Mapping the Great Awakening

Hannah Heaton’s Spiritual Journey

By: Lois Fetveit

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The Great Awakening was a religious transformation that took place during the 18th century in colonial America. One of the most prominent figures in the Great Awakening was George Whitefield. Whitefield traveled a great distance to preach his message to huge gatherings of upwards of ten thousand people (Kidd). His sermons changed many people’s lives. As the Great Awakening swept through the colonies many individuals experienced spiritual transformations. Hannah Heaton experienced spiritual transformation after hearing Whitefield speak then continued to grow in her religious beliefs. Heaton recorded her religious experiences in personal diary which was published as The World of Hannah Heaton after being edited by Barbara E. Lacey. This has provided insight into how the Great Awakening affected an individual in her everyday life.

Heaton grew up in Meacox which is a small part of Southampton, Long Island in New York where she was born in 1721 (Lacey). Throughout her life Heaton maintains contact with her family and occasionally returns to visit them. In 1741, when she was 20 years old, Hannah Heaton crossed the Long Island Sound to New Haven where George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennant were in town to speak (Lacey, 283). Hearing Whitefield speak completely changed Heaton’s beliefs and life. From then on, she worked to not only strengthen her relationship with God, but to encourage others to better their spiritual relationship. When first reading Heaton’s entries I found her self-contemplation and reflection to be very inspiring.

The next important event in Heaton’s life is when she married Theophilus Heaton at North Haven Congregational Church in 1743 (Lacey). Shortly after the wedding the newlyweds moved to the Heaton Farm located in Montowese, North Haven, Connecticut (Lacey, xxi). The Heaton Farm is where the majority of the dairy entries were written and took place. Many of the influences in Heaton’s life came from meetings and sermons she attended in North Haven. Preachers traveled from nearby towns to spread information on the Great Awakening which allowed for Heaton to remain connected to the movement. I find it interesting how centralized Heaton’s life was considering many preachers travelled from all over to come preach in North Haven.

Even though Heaton remained in North Haven for the majority of her life, she still remained connected with her family in Long Island. In 1751, Heaton took her son to Long Island to visit her parents and old church (Lacey, 27). When reading Heaton’s entry regarding this trip it is very apparent how nervous she was to travel with her son across the ferry. The way Heaton deals with this is through prayer. I find this to be telling of how important her relationship with God becomes to her everyday life.

Heaton also uses prayer to aid in her relationships with other people. At one point, she mentions how a young woman came to receive council from her (Lacey, 67). The young woman had come to her for prayer and council because her father had died and she believed her brothers were wicked. I think this is a good example of how Heaton was considered an important community member who held a position of religious authority. In another instance, Heaton writes that she remained in her closet praying for many hours because she felt absent from God, but her neighbor had sent a religious book home with her son which renewed her spirit (Lacey, 45). Though Heaton clearly had good rapport with her community, she began to struggle personally.

In 1759, a lot of changes came about Heaton’s life. One of the major turning points was when she went church and a visiting minister, Mr. Frothingham, was preaching on infant baptism (Lacey, 85). Heaton writes that afterwards she became confused and felt enclosed in darkness. At this point the church found out that Heaton was part of the Separates and she was tried for breach of the Sabbath (Lacey, 86). Even though she was a well-respected and known member of North Haven, she was still tried for her involvement in the Great Awakening.

After the trial, Heaton led herself and her husband in weekly days of fasting and prayer. One of the most important days of fasting to Heaton was a seemingly unimportant day that she ended up praying and fasting in the woods near their farm as she felt closer to God than she had in a while (Lacey, 99). She came to the conclusion that the reason this day was so special was because she was allowed freedom and peace in her prayers. I believe that this diary entry shows how much of an impact Heaton’s spiritual awakening had on not only herself, but also her relationship with her husband and family. Throughout The World of Hannah Heaton, I am able to see how the Great Awakening affected just one individual and it makes me wonder how many other people’s lives were also changed by the movement.

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