In the 1730s and 1740s, the religious revival known as “The Great Awakening” swept through the colonies, disrupting the life of congregations up and down the Atlantic seaboard. As a result, many towns found themselves with two congregational churches – one that continued to embrace the pre-Great Awakening traditions and anpther that embraced the importance of the “new birth” professed by Whitefield and others. The founding of South Church in Middletown was a direct result of the Great Awakening.
The anticipation of George Whitefield’s arrival in Middletown and the sermon he preached outdoors are described in the journal of Nathan Cole:
“ …about 8 or 9 o’clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Weathersfield yesterday and is to preach at Middletown this morning [October 23, 1740] at ten of the Clock. I was in my field at Work. I dropt my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and run through my house and bade my wife get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, and run to my pasture for my horse with all my might fearing that I should be too late to hear him. I brought my horse home and soon mounted and took my wife up and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear, and when my horse began to be out of breath, I would get down and put my wife on the Saddle and bid her ride as fast as she could …
“When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the Scaffold he looked almost angelical, a young, slim slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance, and my hearing how God was with him every where as he came along it solumnized my mind, and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was Cloathed with authority from the Great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by Gods blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me; then I was convinced of the doctrine of Election and went right to quarrelling with God about it, because all that I could do would not save me; and he had decreed from Eternity who should be saved and who not.”
Source: George Leon Walker, Some Aspects of the Religious Life of New England (New York: Silver, Burnett, and Company, 1897), 89–92.
Story contributed by John Hall.