and, arguably, the greatest intellect of the whole colonial american period. now, i mean, we could do a whole class on just jonathan edwards because he wrote with a ton, and it's very intellectually and theologically sophisticated and challenging. but he's best known for this one sermon. sippers in the hands of -- sinners in the hands of an angry god. and it gets anthologized and
people read it today. and it's, it's a good news/bad news kind of thing because it's an absolutely brilliant sermon, there's no question about that, and it's frightening if you've ever read it. but we should not mistake edwards for some kind of screaming, you know, crazy, you know, somebody you see on late night if tv or something, you know, yelling about you're all going to hell and this kind of thing. he is a titanic intellect. the last job he had in his life was the president of the college of new jersey at princeton. so he was the president of princeton college because he had that kind of intellectual reputation. and and he also, when he preached -- including sinners in the hands of an angry god -- when he preached, he had a manuscript in front of him that he had handwritten out, and he read the manuscript.
now, i think he would try and give it some feeling, but the power of his sermon is in the content. it's not in the rhetorical fireworks, right? so when he gave sinners in the hands of an angry god in 1741, it got an intense reaction from the people who were there. and some of the people at the meeting when he gave it started crying out for mercy. what can i do to be saved, right? if they were terrified of the judgment of god. some were falling out in the aisles and crying and this sort of thing. and when edwards saw what was happening, it was getting noisier and noisier, he closed up his sermon. so he's not necessarily looking for, you know, this outlandish response, but he gets it because of the power of the rhetoric that he uses.
and even secular scholars of the colonial period of edwards, people who don't believe in christianity if particular, they know that edwards is intellectually brilliant and that his rhetoric is just stunning. and that's one of the reasons why people today still study sinners in the hands of an angry god, because of the rhetoric of it. and especially if you've ever read it, you'll never forget the image of the spider. you remember this? have you read -- i'll just read a couple paragraphs here. he says your wickedness makes you, as it were, heavy as lead and downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell. and if god should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf. then he says, the god who holds you to over the pit of hell,
much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked. his wrath towards you burns like fire. he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast9 into the fire. he is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight. you are 10,000 times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours. you have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did, and yet, and yet nothing but his hand holds you from falling into the fire every moment. so you see the contrast between god's judgment and god's grace. very intense. and he said how dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in danger of this
great wrath and infinite misery? but this is the dismal case of every soul in this kong rea division -- congregation that has not been born again. so we lay out people's desperate case because of their sin, can and you say the rescue is available to you through being born again. that's the basic content of virtually every great awakening sermon. laser focus. you need to be born again. okay. and you can imagine, i mean, it's frightening, isn't it? i mean, the pit of hell, the insect over the fire and what if he let you go. what if he letses you go? -- lets you go? you can imagine people following him. and they're as sure about this as we're as sure about the sun
coming up. absolutely no doubt this is proven. they don't have any doubt, and they want to make sure -- [inaudible] so edwards is the great defender of the great awakening. he gets stereotyped because of the sermon as a fire and brimstone preacher. most of his sermons are not like this, i have to say. he preaches a lot more about the love of god than he does about the judgment of god. i think his most representative sermon, if i had to recommend one sermon for people to read bid wards, it's called heaven -- by edwards, it's called heaven is a world of love. you can find it on the internet. that's, i think, the core of edwards. but if he's on the topic, he'll also preach about judgment, and he can put it in terrifying terms, okay? but he's incredible -- i mean, i can't tell you everything. edwards is writing about, definitely about predestination, he's writing about original sin,
he's writing about enlightenment challenges to the traditional christian faith and how -- and so he becomes, he's definitely one of america's greatest theologians ever. if you care about this sort of thing, you've definitely got to read edwards. he a matches enlightenment thought with original christianity. he says we know this, say, from john locke, buts this is how this works with traditional christianity. he's read everything. he's using it to show why even in a an enlightened age traditional christianity still is the most compelling theological system. it's absolutely brilliant. but what he gets known for is this one sermon. not saying it's a bad sermon, but there's a lot more available. okay? edwards is not the most famous peacher of the time -- preacher of the time. he's more famous today.
