Ohio History Journal










In the years following the Revolution, the frontiers-

man, fighting with Nature for the first-fruits of the vir-

gin soil, was not primarily religious. That this is so,

students of the American frontier are constantly as-

serting. Only when Nature and the Indian gave sur-

cease from terror and labor did the frontiersman find

need for the milder excitement-religion. Religion came

to fill what had become an emotional vacuum in the life

and minds of the frontier community enjoying its first

hard-earned prosperity, secure at last from the redskin

and saved from his revenge by grace and the power the

white man wields.1

The Great Revival came during such an era in Ken-

tucky. Indian troubles were at an end and prosperity

was at hand. Religion alone seemed capable of giving

the adventure and thrill which a life of daily danger had

made customary. In the presence of divine revelation

and under the spell of religious fervor a man might ex-

perience again that seething of the emotions which physi-

cal combat, the sound of battle and the sight of blood had

given him.

The Great Revival began among the Presbyterians


Cf. Paxson, History of the American Frontier, 115-117.


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but in later years the movement found its best expression

among the Methodists. If we look for a man to stand as

the representative of this rising emotionalism, we must

look for a Lorenzo Dow, or a Peter Cartwright. The

Methodist camp-meeting we may call its climax and its

symbol. The logical culmination of frontier religion, it

speaks in a word its brute emotionalism. No amount of

theological apology can effectively disguise the down-

right physical basis of the religion of the camp-meeting.2

From Kentucky the movement spread in every di-

rection.  Into Ohio it advanced.      There Christians,

Shakers and Cumberland Presbyterians eventually found

their way.3 Methodist and Baptist preachers already

there were fired with new zeal. The rude folk they min-

istered to, found new spiritual interests. Into the Wes-

tern Reserve these influences penetrated slowly.

The unique character of Western Reserve religion,

as it will appear in this paper, illustrates the dan-

ger in too wide generalization of the effect of the fron-

tier upon society. Cultural groups do have considerable

significance, and the frontier of the Western Reserve

was not the frontier of Kentucky or even of southern

Ohio. The influence of the Great Revival on Kentucky

and southern Ohio religion is certainly similar to its ef-

fect upon Western Reserve religion. But there are im-

portant, distinguishing differences-differences suffi-

ciently great to postpone the period of genuine radical-


See Frances Trollope's description of a Methodist camp-meeting in

Ohio in Nevins, American Social History as Recorded by British Travellers,


3 Mitchell, "Religion in Early Ohio," M. V. H. A. Proceedings, IX,

86-87. John P. McLean, "Kentucky Revival and Its Influence on the Miami

Valley", Ohio Arch. and Hist. Soc. Publications, XII, 242-286.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 477

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  477

ism and emotionalism to a considerably later period and

then to alter this emotionalism into something else again

-the radical reform movements-fitter outlet for Puri-

tanic zeal!

Two important elements-and the relative lack of

another-give to the Western Reserve religion its dis-

tinctive character. The element lacking is emotionalism.

The two present are conservatism and rationalism. The

age which gave rise to Unitarianism and Jeffersonian

democracy, might be expected to project both conserva-

tism and rationalism into some parts of its frontier.

Particularly in those parts closely related generically to

New England we might expect a blending of the conser-

vatism and rationalism characteristic of New England

religion at the end of the eighteenth century. Add to

this the fact that the Western Reserve is found to be

almost entirely Jeffersonian from the beginning, and the

elements of rationalism are perhaps well accounted for.4

Symbolical of these tendencies is the church architecture

of the end of the period. Greek Revival churches add

the touch of pagan reason distinctly Jeffersonian. Like-

wise the press. Religious influence over the press, com-

mon in early days in other parts of the state, was com-

pletely lacking in the Western Reserve. Examination of

the files of the Trump of Fame and the Western Courier

reveal no religious influence, though much political in-



4 When Portage County was organized in 1808, including about half the

Western Reserve, all its first officers were Jeffersonian Democrats. See

History of Portage County, p. 322.

