The Church in History: The Church in America by Dr. T.Y. Hiter

The Great Awakening was huge by any measure, and especially so in terms of the already “churched” population of the Colonies that would become the thirteen United States, a generation later. But, it wasn’t really a big deal along the frontier in the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. There were a couple of reasons for this.

In the first place, there weren’t all that many people out there. After the French and Indian War, the English made treaties with most of the American Indian nations, agreeing that the Indians rightfully owned everything west of the Appalachian Trail (which of course didn’t exist, yet). Now, the truth is that there really weren’t all that many Indians in those highlands, in the first place, and not too many well to the west. They had been decimated by disease and warfare, and so most moved as they could into the lower, flatter river valleys. Much of what we think of as Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina and so forth were pretty much left by the Indians as hunting grounds. The tribes lived north of the Ohio and along the Tennessee (which is the Cherokee word for “Cherokee” and Mississippi. They could come to the Bluegrass to hunt in the summer, and go back home to warmer, flatter places for the winter. Pretty much like our yankee friends, today!

The other reason was that the primary reason for emigrating here in the first place was to farm, and there really weren’t many places to farm in those mountains. “Farming” to Englishmen, meant growing wheat or oats, or maybe hay and cattle. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia suited them well. To some, though, especially those who had been here for a generation or two, “farming” meant rice or tobacco. In the Carolinas and Georgia (and Connecticut, believe it or not), tobacco was grown on flat or gently rolling open land. There wasn’t much of that on the Cumberland Plateau. Cotton wasn’t an issue, yet. So, the western frontier just didn’t offer much to most English colonists, in the 1760s. But, it did offer a lot to one special group.

In the late 1760s, one group of Englishmen (and women) began to flood into the American Colonies: the Scots-Irish. Interestingly, they were neither Scots nor Irish, for the most part, but they did have a couple of traits that made them perfect for the American frontier. For one thing, they liked mountains. Most came from the hills and glens of northern England and Ireland and southern Scotland; most were devastatingly poor, and so had no expectations of ever having very much reward, For another, they loved isolation, and much preferred to live alone, as far from their neighbors as possible, keeping to their family clans as much as possible. And, then, the truth is that they had been pushed around by virtually everybody for Centuries. They were born fighters, and had no more respect for the Indian hunting (or War) parties than they did for their former English landlords. One other thing they lacked was any particular use for organized religion.