Mapping the Great Awakening

Charles Woodmason

By Andrew Stelling

Explore the StoryMap Here.


The central argument that I will be making in this Blog Post is that as Charles Woodmason travels further away from established cities, he becomes much more critical and hostile to the people that live there, which is demonstrated in Woodmason’s recordings starting from Charleston and then moving away from that urban area and towards more and more rural places.

The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival in the 18th Century led by preachers that affected many different Protestant denominations throughout the colonies. Many of these preachers were known as itinerant preachers because of the way that many of them traveled to various regions to preach at different churches and areas across the colonies. One of those mentioned itinerant preachers was Anglican Minister Charles Woodmason, who spent much of his time in the Carolinas.

Woodmason and His Journal

From 1766 through 1768, Woodmason kept an extensive journal in which he recorded all of his travels across the Colonial South. These journal recordings are used by many historians to describe not only the Great Awakening, but also to learn what the Colonial Backcountry was like. When looking at Woodmason’s journal, it becomes very clear that Woodmason had a preference among the different regions across the Colonial South. After reading Woodmason’s journal entries, one soon notices that Woodmason liked people near large cities, like Charleston, yet as he traveled further away from these established cities and into the Backcountry, Woodmason became much more hostile and critical of the people living in these Backcountry settlements.


When Woodmason first reaches the Carolinas from England in 1766, he lands in Charleston. He describes many of the different churches and congregations that he finds there. One of these Churches is St. Phillips Charlestown, which Woodmason describes as the “most elegant Religious Edifice in British America”[1]. Clearly, Woodmason is enamored by this church and therefore views this church very favorably. Another church in Charleston that Woodmason raves about is St. Michaels which Woodmason writes has a “divine service”[2]. Woodmason not only writes about how great the churches and services are in Charleston, but also how great the people in Charleston are. This is illustrated when Woodmason states that the members of St. Phillips Charlestown are “elegant”[3].  Therefore, it is apparent that Woodmason is very positive about the churches, the services, and the people of the Charleston area. As Woodmason starts to leave the Charleston area, his optimistic views start to change.

Leaving Charleston

One of the very first churches that Woodmason visits outside of Charleston is located in Hanging Tree, South Carolina. Woodmason remarks that this church had no “disturbances”[4] and that it was a fine church in his eyes. This depicts how Woodmason, as he leaves Charleston, becomes much less positive and a lot more neutral towards the people and churches, considering that he only writes that the people and the Church are pretty much unremarkable and nothing special. Another place that Woodmason visits that is not in Charleston yet not totally the Backcountry is the first place he visits in North Carolina. He describes this place as a “Police Department”[5] and states that it is nice and that the people there are simple yet very nice. As a result of there being a Police Department and Sheriff in this town, this means that it is at least somewhat settled and certainly not the total Backcountry. However, since it is not in Charleston, Woodmason gives the area a lukewarm reaction at best, once again depicting how Woodmason views Charleston and the more developed areas of the colonies positively and then slowly becomes more and more hostile to the areas further and further away from society.

The Backcountry

When describing the North Carolina Backcountry, Woodmason writes that essentially everyone there is a complete imbecile and that there is genuinely no use in trying to reach them because there is nothing preachers can do that “would make an impression on them”[6]. This conveys how Woodmason thinks so lowly of the Backcountry people, that he honestly believes that there is no use in even trying to reach them and that they are beyond helping. Furthermore, Woodmason compares these people to that of “cave”[7] people, showing how he sees these Backcountry people as less developed and completely worthless.


In conclusion, it is clear that although Woodmason may think highly of the churches and people of Charleston, as he travels further away from urban areas he becomes more critical and biting towards the people and their establishments. This shows how not only Woodmason viewed the people of the Backcountry, but also how many other people from the colonial time may have viewed these people as a whole. To further illustrate this, here is a link to a story map showing Woodmason on his travels:

List of Further Readings

Woodmason, Charles. The Carolina Backcountry on the eve of the Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, 1953.



[1] Woodmason, Charles. The Carolina Backcountry on the eve of the Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, 1953. 70.

[2] Ibid, 70.

[3] Ibid, 28.

[4] Ibid, 21.

[5] Ibid, 21.

[6] Ibid, 78.

[7] Ibid, 78.

Skip to toolbar