During America’s Great Awakening, itinerant preacher James Davenport denounced establishment ministers, foamed at the mouth while screaming sermons and organized public burnings or “Bonfires of the Vanities.”
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On March 7, 1743, preaching on a pier in New London, Connecticut, he urged the crowd to bring forth and burn books by inferior Christians, as well as their own sinfully luxurious clothing items. As encouragement, Davenport took off his plush breeches and added them to the pile.
A fed-up woman retrieved them, threw them in his face and told him to get a grip. That broke the spiritual spell, and the crowd quickly dispersed.
One observer noted that her actions came just in time, or the preacher would have been “obliged to strut about bare-arsed.” In July 1744, Davenport said he’d been possessed by “demonic spirits,” and later settled down to become a pastor in New Jersey.
I spoke with Thomas Kidd, author of “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution,” on the following topics:
1. Great Awakening
2. Religious Liberty
3. God as Providence
4. Threat of Tyranny
5. Civil Spirituality
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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