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The Great Awakening

Religious tensions had occurred before, but now it seemed the masses were rejecting the “city upon the hill” altogether. These tensions mingled with social unrest, natural disasters, and an apparent increase in immoral behavior to create a religious revival in the mid-1700s, known as the Great Awakening


In 1734-1735, Jonathan Edwards, a Congregationalist minister from western Massachusetts, began rekindling the American spirit of piety.

It is no mystery why it occurred on the extremities of the colony first. A Baptist clergyman had once called frontiersmen, “A Gang of frantic lunatics broke out of Bedlam.” Edwards stirred his audience with explicit descriptions of the torment of hell-fire and damnation. In 1737, Edwards published his account of the event, Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God. His most lasting sermon is “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.”

Jonathan Edwards


The real catalyst of the Great Awakening, however, was George Whitefield, a 27 year old Anglican minister from England.

In 1739, he arrived in Philadelphia to stir up piety. By December, he had won renown preaching to crowds of as many as 6000. He continued his tour of the colonies in Georgia and then New England.

Whitefield was a showman. He performed in the pulpit--acting out the horrors of damnation and the joy of the regenerate.

Whitefield’s meetings were so popular they often were moved outside to accommodate the audience. The core of Whitefield’s message was the idea of “new birth”--the need for a sudden and emotional moment of conversion and salvation where a sinner would testify his (or more often her) finding Christ.


The Great Awakening affected colonial society in several ways.

First, the sects established colleges. The original three schools --Harvard (Puritan, 1636), William and Mary (Anglican, 1693), and Yale (Puritan, 1701)--did not serve colonists’ needs.

Thus were founded:

Presbyterian College of New Jersey (Princeton, 1746)

Anglican King’s College of New York (Columbia, 1754)

Baptist College of Rhode Island (Brown, 1764)

Dutch Reformed Queen’s College in New Jersey (Rutgers, 1766)

Congregationalist Dartmouth in New Hampshire (1769).

A secular school was created in Philadelphia in 1754, it became the University of Pennsylvania.


Territorial boundaries between churches broke down. Itinerant preachersspread sects across borders, helping to create a national, as opposed to regional, religious culture.

Thirdly, religion became increasingly an individual choice.

Finally, the rise of individual conscience fostered the breakdown of the “state church.” Religious libertarians began to push for the freedom of conscience that would become a rallying cry after the revolution.


The Great Awakening was essential in creating what became Iredell County.

Headstones in the Fourth Creek Burying Ground on West End Avenue, and the First Presbyterian Church history inform us that in about 1749, a group of Scots-Irish Presbyterians made their way along the Great Wagon Road south to the Piedmont of North Carolina. John Thompson, the first minister, held outdoor services at which he preached sermons that could last for two or more hours. Development of the Fourth Creek congregation was hindered by the French and Indian War (1756-63). The town of Statesville began to form around the church's location.

Source:Henry Middleton Raynal, Old Fourth Creek Congregation: The Story of the First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, 1964-1989 (1995).


The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment, symbolized by Newton and Locke, was largely limited to the upper and the educated middle classes. It had less effect on the poor or peasantry of America than the Great Awakening. But because the upper class were politically powerful, the Enlightenment is significant.

The Enlightenment did not really reach its peak in America until the 1740s when several scientists and natural philosophers formed the American Philosophical Society. The society's most prominent member and principal founder was Benjamin Franklin.

Perhaps the smartest man in the colonies and certainly the most famous, Ben Franklin embodied the Enlightenment in America as a man of science and letters, and as a deist.

Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, the son of a candle and soap maker. He was apprenticed to his older brother as a printer, but at the age of seventeen he decided he'd had enough of that and ran away, finally ending up in Philadelphia.


By 1730, Franklin established a print shop and published the Pennsylvania Gazette. Colonial newspapers were the main means of getting information about local activities. But they were also a reservoir of axioms. In 1733, Franklin gathered some of them, added more and created the first almanac in the colonies.

Poor Richard's Almanac included maxims, home remedies, astrological information, an index of English monarchs, weather forecasts, and other tidbits. It was revised many times. In 1748, it was expanded and called Poor Richard Improved. It was hugely popular; in Franklin's words, “it was generally read, scarce any neighborhood in the province being without it.” The proverbs Franklin collected (i.e. stole or dreamed up) include:

It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.

The rotten apple spoils his companion.

God heals and the doctor takes the fee.

Marry your sons when you will, but your daughters when you can.

Women age from the top down.

Franklin was particularly interested in economy and thrift. In 1758, he created Father Abraham to deliver a sermon on frugality and the evils of idleness. Father Abraham’s popularity was astronomical and not just in the colonies. Father Abraham raised the celebrity of Franklin in Europe, as well.

Franklin retired from the printing business in 1748 to pursue his interest in science and public service.


Franklin devised many practical inventions, including: the bifocal lens (to save having to switch spectacles to read and see at a distance); the Franklin stove (a small fireplace that generated great heat with less fuel); swim fins that fit onto one's hands like gloves; and the odometer (to measure distance to speed up the mail); among other things.