5 See files of Trump of Fame and Western Courier; Venable, Begin-

nings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley; "Religion in Early Ohio"

M. V. H. A. Proceedings IX, 82-83.

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It is true there were reflections of the Revival in the

Western Reserve at this time. So powerful a movement

could not be restrained completely, even in the frigid air

of New Connecticut. Methodists and Baptists were

present from the beginning, though in comparatively

small numbers. The first Congregational missionary to

the Western Reserve stayed at the home of a Baptist

preacher in Youngstown.6 Thomas Robbins, another

early missionary, found several communities of Meth-

odists in Portage County. In 1804, he reported a Meth-

odist church at Deerfield that "has been formed here for

some time."7

Robbins reported as early as 1803, "the religious re-

vival in these parts (Warren and Youngstown), a sub-

ject of general conversation."8 That camp-meetings were

held occasionally is shown by advertisements in the

Trump of Fame.9 The famous Lorenzo Dow is known

to have visited the region at the end of our period

(1827), and to have preached in Akron and Cleveland.10

Taking the region as a whole, however, the Congre-

gationalists and Presbyterians, operating under a Plan

of Union, had things pretty much their own way for

the first quarter-century. There were occasional Meth-

odist and Baptist churches, as mentioned above, but they

were exceptions. The reason for this is apparent if one

stops to consider that the early migration into the Re-

serve was very largely from New England, or Western

New York, regions at that time very little affected by

6 Badger, Memoirs, chap. iii.

7 Diary of Thomas Robbins, I, 233, 257.

8 Op. cit. p. 218.

9 Trump of Fame, July 15, 1812, contains such an advertisement.

10 See Western Courier, June 16, 1827.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 479

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  479

the incursions of Methodists and Baptists. Not until

the second quarter of the century, when immigration

into the Reserve sets in more strongly from the middle

states and from Europe, do the Methodists and Baptists

become assertive.11


The earliest religious efforts in the Western Reserve

as on the frontier generally during the nineteenth cen-

tury, were missionary efforts. The traveling missionary

was as characteristic of the Congregational and Pres-

byterian churches as of the Methodist and Baptist, at

least in the very early years. Religious interest was not

great in the first few years after the settlement of the

Western Reserve. Churches were either totally lacking

or barely existing. Maintaining a regular resident pas-

tor was impossible, if for no other reason than the im-

possibility of securing the very meagre salary which

would be necessary. And preachers were scarce.12

There were occasional cases of a community estab-

lishing and maintaining from the outset a regular

church, with one of their members as minister. These

were in the stronger communities. There was, too, an

occasional case of the wholesale transplanting of a

church formed in New England, into the Reserve. This

was the case in Charlestown, in Portage County. The

church was formed in Middle Granville, Massachusetts,

in 1811, by Reverend Joel Baker. Soon after, the entire

church moved to Charlestown.13

11 Sweet, Rise of Methodism in the West, 10-17; Mitchell, Op. cit. loc.,


12 See Sweet, Rise of Methodism, 46-48. Cites MS. Journal of Meth-

odists Conference, 1805; and Cartwright, Autobiography, III.

13 Kennedy, Plan of Union, 118-119; see also Mitchell, Op. cit.

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The more frequent situation, however, was religious

apathy. To meet this situation, general in the West at

this time, measures had been taken as early as 1788, be-

fore any settlements were made in the Western Reserve.

Beginning with that year occasional missionaries were

sent out by the General Association of Connecticut for

a few months at a time. In 1792, this work was put on a

regular financial basis. In 1798, the General Associa-

tion organized itself as a missionary society. This or-

ganization continued to operate during the whole period

we are studying and was responsible for sending out the

greater proportion of the missionaries to the Western


It must be remembered that Presbyterians and Con-

gregationalists found a considerable community of in-

terest at this time. National organizations were not yet

strong. Theological differences were relatively unim-

portant. The spirit which had given rise to the Solemn

League and Covenant was not entirely dead in the new

world. Differences were largely geographical and on

questions of government. Close relations had always

existed between the Congregational General Association

of Connecticut and the General Assembly of the Presby-

terian Church.14

13a Crocker, Catastrophe of the Presbyterian Church, 9.