the most famous preacher at the time, for sure, is george whitfield. and i know the way it's spelled, it looks like it was whitefield, but on good authority i'm told it's pronounced whitfield. he is, by far, the most famous preacher of the 1740s. and it's even more than that. he is the most famous person in britain and america in his time. the only competitor that he has is king george. and maybe more people know king george's name, but a lot more people have seen whitefield in person, have read whitefield's stuff, his journals, his sermons. we think that probably by the end of his career -- he dies in
1770 -- that probably, like, three-quarters of everybody that's lived in america had heard him preach. he's a bigger celebrity in his time than anybody we have many our culture today. because in our culture, oh, we live in a celebrity-driven culture. you know that, right? but we're dispersed, right? some people like justin bieber, some people don't like justin bieber. i won't do a poll, but you know what i'm saying. everybody knows whitefield. everybody, even if you're a critic, i mean, you've had to sort of deal with it. he is arguably the first modern
celebrity. i didn't say religious celebrity, i said first modern celebrity. when he shows up in a town, he draws crowds often that are bigger than the population of the town itself. so he gives this farewell sermon in boston in the early 1740s, say 25,000 people show up when there's about 17,000 people living in boston. so effectively the whole population of the town plus people from the hinterland. when he preaches in london, they say 60, 70, 80,000 people are coming to hear him, and you'll remember this is pre-electricity. so he does not have, what? a microphone. and if you've ever read ben
franklin's autobiography, he and franklin were close. business associates first and then friends. franklin, when he -- when whitefield first came to philadelphia, franklin did a little experiment. franklin does experiments, right? so he's walking around the edges of the crowd trying to figure out how many people can hear him speak at one time, and franklin said, you know, i think maybe 25 or 30,000 people can hear him speaking at one time. so that tells you that whitefield, he had a background in the theater as a teenager. he was a play actor before his conversion is. he knew how to project his voice. and i think he must have just been enormously loud. okay? and he's, when he -- a lot of the portraits we have of whitefield are when he's old and kind of sick, so i like portraits like this one when he's a young man. relatively young.
they thought he was good looking. you know, tell for yourself what you think about that. young man, very dynamic. and unlike edwards, whitefield's presentations were without a manuscript. he would pretty much memorize his sermons, and he had a repertory of, you know, a selection of, say, 10 or 15 sermons that he would kind of rotate through. he didn't have a congregation, and so he could really polish a short list of sermons, and he had them memorized. on the fly, he'd see what people were reacting to, and he's moving around the stage. and he would, in effect, act out if he's talking about, say, the story of the prodigal son from the gospel, he would put himself
almost in the character of, say, the father waiting for the prodigal son to come back. and, you know, he would act me thinks i see the father wait waiting for the lost son to come back. and he would act it out, you know, and act out the part of the son there in the pig pen eating the stuff that they threw out only fit for the pigs to eat. he's acting these things. and sometimes he would even be, you know, weeping the beta that an actor -- the way that an actor weeps. not because it's fake, but because he's into the story. it was very powerful. if i could just have a youtube clip, you know, of anybody besides maybe jesus, right? i mean, i would love to have a youtube clip of george whitefield to see what it was like. but people were just blown away when they would hear him speak.
i love this -- this might be my favorite painting of whitefield, and it's because of the woman. not so much -- i like it that it's young whitefield, but i love the woman. you know, she's, like, i can't believe i'm in the front row of a whitefield painting, right? .. but you can tell she is smitten. this is the first british sensation. it is trivializing it to say this is like the beatles, in a much lighter electronic age that is the kind of affect whitefield had.
