Ohio History Journal

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Instructor in American History, University of Maryland

(On Military Leave)

As soon as we came upon the ground [Mechanicsburg, Ohio], I felt

that God was with the meeting. Give us a chimney, that we may have fire:

it was done. God was with us, and souls were converted.--BISHOP FRANCIS


In challenging the lawlessness and immorality of the frontier

the western churches forged new religious weapons. Among the

most successful was the camp meeting. To many denominations it

proved invaluable in gaining new adherents, and to the isolated

settlers it provided spiritual and social refreshment. This new tech-

nique was generated in the pulse-quickening years of the Great

Revival when the Presbyterian preacher, James McGready, was

attracting great crowds to his services in Logan County, Kentucky.

At his Gasper River sacramental meeting of July 1800 the newly

erected church building could not hold one-tenth of the worshipers

who had traveled from miles around. Undaunted, he moved the

meeting to the adjoining clearing, where religious fervor prompted

many to improvise shelters and encamp for several days. By this

spontaneous action, linking the practice of camping out with the

continuous outdoor service, the camp meeting institution was born.

Measured by the numbers converted, the Gasper River sacrament

was a brilliant success, insuring the staging of similar open-air

revivals by McGready's fellow ministers and those of other faiths.

With its equalitarian appeal, sociability, audience participation, and

emphasis on personalized religion, the camp meeting found a ready

acceptance among many Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist clergy-

men in the settled areas of Kentucky and Tennessee. It was no small

factor in the widespread success of the Second Great Awakening.

In many ways atypical, the Cane Ridge camp meeting of Bourbon


1 Italics his. Francis Asbury, Journal of Rev. Francis Asbury (3 vols., New York,

1852), III, 463, entry of August 26, 1815.