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Calling Down Fire

Charles Grandison Finney and Revivalism in Jefferson County, New York, 1800-1840

Marianne Perciaccante

Publication Year: 2003

Calling Down Fire examines the social and cultural influence of Jefferson County, New York, an isolated, agrarian setting, on the formation of Charles Grandison Finney’s theology and revival methods. Finney, who later became president of Oberlin College, was arguably the most innovative and influential revivalist of the Second Great Awakening. He pioneered methods which were widely adopted and promoted a theology that emphasized the ability of evangelists to save souls and the importance of free will in the salvation process. Marianne Perciaccante follows the course of religious enthusiasm and the evolution of the reform impulse in Jefferson County following Finney’s departure for more influential pulpits. When Finney began to preach in Jefferson County, he brought Baptist and Methodist piety to the Presbyterians of the northern section of the county. This pious fervor eventually was adopted widely by middle-class Presbyterians and Congregationalists and constituted an acceptance by elites of tempered, non-elite piety.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

Numerous church members and pastors in Jefferson County were gracious enough to let me into their church safes to see if any relevant records existed. In some cases, churches brought in safe crackers. Where relevant records were extant, church members let me into their closed churches during the week so that I could read them over. Others let me into their home...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-13

In both Charles Grandison Finney’s rural New York and Huckleberry Finn’s fictional Missouri, genuine,1 popular revivals were characterized by disorder and a level of excitement occasionally verging on hysteria. Moreover, in both New York and Missouri, as Huck goes on to note, the reform interest that often followed from revivalism and acted as a counterpart to true revivalism usually functioned...

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2. Jefferson County

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pp. 15-31

Jefferson County’s isolated location far from the Erie Canal as well as its Vermont immigrant population provide a valuable context in which to study revivalism; most obviously because revivalism was a national phenomenon in the nineteenth century, primarily centered in rural areas. And although revivals’ characteristics differed significantly between regions and denominations, few...

Appendix: New York State Census of 1835 and 1845

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pp. 32-35

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3. The Foundations of Fervor

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pp. 37-74

Fervor arrived early in Jefferson County as a normal expression of piety. This chapter describes two aspects of the environment in which fervor throve. The first section describes the backgrounds of the revivalists who worked in Jefferson County, among whom Charles Finney was the most prominent as well as the only one to achieve great fame. Finney dominates much of the narrative...

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4. The Maturation of the Churches

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pp. 75-99

Around 1830 something happened. Presbyterians suddenly experienced a surge of conversion experiences within their churches throughout New York State in areas with and without professional revivalists. Even George Boardman conducted “conference” meetings. On the other hand, Baptists began to demonstrate more interest in moral order and reform movements...

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5. The Progress of Reform

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pp. 101-127

Historians have long recognized a connection between Second Great Awakening religious interest and benevolent reform. Most interpretations of the antebellum reform impulse assert that revival fervor drove an interest in perfecting society. However, fervor had been surfacing in the Northeast since after the War of 1812, and in the Southwest since Cane Ridge in 1801. These...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 129-132

Few historians have sought to understand the social environment in which Charles Finney experienced his conversion and in which he first formulated his beliefs. Because of the easier availability of records from urban areas, and because of a greater geographical and historical familiarity with cities such as Rochester and Utica than with Watertown and Evans Mills, historians have...


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pp. 133-174


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pp. 175-184


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pp. 185-193

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487341
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791456392
Print-ISBN-10: 0791456390

Page Count: 203
Illustrations: 3 maps, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 55209671
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Calling Down Fire

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Subject Headings

  • Revivals -- New York -- Jefferson County -- History -- 19th century.
  • Finney, Charles Grandison, 1792-1875.
  • Jefferson County (N.Y.) -- Church history -- 19th century.
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