About the artifacts
These artifacts lend some insight and vision into the spiritual as well as social lives of many Vermonters in and around the gilded age. Vermont’s history of religious tolerance and religious diversity goes back to its roots. While white steepled Congregational churches dominate the religious landscapes today, in the early days it was not uncommon for several denominations to share one structure and for all towns to be multidenominational. On the other hand, during the decades just after the Civil War, perhaps after the production of wool as a staple in Vermont was economically hopeless, Vermonters “tended to view questions of human destiny with intense seriousness and fervid debate.” (Morrissey 112) Adherence to particular religious groups became competitive. Preachers in search of souls to save began riding the hills. With the increased pitch in religious fervor, many traveling preachers held wild revival meetings. The Methodist Meetings were the most abundant and well attended. Many of the missionary groups called themselves simply “Christian,” in order to attract and invite as large a crowd as possible. They came in thousands. The style and sobriety of these revivals, also called camp meetings, varied, but the one thing they seem to have held in common was that they were as much a social event as a serious religious convocation. Almost always they lasted several days with participants camping in tents. The more affluent families had elaborate tents often provided by the church, others slept crowded unto piles of straw in long rows. A curtain separated the men and women. Farmers came to spend time with their neighbors, farm wives got a break and the young were able to accomplish a lot of inspired courting. Intellectual theological debates accompanied some while others were more entertaining. “Emotional jags brought on by expert elocution easily led to other kinds of excesses under the influence of bad men, bad women, and bad liquor.” (Lee 85) Some of these meetings got a little out of hand. In 1837 a small band of families, calling themselves New Lights commenced a brief career in Hardwick.(Merril 170) Their leader, a professed Universalist, led his group to interrupt other religious meetings. Their performance consisted of yellings and screamings, imitating dogs and foxes, jumping, swinging their arms and rolling on the floor. They became known as the “Holy Rollers.” They believed that God spoke to their leader and told him that man should not shave. This type of fanaticism mainly came to an end after many members were imprisoned for disturbance of religious worship.
These particular artifacts are interesting because both Montpelier and Northfield were attractive locations for revivals due to the trains and better roads. Interestingly, Northfield held an annual multidenominational camp meeting every summer until 1999.
Lee, The Green Mountains of Vermont
Merrill, Perry; Vermont Under Four Flags
Morrissey, Charles; Vermont, A History
Lesson plan and commentary by:
Northfield High School