A Bird’s-Eye View of a Camp Meeting

BY THE LATE 1830s, camp meetings had become formalized—as the very existence of this printing shows. Sing Sing, now Ossining, New York (just north of New York City, on the Hudson River) was a major Methodist camp-meeting site in the early 1800s. This commemorative, which was given to participants afterward, reveals a great deal about camp meetings of this period.

This meeting was well planned by a large general committee, and was both a spiritual and social occasion—note the list of New York participants (the Joseph Smith named is not the one of Mormon fame). Between the morning, afternoon, and evening preaching times, men talked politics, women shared recipes, and young people courted.

At the same time, camp meetings were a segregated affair. Tents here are arranged by church, city, and region. During the meetings, men and women sat on different aisles; if there were African-Americans in attendance, they would have met separately. In addition, the benches around the stand—an area called “the pen”—were set off by a rail and reserved for mourners, those seeking salvation.

The police committee is also noted. They watched for thieves and vandals, and they enforced the camp-meeting rules. The rules came from years of experience and attempted to foil sexual escapades and anything else that would detract from things spiritual.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #45 in 1995]

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