The Cane Ridge Revival
In the mid-1700s, a move of God known as the “Great Awakening” struck colonial America under the ministry of a 24-year-old preacher by the name of George Whitfield. Years later, in colonial Kentucky, a second move of God hit the nation, scandalizing the proud and religious and bringing thousands to Christ. Many have called this the “Second Great Awakening.” Out of this awakening emerged the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney, a revivalist whose preaching largely laid down the moral objections that led to the Civil War and later the Holiness Movement that birthed the Pentecostal Outpouring of the 20th Century. The following are three narratives of eyewitnesses of the Cane Ridge Revival. The Can Ridge Revival was unique in that there are many well documented accounts regarding how it came about and what the affect was on the people. We will draw from the accounts and autobiographies of three men, Peter Cartwright, Robert Patterson, a military man, and Barton Stone.
From the Autobiography of Peter Cartwright
Peter Cartwright was a Methodist circuit rider in Kentucky and the Mid-west who is credited with helping to start the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was attended by many strange and unusual manifestations which will be documented here but also it was a powerful movement that provided the spiritual thrust in the 1700’s that laid the moral framework for the coming of the Civil War and the end of slavery. As such we owe much to Cartwright and can learn by following the example that he sets. The following excerpts describing the events of the Cane Ridge Revival are taken from his autobiography:
“The power of God was wonderfully displayed; scores of sinners fell under the preaching, like men slain in mighty battle; Christians shouted aloud for joy.”
“I have seen more than a hundred sinners fall like dead men under one powerful sermon, and I have seen and heard more than five hundred Christians all shouting aloud the high praises of God at once, and I will venture to assert that many happy thousands were awakened and converted to God at these camp meetings. Some sinners mocked, some of the old dry professors opposed, some of the old starched Presbyterian preachers preached against these exercises, but still, the work went on and spread almost in every direction, gathering additional force, until our country seemed all coming home to God.”
“Just in the midst of our controversies on the subject of the powerful exercises among the people under preaching, a new exercise broke out among us, called the jerks, which was overwhelming in its effects upon the bodies and minds of the people. No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song or sermon and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they resisted, the more they jerked. If they would not strive against it and pray in good earnest, the jerking would usually abate. I have seen more than five hundred persons jerking at one time in my large congregations. Most often, persons taken with the jerks, to obtain relief, as they said, would rise up and dance. Some would run, but could not get away. Some would resist; on such, the jerks were generally very severe.
“To see those proud young gentlemen and young ladies, dressed in their silks, jewelry, and prunella, from top to toe, take the jerks, would often excite my risibilities. The first jerk or so, you would see their fine bonnets, caps, and combs fly; and so sudden would be the jerking of the head that their long loose hair would crack almost as loud as a wagoner’s whip”.
“I always looked upon the jerks as a judgment sent from God, first, to bring sinners to repentance; and, secondly, to show professors that God would work with or without means and that he could work over and above means, and do whatsoever seemeth to him good, to the glory of his grace and the salvation of the world.
“There is no doubt in my mind that with weak-minded, ignorant, and superstitious persons, there was a great deal of sympathetic feeling with many that claimed to be under the influence of this jerking exercise [i.e., mere human emotion]; and yet, with many, it was perfectly involuntary. It was, on all occasions, my practice to recommend fervent prayer as a remedy, and it almost universally proved an effective antidote”.
“There were many other strange and wild exercises into which the subjects of this revival fell; such, for instance, as what was called the running, jumping, barking exercise. The Methodist preachers generally preached against this extravagant wildness. I did it uniformly in my little ministrations, and sometimes gave great offense, but I feared no consequences when I felt my awful responsibilities to God”.
Cartwright recounts another camp meeting in 1809: “At the close of the meeting we had many seekers who had not obtained comfort. Twelve of them got into a two-horse wagon, and myself with them. We had to go about fifteen miles, but before we reached our home, every one of them got powerfully converted, and we sang and shouted aloud along the road, to the very great astonishment of those who lived along the way”.
In 1812 a slave owner, Sister S., was struggling in agony for a clean heart. Cartwright recounts: “She then and there covenanted with the Lord, if he would give her the blessing, she would give up her slaves and set them free. She said this covenant had hardly been made one moment, when God filled her soul with such an overwhelming sense of Divine love, that she did not really know whether she was in or out of the body. She rose from her knees and proclaimed to those listening that she had obtained the blessing… She went through the vast crowd with holy shouts of joy, and urging all to taste and see that the Lord was gracious, and such a power attended her words that hundreds fell to the ground, and scores of souls were happily born into the kingdom of God that afternoon and during the night”.
