States, he preached the new birth, recruited young men to join him as itinerants, organised class meetings for converts and seekers, appointed elders to oversee local activities, conducted quarterly and annual conferences, managed the publication of hymnals, pamphlets and devotional manuals, carried on an extensive correspondence, counselled local Methodists as they began to construct church buildings, and fended off any who would divert the Methodists from their spiritual concerns. Although somewhat more open to tradition than many of their American contemporaries, Methodists, like the other key leaders of early national religion, innovated ceaselessly in order to improvise organisational and ideological forms appropriate for a thinly spread, freedom-obsessed and market-oriented population. The normal pattern for Methodist itinerants was to preach on the move for three or five or ten years and then to marry and 'locate' as unpaid exhorters or preachers. The main support for itinerants came from sympathetic women, sometimes joined by their husbands, who responded to the message and opened their homes to the wayfarers.
From these exertions there were spectacular results. In 1776, Asbury was assisted by twenty-four itinerants; at his death in 1816 there were 695; that number by 1844 had risen to 4,479 (with another 8,101 Methodists settled as preachers in localities). By comparison, the active duty roster of the United States army in 1844 numbered only 8,730. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, there were almost 20,000 Methodist churches and over 1.7 million full members; about a third of American church adherents were Methodists.2
But Methodists were far from the only energetic revivalists. Baptist success depended upon the labours of laymen who plied their trades during the week and turned to preaching on Sunday. As intense localists, Baptists usually required a public profession of faith before allowing participation in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The commitment to believers' baptism, which had marked Baptists as sectarian in Britain, worked much more effectively in the mobile, expanding, and traditionless spaces of the new American nation. By the mid-i840s, there were more than three times the number of Baptist churches (over 11,000) as Congregational and Episcopal combined (respectively, about 1,500 and 2,000).
A full roster of others contributed to the evangelical surge. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), who immigrated from Northern Ireland, and Barton W Stone (i772-i844), who had trained for the Presbyterian ministry before helping with a memorable revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801, led a
2 Minutes of the annual conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1840-61).
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