Radical New Lights/Separatists

Description:

Separatism in late 18th-century colonial New England refers to the radical New Light congregations that split off (separated) from antirevivalist churches, often called Old Lights. These separatist groups were spawned by the preaching of evangelical ministers like Englishman George Whitefield and Anglo-Americans James Davenport and Gilbert Tennent who spread their message through the British Atlantic world during a period called the First Great Awakening (1730s and 1740s). These revivals involved various groups—Baptists, Congregationalists, Moravians, Presbyterians and even Anglicans—and aided the formation of new movements such as Methodism and the Separate movement specific to New England. This movement shared elements of the Separatism of the late 16th and 17th centuries, in which dissenting Protestants in England, often called Puritans, separated from the Church of England because they felt it was not sufficiently reformed or pure. The group misnamed "the Pilgrims" who settled Plimouth Plantation in 1620 were separatists. These elements include an extemporaneous style of preaching that emphasized personal conversion and relatively unmediated spiritual experiences. In the early phase of the revival in New England, prominent conservative ministers welcomed the renewal but the revivals soon became more democratic, anti-authoritarian, and experiential. Thus, the Old Lights opposed revivals while moderate New Lights embraced the Awakening but rejected its excesses and radical practices like stirring up crowds and calling out ministers they considered unconverted. Not all New Lights were Separatists, and though they always remained a minority, many Separate churches split off from Congregational churches during the 1740s across New England; some came to sympathize with local Baptist congregations. Linford Fisher identifies a specific form of Native Separatism during this period modeled on the Anglo-American movement that retained Christian practices but eschewed conventional institutional affiliation.

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Sources:

Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.