Account from Colonel Robert Patterson:
Robert Patterson was the founder of Lexington, Kentucky and also of Cincinnati, Ohio. He was an officer in the Revolutionary War and served alongside Daniel Boone in the Indian Wars of the early 1800s. What we know of his experience in the Cane Ridge Revival does not come from a book but from personal correspondence between Patterson and one Doctor John King, dated September 25th, 1801:
“On the 1st of May, at a society on the waters of Fleming Creek, on the east side of Licking, a boy, under the age of twelve years, became affected in an extraordinary manner, publicly confessing and acknowledging his sins, praying for pardon, through Christ, and recommending Jesus Christ to sinners, as being ready to save the vilest of the vile — Adult persons became affected in the like manner. The flame began to spread, the Sabbath following, at Mr. Camble’s Meeting House–a number became affected. The third Sabbath of May, on Cabin creek, six miles above Limestone, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered by Mr. Camble and Mr. M’Namaar, at which time about sixty persons were struck down.–Next Sabbath, on Fleming creek, under Mr. M’Namaar, and Mr. Camble, on a like occasion, about 100 persons were struck down and deeply convinced. The first Sabbath of June, Mr. Stone administered the Lord’s Supper, in Concord congregation, on the head-waters of Kingston, in the bounds of which exercises of the same kind had made their appearance in society, and at sermon. On Friday night preceding the Sacrament at Concord, I was present at a society, held at Kainridge, a united congregation of Mr. Stone, and saw the extraordinary work. Of fifty persons present, nine were struck down. I proceeded next morning to Concord, ten miles distant, where a sermon was preached, at which several became affected and struck down. The exercises continued all night. This was the first occasion that shewed the necessity of performing outdoors. The number being so great, the Lord’s Supper was administered at a tent. A great solemnity appeared all day. A number were struck down; on the whole occasion about 150. The exercises continued from Saturday till Wednesday, day and night, without intermission. The appearance itself was awful and solemn. It was performed in a thick grove of beach timber; candles were furnished by the congregation. The night was still and calm. Add to that, exhortations, praying, singing, the cries of the distressed, on account of sin; the rejoicing of those, that were delivered from their sin’s bondage, and brought to enjoy the liberty that is in Christ Jesus; all going on at the same time. About 4000 persons attended, 250 communicated; twelve wagons had brought some of the people with their provisions, &c. from distant places. This was the first occasion that shewed the necessity of encamping on the ground, the neighborhood not being able to furnish strangers with accommodation, nor had they a wish to separate.”
“The Lord’s Supper was appointed to be held at Point Pleasant, on Stony Creek, ten miles above Paris, being one of Mr. Joseph Howe’s congregations. There the flame spread more and more. Curiosity led a great many strangers, I with my family attended—about forty wagons, four carriages, in all about 8000 persons. The meeting commenced on Friday, and continued till Wednesday. Three hundred and fifty communicants, 250 were struck down. There was an opposition both on this and the former occasions, by some who appeared to be real Christians, by nominal professors and by deists. The first class stood astonished, not knowing, and wondering what these things meant; not willing to reprobate it, and many at last closed in with it. The next class, the most resistant and inveterate, call it enthusiasm, hypocrisy, witchcraft, possession of the Devil, sympathy, but what it really is is the hand of God at work among the people:”
“As well as I am able, (Patterson continues) I will describe it, as I have had it from the subjects, not being able to describe it experimentally. Of all ages, from 8 years and upwards; male and female; rich and poor; the blacks; and of every denomination; those in favor of it, as well as those, at the instant in opposition to it, and railing against it, have instantaneously laid motionless on the ground. Some feel the approaching symptoms by being under deep convictions; their heart swells, their nerves relax, and in an instant they become motionless and speechless, but generally retain their senses. It comes upon others like an electric shock, as if felt in the great arteries of the arms or thighs; closes quick into the heart, which swells, like to burst. The body relaxes and falls motionless; the hands and feet become cold, and yet the pulse is as formerly, though sometimes rather slow. Some grow weak, so as not to be able to stand, but do not lose their speech altogether. They are all opposed to any medical application; and though the weather is very warm, and people in large crowds around them, yet they do not incline to drink water. They will continue in that state from one hour to 24, When they regain their speech, which comes to them gradually, they express themselves commonly in the following manner–that they are great sinners; the vilest of vile, and pray earnestly for mercy through Christ. Some think there is mercy for all but for them; that salvation through Christ, is a wonderful salvation, but will not be applied to them. They often continue in this state many days. Many have not yet recovered, so that it is not certain that they will.–Others will recover in an hour, and speak of salvation sure, and are in possession of great gifts in praying and exhortation, which they often perform in an incredible manner. Indeed it is a miracle, that a wicked unthoughtful sinner, who never could, or did address himself, to an audience before, should rise out of one of those fits  and continue for the space of two hours recommending religion and Jesus Christ to sinners, as a lovely Savior, free willing, and all-sufficient, and calling to sinners and inviting them to come to Christ and close in with the offer of salvation, in the most pressing and engaging manner. But, I am sure, my description, and your view (if you were an eye witness) would differ as much as day from night. So say those who have first heard and then seen. Notwithstanding that all our ministers, and a vast number of the most respectable and sensible people, in the country, acknowledge, that it is the wonderful work of God and is marvelously, manifested to us. Yet, there are people so hardened, that they either cannot or will not acknowledge the work to be of God, but represent it in an unfavorable view.”