His greatest scientific achievement, however, related to the studies of electricity and weather. His most famous experiment involved the discovery that lightning was really electrified air. He also created the lightning rod, a vitally important invention which reduced the danger of fires started by lightning hitting homes, barns, and other buildings. His Experiments and Observations on Electricity was published in 1751.


Franklin was also a statesman and public servant. He founded the University of Pennsylvania. He helped organize the first volunteer fire department in America. He organized the financing of a sewer system and paved roads in Philadelphia. He created the first lending library in the colonies.

He would lead the colonies in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Confederation Era, and in creating the U.S. Constitution. He died in 1790.


The Last War for an American Empire

In 1747, several wealthy Virginians established the Ohio Company. Among the investors were George Washington’s brother and Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dinwiddie. Hoping to make money in the fur trade and in land speculation, in 1748, the company received a 200,000 acres grant in Pennsylvania at the forks of the Ohio River, near present-day Pittsburgh. The land was also claimed by France and in 1749, French troops went to the region to shore up France’s claim by building a series of forts, and befriending the Indians.


In October 1753, now-Governor Dinwiddie sent an expedition led by George Washington to demand a French withdrawal. The French refused. On the trip back to Virginia, in January 1754, Washington’s troops fought French and Indian forces near Fort Duquesne. Returning in May, Washington and his troops engaged the French and Indians in the Battle of Jumonville Glen. Winning, Washington set out to build Fort Necessity. The French attacked, forcing Washington's withdrawal (July 4th, 1754).

The skirmishes developed into the last French-English global war for empire, the Seven Years’ War.


In 1754, Ben Franklin devised the Albany Plan of Union to enable the colonies to protect themselves. Delegates met in Albany, New York, to form an alliance with the Iroquois against the French and their Huron allies; and potentially to create a governing council for all the colonies. It was not an independence movement; it intended only to bring the colonies closer together. Some colonies thought it was a good idea, but most did not want to give up any power to another layer of government.


The war, in America, was inconsistent. In 1755, Gen. Edward Braddock led British troops to the area and was ambushed by Indians and Frenchmen in Indian costumes. The English were defeated and Braddock was killed. George Washington again the retreat.

Little of significance occurred in the North American war between Braddock’s death (1755) and the fall of Louisbourg in 1758. What was important was William Pitt became Prime Minister. Pitt reorganized the British government and put in the resources (military and financial) needed to win the war and establish Britain’s imperial dominance once and for all.


Pitt’s policies turned the tide of war. British troops made significant gains, including building Fort Pitt at the forks of the Ohio.

In September 1759 came the death blow for the French in North America. Gen. James Wolfe led a British force against the Marquis de Montcalm at the Citadel of Quebec. Both commanders were killed in the British victory in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

The Death of General James Wolfe, by Benjamin West (1769).


Parliament: What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the year 1763?Franklin: The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of theCrown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of Parliament . . .

The Treaty of Paris (1763) ended the French and Indian War. In it, France gave up all claims to North America, ceding land east of the Mississippi River to Britain and west of it to Spain.

The land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River posed an opportunity and a problem for Britain. Colonials wanted the land and the Transylvania Company (whose investors included George Washington and Ben Franklin) was created in Virginia to speculate in lands in Kentucky. But each new incursion by colonials resulted in war with the Indians. So King George III banned colonists from entering the region. The Proclamation of 1763 banned all settlement west of the continental divide in the Appalachians. Colonists were outraged. Many, including North Carolinian trailblazer Daniel Boone, simply ignored it and went anyway.

The Proclamation brought a formal end to the era of Salutary Neglect.


The French and Indian War in Western North Carolina

1756: Fort Dobbs, built near Statesville to house settlers during times of war, is completed. The Moravians build a fort around the village of Bethabara.

1758: North Carolina militia and Cherokee assist the British military in campaigns against the French and Shawnee Indians. The Cherokee decide to change sides after receiving ill treatment by the English, and they return home, where they eventually attack North Carolina colonists.

1759: The French and Indian War intensifies as the Cherokee raid the western Piedmont. Refugees crowd into the fort at Bethabara. Typhus kills many refugees and Moravians there.

A second smallpox epidemic devastates the Catawba tribe, reducing the population by half.

1760: An act of assembly permits North Carolinians serving against Indian allies of the French to enslave captives.

February: Cherokee attack Fort Dobbs and white settlements near Bethabara and along the Yadkin and Dan Rivers.

June: An army of British regulars and American militia under Colonel Montgomerie destroys Cherokee villages and saves the Fort Prince George garrison in South Carolina but is defeated by the Cherokee at Echoe.

August: Cherokee capture Fort Loudoun in Tennessee and massacre the garrison.

1761: June: An army of British regulars, American militia, and Catawba and Chickasaw Indians under Colonel James Grant defeats the Cherokee and destroys 15 villages, ending Cherokee resistance.

December: The Cherokee sign a treaty ending their war with the American colonists.