You will choose 2 of the 4 questions to answer. Your answers should be thoughtful, in depth and fully explain your understanding of the information. Remember, this is your opportunity to show what you know and understand. Make sure to give examples and evidence from readings to justify or explain your answers. Your answers should be about 150-200 each. If your answer is less than 100 words or does not fully answer the question, points will be taken off.
2. What was the Great Awakening? How were the preachers of the Great Awakening different than those that came before them? How did they inspire Americans? What was the impact of the Great Awakening on America? Explain.
4. What was life like for the African slaves in the colonies (especially the South)? How did the Africans attempt to keep their culture alive? What forms of resistance did they take? Were any of their attempts at resistance effective? What was the result of these attempts? Explain.
The Enlightenment and the Great Awakening
The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was an intellectual and cultural movement in the eighteenth century that emphasized reason over superstition and science over blind faith. Using the power of the press, Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Voltaire questioned accepted knowledge and spread new ideas about openness, investigation, and religious tolerance throughout Europe and the Americas. Many consider the Enlightenment a major turning point in Western civilization, an age of light replacing an age of darkness.
Portrait of John Locke.
Sir Godfrey Kneller, portrait of John Locke, 1697. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Several ideas dominated Enlightenment thought, including rationalism, empiricism, progressivism, and cosmopolitanism.
Rationalism is the idea that humans are capable of using their faculty of reason to gain knowledge. This was a sharp turn away from the prevailing idea that people needed to rely on scripture or church authorities for knowledge.
Empiricism promotes the idea that knowledge comes from experience and observation of the world.
Progressivism is the belief that through their powers of reason and observation, humans can make unlimited, linear progress over time; this belief was especially important as a response to the carnage and upheaval of the English Civil Wars in the 17th century.
Finally, cosmopolitanism reflected Enlightenment thinkers’ view of themselves as actively engaged citizens of the world as opposed to provincial and close-minded individuals. In all, Enlightenment thinkers endeavored to be ruled by reason, not prejudice.
Ben Franklin, symbol of the Enlightenment
The Freemasons were members of a fraternal society that advocated Enlightenment principles of inquiry and tolerance. Freemasonry originated in London coffeehouses in the early 18th century, and Masonic lodges—local units—soon spread throughout Europe and the British colonies. One prominent Freemason, Benjamin Franklin, stands as the embodiment of the Enlightenment in British America.
Born in Boston in 1706 to a large Puritan family, Franklin loved to read, although he found little beyond religious publications in his father’s house. In 1718 he was apprenticed to his brother to work in a print shop, where he learned how to be a good writer by copying the style he found in the Spectator, which his brother printed. At the age of 17, the independent-minded Franklin ran away, eventually ending up in Quaker Philadelphia. There he began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1720s. In 1732 he started his annual publication Poor Richard: An Almanack, in which he gave readers much practical advice, such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
In this 1748 portrait by Robert Feke, a 40-year-old Franklin wears a stylish British wig, as befitted a proud and loyal member of the British Empire.
Franklin subscribed to deism, an Enlightenment-era belief in a God who created but has no continuing involvement in the world and the events within it. Deists also advanced the belief that personal morality—an individual’s moral compass, leading to good works and actions—is more important than strict church doctrines. Franklin’s deism guided his many philanthropic projects. In 1731, he established a reading library that became the Library Company of Philadelphia. In 1743, he founded the American Philosophical Society to encourage the spirit of inquiry. In 1749, he provided the foundation for the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1751, he helped found Pennsylvania Hospital.
His career as a printer made Franklin wealthy and well-respected. When he retired in 1748, he devoted himself to politics and scientific experiments. His most famous work, on electricity, exemplified Enlightenment principles. Franklin observed that lightning strikes tended to hit metal objects and reasoned that he could therefore direct lightning through the placement of metal objects during an electrical storm. He used this knowledge to advocate the use of lightning rods: metal poles connected to wires directing lightning’s electrical charge into the ground, thus saving wooden homes in cities like Philadelphia from catastrophic fires. He published his findings in 1751 in Experiments and Observations on Electricity.
Franklin also wrote of his “rags to riches” tale—his Memoir—in the 1770s and 1780s. This story laid the foundation for the American Dream of upward social mobility.
The founding of Georgia
The reach of Enlightenment thought was both broad and deep. In the 1730s, it even prompted the founding of a new colony.
Having witnessed the terrible conditions of debtors’ prison, as well as the results of releasing penniless debtors onto the streets of London, James Oglethorpe—a member of Parliament and advocate of social reform—petitioned King George II for a charter to start a new colony.
