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1754-1783: Religion: Chronology

1754-1783: Religion: Chronology




  • The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends issues an epistle condemning slave trading and slaveholding, making the Quakers the first American religious body to take a unified stand against slavery.
  • 18 Dec. Congregational minister Eleazar Wheelock accepts two Delaware Indians into his home in Lebanon, Connecticut, for religious training, the first step in establishing a school that would train Native Americans for missionary work among their own people.


  • The Quakers withdraw from the Pennsylvania assembly in response to a debate over public funding of defense measures on the Pennsylvania frontier, something that violated Quaker pacifist principles.
  • 16 May Elizabeth Ashbridge, female Quaker minister, dies.


  • 2 Jan. Congregational minister Isaac Backus forms his first Baptist congregation by separating with some followers from the Congregational Church of Marlborough, Massachusetts. Backus will serve for more than fifty years, becoming a leader of the American Baptists and a spokesman for the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • Nov. Six thousand Catholic French Canadians are expelled from Acadia; more than four hundred are sent to Philadelphia, where Anthony Benezet leads Quaker efforts for their relief and they prompt an outburst of anti-Catholic fears in the British colonies.


  • The Presbyterian Synods of New York and Philadelphia merge, as both groups acknowledge the importance of direct personal experience of grace as part of their religion and so end the schism that has divided Presbyterians in the Middle colonies over revivalism since 1741.
  • 22 Mar. Jonathan Edwards, president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) dies; earlier he led the revivals of the Great Awakening from his post in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was the most significant theologian in colonial America.
  • 29 Nov. Experience Mayhew, liberal Congregational missionary to the Native Americans of Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts, and father of Jonathan Mayhew, who followed and expanded his fathers liberal and rationalist teachings, dies.


  • 22 Apr. James Freeman, later a leader in the movement for rational religion and pastor of Kings Chapel, Boston, Americas first Unitarian church, is born.


  • Count Nicholaus Ludwig Zinzendorf, leader of the Moravians, the most influential of many German pietistic sects located in the Pennsylvania backcountry, dies.
  • 14 Feb. Richard Allen is born; he later establishes the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African-American denomination.


  • 4 Feb. Samuel Davies dies; he led the Presbyterian revivalist of Virginia and was president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), the intellectual center of American revivalistic Protestantism.


  • The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, home of colonial Americas most prominent Jewish congregation, is dedicated.
  • In Virginia a court ruling vindicates the right of Anglican ministers to their back pay, but at the cost of defense attorney Patrick Henrys stirring accusation that they are disloyal to the colonies and agents of disorder.
  • 29 Aug. Devereux Jarratt begins his career as an Anglican evangelical by becoming the rector for three churches in Bath, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, a post he will hold until his death in 1801.


  • Mar. Baptists in Providence acquire a charter for the College of Rhode Island (later Brown University), the first Baptist college in America and notable for the ecumenical nature of its governing board, which includes Congregationalists, Quakers, and Episcopalians in addition to Baptists.
  • 23 July Gilbert Tennent, Presbyterian revivalist and leader of the Great Awakening in the Middle colonies, dies.


  • Indian missionary Samson Occom and Reverend Nathaniel Whitaker leave for England to raise funds for Eleazar Wheelocks Indian Charity School; their two-year trip will secure more than £12,000 in contributions.


  • 9 July Jonathan Mayhew dies; as a leading rationalist minister he provided a theological rationale for Americas resistance to the abuses of British rule during the Stamp Act crisis.


  • 8 Sept. Baptists from four New England churches bond together in the Warren Association, a loose alliance that is designed to provide a forum for theological discussions and for settling disputes, as well as for organizing joint efforts, such as missionary work; by 1780 it has thirty-eight members and has become a significant sponsor of Baptist efforts throughout New England.


  • Conrad Beissel, a convert to the German pietistic sect called the Church of the Brethren (or Dunkers) and founder of the Ephrata Community, an early religious Utopian community in Pennsylvania and a model for later communitarian efforts, dies.


