Date of Award

Winter 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Charles Clark


This study demonstrates that ministerial predecessors in three northern New England communities actually preconditioned community reactions to the Great Awakening during the years preceding the revival itself. "Preconditioning" is not the ordinary "influence" of pastors within their churches and professional circles suggested in other works. This kind of influence might cause parishioners to consider various behavioral alternatives when confronted by spiritual circumstances. Preconditioned congregations would already have established paradigms for responding to spiritual stimulus. While individual parishioners might act in ways consistent with their own personalities, psychological needs, and spiritual sensitivities, congregations as a whole would apply a predetermined set of responses forged by their relationship with their pastor over the preceding years. This study demonstrates preconditioning with the help of three case studies. The example of John Wise and his Chebacco Parish in Ipswich shows how the eventual separation of the church into New Light and Old Light congregations actually reflected Wise's views on congregational polity. Those who separated from Theophilus Pickering's ministry to join John Cleaveland's did so as much for reasons of polity as for theological ones. The second case study explains how the radical New Light ministry of Nicholas Gilman of Durham, New Hampshire, was actually a response to congregational forces set in motion by his predecessor, Hugh Adams. The third case study argues that the separation of the Exeter, New Hampshire, church of John Odlin was preconditioned by Odlin's beliefs about the role of the minister in his parish and that this position was so strong that antagonists had to justify their position by referring to Wise's views on polity. This study concludes that historians should understand the Great Awakening as a process occurring over time, not as a series of events. Since the process was different in each community, they should look closely at forces and circumstances within discrete groups if they are to understand the religious dynamics of mid-eighteenth century New England.