14 Zebulon Crocker, Catastrophe of the Presbyterian Church is an

interesting and valuable volume by a New England Congregationalist,

written at the time of the abrogation of the Plan of Union. It throws light

on the intimate relations between Congregationalists and Presbyterians prior

to this time. The first presbytery formed in the United States, that of

Philadelphia, in 1704, was composed of both Presbyterian and Congrega-

tional churches. The Presbyterians were largely from Scotland and Ireland

and the Congregationalists chiefly from New England (p. 47, p. 40ff.) Not

until 1729 was there any attempt to legislate on questions of government

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 481

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825            481

It was this situation which gave rise to the Plan of

Union. In its essence the Plan of Union was an agree-

ment between the Congregational and Presbyterian

churches to cooperate in missionary activities in the

West. Its purpose was to avoid duplication of effort

and consequent waste. Highly idealistic in its intention

to forget denominational lines in the greater service of

the church, it attempted to provide that neither denomi-

nation should profit, through competition, at the expense

of the other. "With a view to prevent alienations and

promote union and harmony in those new settlements-

composed of inhabitants from" Presbyterian and Con-

gregational bodies, the document ran.15 Its result was

just the opposite of "preventing alienations". As might

have been anticipated, it meant the evangelizing of the

Western Reserve by the Congregational missionary-


and doctrine. Then gradually the government of ruling elders, presby-

teries, synods and at last a General Assembly grew up. Resolutions were

enacted dealing with creeds and doctrines. (p. 40 ff.)  Says the author,

"On all the great doctrines of the gospel, such as are essential to salvation,

Congregationalists and Presbyterians held a common faith-partialities and

prejudices in regard to questions merely of order and discipline." (p. 7.)

The General Association of Connecticut and the General Assembly of

the Presbyterian Church "were on terms of friendly intercourse with each

other." (p. 10.) In 1792, the two bodies agreed to a standing committee

of correspondence and an interchange of delegates. In 1794, they agreed that

these delegates should vote as other members of the respective bodies. The

latter provision was continued only a few years. (pp. 35-36.) See also

Thompson, A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States,

pp. 15-21, 68-78.

Congregational churches in Connecticut freely used the name Presby-

terian. "Nothing, indeed, could be more friendly than the relation of the

Presbytery to the New England churches" (p. 20.) Cotton Mather was a

great friend and adviser of the Presbytery. Thompson generally agrees

with Crocker in stressing the near identity of Congregationalists and Pres-

byterians during the period before 1837.

15 Kennedy, Plan of Union, 148-155.

Vol. XXXVIII--31.

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preachers, and the establishment of Presbyterian

churches. The Presbyterian church with its stronger

national organization easily captured the ground opened

up for them by the Congregationalists.

Article I, of the Plan of Union, enjoined upon mis-

sionaries "to promote mutual forbearance and accom-

modation" between Presbyterians and Congregational-

ists. Articles 2, 3, and 4, laid down principles to be fol-

lowed when Congregational churches settled Presby-

terian ministers, when Presbyterian churches settled

Congregational ministers and when congregations were

made up of adherents to both orders. In no case was

either the church or pastor to be required to change al-

legiance, nor were minister and congregation to be

separated because of differing loyalties.16

As a matter of fact, while Congregational and Pres-

byterian members and ministers were somewhere near

equal in number, most churches associated with Pres-

byteries and with the Presbyterian Synod of Pittsburgh.

As late as 1852, after numerous schisms, approximately

two-thirds of all "Congregational" churches in Portage

County were members of the Presbyterian Synod.17

The best evidence of the character of the frontier

religion of the early period is to be found in the diaries

of the traveling preachers working under the Plan of

Union. Joseph Badger and Thomas Robbins, both of

whom have been referred to, left very illuminating ac-

counts of their work and travels. A little volume by

William S. Kennedy, entitled The Plan of Union, pub-


16 Ibid; text of Plan of Union also given in Crocker, Op. cit., 11-14.

17 Kennedy, Op. cit., 136-137. Statistics and data from Western Reserve

Register. (1852.)

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 483

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  483

lished in 1856, furnishes almost contemporaneous

sketches of others.

Joseph Badger is a fair example of the missionaries

sent out under the Plan of the Union. He was born at

Wilbraham, Massachusetts, in 1757.18  After a varied

experience of study, school teaching and three and a half

years' service in the Revolutionary army, he entered

Yale College in 1781. Graduating in 1785, he taught

school and studied theology with the Reverend Mr.

Leavenworth in Waterbury. In 1786, he was licensed to

preach. Four years later he was appointed the first mis-

18 Copy of inscription of tombstone on file in Library of Western Re-

serve Historical Society.

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sionary to the Western Reserve by the Connecticut Mis-

sionary Society.

