It all began, not at Cane Ridge, but two years earlier at the emotionally charged communion service at Red River church when a woman at the extreme end of the house, gave vent to her feelings in loud cries and shouts. Only after the movement has spread did Barton W. Stone “learn how to do it” and organized the Cane Ridge ecumenical communion service.
The Kentucky Revival or the Second Great Awakening
It began in the Summer of 1799. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered at the church of Red River (near the Tennessee-Kentucky border), which was ministered to, in connection with the Gasper and Muddy river congregations, by the Rev. James McGready who had recently come from Orange county, North Carolina. This meeting was held from Friday until Monday morning, as was then the custom. Mr. Rankin, Mr. Hodge and William McGee, Presbyterian preachers, and John McGee, brother of William, a Methodist preacher, were present. The McGees were on a mission to Ohio, and stopped in their journey to be present at the meeting.
At this meeting nothing remarkable occurred until Monday, when Mr. Hodge was preaching,
“When a woman at the extreme end of the house, gave vent to her feelings in loud cries and shouts. When dismissed, the congregation showed no disposition to leave, but say, many of them silently weeping in every part of the house.”
“Wm. McGee soon felt such a power come over him that he, not seeming to know what he did, left his seat and sat down on the floor, while John sat trembling under a consciousness of the power of God.” (Bangs). John McGee felt an irresistible urge to preach and the people were eager to hear him. He began, and again the woman shouted and would not be silent.
Davidson (a famous church historian) thus describes the scene:
“Too much agitated to preach, he expressed his belief that there was a greater than he preaching and exhorted the people to let the Lord God Omnipotent reign in their hearts, and to submit to him, and their soul should live. Upon this, many broke silence and the renewed vociferations of the female before mentioned, were tremendous.
The Methodist preacher, whose feelings were now wrought up to the highest pitch after a brief debate in his own mind, came to the conclusion that it was his duty to disregard the usual orderly habits of the denomination, and passed along the aisle shouting and exhorting vehemently. The clamor and confusion were increased tenfold: the flame was blown to its height: screams for mercy were mingled with shouts of ecstasy, and a universal agitation pervaded the whole multitude, who were bowed before it as a field of grain waves before the wind.”
Every settlement along the Green river and the Cumberland was full of religious fervor.
Men filled their wagons with beds and provisions and traveled fifty miles to camp upon the ground and hear him preach. The idea was new, hundreds adopted it, and camp meetings began. The first regular general camp meeting was held at the Gasper River Church, in July, 1800; but the rage spread, and a dozen encampments followed in quick succession.
The meetings were always held in the forest near some church which furnished a lodging place for the preachers.
As the meetings progressed and the excitement grew more intense, and the crowd rushed from preacher to preacher, singing, shouting, laughing, calling upon men to repent, men and women fell upon the ground unable to help themselves, and in such numbers that it was impossible for the multitude to move about, especially at night, when the excitement was the greatest, without trampling them, and so those who fell were gathered up and carried to the meeting house, where the “spiritually slain: as they called them, were laid upon the floor. Some of them lay quiet, unable to move or speak; some could talk, but were unable to move; some would shriek as though in greatest agony, and bound about “like a live fish out of water.”
In 1807, Richard McNemar published a book on “The Kentucky Revival.” He states that the spread of the revival began in Christian and Logan Co., Kentucky and in the Spring of 1801, had reached Mason Co., Kentucky. Beginning at Flemingsburgh in April, moving to Cabin Creek, where a camp meeting was held, then Concord, in Bourbon County, by the last of May and Eagle Creek in Adams Co., Ohio in the beginning of June.
There were meetings in quick succession at Pleasant Point, Kentucky; Indian Creek, in Harrison county (July); Caneridge, near Paris, Bourbon county (August).
