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Waxhaws Great Revival  

By Historian Louise Pettus


In the years 1800-1805, the Great Revival, or Second Great Awakening, swept across the Southern frontier like wildfire.

On the Green River in an area of Kentucky then noted as a refuge for scoundrels, horse thieve, runaways, robbers and murders, a fire and brimstone evangelist, James McGready, attracted as many as 20,000 people to one camp meeting.

McGready, described by his contemporaries as "ugly and uncouth," with a coarse and tremulous voice," brought his fiery message eastward in May of 1802. He came to the Waxhaws, birthplace of Andrew Jackson, a fertile land which lay on the N. C.-S. C. line just south of the Catawba Indian reservation.

Estimates of the number attending the Waxhaws revival vary from 3 to 5,000, far fewer than the crowds of Kentucky but still remarkable for an area where the population was probably less than 1,000.

The leading church in the area was the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, organized in 1755. It was the oldest church in upper S. C.

From the accounts of McGready, the Rev. Dr. Richard Furman, a Baptist leader, and others, a fairly clear picture of the Waxhaw revival emerges.

The crowd arrived in 120 wagons, 20 carts) and eight carriages.

The area selected was an open space which measured about 300 by 150 yards on a sloping hill which had a stream to the south. The sides were bounded by tents, a few of sail cloth but most made or quilts or sheeting. The tents were placed between the wagons and carts.

Two stands were erected for the speakers, one in the shade of tall trees, he other using a wagon for a rostrum. There were enough ministers present to man the platforms continuously - 11 Presbyterians, four Baptists and three Methodists. The ministers preached from Friday to Tuesday all day and much of the night.

Some who came were scoffers or "opposers" who heckled the ministers and there were "carousers" who attracted by the crowds who came to disrupt the meeting. Some set up whiskey kegs in the nearby woods and retailed whiskey by the cup.

The major problem at the Waxhaws camp meeting was not typical of most. When the regular Waxhaw Presbyterian minister, John Brown, attempted to introduce "Dr. Watts Psalms and Hymns" to replace "Rouse's Version," and worse still, took communion with the Methodists, his Presbyterian congregation was so offended and upset that half the elders took away many of the congregation. I was a rift that never healed.

The Rev. Brown, a warm and generous man, was so upset by the experience that he decided to leave the church itself. He resigned to become first a schoolmaster, then a professor of moral logic at S. C. College, and in 1811, became the first president of the University of Georgia.

Waxhaw Presbyterian did not have another minister for 12 years.

After the split of the Presbyterians over the Psalms, there would be slight Presbyterian participation in future S. C. camp meetings.

The Methodists and Baptist enthusiasm was not so dampened even though, after 1805, camp meeting emotionalism was never so uncontrolled as it had been initially. However, some of those present at the Waxhaws camp meeting returned to their homes, 50 and 60 miles to the south and west, to carry out revivals in those areas.

Across the SC upcountry there are still spots, often termed "arbors," were to this day the faithful set up their tents (or park their campers), spend the week and sing the ancient songs, socialize and practice the "old timey" religion.