He undertook at once, the long journey to his distant

charge. Through New York, New Jersey and Pennsyl-

vania he traveled, chiefly on horseback, to Pittsburgh, in

the late fall. There he inquired about roads to the

Western Reserve. The account in his diary is illuminat-


There was only one road leading from Beaver to the Reserve

and that almost impassable. I was directed to take a blazed

path which led to the Mahoning River a mile or two east of

Poland. When I came to the river the water was high, the cur-

rent strong, and how deep I could not tell. * * * I ven-

tured in, the water came over the top of my boots and my horse

beat down stream fast toward swimming water; but happily

reached the shore in time to avoid deep water * * * arrived

at cabin of Rev. Mr. Wick (Youngstown).19

Badger began at once his preaching and his travels

which eventually led him over most of the Western Re-

serve. Late in 1801, he returned to New England and

the following February set out with his family for Ohio.

This time he followed the route through western New

York--Albany, Troy, Mohawk, Buffalo,--driving a

wagon with a two-span team. Providence smiled upon

him this time.

Providential ordering of the season was peculiarly favorable

for our journey. There had been no heavy rains to raise the

streams, and the lake (Erie) was remarkably still. *  *  *

From Buffalo to the Pennsylvania line, seventy miles, there being

no cabin on the route, we cut our path by day, pitched our tent

by night, and slept safely in the woods.

The total journey was some six hundred miles and

Badger arrived in Ohio in April. He became a resident

Badger, Memoir of Rev. Joseph Badger, chap. i, ii, iii.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 485

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  485

pastor at Austinburg, but spent much time in what he

called "missionary tours."20

In the course of these "missionary tours" which took

him sometimes outside the Reserve and even south of

the Ohio, he had much opportunity to observe the status

of religion. He encountered both disbelief and rank

emotionalism, and his New England soul was much dis-

turbed over both. In the course of the journey to Three

Springs, Wheeling County, Virginia, he records the fol-


Excitement in this place was considerable  *  *  *

Preached to crowded attentive audiences. Several became unable

to support themselves. * * * A scene began to be exhibited

indescribable. * * * Several fell helpless. One person lay

like one in the arms of death until after daybreak. * * * The

assembly continued in prayer and exhortation until after day-


The stern man of God might and did occasionally

participate in such proceedings, as his Memoir shows.

And he must continually tolerate what to him appeared

to be emotional vagaries. Laconic statements such as

the following are not infrequent:

Thursday (Dec. 13) preached on a fast observed by the

Church at this place (Youngstown); rode after sermon to Hub-

bard, and preached in the evening. One young person brought

under great distress.22

With more righteous indignation he records the fol-

lowing incident connected with Benjamin Tappan (later

United States Senator from Ohio):

Invitation had been given to the few scattering inhabitants

to assemble at the cabin of Esquire Hudson, in the town of Hud-

20 Badger, Op. cit., p. 38ff.

21 Badger, Op. cit., p. 44ff.

22 p. 88 and passim.

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son, and celebrate the fourth of July. I went in company with

Esquire Sheldon and wife. About thirty were assembled. Mr.

Benjamin Tappan, of Ravenna, had been invited to give an ora-

tion. After an appropriate prayer, the oration was delivered in-

terlaced with many grossly illiberal remarks about Christians and

Christianity. Preached here the next Sabbath.23

This was Joseph Badger, man of God and missionary

to the Western Reserve. Stern, unyielding, puritanical,

shrewd and practical. Well-educated, his mind trained

to the ways of a cultured New England community, he

brought to the rude frontier a balanced, conservative, if

opportunistic, view of religion.

Thomas Robbins, another missionary to the "lost"

West has been mentioned. In May, 1803, he was ap-

pointed a missionary to New Connecticut. He went

West at once, preaching along the way, and joined

Joseph Badger.24

Two things apparently impressed Robbins as they

had impressed Badger. The first was the general re-

ligious apathy. Place after place he visits which has had

no religious service for months past. Perhaps there is

a slight awakening of religious interest. He comments

on it occasionally. But the general tone is one of in-


The second thing is the "dangerous" character of the

few scattered Methodists in the region. Bostwick, the

Methodist preacher at Deerfield, "is a dangerous char-

acter."25 "The Methodists appear endeavoring to obtain

an influence here, but I think there is but little prospect

of their succeeding." Comments on the "ignorance" of

23 p. 26-27.

