Colonial religion explored through Sunday Series
A glimpse into the religious life of colonists in Connecticut prior to the Revolutionary War was provided by Thomas Key of Salisbury during the Sept. 17 Sunday Series. He shared how the First Great Awakening shook up the religious foundation in the 1730s and disrupted the life of those living in Connecticut and other New England states. Traveling “itinerant” preachers stirred up local residents and caused younger generations to question long-held beliefs.
Key is an instructor for the Taconic Learning Center and vice president of the Salisbury Association. He is also a speaker at the Scoville Library and has given over 75 lectures on a number of historical topics.
He led participants through a timeline of history of “British North America,” which is how he referred to the Colonies. Key highlighted the wars that were fought in the 1600s and 1700s and said that this constant state of unrest impacted the colonists.
“Death was right at their door all the time,” Key said.
The Great Awakening began in 1734 and continued until 1745. It was about religion, but it was also about a changing society.
They were operating a “young capitalistic society” and men and women were marrying later, with young men staying at home much longer than before. The lived under a strict moral code in a what Key called a “pressurized society.” There were three generations since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 and it was getting harder and harder for younger people to accept the strict rules being imposed by religious leaders.
Jonathan Edwards, who was living and working in North Hampton, Mass., stimulated his congregation and started challenging people to think in different ways. A young man died suddenly in town and it got people thinking about life and death.
“Jonathan Edwards was a really devout person,” Key said. “He was a good preacher.”
His sermons got people so worked up that they became hysterical, Key said. Eventually, he was asked to leave the church and took a position in Stockbridge, Mass. He ultimately ended up as the president of Princeton.