1740 - The first great awakening
This was not a distant, far-away God in some kind of institutional church, but it was a God, said the evangelicals, involved in the daily lives of people, involved in every thought and every deed of your life.
...There had never been anything like it. Here's a meeting of 3,000 people out in a field, blacks and whites together, listening to a preacher who says, "Here in my message is a new life for you, here's a new chance for you. Here's a God who had your interest at heart. Here's a God who may deliver you.
- David Blight, historian
The religious revivals known as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening swept through both the North and South periodically from the 1740s through the 1780s. As a result of the revival movements, many Americans abandoned the hierarchical religion of their ancestors for a more egalitarian God who offered more immediate salvation. This ethos helped prepared people for the egalitarianism of the American Revolution.
The revivalists generally did not challenge slavery, but they preached to everyone, regardless of race. The Methodists and the Baptists, in particular, welcomed converts from the black and white working population. Fearing the Christian message of spiritual equality, slave owners initially resisted evangelicals preaching to their bondpeople, but as the revival movement spread, a few even came to consider it their Christian duty to teach their slaves about the Bible.
African Americans played a major role in their own conversion, and for their own reasons. Africans brought to America initially resisted giving up the religions of their forefathers, but over the years, and with the birth of new generations on American soil, accepting Christianity became part of accepting America as home. Over time, large numbers of slaves found the biblical message of spiritual equality before God appealing and found comfort in the biblical theme of deliverance Converting to Christianity became part of accepting America as home.
The first generation of African American leaders -- ministers -- arose from the revival movement. George Liele and his proteges, Andrew Bryan and David George, built the first black Baptist churches in Georgia and South Carolina during the height of the Revolution. The black Baptist movement thrived in British-occupied Savannah and Charleston. After the war, the geographical reach of their combined ministries was remarkable. By 1790 George Liele had emigrated to Jamaica with the Loyalists, and he preached regularly to 350 converts. David George established seven churches in Nova Scotia before leaving for Sierra Leone, West Africa, where he founded another Baptist church. By 1800 Andrew Bryan's First Baptist Church of Savannah had grown to a congregation of 700.
• Portrait of Yarrow Mamout • George Liele • Andrew Bryan • David George • Lemuel Haynes
Lemuel Haynes was an unusual black minister for his times, because in his fifty year career he preached to predominantly white congregations in Connecticut, Vermont, and upstate New York.
Although these early leaders were black men, women were the majority of the membership of early black congregations, and they frequently took the lead in conversion. Many of these women claimed, and actually exercised, the right to preach, and a large number of them were exhorters (informal preachers).