Christianity on the Early American Frontier: Recommended Resources
American revivalism between 1780 and 1840 has attracted great attention from historians. A good place to begin further reading is with an overview. Two of the most valuable are Bernard Weisberg’s They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (Little, Brown, 1958) and William G. McLoughlin’s Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change, 1607–1977 (Chicago, 1978).
In terms of revivalism’s frontier phase, and the spectacular camp meeting, pioneer historian William Warren Sweet’s four-volume Religion on the American Frontier remains essential. Each volume contains a lengthy introduction and representative documents: The Baptists (1931), The Presbyterians (1936), The Congregationalists(1939), and The Methodists (1946; all reprinted by Cooper Square, 1964).
More focused reading should begin with John Boles’s The Great Revival, 1787–1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind (Kentucky, 1972), a detailed examination of revivalism on the Southern frontier. The classic study of the camp meeting is Charles Johnson’s The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion’s Harvest Time (Southern Methodist, 1955). It may be supplemented by Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845 (Tennessee, 1974), and especially by Paul K. Conkin’s superb Cane Ridge: America’s Pentecost (Wisconsin, 1990).
In recent years, scholars have been looking at transatlantic dimensions of American revivalism: see Richard Carwardine’s Transatlantic Revivalism: Popular Evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (Greenwood, 1978), and especially Holy Friars: Scottish Communions and American Revivals ...