24 Kennedy, Plan of Union, p. 24.

25 Diary of Thomas Robbins, 1, 233, 257 and passim.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 487

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  487

Methodist preachers are frequent and apparently not

motivated by sectarian bias.26 The Methodists were

ignorant. One has only to read Lorenzo Dow and Peter

Cartwright to realize that.

Robbins was a Congregational missionary. He ap-

parently worked with Congregationalists and Presby-

terians indiscriminately.  He was loyal to the Plan of

Union.27 Well-trained for his day, conservative in re-

ligion, he was interested in schools almost as much as

churches. As early as 1804, an entry in his Diary re-

26 Op. cit., 257 and passim.

27 Kennedy, Op. cit., 24ff.


488        ??hio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

veals his interest in the talk about founding a college in

Trumbull County.28 He made it a point to visit the

school, when there was one, in almost every community

in which he preached. References to these visits are fre-

quent in his Diary. Like the New England ministers,

he regarded it as his privilege and duty to visit the

schools at will and catechise the children. Needless to

say, the catechism formed an important part of the cur-

riculum of these primitive schools.29

Two other examples will serve to fix the type of

these early missionaries, working under the Plan of

Union: Caleb Pitkin and John Seward. Born in New

Hartford, Connecticut, Caleb Pitkin attended Yale Col-

lege, graduating in 1806. He studied theology with

Asahel Hooker of Goshen. In 1816, he was sent to the

Western Reserve. From 1818 to 1826, he was pastor of

the church at Charlestown.         When Western Reserve

College was founded he became a member of its faculty.

He was a Congregationalist but a strong advocate of the

Plan of Union, and a member of the Western Reserve

Synod of the Presbyterian church when it was estab-


Trumbull County then included all the Western Reserve. The first

college in the Western Reserve was Western Reserve College, 1826, at Hud-

son, then Portage County. See Diary of Thomas Robbins, I, 224-258, and

Western Courier, April 29, 1826, Aug. 28, 1829. It is an interesting fact

that Western Reserve College, founded by New England (Congregational)

missionary-prachers, remained loyal to the Plan of Union and the Western

Reserve Synod, and Oberlin College was later founded to be the represen-

tative of Congregationalism in the Western Reserve. Kennedy, Plan of

Union, passim.

29 Op. cit. I, passim; see also Mitchell, "Religion in Early Ohio", M. V.

H. A. Proceedings, IX, 81. "The curricula of the elementary schools . . .

included the New Testament, Bunyan, and the American Preceptor, a Con-

gregational magazine."

30 Kennedy, Op. cit., 79-81.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 489

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  489

John Seward was born in Granville, Massachusetts,

in 1784. He attended Williams College, graduating in

1810. A year studying theology with Rev. Ebenezer

Porter, D. D., at Washington, Connecticut, prepared

him for the ministry. In 1811, he was sent to Ohio by

the Connecticut Missionary Society. At the time of his

arrival, there were only eight ministers in the Western

Reserve. He served first as an itinerant preacher, but

within a year was settled at Aurora, as the first resident

pastor of the church organized three years earlier. He

became a trustee of Western Reserve College, remained

a Congregationalist, but also remained loyal to the Plan

of Union and to the Western Reserve Synod of the

Presbyterian Church.31

Certainly about these four men there is nothing of

an appeal to ignorant prejudice or emotionalism. Nor is

there anything of a radical reforming character. True,

they were zealous evangelists. So far as the diaries of

the first two reveal their inner character, and there is

probably no better evidence anywhere, they regarded

intelligence and morality as the main components of

religion. They were rather amazed than otherwise at

the emotional states sometimes engendered in their con-

gregations. Their own education and their interest in

public schools and colleges furnishes indubitable proof

of their intellectual calibre, and of the intellectual qual-

ity of their religious lives. A vastly different picture

from that of Lorenzo Dow, Peter Cartwright and the

itinerant Methodists!

Some statistics may help to show the character and

training of these early missionary-preachers. There

31 Kennedy, Op. cit., 60-63.

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were 159 Presbyterian and Congregational churches in

the Western Reserve in 1835, served by 160 ministers.

