Some time ago while doing research in the Carl Elliot Regional Library in Jasper, Al. I ran across the following article which I copied. I failed to record the name of the book or author but it seems that I recall that it was a husband and wife who wrote the book and it was an early history of the Methodist church in Alabama.
The revival meeting, like the camp meeting, was a common occurrence on the frontier in early days. A pioneer in the revival movement was the Cumberland Presbyterian Church organized in 1810 when it broke away from the Presbyterian Church in Cumberland County Kentucky. The leaders of the revivalistic movement, being concerned for the vast numbers of pastorless people on the frontier, were ordaining men who did not meet the traditional educational standards of the parent church.
In 1809 Rev. Robert Donnell was sent into the locality of Huntsville and, within six weeks after the Cumberland Church was organized, he was received into the Presbytery. He organized the church in Huntsville and apparently others. By April, 1812, a delegate to a church meeting represented the Huntsville, Hermon, and Kelly Creek Churches. Thereafter, the Presbyterianism spread rapidly in North Alabama and in the 1820’s had missionaries in the Jones Valley and Cahaba Districts.
Mrs. Anne Royall (1769-1864), who wrote the description of the revival meeting in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Moulton, was born in Maryland, but lived her young adult life in Virginia. After the death of her husband, a prominent Virginian, she traveled extensively in the South, spending about five years in the Tennessee Valley of Alabama. Having used the bulk of the fortune her husband left her (and his other relatives getting the rest), she was forced to work for a living. She established an independent newspaper in Washington and spoke out sharply on public issues; she was an early “muckracker.” She wrote several volumes, including Letters from Alabama (Washington, 1830), 123-125 from which the revival account is taken.
Mrs. Royal had very strong likes and dislikes, but her biographer called her “a tireless traveler, a shrewd observer, a careful verifier of fact, and a strictly honest writer.” Unlike most accounts of revivals, Mrs. Royall’s is factual. She did not approve of much she saw but she described the revival without making light of it.
Moulton, April 30th 1821
I placed myself in front of the preacher (a great rough looking man) and the congregation sat some on fallen timber, some on benches carried there for the purpose, some sat flat on the ground, and many stood up—about 500 in all. His text was, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The people must have been deaf indeed that could not hear him. . . .He is one of the Cumberland Presbyterians. They are Calvinist, it is said, but do not deem education a necessary qualification to preach the Gospel. But to the sermon. He began low, but soon bawled to deafening. He spit in his hands, rubbed them against each other, and then would smite them together, till he made the woods ring. The people now began to covault, and dance, and shout, till they fairly drowned the speaker. Many of the people, however, burst out into a laugh. Seeing this, the preacher cried out, pointing to them with his finger, “now look at them sinners there—You’ll see how they will come tumbling down presently.—I’ll bring them down.” He now redoubled his strength; spit in his hands, and smote them together, till he made the forest resound, and took a fresh start; and sure enough the sinners came tumbling down. The scene that succeeded baffles description. Principally [it was] confined to women and children. The young women had carefully taken out their combs from their hair and laid them and their bonnets in a place of safety as though they were going to set in for a fight, and it was much like a battle. After tumbling on the ground, and kicking sometimes, the old women were employed in keeping their clothes civil, and the young men (never saw an old man go near them) would help them up, and taking them by the hand, by their assistance, and their own agility, they would spring nearly a yard from the ground at every jump, one after another, crying out glory, glory, as loud as their strength would admit; others would be singing a lively tune to which they kept time—hundreds might be seen and heard going on in this manner at once. Others, again, exhausted by this jumping, would fall down, and here they lay cross and pile, heads and points, yelling and screaming like the wild beast in the forest, rolling on the ground, like hogs in a mire—very much like they do at camp meetings in our country, but more shameless; their clothes were the color of dirt; and like those who attended the camp meetings, they were all of the lower class of people. I saw no genteel person among them. . . .I am very sure a dozen words of common sense, well applied, would convince those infatuated young women that they were acting like fools. In fact, a fool is more rational. Not one of those but would think it a crying shame to dance.
The noise of the preacher was effectually drowned at length, and a universal uproar succeeded louder than ever. Whilst this was going on, I observed an old woman near me, sniveling and turning up the whites of her eyes (she was a widow—all widows, old and young covaulted) and often applying her handkerchief to her eyes, and throwing herself into contortions, but it would not do, she could not raise the steam.
I pointed to one young woman, with a red scarf, who had tired down several young men, and was still covaulting, and seeing she jumped higher than the rest, I asked who she might be. One of the gentlemen. . . .gave such an account of her (men know these things) as would shock the modest ear. D—m her, she gets converted every meeting she goes to. . ..”
The preacher having spent all his ammunition, made a pause, and then called upon all the sinners to approach and be prayed for. Numbers went forward, all women and children (children of ten years old get religion) and the priest began to pray; when a decent looking man approached the stand, and took a female by the arm, and led her away. As he walked along, the preacher pointed to him and said, “God strike that sinner down!” The man turned around and in an angry tone said, “God has more sense than to mind such a d—d fool as you are” and resumed his course. . . .The lady was his wife.
Being tired of such an abominable scene, I proposed returning home, and taking a near cut through a slip of woodland, we surprised the red scarfed lady in a manner that gave us no favorable opinion of her piety.