1783-1815: Religion: Chronology

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1783-1815: Religion: Chronology




  • Presbyterians found Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one of some 250 colleges founded between the American Revolution and the Civil War, most of them denominational institutions.
  • 11 Feb. Birth of Jarena Lee, later a female African American Methodist lay preacher.


  • 9 June John Carroll is appointed by the Pope to be Superior of the Missions for the Roman Catholic Church in America, the first step toward organizing an American Catholic Church.
  • 28 Aug. Death of Junipero Serra, Franciscan priest and leader of the Roman Catholic missionary efforts in California.
  • 8 Sept. Death of Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers.
  • 14 Nov. Samuel Seabury is ordained in Scotland as first American bishop of the former Anglican Church.
  • 24 Dec. Methodist ministers meet at the Christmas Conference and organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, electing Francis Asbury to be their first bishop; they also take a strong stand against slavery, which they will soften over the next few years, as they grow rapidly in the southern states.


  • James Madison campaigns for Thomas Jeffersons Bill for Religious Freedom in Virginia; he writes his Memorial and Remonstrance in support of a complete separation of church and state, against Patrick Henrys position favoring state support for all Christian churches.
  • 15 Oct. Founding of the first American Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York.


  • 16 Jan. Passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.


  • German Reformed and German Lutheran churches jointly found Franklin College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  • Founding of the American Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the first American missionary society, devoted to Indian missions in Massachusetts formerly supported by the Anglican Church.
  • 12 Apr. Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and William White form the Free African Society in Philadelphia, the first step in forming an independent African American church.
  • Nov. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones withdraw from Saint Georges Methodist Church after being forced into the balcony by a white usher.
  • 18 Nov. James Freeman is ordained as pastor of Kings Chapel in Boston, the first Unitarian church in America.


  • Black Baptist preacher Andrew Bryan forms the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia.


  • Jesse Lee, the Methodist minister, begins spreading Methodism in New England, never before considered missionary territory.
  • May John Carroll is elected by his fellow American Roman Catholic priests to be their first bishop.
  • July-Oct. In two General Conventions former Anglicans organize the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, bringing together northern and southern groups in one denomination, headed by Bishop Samuel Seabury.
  • 14 Sept. The Pope approves John Carrolls appointment as bishop, and places him in the newly formed diocese of Baltimore.


  • Revivals begin to spread widely among New England Congregationalists, an early manifestation of the second Great Awakening.
  • Mar. Jemima Wilkinson and her sect, the Universal Friends, found New Jerusalem, a millennialist Utopian community, in upstate New York.


  • French Sulpicians found Saint Marys Seminary in Baltimore, the first school devoted to training American-born Roman Catholic priests.
  • Founding of Georgetown Academy, later a major Catholic university.
  • The American Sunday school movement begins with the founding of First Day Schools in Philadelphia.
  • 7 Nov. Roman Catholic bishop John Carroll convenes the First Baltimore Conference, a meeting for all American priests; about twenty attend to discuss the problems of serving Catholics throughout the United States with so few priests.
  • 15 Dec. Virginias ratification of the Bill of Rights makes effective the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom for Americans.



  • Formation of the Roman Catholic diocese of Louisiana and the two Floridas.


  • 29 June Richard Allen and other black Methodists in Philadelphia found Bethel Church, which will become the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African American denomination.


  • Several African American members of the John Street Church in New York City, led by James Varick, withdraw and begin worshiping together.
  • Presbyterian, Baptist, and Dutch Reformed Churches found the New York Missionary Society, primarily to promote missionary work among the Indians. This society is an important example of an early interdenominational missionary effort.
  • 25 Feb. Death of Episcopalian bishop Samuel Seabury.


  • Congregationalists organize the Missionary Society of Connecticut, the first society devoted to establishing new churches in frontier areas.


  • June Handsome Lake experiences his first visions and begins preaching about the renewal of traditional Iroquois religious practices.


  • Philip William Otterbein forms United Brethren in Christ Church, one of the more successful American sects based in German Pietism.
  • Presidential campaign features attacks on Thomas Jefferson for his purported atheism.
  • South Carolina passes legislation forbidding blacks from assembling for religious meetings, even if accompanied by whites, one of the first of many southern laws restricting African American religion.
  • June-July Presbyterian minister James McGready of Logan County, Kentucky, leads revivals in Red River and Gaspar River, Kentucky, which are the first camp meetings.
  • 30 Aug. Gabriel Prosser leads nearly one thousand slaves into a rebellion near Richmond, Virginia, in part inspired by reading the Bible.


  • Organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New York City, from the group that had withdrawn from the John Street Church in 1796, later to become the second African American Methodist denomination and a rival of Richard Allens A.M.E. Church.
  • May Congregational and Presbyterian Churches form a Plan of Union to unify their denominations in order to promote western missions.
  • Aug. Barton W. Stone leads the largest camp meeting ever, held in Cane Ridge, Kentucky.


  • Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, delivers a series of sermons attacking freethinking, prompting a revival among the students there, many of whom (such as Lyman Beecher and Nathaniel Taylor) later become major leaders of evangelical Protestantism in America.
  • Presbyterians appoint a Standing Committee on Missions.
  • Philadelphias synagogue separates when a group leaves to form a congregation following the Eastern European Ashkenazic rite, rather then the Mediterranean Sephardic rite.
  • 14 Apr. Birth of Horace Bushnell, later the most important theologian in the liberal wing of Congregationalism.
  • May Peter Cartwright receives a permit to exhort from the Methodist Church, moves to Illinois, and organizes the first Methodist circuit there, beginning a career as one of the most successful circuit riders on the frontier.


  • Presbyterian minister Gideon Blackburn begins his missionary work among the Cherokee Indians.
  • 21 Apr. Thomas Jefferson writes to Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia scientist and physician, enclosing his Syllabus of the Doctrines of Jesus, which is one example of his exploration of Christianity.


  • Philadelphia Quakers petition the U.S. Congress against slavery.
  • The Charitable Female Society of Litchfield, Connecticut, begins to contribute money for mission work to the Missionary Society of Connecticut, an early example of the importance of womens religious organizations for the funding and staffing of American missionary activity.


  • The German Reformed Church allows English to be used in worship services.
  • The Unitarian Controversy breaks out in Boston over the question of Henry Wares appointment as a professor at Harvard College, signaling a break between liberal and orthodox Congregationalists.
  • 15 Feb. George Rapp and three hundred German Pietist followers establish the Utopian Harmony Society, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • 14 Mar. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton converts to Roman Catholicism and soon begins a career in Catholic education.
  • Apr. Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, experiences visions and begins calling for the renewal of the Shawnee Indians through recovering their old traditions.
  • July Jedidiah Morse begins publishing the Panoplist, the first important religious journal in America, including news of missionary activity and explanations of orthodox Calvinism.


  • Shakers begin to build a community in Union Village, Ohio, a sign of their growth on the frontier, particularly in the aftermath of revivals.
  • 20 Nov. Death of Baptist minister Isaac Backus.



  • Andover Seminary, Massachusetts, is founded as an orthodox counterpart to Harvard College, which is run by liberal Unitarians.
  • 8 Apr. Pope Pius VII makes Baltimore a metropolitan see, making it the religious center for the American Catholic Church, and organizes the dioceses of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, Kentucky; at the same time, John Carroll is named archbishop of Baltimore and Jean de Cheverus becomes bishop of Boston.


  • Thomas and Alexander Campbell issue their Declaration and Address, a founding document of the Disciples of Christ movement.
  • Formation of the New York Bible Society to distribute Bibles and promote religious reading.
  • Mar. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton and four companions take vows as Sisters of Charity, forming the first American Roman Catholic womens religious order.


  • June Group of Andover Seminary students band together to offer themselves for foreign missionary service, leading to the forming of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.


  • 29 May John H. Hobart becomes Episcopal bishop of New York and begins to promote High Church practices and liturgy.


  • Presbyterians found Princeton Theological Seminary in response to their concerns about the failure of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) to train ministers; the seminary will later be a major center of conservative American Calvinism.
  • Founding of the New York Religious Tract Society, first American organization devoted to the publication and distribution of short, inexpensive religious works designed for mass readership.
  • 9 June Joseph Stevens Buckminster, pastor of the Brattle Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, dies, after leading his church into Unitarianism.


  • The American Education Society is formed.
  • 10 Aug. Death of Handsome Lake, Iroquois religious leader.
  • 24 Sept. William Dubourg is named by the Pope to be bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas and begins to assert an American Catholic missionary presence in the West, with the help of French Jesuits.
  • 3 Dec. Death of John Carroll, first American Roman Catholic bishop.

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1783-1815: Religion: Chronology

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1783-1815: Religion: Chronology