“People in a number of instances, in opposition, have felt it coming on, and have endeavored to fly, but could not get away. They have been struck in the woods, in the act of running away. Some have been struck at home; on the road; in the field; in bed; at the plow; asleep; whole families together, at home, and sometimes one of a family.”
“On the 3d Sabbath of June, the Sacrament was administered at Lexington, Mr. Welch’s congregation; the same day at Indian creek, Mr. Robertson’s congregation, the latter on Kingston creek, eighteen miles below Paris, and twenty miles N. of this place. The former began on Friday and continued till Tuesday, being the first time that this strange work made its appearance here. About 70 were struck; 300 communicants; 6000 persons in all attended. The latter commenced on Thursday, and continued till Thursday, day and night; the first night excepted.–About 10,000 persons; 50 wagons; 800 struck; 500 communicated.”
“On the first Sabbath of August, was the Sacrament of Kainridge, the congregation of Mr. Stone.–This was the largest meeting of any that I have seen: It continued from Friday till Wednesday. About 12,000 persons; 125 wagons; 8 carriages; 900 communicants; 300 were struck. One girl, aged ten years, after recovering her speech, continued to pray and exhort in an extraordinary and most pathetic manner, for the space of two hours.”
“I attended the like occasions, at the following places, Mr. Reynolds’s congregation; Walnut Hill, Mr. Crawford’s congregation; Salem, Mr. Lyle’s congregation; Beaver, Mr. Marshall’s: and last Sabbath, Blue Spring, Mr. Marshall’ s–all similar to those I have described. The work is greatest on sacramental occasions.”
“In order to give you a more just conception of it–suppose so large a congregation assembled in the woods, ministers preaching day and night; the camp illuminated with candles, on trees, at wagons, and at the tent; persons falling down, and carried out of the crowd, by those next to them, and taken to some convenient place, where prayer is made for them; some Psalm or Hymn, suitable to the occasion, sung. If they speak, what they say is attended to, being very solemn and affecting–many are struck under  such exhortations. But if they do not recover soon, praying and singing is kept up, alternately, and sometimes a minister exhorts over them–for generally a large group of people collect, and stand around, paying attention to prayer and joining in singing. Now Suppose 20 of those groups around; a minister engaged in preaching to a large congregation, in the middle; some mourning; some rejoicing, and great solemnity on every countenance, and you will form some imperfect idea of the extraordinary work! Opposers call this confusion! But in any of these parties, employment for the mind, may be found. The work being engaging, persons subsist with less sleep and victuals than at other times.”
From the Autobiography of Barton Stone:
Barton Stone was an American Revivalist who was so moved by the outpouring of the Spirit in the Cane Ride Revival that he resigned his position in the Presbyterian Church when they demanded that he distance himself from what happened in Kentucky. As fantastic and the Cane Ridge Revival was, Stones commitment to the scriptures and the scriptures alone to justify and validate what happened in Kentucky was profound and followed him and shaped the remainder of his life.
“The bodily agitations or exercises, attending the excitement at the beginning of this century, were various, and called by various names;–as, the falling exercise–the jerks–the dancing exercise–the barking exercise–the laughing and singing exercise, &c.–The falling exercise was prevalent among all classes, the saints and sinners of every age and of every grace, from the philosopher to the clown. The subject of this exercise would, generally, with a piercing scream, fall like a log on the floor, earth, or mud, and appear as dead. Of thousands of similar cases, I will mention one. At a meeting, two gay young ladies, sisters, were standing together attending to the exercises and preaching at the time. Instantly they both fell, with a shriek of distress, and lay for more than an hour apparently in a lifeless state. Their mother, a pious Baptist, was in great distress, fearing they would not revive. At length they began to exhibit symptoms of life, by crying fervently for mercy, and then relapsed into the same death-like state, with an awful gloom on their countenances. After a while, the gloom on the face of one was succeeded by a heavenly smile, and she cried out, precious Jesus, and rose up and spoke of the love of God–the preciousness of Jesus, and of the glory of the gospel, to the surrounding crowd, in language almost superhuman, and pathetically exhorted all to repentance. In a little while after, the other sister was similarly exercised. From that time, they became remarkably pious members of the church.”
