Religion in the Early Republic
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|Digital History ID 2992|
The chief vehicle behind this outpouring of religious faith was the religious revival. Highly emotional meetings were held by preachers in all sections of the country, which sought to awaken Americans to their need for religious rebirth. So widespread were the revivals that the early 19th century acquired the name the "Second Great Awakening."
The Second Great Awakening had its symbolic beginnings in a small frontier community in central Kentucky. Between August 6 and 12, 1801, thousands of people--perhaps 25,000--gathered at Cane Ridge to pray. At the time, the state's largest city only had 1,795 residents.
There was not one minister at Cane Ridge; there were more than a dozen. They came from many denominations: Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist. There was at least one African American minister. The people who attended the meeting came from all social classes. Perhaps two-thirds were women. A minister left a vivid first-person description of the scene:
Sinners [were] dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy...agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress.
In the course of six months, 100,000 frontier Kentuckians joined together in search of religious salvation. One observer estimated in 1811 that three to four million Americans attended camp meetings annually.