American Church History:  1700s

What happened in this century?

  • The First Great Awakening occurred (1730s & 1740s); Evangelicalism begins.

  • Methodism begins in the USA.

  • The American Revolution occurred.

Contact Mark Nickens, Ph.D. in Church History, at  Questions, comments, and observations are welcome.


2011 Mark Nickens


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1701        Yale University founded by the Congregationalists.

1703        Jonathan Edwards born.

1703 also        John Wesley born.

1705        Europe:  Philip Jacob Spener died.  He has been called the "Father of Pietism."  His influences include cell groups/small group Bible studies.  To read more of him, go here.

1714        George Whitefield born.  (pronounced "whit-field")  He became an Anglican priest and then one of the founders of Methodism. 

1729        John and Charles Wesley established the "Holy Club" while at college.  Whitefield was amongst the members.  They were given the name of "Methodists" because they were disciplined in their Christian living; fellow students understood this as following a "method."  To learn more, click here.

sometime in the 1730s        Whitefield began preaching in the open fields.  He was not the first to do so, but he was the one who popularized the practice.

1730s & 1740s        The First Great Awakening (1GA).  This revival movement was led by Jonathan Edwards, who defended it, and George Whitefield, who preached it.  The 1GA produced new practices into Christianity:  People became more emotional, often crying and weeping as they considered their spiritual state, and they sought conversion.  Some Christians did not approve of this and so the 1GA also produced divisions.  Those who approved were called "New Lights."  Those who disapproved were called "Old Lights." 

Big Picture:  Importance of the First Great Awakening on the American Revolution

The First Great Awakening (1GA) helped spawn the American Revolution.  Prior to the 1GA, the colonists did not view themselves as a unit, as a whole.  Instead they were part of a colony or some other social or religious group.  But the 1GA was the first mass movement which was felt (positively or negatively) throughout the colonies.  It was the first time that colonists from Georgia to New England had a shared experience.  In addition, the 1GA helped to introduce emotionalism and of the importance of following acting on your personal emotions.  These two would be needed thirty years later as the colonists had to become angry together and decide to act together in order to break from the rule of England.

1739        In England, John Wesley first began to form societies, what today we would call an in-home Bible study.

1740        Whitefield embarked on a preaching tour through all 13 colonies.  He became so well-known that he has been called America's first celebrity.  Benjamin Franklin estimated that he could be heard by 30,000 people at once.  While on this tour Whitefield employed open air preaching and extemporaneous preaching.  Both were new methods of preaching. To learn more about Whitefield, go here.

1741        Edwards preached his most famous sermon:  "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."  To read a portion, go here.

1743        John Wesley's societies had grown so numerous that he decided to write "General Rules" for the "United Societies."  This is the basis for the Methodist denomination which developed later.

1746        Edwards publishes Religious Affections.  In this book he defends the emotionalism and conversions which are taking place.  To learn more about Edwards, go here.

Big Picture:  Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism can be defined as the acceptance of the Bible as the sole authority for the Christian, the need to experience a conversion, and the need to share Jesus with others (evangelize).  With this definition, Evangelicalism began in the First Great Awakening.

1746 also        Princeton University founded.  It was founded by New Light Presbyterians.

1754        Apocalypticism (the idea that Jesus will return to the earth, also known as the rapture) would play a prominent role in certain areas of Christianity in the middle and late 1800s.  Yet even at this early stage Christians were wondering when it would take place.  Charles Wesley (brother of John Wesley) wrote a letter in this year in which he "proved" that Jesus would come back in 1793.  To learn more, click here.

1758        Jonathan Edwards died.

1758 also        The first known slave congregation was founded on the plantation of William Byrd III in Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  It was known as the African Baptist or Bluestone church.

1760        The Anglican Church opened the first school for slave children in Virginia; it was located in Williamsburg.  Among the topics was learning to read the Bible and learning the catechism of the Anglican Church.

1770        George Whitefield died.  He preached an estimated 18,000 sermons, including four on the day before he died.

1771        Francis Asbury (Methodist) came to the American colonies.

1776        Declaration of Independence.  Beginning of the American Revolution

1783        England declared defeat in the American Revolution and acknowledged the independence of the United States of America.

1783 also        In England, Robert Raikes published details about a new idea he called "Sunday school."  The first Sunday school in the USA occurred in Virginia in 1785.  For more information, go here.

1784        Junipero Serra died.  He was the leading Franciscan friar who worked to established missions in present-day California.  From the year he entered California, approximately in 1768, to 1845, 146 Franciscan friars worked to established 21 missions in California. 

1784        The Christmas Conference of the Methodists.  The beginning of the Methodist denomination in the USA.  Methodists had been in America for decades, but this Conference produced two American bishops, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, and a framework for working in the USA.

1787        USA Constitution adopted.

1787 also        Free blacks Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others left St George Methodist Church in Philadelphia after they were asked to move from the white section during a prayer.  Allen purchased a piece of property on which to build a new church.  The free blacks began to meet together.  In 1794 they finally purchased a blacksmith shop and moved it to the property and worshipped there.

1788        The First Colored Baptist Church in Savannah, GA, is constituted.

1791        Bill of Rights was adopted.

1791 also        John Wesley died.

1794        The free blacks under Richard Allen purchased a blacksmith shop and moved it to the property Allen had purchased in 1787; they began having worship services there and called it Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  (At that time Methodists were called Methodist Episcopals.) Bishop Francis Asbury dedicated Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.  Richard Allen was the pastor.  This would one day be the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the largest African-American denomination today.  To learn more about this denomination, click here.

1794 also        Eight Russian Orthodox monks arrived at Kodiak Island, Alaska.  At that time Russia owned Alaska.  These eight were the first Orthodox believers in the Americas.



Noll, Mark.  A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.  ISBN:  0802806511.