Forty-eight of these were born in Connecticut and forty-

one in Massachusetts. The education and training of all

the men is not known, but it is known that 31 received

their education at Yale, 19 at Williams, 11 at Dart-

mouth, 9 at Middlebury, 5 at Brown, 3 at Amherst, 8

at Hamilton, 3 at the College of New Jersey, and 42

were not college graduates.

The nature of the theological training of this same

group is also interesting and significant. Seventy-three

had their theological education with private tutors,

twenty-nine at Andover, seventeen at Auburn Theologi-

cal Seminary and fifteen at Princeton Theological Semi-


A different picture is presented from the Western

Reserve in the years following 1825 when Methodists,

Baptists, Mormons, and Campbellites, not to mention

the radical evangelists of the Oberlin Congregational-

ists, become dominant.



In 1814, the Presbytery of Hartford asked the Synod

of Pittsburgh to divide the Presbytery. The Presby-

tery of Grand River was established including all of the

Western Reserve except some six townships in the south-

east corner. In May, 1825, the Synod of the Western

Reserve was formed, consisting of the Presbyteries of

Grand River, Portage and Huron.33


32 Kennedy, Plan of Union, 129-131.

33 Kennedy, Op. cit., 160-185.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 491

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  491

This Synod was organized on the basis of the Plan

of Union and the leading ministers and churches were

still Congregational. In fact most of the churches of

the Western Reserve Synod were originally Congrega-

tional. A survey in 1845 showed that there were 172

Presbyterian and Congregational churches in the Wes-

tern Reserve. Of these 123 were associated in the Sy-

nod. But 98 out of the 123 were Congregational. Out

of the 49 churches not associated in the Synod 22 Con-

gregational churches ("orthodox") remained "inde-

pendent," and 27 belonged to the Western Reserve As-

sociation (Oberlin Congregational).34

The first indication of lack of harmony within the

Synod and lack of agreement under the Plan of Union,

came in 1835, when a small organization of Congrega-

tional churches called the "Independent Congregational

Union of the Western Reserve," was formed. The fol-

lowing year came a more serious breach through the

formation of the General (Congregational) Association

of the Western Reserve ("Oberlin Association") un-

der the influence and leadership of J. B. Finney and

President Mahan of Oberlin College. This association

later became the Huron Congregational Conference. It

gathered up the radical, or "Arminian" element. Other

small Congregational groups, such as the Puritan Asso-

ciation, (1852) the Medina Association and the North-

eastern Association of Ohio were formed from time to


In 1837, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian

church repudiated the Plan of Union and "excised" the

34 Kennedy, Op. cit., 129-131.

35 Kennedy, Op. cit., 186-219.

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Synod of the Western Reserve. With the outcome of

this controversy we have no concern save to note that

the schism was healed eventually. A consideration of

the causes which led to the excision of the Western

Reserve Synod should, however, throw some light upon

the religious conditions of the times, particularly in the


What, then, were the reasons for the expulsion of

the Synod of the Western Reserve? Three reason were

assigned by the Assembly.

1. The Plan of Union had not been constitutionally adopted.

2. The General Association of Connecticut had no power to

make such a contract.

3. "Much confusion and irregularity have arisen from this

unnatural and unconstitutional system of union.37

Crocker insists that the slavery question was a

secondary but very important cause of the expulsion.

He shows that the Synod of the Western Reserve had

adopted a resolution "that slavery as it exists in the

United States is a sin against God; a high-handed tres-

pass on the rights of man; a great physical, political

and social evil, which ought to be immediately and un-

iversally abandoned." The policy of the Presbyterian

church was, of course, to avoid dissension on this sub-


36 This schism, with its causes and outcome is treated very adequately

in Thompson, History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States,

chap. X and XI. Zebulon Crocker's Catastrophe of the Presbyterian

Church, referred to above, is an interesting and valuable contemporaneous


37 Crocker, Op. cit., 21-46. The author wrote with the use of the

Minutes of the Assembly of 1837, which he cites, p. 421 and p. 471ff., and

the "Testimony and Memorial of the Convention of 1837" in which the

details of the grievances are set forth.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 493

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  493

ject.  They could have little patience with these ill-

mannered westerners.38

Other historians have not supported Crocker in at-

taching so much importance to the slavery question as a

cause of the quarrel.39 The abolition controversy, more-

over, comes later than the period (1800-1825) that we

are considering. It is significant only in that it illus-

trates the centrifugal tendency of these western


The primary object in expelling the western synods

in 1837, according to Crocker, and also Thompson,40 was

"the removal of New England opinions and influence

from the Presbyterian church." Here, then, is the key

to the controversy, and the answer to our question. The

Western Reserve churches, after all, were more Con-

gregational than Presbyterian. Their ideas, naturally,

both of doctrine and of church government, were those

of New England. Their insistence upon radical ideas,

distasteful to their more conservative      Presbyterian

brethren in the General Assembly, ultimately brought

about their expulsion from that body.





