4. Colleges of the Great Awakening

Alma Mater/Spring 2014
February 3, 2014
Lecture # 4

4. Colleges of the Great Awakening – 1730—1770

1. Comments not responded to;
Medieval universities — Student/faculty mobility??
NEFFruits – prep schools ?

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solid information; informed speculation; engaging presentation

England/Wales/Ireland/Scotland in 1710 – 6,000,000 population
England – 6 universities –England, 2; Scotland 4; à 1 for every 1,000,000 population

BNA in 1710 < 300,000 population (10% Africans) [1/20th the population of Britain]
3 colleges – 1 for every 100,000 population

Great Britain  — 6,500,000 —  6 universities — 1 for every million
BNA – 2,500,000 – 9 colleges – 1 for every 280,000   — 4 times as available

Terms of the Religious Debate:

Elizabethan Settlement
Covenant/Gospel of Grace
Covenant/Gospel of Works
Established Church
Dissenting Church


BNA’s Three pre-Great Awakening colleges// All three colleges of the province’s “established church”;
all eligible for public support

1. Harvard – Congregational à by 1690s -> Arminian—Calvinism diluted/lite
A presence in Massachusetts life/prepared most of the settled clergy/public subsidy into 1820s
Profits from the Charlestown ferry
1708 – Edward Holyoke as president – neither a minister nor a Calvinist

2. Wm & Mary – Anglican —  James Blair – Williamsburg — devolved from college to secondary academy
Supported by an export tax on tobacco
Sinecure for Virginia’s Anglican ministers – its subsidies unpopular in 1750s
Best known professor – George Wythe 1749 onward – Thomas Jefferson his student in 1750s

3. Yale – Presbyterian – Calvinist but austere in liturgical practice; all faculty Presbyterian….
Subsidized by Conn. Legislative grants for professors’ salaries; Provincial gov’t; prepared settled clergy of Ct/LI/W. Mass
Jonathan Edwards
Samuel Johnson
James Davenport

All three colleges intended to provide their respective colonies and their established churches with educated ministers and magistrates/judges….

All these colonies and colleges accepted – tolerated, did not actively persecute — residents/students who were not of the established religious persuasion – Catholics and Jews beyond the pale…

Why tolerating others? – Short of settlers; needed the tuition; hoped to convert them; NEers obliged to tolerate Anglicans as the King’s religion
“Dissenters” : Anglicans in Mass/Ct; Presbyterians in Va; Quakers; Baptists;
Catholics; Jews

Harvard, Wm & Mary, Yale all operated with public subsidies; all taxed to support the established church/clergy ; Faculty and presidents expected to conform to established church
Yale in 1722 – Presbyterian minister/rector Timothy Cutler publicly defects from Presbyterianism and proceeds to England for Anglican ordination (Samuel Johnson in his tow)
Both later active in trying to convert NE Calvinists to Anglicanism/C of E


The Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s
A challenge to the standing order: Gov’t/Church/College – for having gone “cold” – formulaic…

Offered  new and “hotter” forms of religious observances to disgruntled church members and large number of unchurched by itinerant “ministers”

Itinerants and their schools seen as enticing the public away from settled ministers (with life tenure)
Englishmen – Disaffected Anglicans à Methodists of the John Wesley persuasion/Chapel people

The William and Gilbert Tennents/George Whitefield
Colonists Jonathan Edwards and James Davenport – with their own churches (Northampton; Southold) but went poaching on other ministers’ turf – Itinerants preaching outdoors to everyone in hearing – Indians, slaves

Edwards’s “ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Enfield, Ct., July 1741.

Davenport’s reenactment of “Bonfire of the Vanities” – New London – 1742;
earlier there , “Shepherd’s Tent “ – for preparing revivalist ministers

Davenport – disciplined for his excesses – public apologies
Edwards – removed from his church by emotionally drained parishoners à

Negative reaction of Harvard and Yale officials to GAWers offends some moderate “Awakeners”
faulted the revivalists for their “enthusiasms”

Feb 25 1745 The Declaration of the Rector and Tutors of Yale College against the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, his Principles and Designs, in a Letter to him.

NJ/NY Presbyterians/ especially disappointed in their alma mater Yale’s opposition – and by the Philadelphia presbytery’s opposition (“Old side/Lighters”)

New Siders (Yale and Harvard graduates)
William and Gilbert Tennent  — “Log College”
Jonathan Dickinson, Elizabeth, NJ
Aaron Burr, Newark, NJ
Ebenezer Pemberton, NYC
Jonathan Edwards, ex-Northampton/Stockbridge

“College of New Jersey” – 1746 – intended to serve the “New Light” Presbyterians of the
Middle Colonies and South – alternative to the “Old Light” Yale and its anti-Awakening
president and faculty
Founded without support of New Jersey? 2nd charter made governor a member of trustees…
Sought to supply Presbyterian churches with ministers well educated but sympathetic to the GAwakening – ended up providing many of leading patriots in 1775….

