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The Expanding World of Jacob Norton: Reading, Revivalism, and the Construction of a "Second Great Awakening" in New England, 1787-1804

From: Journal of the Early Republic
Volume 26, Number 2, Summer 2006
pp. 221-248 | 10.1353/jer.2006.0024


In 1787, Jacob Norton became pastor of a somewhat moribund Congregational parish in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Like other parishes of the region in the postrevolutionary era, it lacked for new members. By 1804, Norton and his parishioners found themselves awash in revival activity that produced an abundance of new members. This essay uses Norton's situation in Weymouth during these years, as well as his reading diaries, to examine how the print revolution of the 1790s in New England related to the shift in sensibility scholars have come to call "the Second Great Awakening." I argue that the expansion of the world of print that Norton and those like him experienced had a direct impact on their willingness to see local events as part of a much larger spiritual and political movement. The wide dissemination of new types of printed materials, especially regionally published periodicals, created a shared sensibility among New England evangelicals led to the construction of a shared "social imaginary." Norton and his Weymouth parish provide a case study in the role print played in the initial reconstruction of the ideological world of the earliest cohort of Congregational evangelicals, whose efforts within a generation gave rise to the Benevolent Empire.

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