Already in 1825, forces were making to undermine

the favored position held by Congregationalists and


38  Crocker, Op. cit., 66-70.

39 See Thompson, Op. cit., 115-128; Dodd, Expansion and Conflict, 143-

146; Fish, Development of American Nationality, 298. The latter differs

slightly in his view of the slavery question in the Presbyterian church.

40 Crocker, Op. cit., 46; Thompson, Op. cit., 88ff. 105-128. The synods

of Genesee and Utica were excised at the same time.

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494       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

Presbyterians. Methodists had been present in small

numbers from the earliest days in the Reserve. The

rapid growth of the Methodist Church, its effective use

of the circuit-riding evangelist and of the camp-meeting,

were spreading its power rapidly over the whole West.

In 1784, when Francis Asbury became the first Super-

intendent by appointment of John Wesley and selection

of the preachers, there were not over 14,000 Methodists

in all the United States. These were mostly in the

southern states. There were none in New England. In

1800, there were 3,701 Methodists in all the west, in

nine circuits. By 1811, there were 30,741 members in 69


The initial zeal of the first wave of Congregational

and Presbyterian missionary activity was dissipated and

displaced by factional quarrels. Methodism gained

apace after 1810. Its doctrines of free grace, free will

and individual responsibility appealed to the frontier,

but hitherto their activities in Ohio had been limited

largely to Southern Ohio. The two districts appointed

in Ohio were Miami and Muskingum. In neither of

these was a circuit-rider definitely assigned to the region

of the Western Reserve in 1811.42 Yet by 1830-1840,

the Methodist church-building was taking its place

alongside the Congregational or Presbyterian church in

almost every village or township center in the Reserve

and frequently displacing it.43


41 Sweet, Rise of Methodism in the West, 10-17, 29-35.

42 Journal for 1811," in Sweet, Rise of Methodism, 190-207.

Buckley, History of Methodists in the United States, chap. x??

Stevens, History of Methodism, III, chap. ix; see also county histories for

dates of founding of Methodist churches, etc., and King, "Introduction of

Methodism in Ohio", Ohio Arch. and Hist. Soc. Publications, X, 165-219.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 495

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  495

Baptists, lacking somewhat in central organization

were pushing on rapidly all through the West. The

chief centers of Baptist activity in Ohio were the Miami

and Scioto Valleys. In 1790, Ohio had two Baptist

churches and 64 members. In 1812, there were 60

churches and 2400 members.44

The Baptists were kept from making as rapid gains

as might normally have been expected after 1825,

through the heavy drain made upon their constituency

by the followers of Alexander Campbell. Campbellism

traces its origin to the founding of the Christian Asso-

ciation of Washington (Pennsylvania), in 1809, and in

many ways is a schism in the Presbyterian church. In

the Western Reserve, however, where the movement at-

tained great strength, it took the form of a movement

from within the Baptist church. When the Mahoning

Baptist Association dissolved in 1830, to follow Alexan-

der Campbell into the new denomination, the movement

was really born, though its beginning goes back several

years further.45

The Campbellites in their appeal to the intense indi-

vidualism of the frontier, through disposing of all

creeds and practically all church government, had a

direct connection with another religious sect, in many

ways a product of the Western Reserve and of great im-

portance there in the years after 1830. The first group

of followers of the Mormons of any considerable conse-

quence was a church at Kirtland which had been a

Campbellite church. Its minister, Sidney Rigdon, was

44 Newman, History of Baptist Churches in the United States, 338-40.

45 Campbell, Declaration and Address, "Centennial Introduction"; New-

man, History of Baptist Churches in United States, 494 (where date 1829 is

given); Hayden, History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 295ff.

