Mapping the Great Awakening

Sarah Osborn’s Great Awakening

By: Max Harmon

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Over the past 3 months, I have been studying about the first “Great Awakening.” There have been quite a few “Great Awakenings,” hence the label “first.” During these times, which occurred around the 1730s and 1740s, the spread of Protestantism across the colonies was slowly, but surely, being enhanced. Because this movement was considered “Evangelical,” it left a standing impact on colonial America and the Protestantism it possessed. These periods were marked by individual’s preaching and revivals that gave its viewers intense revelations with Jesus Christ. Overall, this Awakening taught Americans a lot while also encouraging them to venture deeper into his or her faith.

There were many people involved in this movement that are worthy of recognition. The revival was said to have begun by a gentleman named Jonathan Edwards. Originally a Puritan, Edwards truly believed in the importance of personal religious experience. Another important character in the Great Awakening came in the form of an Anglican preacher named George Whitefield. Whitefield was the first guy to bring a state of energy and emotion to the Great Awakening. Before Whitefield, typical preachers were boring, dull, and uninfluential. Once Whitefield was able to speak to groups of people, their enthusiasm was clearly higher towards the idea of religion. He was criticized frequently, even with his tremendous enthusiasm. Many viewed the enthusiasm as negative because they thought it was extemporaneous and impromptu, and basically unofficial. Through all the controversy about his style of preaching, he remained one of the most famous people in colonial America during this time because of his devotion to helping others. He interacts with many people throughout his career, helping them change their lives to become better people.

The individual I chose to research during these times is Sarah Osborn. Sarah was a Protestant and Evangelical woman who wrote in her journal almost daily to describe and document her own experiences. Although she had many goals, her most important was to serve as a preacher to anybody who was willing to read her memoirs. Although her religious ties were prominent, it is important to note/understand a little more about her personal life. Osborn was born in London, England in 1714, and when she was around ten she moved to New England. She settled in Newport, Rhode Island, where she would eventually write the previously mentioned memoir titled “Memoirs of the Life of Sarah Osborn.” Her daily life was pretty normal; she lived just like the average person of this time. Her journal was comprised of her hardships, difficulties and complications that she wanted her readers to learn more about. She used these difficult times to help spread her message. When she was able to truly realize how beneficial her messages were, she frequently invited people to her house, including slaves, to preach to them and get them back on their feet during their hard times.

After thoroughly reading through Sarah’s journal, I have found 45 data points, or precise global locations, in which I find important to note. I have made an Arc GIS map where I document these locations Sarah has traveled, with the corresponding date when she was there. In this map, it is relatively easy to track her path and make a story documenting the path. For example, in 1741, Osborn documents an interaction between her and her mother. Osborn apparently wrote a letter dated May 4th that she sends shortly after. Roughly a week later, she wrote again in hopes that her mother hadn’t received the first one yet. The next day, dated May 20th, she received a letter from her mother stating that she had not received the first one Sarah had sent on the 4th. This interaction was made possible by the incredible amount of detail Sarah puts into her writings, allowing us to document it to a specific date. Although simple, little interactions like this between Sarah and her mom have no religious meaning, we are able to learn more and more about Sarah’s personality. Interactions like this tell us a lot about the precision of these data points as well. The fact that these points that were documented over 300 years ago can still be pinpointed to a specific date is truly incredible. By reading Osborn’s memoir, this blog, and about the Great Awakening in general, the reader should be able to learn a little bit about Sarah Osborn and what she stood for during this time. It should be evident that Sarah relays the information she learns from sources like Whitefield and Edwards to her followers. For more reading on Sarah Osborn, Catherine Brekus’s Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity In Early America is a great way to further your knowledge upon Sarah and her life.

Although Sarah stayed fairly anchored to Newport, Rhode Island, she delivered her ideas through means other than traveling and public sermons. For a woman that had little to no relevance in the eyes of a vague researcher, it is incredible how important she truly was and how successfully she was able to deliver her messages; from the comfort of her own home.



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