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Camp Meetings

CAMP MEETINGS

CAMP MEETINGS. Spontaneous outdoor religious meetings figured importantly in evangelical revivals in both England and America in the eighteenth century. Most accounts trace the origins of the regular American camp meeting to Cane Ridge, on the banks of the Gasper River in Kentucky. There, during the summers of 1800 and 1801, Presbyterian and Methodist preachers together staged massive revivals. Contemporaries credited (or blamed) the Cane Ridge revival for the subsequent wave of weeklong meetings throughout the upper South, the Northeast, and the Chesapeake region. In the 1820s, hundreds of these camp meetings were held across the United States.

In the trans-Appalachian West, evangelical denominations, Methodists in particular, used camp meetings as way stations for roving circuit preachers and to attract new converts. They located the encampments away from town, usually in a wood near a water supply, to highlight God's immanence in nature and to encourage soulful reflection. There were several services each day, with up to four or five ministers speaking.

In the South services were sharply segregated by race. For white people, an egalitarian spirit pervaded guests who succumbed to the constant exhortation and fell into vigorous and physical bouts of religious ecstasy (such as leaping and swaying), all of which evoked fears of cult worship and unleashed sexuality. Some accused the camp meetings of promoting promiscuity.

By the mid-nineteenth century, camp meetings offered a desired religious alternative to the secular, middle-class vacation resort. By 1889 most of the approximately 140 remaining camp meetings were located on railroad lines. Victorian cottages replaced tents, and permanent auditoriums were established. In the 1870s the religious resort concept merged with new impulses for popular education. Methodist campgrounds served as the template for the education-oriented resort communities of Ocean Grove, N.J., and Chautauqua, N.Y. By the 1910s, most of the camp meetings had failed or had been absorbed into Chautauqua assemblies or residential suburbs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eslinger, Ellen. Citizens of Zion: The Social Origins of Camp Meeting Revivalism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999.

Johnson, Charles A. The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion's Harvest Time. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1955.

Weiss, Ellen. City in the Woods: The Life and Design of an American Camp Meeting on Martha's Vineyard. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

W. B.Posey

Andrew C.Rieser

See alsoChautauqua Movement ; Circuit Riders ; Evangelicalism and Revivalism .

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camp meeting

camp meeting, outdoor religious meeting, usually held in the summer and lasting for several days. The camp meeting was a prominent institution of the American frontier. It originated under the preaching of James McGready in Kentucky early in the course of a religious revival (c.1800) and spread throughout the United States. Immense crowds flocked to hear the noted revivalist preachers, bringing bedding and provisions in order to camp on the grounds. The meetings were directed by a number of preachers who relieved each other in carrying on the services, sometimes preaching simultaneously in different parts of the camp grounds. Shouting, shaking, and rolling on the ground often accompanied the tremendous emotional release that followed upon "conversion," although these extravagances were opposed and discouraged by conservative ministers. Camp meetings were usually held by evangelical sects, such as the Methodists and Baptists, and by the Cumberland Presbyterians and other newer denominations that developed out of the religious revival. In modified form they continued to be a feature of social and religious life in the region between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River until comparatively recent times. In a sense, they survive in summer conferences and assemblies, such as the Chautauqua Institution, in revivals, and their spirit is captured by some televangelists.

See D. Bruce, And They All Sang Hallelujah (1974); C. A. Johnson, The Frontier Camp Meeting (1955, repr. 1985).

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Camp Meetings

Camp Meetings

Camp meetings (also known as "assemblies") have occupied an important place in the advancement of Spiritualism since 1873, when the first camp meeting was initiated at Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts. These camp meetings were very like the revivalistic camp meetings of the early twentieth century and the successful summer chautauquas at Chautauqua Lake, New York. The meetings lasted throughout the summer season and many of the mediums took up residence on the grounds. Lily Dale in New York and Onset and Lake Pleasant in Massachusetts were the leading camps. Today, a small number of camps, such as Cassadaga (Florida), Chesterfield (Indiana), Silver Belle (Pennsylvania), and Lily Dale, still exist.

Sources:

Karcher, Janet. The Way to Cassadaga: A Look at Spiritualism, Its Roots, and Beliefs, and Cassadaga, Florida. Daltona, Fla.: J. Hutchinson Productions, 1980.

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