The Great Awakening & the Higher Learning

                      The Great Awakening and the Higher Learning, 1636 -1768


1636 – College in Cambridge opened (renamed Harvard in 1638) by New England Puritans to train ministers for the dissenting church [Congregationalist] of Massachusetts Bay and to serve as a check on Antinomianism of the Anne Hutchinson persuasion. Administered by settled clergy and commonwealth officials.

1690 – New Massachusetts charter obliges colony to permit Anglicans full rights and liberties.

1693 – College of William and Mary opens in Williamsburg; founded by Anglican Rev. James Blair intended to reinforce the Anglican establishment in Virginia.

1701 – Collegiate School opens in Connecticut (in 1718, renamed Yale) at the behest of province’s ministers (mostly Harvard-trained) disappointed with Harvard’s openness to Anglicans and its abandonment of Calvinist doctrines in favor of Arminianism, a doctrine that stressed good works as a means of achieving salvation.

1707 – Calvinists in Philadelphia organize themselves into a regional Presbyterian Synod of ministers and laymen who were charged with regulating local Presbyterian churches in the region. Ministers for such churches required Presbytery endorsement for ordination.


1708 – Harvard appoints a layman as its xth president, Edward Holyoke, thus confirming Harvard’s latitudinarianism in the eyes of its Calvinist critics.


1708 – Connecticut churches adopt the Saybrook Platform that makes their churches come under Presbyterian structure.

1718 – Connecticut Collegiate School secures a major donation fro Elihu Yale, at Cotton Mather’s solicitation,

Connecticut Assembly passes Toleration Act which permits Presbyterian church arrangements to displace  earlier Congregational arrangements.


1716 – Synod of Philadelphia begins holding annual meetings as a check on the orthodoxy of the region’s Presbyterian churches.


1718 – A Scots-Presbyterian from Ulster, Ireland, Rev.William Tennent, arrive in the Middle Colonies with his four sons. Openly critical of the settled clergy of the region, seeing them lacking in emotional force and evangelical zeal.


1719 – Theodore Frelinghuysen arrives in colonies from Holland, bringing with him a version of continental pietism open to revivalism. Settles in New

Brunswick, New Jersey, where he befriends William Tennent,

1720 – Jonathan Edwards graduates for Yale, headed for the ministry in line of his proto-revivalist grandfather Solomon Stoddard of Northampton.

1722 – Synod of Philadelphia requires all its ministers to subscribe to the starkly Calvinist Westminster Confession; some ministers, Jonathan Dickinson among them, become “non-subscribers.”


1722 – Yale commencement disrupted by Rector Timothy Cutler (Harvard     ) declaring himself a convert to Anglicanism; he and his followers, including tutor Samuel Johnson, dismissed by Yale authorities. Both Cutler and Johnson influenced by Newton,  Locke and Anglican theologians when Yale Library obtains the Dummer collection of English books.


17xx – Ex-Yale rector Timothy Cutler installed as rector of Boston’s Anglican Church. Consistent critic of revivalism.


17xx – Samuel Johnson assigned Anglican church in Stratford; becomes Connecticut’s most active promoter of Anglicanism and close critic of Yale’s prejudice against Anglicans.
1729 – Scotsman William Tennent opens “Log College” in Neshaminy, Pa., for the preparation of itinerant ministers. Among the students three of his sons.


1733 – December – Revival breaks out among the young girls of Northamptopn as Rev. Jonathan Edwards urged the revival for most of 1734.

1737 – Edwards’s account of the Northampton revival, Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, widely circulated in the colonies and Britain.

1738 – George Whitefield arrives in Savannah, Georgia. Although an Anglican priest, an active revivalist who favored outdoor meetings. Returns to England after three months.

1739 – Whitefield back in America and in Philadelphia; offends Anglican clergy there but befriends Benjamin Franklin who becomes his colonial printer.


1740-41 – Whitefield touring all the colonies to the consternation of most settled clergy who refused him their pulpits.


1740 – Yale appoints Thomas Clap its fourth rector; takes hard line against itinerant revivalists and their criticism of the settled clergy and his faculty.

1740 – Philadelphians at odds with the Synod raise funds for a building in which itinerant preachers could use.
1741 – Yale sophomore David Brainerd expelled by Rector Clap for faulting tutor Whittelsey as “having as much grace as a chair.” Edwards later eulogized Brainerd for his missionary work among the Indians.


1741 – March –  Itinerant William Tennent, traveling in Whitefield’s wake, preaches on The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry. Read as a general assault on the settled clergy.
1741 – August – James Davenport (Yale     ), the settled minister of Southold, NY, traveled to Connecticut to criticize the settled clergy for not welcoming itinerant clergy like Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent. Sharply critical of New Haven minister Joseph Noyes, encouraging those who were also critical of Noyes to set up their own church with a different minister.
1742 – April – Yale suspends classes after students disciplined for attending an outdoors meeting led by Gilbert Tennent.

