AMERICA'S FIRST BIBLE BELT BEGAN IN NORTHEAST, SPREAD DURING GREAT AWAKENING OF THE 1700S
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Just what and where is the "Bible Belt?" This expression describes a geographical section of the South along with the mid-central part of the United States. The area depicted is a region that hosts large groups of fundamentalist Christians.
A proper Bible Belt Christian should have an obvious understanding of the things they shouldn't do, such as smoking, dancing, drinking, etc. This belief is that the Holy Spirit controls one's actions and that God's will is the most essential part of one's life. A true Bible Belt Christian, regardless of what ridiculers say, maintains the will of God in a strikingly perspective point of view.
Many groups say that people in the Bible Belt go to extremes when it comes to their religious and political customs. However, these folks have the belief that their lives are totally controlled by God. Therefore, their values, possibly derived from childhood, are anchored into their souls.
The first known Bible Belt in America was located in the Northeast with such groups as the Massachusetts Puritans and the Pennsylvania Quakers. Something happened about 1790 in America, which totally revolutionized the state of religion: the Great Awakening. This vast religious revolution, described as the Second Pentecost, rapidly occupied the land.
Man has from his beginnings in America set aside a time for his own personal religious beliefs. It has been said that during the 1600's over 85% of the population have taken part in some form of church activity. Furthermore, toward the end of the 17th Century, religious commitment headed toward an even greater force. It was during this time that America experienced its first great revival and therefore the Bible Belt was born.
The Great Awakening had swept Great Britain and shortly penetrated the American colonies. The Southern states received this "new birth" with enthusiasm. Two general opinions arose as to why this great religious eagerness collected in the South, one was because of the great number of African Americans, while others said the Southerner was closer to God, possibly because of his depressive livelihood.
A period of healings, raising of the dead, along with many other miracles was now in the making. The Great Revival spread outward to the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and other denominations. The Holy Spirit was moving thus motivating the human spirit.
With any great success arrives some depraved individuals anxious to make money off the innocent. Scam artists and frauds quickly took advantage of this great movement and profited handsomely.
A gentleman invited some sinful associates to hear the speech of Finis Ewing, the lecture being on sanctification. He had never heard Ewing preach and some of his companions bet him $20 that "he could not go into the church and sit through the sermon without going to the mourner's bench when Ewing made the inevitable call for converts". He took the bet, sat through the sermon, and resisted the call for mourners, going, instead, to his comrades. "Gentlemen," he said, "I have won the bet but I want none of your money. From this hour on, as long as I live, I shall not rest till I find salvation."
Another such incident occurred at a camp meeting at Rock Spring campground at Overton County, Tennessee, Rev. Thomas Calhoun, officiating. On Sunday morning at breakfast, someone told Rev. Calhoun that two distracted young men had sounded off with a somber oath to break up the meeting that day. The Reverend replied, "We'll see!"
With breakfast over the Reverend exited to his usual sanctuary in the woods. Here he remained in prayer until the eleven o'clock sermon. He then entered the countrified pulpit and made known his text. He reiterated what had been told him at breakfast, adding: "I am a preacher called and sent from God. You shall this day see, and know, and acknowledge, that God is with me, and is able to give me the victory over all the opposition of men and devils."
Instantly, the two young men rose to their feet and, with loud vows, began cursing the preacher and the meeting, moving about the crowd intending in every respect to disturb the sermon. However, Rev. Calhoun continued with his sermon, his voice abounding greatly. The penetration of his voice to the saints completely overwhelmed the service while the disturbance of the two scoundrels became quite unnoticed. As suddenly as a spring thunderstorm, the two disturbers fell to the ground and were both converted that day. One of them became a minister of the Gospel, always declaring salvation to the lost.
Religion took the South by storm, from Presbyterians to shouting Methodists to Holy Rollers. Many sermons were composed of hell fire and brimstone preaching. Congregations were entirely espoused with the preaching of God's word responding with muscular spasms, or more commonly known as the jerks. They leaped, crawled, rolled on the ground, wept, moaned, their utterances triumphing in a type of a foreign language. As sudden as the Holy Spirit set in, it lifted and a smile of heavenly peace would break forth and conversation would follow.
The unbelievers regarded this form of religion as fake. However, many northern ministers traveled the Southern circuit, preaching in different churches. They came to the conclusion that the majority of these people that exhibited these jerks, etc. were being controlled by a much higher Power. Many congregations exhibit this same power today.
A tendency for the folks at the present location of LaFollette to renew their religious interest was espoused as a Methodist Camp Meeting ground located on the ridge between the present LaFollette golf course and the mouth of Long Hollow. Early area residents such as the Sharp, Mullins and Richardson families, along with their neighbors, on a regular basis promoted the annual camp meetings. Folks came for miles around and took part in these services. Schools were created under the influence of the church at Fincastle (the first settlement in Campbell County) and Well Springs providing educational advantages to a large part of the county.
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