Break chronological order by holding off on # 5 King’s College (1754) and 36  College of Philadelphia (1755)

#7 – 1764 — College of Rhode Island  àBrown
James Manning, Baptist president (Princeton graduate)
Baptists set up collegiate shop in Warren, later Providence (Roger Williams a convert Baptist in 1630s)
No support from Rhode island legislature – Trustees assured a majority of Baptists – but spots for Congregationalists, Anglicans,

#8 – 1766 – Queen’s College à Rutgers [not opened for business until 1771]
Less Holland-bounded Dutch Reformed churchmen set up collegiate shop in New Brunswick, NJ
Frederick Frelinghuysen – Dutch Reformed revivalists of several generations
NJ charter – Provincial officials as trustees; ministers all Dutch Reformed; no provincial start-up funding
#9 – 1769 – Dartmouth College
“New Side” Congregationalists led by Eleazar Wheelock  9Yale graduate, minister in Lebabnon, Ct.)set up collegiate shop in Hanover, NH, well removed from Portsmouth, where Anglicans and “Old Side” Congregationalists dominated
Rev. Eleazar Wheelock – Also closer to the Indians…. Whom he sought to convert

1769 charter —     “that there be a college erected in the province of New Hampshire by the name of Dartmouth College for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land in reading, writing, and all parts of learning which shall appear necessary and expedient for civilizing and Christianizing children of pagans, as well as in all liberal arts and sciences, and also of English youth and others.
The Trustees shall not (and I quote) “exclude any person of any religious denomination whatsoever from any of the liberties and privileges or immunities of the said College on account of his or their speculative sentiments on religion.”


What of King’s College/Columbia and College of Philadelphia/UPenn?

Treated in the order of their founding (# 6 — Penn’s claims to 1740, 1743, 1749 –> 1755)
Benjamin Franklin as promoter – but not on the scene at the actual founding

#5 – King’s College
William Livingston as the Yaley (1741) lawyer NYCer with an idea for a college in late 1740s
Yale – himself an Old Light  Presbyterian but even more a non/anti Anglican

Member of powerful political family (“Country”/NY Assembly) vs DeLanceys (“Court”/Senate);
Family with vast holdings in Albany and NJ

NYC attorney – concerned with young rowdies; dearth of civilized discourse….
In wake of NJ’s college-making, calls for one for NYC – to be organized by provincial gov’t
His idea – For a non-sectarian college – all faiths welcome/none in control
1746 — NY legislature promises support/lotteries to go to “College Fund” à 4000 pounds

Non-sectarian??  Not then known in British Empire – or anywhere in Europe
All universities under some religious control
Oxford/Cambridge – C of E
Scottish universities – At. Andrews/Glasgow/Aberdeen/Edinburgh — Presbyterian

Harvard/W&M/Yale all with religious foundations
C of NJ, also, Presbytery on NY, although not reliant upon NJ for support

New York’s religious situation in 1750
5 of province’s lower 12 counties were “established” – with publicly supported ministers
of the Anglican communion – as per George II
Need a college established in NYC, where Anglicanism the “established church”
[Trinity Church]  necessarily be Anglican??
Livingston spent 5 years arguing that it need not be Anglican – and should not be.

1751 — NYC Anglicans bestirred – If to be college in NY first assumed it would be/ determined it had bloody well better be an Anglican college – offered 6 acres of prime property in lower Manhattan (land given to TC by Anglican governors in early 1700s – “Queen’s Farm”)

Where to place it?

1752 — LI/Westchester/NYC – Trinity offers land to provincial gov’t/Lottery Commission  committee for college site (“Queen’s Farm”)       — Money talks

Who to head it up?
1753 — Connecticut Anglican minister Samuel Johnson??
The 3rd brightest bulb in the colonies (BF/JE/SJ)
A critic of the enthusiasms of the Great Awakening – That acceptable to WL (not a revivalist)
OK with Livingston if the #2 guy be a Presbyterian – Chauncey Whittelsey!
[He, as a Yale tutor of David Brainerd, with “about as much grace as the chair I lean on.”]