“I have seen very many pious persons fall in the same way, from a sense of the danger of their unconverted children, brothers, or sisters–from a sense of the danger of their neighbors, and of the sinful world. I have /70/ heard them agonizing in tears and strong crying for mercy to be shown to sinners, and speaking like angels to all around.”
“The jerks cannot be so easily described. Sometimes the subject of the jerks would be affected in someone member of the body and sometimes in the whole system. When the head alone was affected, it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished. When the whole system was affected, I have seen the person stand in one place, and jerk backward and forward in quick succession, their head nearly touching the floor behind and before. All classes, saints and sinners, the strong as well as the weak, were thus affected. I have inquired of those thus affected. They could not account for it; but some have told me that those were among the happiest seasons of their lives. I have seen some wicked persons thus affected, and all the time cursing the jerks, while they were thrown to the earth with violence. Though so awful to behold, I do not remember than any one of the thousands I have seen ever sustained an injury in body. This was as strange as the exercise itself.”
“The dancing exercise. This generally began with the jerks, and was peculiar to professors of religion. The subject, after jerking awhile, began to dance, and then the jerks would cease. Such dancing was indeed heavenly to the spectators; there was nothing in it like levity, nor calculated to excite levity in the beholders. The smile of heaven shone on the countenance of the subject, and assimilated to angels appeared the whole person. Sometimes the motion was quick and sometimes slow. Thus they continued to move forward and backward in the same track or alley till nature seemed exhausted, and they would fall prostrate on the floor or earth, unless caught by those standing by. While thus exercised, I have heard their solemn praises and prayers ascending to God.”
“The barking exercise (as opposers contemptuously called it) was nothing but the jerks. A person affected with the jerks, especially in his head, would often make a grunt, or bark, if you please, from the suddenness of the jerk. This name of barking seems to have had its origin from an old Presbyterian preacher of East Tennessee. He had gone into the woods for private devotion, and was seized with the jerks. Standing near a sapling, he caught hold of it, to prevent his falling, and as his head jerked back, he uttered a grunt or kind of noise similar to a bark, his face being turned upwards. Some wag discovered him in this position, and reported that he found him barking up a tree.”
“The laughing exercise was frequent, confined solely with the religious. It was a loud, hearty laughter, but one sui generis; it excited laughter in none else. The subject appeared rapturously solemn, and his laughter excited solemnity in saints and sinners. It is truly indescribable.”
“The running exercise was nothing more than, that persons feeling something of these bodily agitations, through fear, attempted to run away, and thus escape from them; but it commonly happened that they ran not far, before they fell, or became so greatly agitated that they could proceed no farther. I knew a young physician of a celebrated family, who came some distance to a big meeting to see the strange things he had heard of. He and a young lady had sportively agreed to watch over, and take care of each other, if either should fall. At length the physician felt something very uncommon, and started from the congregation to run into the woods; he was discovered running as for life, but did not proceed far till he fell down, and there lay till he submitted to the Lord, and afterwards became a zealous member of the church. Such cases were common.”
“I shall close this chapter (Stone concludes) with the singing exercise. This is more unaccountable than anything else I ever saw. The subject in a very happy state of mind would sing most melodiously, not from the mouth or nose, but entirely in the breast, the sounds issuing thence. Such music silenced everything and attracted the attention of all. It was most heavenly. None could ever be tired of hearing it. Doctor J. P. Campbell and I were together at a meeting, and were attending to a pious lady thus exercised, and concluded it to be something surpassing anything we had known in nature. ”
“Thus have I given a brief account of the wonderful things that happened in the great excitement at the beginning of this century. That there were many eccentricities, and much fanaticism in this excitement, was acknowledged by its warmest advocates; indeed it would have been a wonder, if such things had not appeared, in the circumstances of that time. Yet the good effects were seen and acknowledged in every neighborhood, and among the different sects it silenced contention and promoted unity for a while; and those blessed effects would have continued, had not men put forth their unhallowed hands to hold up their totter