An Era of Transformation: A History of the 1740s-1750s
Kaeleigh Di Cello
REL-319-01: 18th Century Theology
February 20, 2023
The years between 1740 and 1760 were an especially unique time in world history. As cultural enlightenment, technological advancement, and transcontinental war ensued, it became obvious that the world would never be the same as it once was. However, along with these secular developments also came spiritual revival. In fact, the event that perhaps had the most long-term impact on the world between the years 1740 and 1760 was the Great Awakening. Although the Great Awakening is considered to have only taken place in the 1740s, its impact expanded well into the years beyond and can still be felt today. The Great Awakening, no doubt, was guided by God’s hand, yet it is important to note that it originated not solely out of spontaneity, but on the heels of major social transformation, both within the American colonies and across the Atlantic.
By the time of the Great Awakening, England was the epicenter of trade, both with the colonies and with the rest of the globe. As trade increased, so did the need for technological advancement to meet its demands. As a result, industrial revolution erupted, and population growth and economic development led to social disruption, especially in the American colonies. Early colonial America adopted the mercantilist theories that became prevalent in England following the English Civil War. The most prominent of these theories suggested that an increase in population directly correlated with an increase in economic prosperity. This philosophy led colonists to begin seeking population growth in the New World; knowing the necessity of Great Britain’s help in this matter, the colonists began promoting, through various means, how beneficial population growth in the colonies would be, not only to the colonists themselves, but also to Great Britain.
There would be three possible groups of people Great Britain could use to meet this population demand: the poor of England, foreign-born individuals, and African Slaves. Mercantilist theory suggested that the importation of uneducated slaves would only lead to slaves’ inability to assimilate into colonial culture, posing far too many issues, including slave rebellion, which the colonies were already beginning to experience. As a result, attempts were initially made to limit slavery in the colonies. One example was Georgia’s banning slavery in 1735. However, as the importance of slave labor in the production of staple crops became apparent, English mercantilist theory had to adopt itself to fit the mold of American agriculture.
The number of slaves imported to the colonies from 1661-1740 steadily increased as the demand for labor went up. However, the number of imported slaves between the years 1740 and 1750 were only about one third of the number of slaves that were imported between 1730 and 1740. The number doubled again between 1750 and 1760 from the previous decade, but the number of slaves imported within a single decade did not again reach numbers as high as they were prior to the Great Awakening until the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Therefore, it would seem that there was some sort of relationship between the spiritual conversion happening in the colonies and a decrease in the number of slaves imported during the period of the Great Awakening.
With the increase in the New World’s population also came an increase in the number of clergies; in fact, by 1740 there was a total of 420 ministers in New England, leading to increased tension and debates over various issues, including clerical authority, and how church should be ordered. As the effects of the Enlightenment began to take hold in colonial America, especially by means of newly founded colleges, cultural emphasis began to be placed on contemplation and reasoning. As ministers faced a congregation of people who were being influenced by these enlightened ideas, they began dissenting over whether emphasis concerning one’s relationship with God should be placed on affection or on understanding.
As the Great Awakening began to take hold, an evangelical antislavery movement arose. Although Puritans prior to this saw the inconsistency between Christianity and slavery, the Great Awakening, no doubt, had a great effect in stirring people to action against the injustice of this institution. As individuals were experiencing spiritual new birth, the inconsistency between a God who set them free from sin and the enslavement of their fellow brethren could not be ignored.
In 1736, John Wesley, influenced by the Moravians’ strong antislavery sentiments, founded the Savanah society. As a part of the society’s efforts, he regularly traveled to colonial settlements to share the gospel not only with white slave owners, but also with the slaves themselves. Wesley, in turn, influenced George Whitfield, who began traveling to North America with the belief that it was of the utmost importance for slaves, who shared the same depraved status as whites, to seek a personal relationship with God.
As the colonial immigrant population increased, the native population did the opposite. Tensions arose between the colonists and the natives as settlement and expansion led to epidemics in the native communities. Disease killed off much of the native population, and the natives began raiding the colonies in return. Beginning in 1754, Britain (which was backed by the colonists) and France (which was backed by the Native Americans) started arguing over the territory in the Ohio River Basin. Dispute spilled over into military conflict, eventually leading to the defeat of George Washington’s forces by the French army. In May of 1756, Britain officially declared war on France, beginning a seven-year conflict that would have lasting effects both in Europe, the colonies, and beyone.
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