Anglican/SJ add’l consideration – Placing college in NYC and SJ at its head, might decide where (and who) an American bishop might be put. American Anglicans calling for one to avoid sending ministerial prospects to England for ordination

January 1753 — Livingston’s Independent Reflector – full-throated assault on the idea of a publicly-financed “church college” dominated by a particular religion, especially a religious minority
(Anglicans about 10% of all NYers)

TC Anglicans double down – Gift of land now conditioned on two guarantees:
1. President of college to be an Anglican
2. All religious services be from Anglican Book of Common Prayer

Conditions unacceptable to Livingston and other NYC Presbyterians;
But acceptable to Anglican Lt. Gov’r James DeLancey and NY Senate/appted by gov’r and Anglican
Also assumed to be acceptable to DeLancey’s boss – King George II
Assembly withholds half of the lottery funds to express its disapproval

Spring 1754 – Johnson moves to NYC, two sons (Yaleys) in tow
May Advertisement for the College’s opening in July – in rooms borrowed from Trinity Church

To offer instruction in just about everything for just about everybody (no Papists)

V.  And, lastly, a serious, virtuous,  and industrious   course  of  life being first provided for, it is further the design  of this college to instruct and perfect youth in the learned languages [1], and in the arts of  reasoning  exactly [2],  of writing  correctly [3],  and speaking  elo­quently [4]; and in the arts of numbering  and measuring [5],   of survey­ing [6] and navigation [7],  of geography [8]  and history [9],  of husbandry [10],   commerce [11] and government [12], and in the  knowledge of all nature in heavens above us [13], and in the air, water and earth around us, and the various  kinds  of meteors, stones, mines, and  minerals [14],  plants [15] and animals [16], and of everything useful for the comfort, the convenience  and elegance  of  life,  in  the chief manufactures  relating  to any  of these  things;   and  finally,  to lead them from  the study  of nature to the  knowledge  of themselves,  and  of the  God of nature, and their duty to Him,  themselves, and  one another,  and every­ thing that can contribute  to their  true happiness, both  here  and hereafter.

Livingston’s objections to Assembly
November charter with TC conditions in tact
Governance by Board of Governors – Provincial officials/NYC ministers/monied merchants
Dominated by Anglicans – Livingston/Presbyterian boycott

200 odd students/100 graduates – predominantly from TC families
The odd outlander – George Washington’s nephew (John Parke Custis, 1773)
A Presbyterian-sponsored kid up from the Islands who wasn’t given
‘life credits” by Princeton so came to KC [Alexander Hamilton]
Pretty thin curriculum – SJ’s big ideas not implemented
Myles Cooper (1763-75) – another FILTH guy??

Medical faculty set up in 1767 – Some science getting taught/not much

Attempt to limit admission to the bar to KC graduates – as way of keeping the law from
having too many practicioners….

“American University” scheme of Myles Cooper – make all other American colleges
defer to KC as British North America’s university examiner and degree-granter
An institution wholly committed to maintenance of the status quo/the imperial system
Moderate and socially privileged religion –Anglicanism
Appropriate deference to the imperial system that benefited TC families à Tories/Loyalists

And a college caught almost entirely unawares by the growing resistance to the
privileged arrangements that King’s College was meant to perpetuate


College of Philadelphia
Provost William Smith – an Anglican and SJohnson  protégé – equally opposed to GAwakening
Somewhat larger clientele – Philadelphia Anglicans and Presbyterians
Ist medical school
Less attached to Britain than KC but nonetheless seen by Pennsylvanian revolutionaries
as in the service of the Crown….   Lost its charter and name in 1779 à The first “university”–

Last updated: February 3, 2014

2 Responses to 4. Colleges of the Great Awakening

  1. Robert McCaughey says:


    Good question.My sense is that denominational/religious concerns were the initial and primary impetus for all the colonial colleges. Some local boostering also had an effect, as when one town was competing with another (Providence/Newport in RI) to be the colony’s main town, having the college in your town was seen as a commercial and political advantage. Those attending colonial colleges were slated to join the professional ranks of their communities (as ministers, lawyers, doctors, public officials) and not the agricultural or commercial workforce, although a few did become merchants and landowners. Passing attention paid in curriculum to applied sciences, which had relevance in the workplace, but not much before the 1820s.


    one earlHarvard, William and Mary, YaleYa

  2. Andrew Wright says:

    Based on this lecture, did early colleges solely form for religious reasons, i.e. as a response to the Great Awakening and Old/New light mentalities, or were there secular rationales for the formation of American colleges – i.e. to train a stronger agricultural workforce? Were these secular rationales then largely secondary to the religious intentions behind forming universities and colleges?

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