496 Ohio Arch

496        Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

one of Joseph Smith's most important colleagues, and

may have exercised great influence over him. Another

center of Mormon influence was Hiram, where the in-

cident of tarring and feathering Joseph Smith oc-

curred. The Mormons gained many other adherents

from among the Campbellites, though strangely enough,

their most effective appeal was communism of goods-

the direct opposite of the individualism to which the

Campbellites appealed. Another instance of the danger

of too ready generalization concerning the nature of the

frontiersman. Apparently he was either intensely in-

dividualistic or communistic as the occasion required.46

This last movement, requiring as it did belief in the

divine revelation of the Book of Mormon to Joseph

Smith, may be taken as the height of radicalism in re-

ligion in the Western Reserve.47 That it was too radical

for the community is evidenced by the fact that the lead-

ers of the movement were soon forced to leave.

Into the new picture came also the Shakers, preach-

ing the approach of the second coming of Christ, the

advent of the Millenium. Like the Mormons, they failed

to gain any very considerable or universal position and

like the Mormons, they appealed largely to the illiterate

and undiscriminating.48

46 Hayden, Op. cit., 298-300, 209-222; see also Jules Remy and Julius

Brenchley, A Journal to Great Salt Lake City, passim. (deals with history

of the Mormons), cited in Hayden, Op. cit.

47 For description of this revelation, occurring in 1823, see Book of Mor-

mon, "Origin of Book of Mormon", and "Testimony of Three Witnesses,"


48 McLean, "The Shaker Community of Warren County," Ohio Arch.

and Hist. Soc. Publications, X, 262; "Kentucky Revival and Its Influence

on the Miami Valley," Ohio Arch. and Hist. Soc. Publications, XII,

242-286; United Society called Shakers, Christ's First and Second Appear-

ing, see especially Prefaces to first and fourth editions.

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825 497

Religion in the Western Reserve, 1800-1825  497



The Western Reserve was evangelized by many

Congregational missionary-preachers and a few Pres-

byterians. The churches established affiliated generally

with the Presbyterians, under the arrangements in the

Plan of Union, but continued to resemble more the New

England Congregationalists in matters of theology and

church government. The conservative character or bet-

ter, the unemotional character of religion in this region

was due to the missionary activities of conservative Con-

gregationalists and Presbyterians of the East and to the

firm hold maintained by them during the first two and

a half decades of the nineteenth century. This mission-

ary policy had much to do with preventing a split in

Presbyterianism, such as occurred in Kentucky. The

rigid requirement of an educated ministry proved a fatal

embarrassment to the Presbyterians in Kentucky. In

the Western Reserve, a well-educated ministry was pro-

vided in fairly ample numbers from the beginning, due

to the generosity of Connecticut Congregationalists.49

When we speak of the Western Reserve as conserva-

tive, it is well to remember that what is meant is lack of

emotionalism, such as that characterizing the camp-

meeting. For the Western Reserve Congregational and

Presbyterian churches were very radical, at least in the

opinion of the leaders of the Presbyterian church, who

accused them of accepting all the radical theological

ideas current in New England at this time-a reputation

probably deserved. This was an intellectual and not an

emotional radicalism.


49 Cf. Thompson, Op. cit., 70-71, 74.

Vol. XXXVIII-32.

498 Ohio Arch

498      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications

Even Baptists and Methodists felt the chilling atmos-

phere of this transplanted New England religion. Their

activities took on a more sober aspect, or at any rate, a

less exuberant one, under the cloud of social disap-

proval. Their comparative unimportance before 1825

and rapid emergence after that date are to be explained

partly by their own growth in general importance, partly

by the change in immigration taking place about this

time, and partly by the decline in evangelical zeal in the

Congregational and Presbyterian churches.

But toward the end of our period some notable

changes are under way. Baptists and Methodists gain

strength. Campbellites, appealing to the individualism of

the frontier, promise salvation to all who go through a

very simple and chaste form of conversion and are mak-

ing rapid inroads on the Baptists.   Mormons come

promising the New Jerusalem with Scriptural com-

munism. Shakers stir up men's apprehensions of the

second coming of Christ and begin to gain a foothold.

Oberlin College is about to be born and out of that

travail is to come a new emotionalism-abolition, tem-

perance and other reforms. A zeal for reform is agitat-

ing Congregational and Presbyterian Churches within

the Synod of the Western Reserve-which will soon

(1837) cause them to be cast out of the Presbyterian

fold, apparently, and branded as heretics, certainly.




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