“Here were collected all the elements calculated to affect the imagination. The spectacle presented at night was one of the wildest grandeur. The glare of the blazing camp-fires falling on a dense assemblage of heads simultaneously bowed in adoration and reflected back from long ranges of tents upon every side; hundreds of candles and lamps suspended among the trees, together with numerous torches flashing to and fro, throwing an uncertain light upon the tremulous foliage, and giving an appearance of dim and indefinite extent to the depth of the forest; the solemn chanting of hymns swelling and falling on the night wind; the impassioned exhortations; the earnest prayers; the sobs, shrieks, or shouts, bursting from persons under intense agitation of mind; the sudden spasms which seized upon scores, and unexpectedly dashed them to the ground — all conspired to invest the scene with terrific interest, and to work up the feelings to the highest pitch of excitement. When we add to this, the lateness of the hour to which the exercises were protracted, sometimes till two in the morning, or longer; the eagerness of curiosity stimulated for so long a time previous; the reverent enthusiasm which ascribed the strange contortions witnessed, to the mysterious agency of God; the fervent and sanguine temperament of some of the preachers; and lastly, the boiling zeal of the Methodists, who could not refrain from shouting aloud during the sermon, and shaking hands all round afterwards. . ; take all this into consideration, and it will abate our surprise very much, when informed that the number of persons who fell, was computed by the Rev. James Crawford, who endeavored to keep an accurate account, at the astounding number of about three thousand.”
The subjects and promoters of this revival were those who went into and formed that which was afterward called the New Lights. The Presbyterians among them at first formed themselves into a Presbytery in 1803, calling it the Independent Presbytery of Springfield, for John Thompson, pastor of the Church of Springfield (now Springdale, near Cincinnati, Ohio), was one of those who went off, and that church had the honor of giving a name to the seceders.
This arrangement was, however, of short duration, for June 28, 1804, they adopted what they called “The Last Will and Testament of the Presbytery of Springfield” in which those that signed agreed to “sink into union with the body of Christ at large. The signers included Robert Marshall, John Dunlevy, Richard McNemar, Barton W. Stone, John Thompson and David Purviance. This is the founding of the Christian Church denomination.
On April 20th, 1804, the Turtle Creek Church, which was near Lebanon, Ohio, and a part of the Washington Presbytery, supplied by Richard McNemar, reorganized as a New Light Church, adopting four propositions that were presented in writing, signed by William Bedel, Malcham Worley, Matthias Spring, Aaron Tullis, Samuel Sering, Francis Bedel and Richard McNemar; some of these, and probably all of them had been elders in the church.
At the close of public worship the congregation was asked “Do we adopt the Holy Scriputres as the only rule of faith and practice; the only standard of doctrine and discipline? Do we agree to constitute a church in that capacity to transact business?” These were answered in the affirmative.
The one thing which varied in this church from the New Lights was that the New Lights did not allow dancing, although involunary movement brought on by conversion experiences was allowed.
The Turtle Creek Church encouraged voluntary dancing. At first the dancing was very formal — going round the stand chanting in a low tone of voice, “This is the Holy Ghost: Glory!” But the ensuing Fall and Winter, the dancing became less formal. About the latter end of the year 1804, there wre regular societies of these people, in the state of Ohio, at Turtle Creek, Eagle Creek, Springfield (Springdale), Orangedale, Salem, Beaver Creek, Clear Creek, etc. and in Kentucky at Cabin Creek, Fleminsburgh, Concord, Caneridge, Indian Creek, Bethel, Paint Lick, Shawny Run, and besides, an innumerable multitude dispersed among the people in Tennessee, North Caroina, Virginia and in the Western parts of Pennsylvania.
In 1805 while the people were in this confused, excited state, expecting they knew not what, three men,
John Meacham, Benjamin S. Youngs, and Issachar Bates, on the first day of the year, started from the church at New Lebanon, town of Canaan, in the state of New York, on foot, and arriving in Kentucky, about the first of March, stopped a few days at Paint Lick, whre they were kindly enteretained; thence they journeyed to Caneridge, and spent a few days among the subjects of the revival in that place, courteously enteretained by the Rev. Barton W. Stone; thence they came to Ohio, going first to Springdale, but not doing much there, they went to Turtle creek where they arrived the 22d of March. These were Shaker missionaries and quickly converted Rev. McNemar, and soon the main part of the Turtle Creek Church, believed in the doctrines and became members of The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming. This church became the nucleus of the Union Shaker Village, a people who live as celibates, and have all their property in one common fund, managed by those of their own number who are appointed to that work, who honest in all their business transactions, have ever maintained a high charagcter for sobriety and industry, and whose trade mark upon any article is accepted as proof of its being the best of its kind. By 1807 there were between thirty and forty families at Turtle Creek and twenty or thirty families at Eagle Creek who had come into the new belief. The most of the members of Orangedale church which was in Lemon township, Butler county, not far from Lebanon, also came.