  • 16 July The Roman Catholic mission at San Diego, California, is founded by Fray Junipero Serra, the Franciscan monk who led Spanish missionary efforts in the American Southwest from 1767 to his death in 1784; Serra founded twenty-one missions to Christianize the Native American population.
  • 13 Dec. New Light Congregationalist Eleazar Wheelock founds Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, to pursue his mission to the Indians.


  • 21 July John Murray, a leader of the Universalist movement, arrives in New Jersey from England and soon takes up a career as an itinerant preacher of radical evangelical Protestantism.
  • 30 Sep. George Whitefield, Anglican missionary and itinerant leader of the revivals of the Great Awakening, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, dies.



  • 8 Oct. John Woolman dies; a Quaker journalist and reformer, he led the antislavery movement that developed among the Quakers in the 1750s.


  • Indian missionary Samson Occom obtains a land grant from the Oneida tribe in New York; he plans to move there and found an Indian community that could be free of interference from whites, a scheme that would lead to the founding of Brothertown in 1785.
  • Feb. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Roman Catholic, publishes his First Citizen letters in the Maryland Gazette, attacking the royal governor and defending the ability of Catholics to be true patriots despite religious ties to Rome.
  • July The first annual conference of Methodist clergy in America occurs and is led by Reverend Thomas Rankin.


  • Philadelphia Quakers vote to formally disown their members who refuse to free their slaves.
  • 6 Aug. Shaker leader Ann Lee and a small band of followers arrive in New York from England and soon move to a small town outside Albany.
  • Sept. Baptist minister Isaac Backus presents a request to the First Continental Congress asking for a declaration of full religious liberty for Americans.
  • 17 Sept. The First Continental Congress adopts the Suffolk Resolves in response to the Coercive Acts; they include an attack on the guarantee of religious freedom to French Canadian Roman Catholics.


  • The Baptist Warren Association declares its support of the revolutionary movement but continues to agitate for a promise of liberty of conscience under the new regime, setting the tone for evangelical engagement with the independence movement.


  • Devereux Jarratt, Anglican evangelical, prompts the largest revival of his career in Brunswick and Sussex counties in Virginia.
  • Virginia ceases to pay Anglican clerical salaries from tax revenues, the first step in the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, a process completed in 1786 with the passage of Jeffersons Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia.
  • Virginia Anglicans meet to begin to reorganize their denomination as an American body and vote to omit prayers for the king from their liturgy.


  • 8 July Ezra Stiles is installed as president of Yale College, marking the colleges move away from the enthusiasm of the revivals of the Great Awakening and its embrace of the Enlightenment emphasis on rationalism and more-liberal thinking.


  • 4 June The Virginia legislature first considers Thomas Jeffersons proposed Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, a law guaranteeing freedom for religious thought and practice, that will pass in 1786.


  • Mar.June After attending the Massachusetts state constitutional convention, Baptist minister Isaac Backus leads the public debate over protections for individual congregational autonomy to be included in the states new constitution, a step in the legal protection of religious freedom.
  • 19 May Darkness covers the northern part of the country for much of the day, apparently due to smoke from fires for land clearing on the frontier, but this Dark Day heightens the expectations of many people that the end of the world is at hand, an expectation also fueled by the disruptions of wartime and the emotions of the revivals occurring in New England.
  • 12 June Vermont Baptists found the Shaftesbury Association, a congress of churches established during the wartime revivals on the New England frontier, indicating the tremendous growth of the Baptists during this period and the increasingly settled nature of religious life in the interior parts of the new nation.


  • A group of Philadelphia Quakers who had been disowned for their support of the Revolutionary War in violation of pacifism form the Society of Free Quakers, also known as the Fighting Quakers.
  • May Shaker founder Ann Lee begins a preaching tour of New England and upstate New York that will last until September 1783.


  • 8 Sept. The congregation of Kings Chapel, Bostons Anglican Church, invites rationalist James Freeman to serve as its reader, or lay minister, the first step toward the emergence of this church as Americas first Unitarian congregation.


  • 25 Mar. Ten Episcopalian ministers meeting in Woodbury, Connecticut, choose their colleague Samuel Seabury to be their first bishop, and they send him to England for consecration.

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