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Religious Ferment Previous Next
Digital History ID 2995


During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the denominations that had dominated religious life in colonial America--the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians--grew slowly. Other groups grew at a staggering pace. Baptists expanded from 400 congregations in 1780 to over 12,000 in 1860; Methodists from 50 to 20,000; Roman Catholics from 50 to 2,500. The African Methodist Episcopal church grew from 5 congregations in 1816 to more than 100 by 1850.

Many new religions and sects arose--among them, the Disciples of Christ, the Mormons, and the Shakers. In the increasingly fluid environment of early 19th century America, sects competed fiercely for members. Charismatic preachers praised peoples' ability to speed their own salvations.

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