College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Michael Davis

Primary Subject Area

History, General; History, United States; History, Church; Religion, General; Religion, History of; Religion, Clergy


Baptists, Evangelicalism, Great Awakening, James Ireland, Persecution, Virginia


Christian Denominations and Sects | Christianity | History | History of Christianity | History of Religion | New Religious Movements | Religion | United States History


In the mid-eighteenth century, the religious fervor of the Great Awakening entered Virginia. Evangelical Baptists soon threatened to undermine the authority of the Anglican Church and its planter patrons. Despite their efforts to quiet the Baptists, evangelical religion took root in Virginia by the end of the American Revolution. Historical works on these events offer valid but incomplete explanations. Puzzling dynamics in the Virginian context require a more complex interpretation. The life of James Ireland provides a unique window into possible answers. His autobiography provides evidence for what appears to be the most fundamental reason for evangelicalism's successes in Virginia. The radical changes in his life when he converted to evangelical Christianity, combined with the transformations of a number of his contemporaries, demonstrate that religious ideas were actively shaping and directing colonial Virginians. Ireland's memoirs confirm that the perseverance and eventual success of the Baptists despite severe persecution resulted largely from the intellectual and emotional potency of specific ideas within the evangelical message. That message imbued Baptist ministers such as Ireland with remarkable endurance as well as transformed large numbers of Virginians who heard it preached.