George II, understanding the strategic advantage of a British colony standing as a buffer between South Carolina and Spanish Florida, granted the charter to Oglethorpe and 20 like-minded proprietors in 1732. Oglethorpe led the settlement of the colony, which was called Georgia in honor of the king. In 1733, he and 113 immigrants arrived on the ship Anne. Over the next decade, Parliament funded the migration of 2500 settlers, making Georgia the only government-funded colonial project.
Oglethorpe’s vision for Georgia followed the ideals of the Age of Reason. He saw Georgia as a place for England’s “worthy poor” to start anew. To encourage industry, he gave each male immigrant 50 acres of land, tools, and a year’s worth of supplies. In Savannah, the Oglethorpe Plan provided for a utopia: “an agrarian model of sustenance while sustaining egalitarian values holding all men as equal.”
Oglethorpe’s vision called for alcohol and slavery to be banned. However, colonists who relocated from other colonies—especially South Carolina—disregarded these prohibitions. Despite its proprietors’ early vision of a colony guided by Enlightenment ideals and free of slavery, by the 1750s, Georgia was producing quantities of rice grown and harvested by enslaved people.
The First Great Awakening
During the 18th century, the British Atlantic experienced an outburst of Protestant revivalism known as the First Great Awakening (a Second Great Awakening took place in the 1800s). During the First Great Awakening, evangelists came from the ranks of several Protestant denominations: Congregationalists, Anglicans—members of the Church of England—and Presbyterians. They rejected what appeared to be sterile, formal modes of worship in favor of a vigorous emotional religiosity.
Whereas Martin Luther and John Calvin had preached a doctrine of predestination and close reading of scripture, new evangelical ministers spread a message of personal and experiential faith that rose above mere book learning. Individuals could bring about their own salvation by accepting Christ, an especially welcome message for those who had felt excluded by traditional Protestantism: women, the young, and people at the lower end of the social spectrum.
The First Great Awakening caused a split between those who followed the evangelical message—the New Lights—and those who rejected it—the Old Lights. The elite ministers in British America were firmly Old Lights, and they censured the new revivalism as chaos.
One outburst of Protestant revivalism began in New Jersey, led by a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church named Theodorus Frelinghuysen. Frelinghuysen’s example inspired other ministers, including Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian. Tennant helped to spark a Presbyterian revival in the Middle Colonies—Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—in part by founding a seminary to train other evangelical clergyman. New Lights also founded colleges in Rhode Island and New Hampshire that would later become Brown University and Dartmouth College.
Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield
In Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards led still another explosion of evangelical fervor. Edwards’s best-known sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, used powerful imagery to describe the terrors of hell and the possibilities of avoiding damnation by personal conversion. One passage reads: “The wrath of God burns against them [sinners], their damnation don’t slumber, the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them.” Edwards’s revival spread along the Connecticut River Valley, and news of the event spread rapidly through the frequent reprinting of his famous sermon.
The frontispiece of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8, 1741"
The foremost evangelical of the Great Awakening was an Anglican minister named George Whitefield (pronounced "whit-field"). Like many evangelical ministers, Whitefield was itinerant, traveling the countryside instead of having his own church and congregation. Between 1739 and 1740, he electrified colonial listeners with his brilliant oratory.
The Great Awakening saw the rise of several Protestant denominations, including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists—who emphasized adult baptism of converted Christians rather than infant baptism. These new churches gained converts and competed with older Protestant groups like Anglicans, members of the Church of England; Congregationalists, the heirs of Puritanism in America; and Quakers. The influence of these older Protestant groups, such as the New England Congregationalists, declined because of the Great Awakening. Nonetheless, the Great Awakening touched the lives of thousands on both sides of the Atlantic and provided a shared experience in the 18th-century British Empire.
Slavery in the Colonies
An empire of slavery
Slavery formed a cornerstone of the British Empire in the 18th century. Every colony had enslaved people, from the southern rice plantations in Charles Town, South Carolina, to the northern wharves of Boston.
Slavery was more than a labor system; it also influenced every aspect of colonial thought and culture. The uneven relationship it engendered gave white colonists an exaggerated sense of their own status. English liberty gained greater meaning and coherence for white people when they contrasted their status to that of the unfree class of enslaved black people in British America.
African slavery provided white colonists with a shared racial bond and identity.
Slavery and the British Empire
The transport of enslaved people to the American colonies accelerated in the second half of the 17th century. In 1660, English monarch Charles II created the Royal African Company to trade in enslaved people and African goods. His brother, James II, led the company before ascending the throne.
