Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This dissertation is a biography of James McGready (c.1760-1817), a Presbyterian revivalist minister who lived and worked primarily in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana. He is best known as the Father of the Great Revival, an evangelical revival that spread throughout the southeastern United States between 1800 and 1805, and the creator of the camp meeting, which soon became an institutional part of American revivalism. Historians have generally described McGready as an innovator in matters of doctrine and revivalist methodology. This study argues that McGready is better understood as a traditionalist. This interpretation follows several recent works that have outlined a Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterian revivalist tradition dating from the 1620s.;The study traces McGready's educational background, outlines a variety of his theological positions, describes his intense homiletical style, and details his professional career. Research revealed that McGready was educated in several small Presbyterian-run schools that had direct links to the Presbyterian revivalism mentioned above. In doctrine, an examination of such varied topics as the process of conversion, limited atonement and predestination, and millennialism, showed McGready to be a firm Presbyterian Calvinist at every turn. In his homiletical style McGready followed a one hundred and fifty year old pattern of preaching known as the plain style and avoided the unstructured, extemporaneous preaching increasingly favored by revivalists in the nineteenth century. During his professional career, and especially during the Cumberland controversy of 1805-1809, McGready sided with the mainline church and eschewed those with schismatic inclinations.;The reinterpretation of McGready as a traditionalist casts doubt on much of the historiography of American revivalism. Historians have generally argued that revivalism arose in America and especially on the frontier. Understanding McGready, one of the foremost revivalists of the period, as a traditionalist tends to undermine that position. Additionally, this work re-emphasizes the transference of European forms to the New World, even past the American Revolution. Finally, McGready's professional struggles point up the remarkable fluidity in American religion during the early national period.



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