a very different message. this is revival but there is a celebrity sensation. huge responses, huge crowds, reports that he is coming months in advance, got to get there early. they would tell people hark your horses at the margins of the crowd so more people could get in. it is a mosh pit. get as close as you can get. britain, america, had never seen anything like this. the reason whitfield is not
more famous, he's known but his brilliance was encapsulated in the sermon is delivered. you had to be there. to really get it. i have written a book on this and i have a sense that i still don't quite get it. where edward's brilliance is captured on the printed page, you didn't have to believe it of course, his ideas. so the first great awakening is a renewal of religious fervor, to people who are not to this, not christian, not religious,
not devout self it may seem this quaint thing that happened that is worth knowing about. interesting to people on the outside. but i will say the great awakening is significant because of the controversy it creates. it is extraordinarily controversial and disruptive. it is the biggest upheaval in the british colonies before the american revolution happening 30 years before the american revolution, the biggest social upheaval in the colonies before the american revolution. even from a secular perspective this is a big deal. part of the reason is during the great awakening pastors getting challenged like they
never have before. being a pastor is a socially respected office and a few have a state church, established religion, the pastor is on the government payroll. he is a representative of the government. if you attack the pastor you are attacking a representative of the state and that never was done, at least not very often before the great awakening but some of the itinerant's, even whitefield from time to time especially early on, incredibly controversial things about the official ministers and he would say your pastor is very supportive of the revival, is he? he is uncomfortable with the
new work of god, do you know why that might be? i think it is because your pastor himself might not be a converted christian. that is a rude thing to say about a pastor is the pastor does not like this. the pastor is extremely offended to have these itinerant's come into town maybe even stand up in the pulpit of your church and say i think your pastor might not even be converted and that is why he's not officially supportive of the revival. no one ever spoke about pastors this way. extremely controversial. the radicals, the ones who were really inflammatory, like james davenport, the most radical controversial preacher in new england goes into churches
early on and starts naming names. i have a list of all the pastors in boston who are not converted. they are going to hell. imagine especially in the colonial world someone showing up and saying that. they start passing laws against itinerant's like this telling them they cannot go uninvited into a pastor's pulpit, they will be arrested if they do. this is becoming a legal political controversy. another reason it is controversially as you start to see some common people, usually men but occasionally women, who believe that they should be able to preach without a formal education. the way this works, they say i
know i am converted, i am born again, i know when it happened, three months ago. i am filled with the holy spirit. my pastor is not supportive of the revival, i'm not sure he is a converted question -- christian. doesn't matter if i went to harvard or yale or oxford. it doesn't matter. what matters is i'm filled with the holy spirit, and support the work of god. so farmers -- occasionally native americans are converted. occasionally slaves start standing up in the meetings saying i have a word from god for you. pastors like james davenport say listen to this brother, listen to this sister, he has something to say to us from the lord.
there are no social settings anywhere else in colonial america where you will see women, slaves, native americans, standing up and addressing in a somewhat authoritative way white men. it doesn't happen anywhere else. you can understand the critics say this is crazy. you all are nuts. socially disruptive, moving out from religious, this is socially disruptive. the critics say this is a bunch of frenzy, what they call
enthusiasm, means you are half crazy. that is what the critics said. it is a bunch of who we, but it doesn't really mean anything. not actually doing anything, critics say love, charity, devotion. what difference does the great awakening make you one of the most obvious differences is the great awakening brings us see change in which churches are the most popular and prominent, a change that continues in the
1800s, in the colonial period, the most prominent churches are the church of england, the congregationalist church and other denominations like that. and the great awakening you see the emergence of new denominations the become the largest protestant churches in america, most notably baptist churches that have been around for a while, small, isolated, they start to become more popular because of the great awakening and evangelistic and
one of the first places, and the great awakening, the self becomes -- the most popular churches are going to be the baptists, then the methodists, the methodists are moving first in the church of england, whitefield is a methodist. john wesley becomes founding father of methodists, wesley's missionaries and pastors start to become active, after the american revolution, established, the methodists have gone from being nonexistent at the beginning of the first great awakening by the time the civil war, the
largest prominent -- protestant denominations. the congregationalists, church of england and episcopal church, left behind in terms of numbers, the baptist methodists, for baylor, get as far out as central texas by the 1840s. that is pretty important. the revivals begin in new england and middle colonies, very heavily affected by the revival slowly spreading to the southern colonies, also happening in britain, continental europe, the great
awakening, i talked exclusively about america but it is international. a transatlantic scene most obvious in whitefield who comes to america. what is the importance of the great awakening? some historians have argued it is an important prelude to the american revolution. it is debatable issue because the way the argument goes, if it is a big social upheaval 30 years before the american revolution doesn't it have a conditioning effect on american culture to get ready for the american revolution and i say
probably in an indirect way, you have to remember britain has its great awakening too. it is not as simple, i don't want to see the great american revolution is caused by the great awakening but it influences culture. then for sure you are on more solid ground if you see the great awakening inaugurated this evangelical movement which remains in different forms, twists and turns, billy graham and different formats but whitefield is the beginning of this evangelical movement especially when you look at it in global context is enormously
significant today and shows no signs of closing down and is continuing to be growing. in sub-saharan africa they look at people like george whitefield and jonathan edwards. there is a continuity of the evangelical movement. that is the reason why. that is all i have today and let me know if you have any questions about the paper.c-spv begins, you can find the full schedule on your program guide, c-span.org/history.