1742 – Summer – New London becomes the site of the establishment of “Shepherd’s Tent,” a direct challenge to Yale’s monopoly on the training of ministers.

1742 – October  – Connecticut Assembly condemns Shepherd’s Tent as undercutting Yale. Confirms Yale’s monopoly over awarding the A.B. degree.

1743 – March – Davenport back in Connecticut attacking settled clergy; in New London he reenacts “the Bonfire of the Vanities”  by putting to torch books by Anglican authors, settled ministers  and some of his own clothes.”

1743 – Jonathan Edwards publishes Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. Refuses to condemn even the most radical of the revivalists.


1743 – Boston First Church minister and outspoken anti-revivalist Charles Chuancy takes issue with Edwards’s Thoughts in his Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England.


1744 – July – James Davenport publishes his Confessions and Retractions, in which he denounces his earlier excesses, including the book-burning and”singing in the streets.” Encouraged to do so by moderate revivalists, lest his excesses reflect on evangelicals in general.

1744 – Harvard faculty publish Testimony Against the Rev. George Whitefield, charging him, “first then, with Enthusiasm.” Also for his attacks on the Yale and Harvard faculties. Whitefield replied, dismissing the charges with “Did not the Papists so charge Luther?”

1745 – Whitefield back for third time; preaching for second time throughout New England.


1745 – Yale faculty publishes The Declaration of the Rector and Tutors, in which a hardline is taken against revivalism and against Whitefield in particular.


1745 – Clap secures new charter from Connecticut Assembly, increases administrative powers and designates him Yale’s first  “president.”


1745 – New York Presbyterians of the “non-subscribing” persuasion and more open to revivalism than the conservatives in the Philadelphia Synod (“The Old Lights/Side”), establish Synod of New York “New Lights/Side”). Jonathan Dickinson a prime mover. Called “The Great Schism.”


1746 – “New Light” Presbyterians secure a charter for the College of New Jersey, in effort to have a college reflective of  the “New Light” persuasion sympathetic to revivalism and evangelicalism. Influence of William Tennent’s “Log College” acknowledged.  College first established in Elizabethtown,  where its first president, moderate New Lighter Jonathan Dickinson, was minister. College attracts students from throughout the Middle Colonies, including New York City and “New Light” Ebenezer Pemberton’s First Presbyterian Church.


1747 – Upon Dickinson’s death, another New Jersey New Light Presbyterian minister, Aaron Burr, becomes second president of College of New Jersey, which relocates to Burr’s Newark.


1749 – Presbyterian and Yale graduate William Livingston takes early lead in calling for a non-sectarian college in New York.


1750 – Jonathan Edwards dismissed  by his Northampton parishioners; turns to ministering to Indians as a Stockbridge, Mass.


1752 – New York City Anglicans make belated move to establish a college under Anglican auspices, but with public support. Connecticut Anglican Samuel Johnson mentioned as presidential prospect.


1753 – Spring – William Livingston mounts an extended battle against the prospect of “an Anglican College” in New York in his weekly paper, The Independent Reflector. Trinity Church Anglicans make its gift of land conditional on the college


1754 – July – King’s College opens in New York City with backing of acting-governor James DeLancey and in face of opposition from Livingston and New York Assembly.

1754 – October – DeLancey and Governor’s Council confer royal charter for King’s College, with provisions that president be an Anglican and religious services observe the Anglican ritual. College open to allProtestants but attracts mostly Anglican and anti-revivalist Dutch Reformed families.


1755 – Philadelphia’s leading Anglican and anti-revivalist Presbyterians secure charter for College of Philadelphia; Anglican protege of Samuel Johnson, William Smith, becomes its first provost.


1757 – Yale’s president Clap organizes a church within Yale, withdrawing from the New Haven Presbyterian Church

1757 – Jonathan Edwards first declines presidency of College of New Jersey and then reluctantly becomes its 4th president. Dies three months after taking office.


1758 – Philadelphia and New York Presbyterians reconcile their differences and join their synods.


1764 – Rhode Island Baptists of a revivalist persuasion found the College of Rhode Island in Providence; passed over Newport as too infected with Anglicanism. Revivalist James Manning its first president.


1766 – Thomas Clap forced out of yale presidency by student boycott; had led Yale for 26 stormy years.


1768 – New Jersey Dutch Reformed churches of a revivalist persuasion found Queen’s College in New Brunswick. Organizers in the tradition of  the revivalist Theodore Frelinghuysen.

1769 – New England Congregationalists of the revivalist persuasion – and anti-Harvard – found Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. First president, Eleazar Wheelock, an noted revivalist and missionary to the Indians. Dartmouth the last of the “Colonial Nine” colleges and the fourth (Princeton, Brown and Rutgers the others) of the Great Awakening-inspired institutions.


Last updated: December 24, 2013


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