Under both these kings, the Royal African Company enjoyed a monopoly to transport enslaved people to the English colonies. Between 1672 and 1713, the company bought 125,000 captives on the African coast, losing 20 percent of them to death on the Middle Passage—the journey from the African coast to the Americas.
The front and back of an English guinea are shown. The front of the coin shows a bust of King James II with an elephant and castle logo beneath.
The 1686 English guinea shows the logo of the Royal African Company—an elephant and castle—beneath a bust of King James II. Image credit: OpenStax
The Royal African Company’s monopoly ended in 1689. After that date, many more English merchants engaged in the slave trade, greatly increasing the number of enslaved people being transported. Africans who survived the brutal Middle Passage usually arrived in the West Indies, often in Barbados. From there, they were transported to the mainland English colonies on company ships.
While merchants in London, Bristol, and Liverpool lined their pockets, Africans trafficked by the company endured a nightmare of misery, privation, and dislocation.
Enslaved people strove to adapt to their new lives by forming new communities among themselves, often adhering to traditional African customs and healing techniques. The development of families and communities was an important response to the trauma of being enslaved. Other enslaved people dealt with the trauma of their situation by actively resisting their condition—whether by defying their owners or running away.
People who escaped enslavement formed what were called maroon communities; these communities successfully resisted recapture and formed their own autonomous groups. The most prominent maroon communities controlled an interior area of Jamaica, keeping the British away.
The Stono Rebellion
Enslaved people everywhere resisted their exploitation and attempted to gain freedom. They fully understood that rebellions would bring about massive retaliation from white people and therefore had little chance of success. Even so, rebellions occurred frequently.
One notable uprising that became known as the Stono Rebellion took place in South Carolina in September 1739. A literate enslaved man named Jemmy led a large group of enslaved people in an armed insurrection against white colonists, killing several before militia stopped them. The militia suppressed the rebellion after a battle in which both enslaved people and militiamen were killed; the remaining enslaved people were executed or sold to the West Indies.
Print depicting the Stono Rebellion, with enslaved Africans brandishing weapons at whites.
Print depicting the Stono Rebellion. Image credit: Blackpast.org
Jemmy is believed to have been taken from the Kingdom of Kongo, an area where the Portuguese had introduced Catholicism. Other enslaved people in South Carolina may have had a similar background. If so, this common background may have made it easier for Jemmy to communicate with the other enslaved people, enabling them to work together to resist their enslavement even though slaveholders labored to keep enslaved people from forging such communities.
In the wake of the Stono Rebellion, South Carolina passed a new slave code in 1740 called An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing of Negroes and Other Slaves in the Province, also known as the Negro Act of 1740. This law imposed new limits on enslaved people’s behavior, prohibiting them from assembling, growing their own food, learning to write, and traveling freely.
The New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741
Eighteenth-century New York City contained many different ethnic groups, and conflicts among them created strain. In addition, one in five New Yorkers was enslaved, and tensions ran high between enslaved people and the free population, especially in the aftermath of the Stono Rebellion. These tensions burst forth in 1741.
That year, thirteen fires broke out in the city, one of which reduced the colony’s Fort George to ashes. Ever fearful of an uprising among enslaved New Yorkers, the city’s white population spread rumors that the fires were part of a massive slave revolt in which enslaved people would murder white people, burn the city, and take over the colony.
The Stono Rebellion was only a few years in the past, and throughout British America, fears of similar incidents were still fresh. Searching for solutions, and convinced enslaved people were the principal danger, nervous British authorities interrogated almost 200 enslaved people and accused them of conspiracy. Rumors that Roman Catholics had joined the suspected conspiracy and planned to murder Protestant inhabitants of the city only added to the general hysteria. Very quickly, 200 were arrested, including a large number of the city’s enslaved population.
After a quick series of trials at City Hall, known as the New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741, the government executed seventeen New Yorkers. Thirteen black men were publicly burned at the stake, while the others—including four whites—were hanged. Seventy enslaved people were sold to the West Indies.
Little evidence exists to prove that any conspiracy actually existed.
An illustration shows a black man tied to a stake with kindling aflame at his feet; white soldiers holding guns push back a watching crowd.
Image credit: OpenStax
The events of 1741 in New York City illustrate the racial divide in British America, where panic among white colonists spurred great violence against and repression of the feared enslaved population.
Excerpt from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
-Their foot shall slide in due time- Deut. 32:35
So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them.
In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.
The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.-That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his band, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. . .
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God's vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by
your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
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