There were several great revivals, or evangelistic campaigns in United States history. I have discovered a few first-hand accounts that I thought I would share with you here:
GREAT AWAKENING OF 1857-'8
On the 14th of October, 1857, the financial disorder which had prevailed with increasing severity for many weeks, reached its crisis in an overwhelming panic that prostrated the whole monetary system of the country, virtually in one hour. The struggle was over.
While the conflict for life was yet intense, a humble individual, unheard of in Wall Street, had been prompted to do something for the relief of the distressed merchants of the city.* He was a downtown missionary, one of the feeble few whom Divine mercy, kinder to us than ourselves, had spared to this church-deserted quarter of the city. This missionary, sustained by the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, in William Street, to explore the surrounding field, visit the sick and the poor, and bring in the inhabitants and strangers to the house of God, according to the statements published, while walking down town one day, conceived the thought that an hour of prayer could be profitably employed by the business men, confining no one to the whole hour, but coming in and going out at their convenience. He mentioned the idea to one or two persons but no one thought much of it; yet he resolved to carry it out. The appointed time came; three persons met in a little room on the third floor, in the Consistory building in the rear of the church, and prayer was there offered. Mr. Lamphier (the missionary) presided, and one clergyman was present. The next meeting was composed of six persons. The next of twenty persons. The next meeting was held in the middle room, on the second floor, and now on every Wednesday noon, the Business Men's Prayer-meeting attracted increasing numbers. Its striking fitness and evident usefulness were noticed in the newspapers, secular and religious, and the suggestion was earnestly made, that it should be opened every day, instead of weekly. This was promptly done, and the meeting-room overflowed and filled a second, and eventually a third room in the same building; making three crowded prayer-meetings, one above another, in animated progress at one and the same hour. The seats were all filled, and the passages and entrances began to be choked with numbers, rendering it scarcely possible to pass in or out. The hundreds who daily went away disappointed of admission, created a visible demand for more room and the John Street Methodist Church and lecture-room were both opened for daily noon prayer-meetings, by a committee of the Young Men's Christian Association, and were crowded at once with attendants. Meetings were multiplied in other parts of the city, and the example spread to Philadelphia, to Boston, and to other cities, until there is now scarcely a town of importance in the United States, save a few in the South, in which the Business Men's Daily Prayer-meeting is not a flourishing, and we may hope, an established institution, and a leading agency in the unprecedented awakening of public interest in religion, which now casts all the other wonders of the age into shade.
To trace the origin, or rather the original agencies, of this divine work, is a deeper task than we here propose. We should be led, more immediately, to consider the Revival Conventions, and Synodical Visitations of Churches, the Sabbath-school Conventions and Systematic Visitations of parishes, which have been held in various parts of the country for some two years past. We should then find that only a few of the more recent and general symptoms of the Divine movement in the heart of the church had been touched, and the linked succession of events would lead us farther and farther back, from one past revival to another, and from one instrumentality to another, until we had lost sight of the present state of things from which we started, among the endless ramifications of its complex origin. Generally, we must regard the century in which we live, or perhaps rather the last hundred and twenty-five years, as an epoch decidedly characterized by revivals, until the last half-century, and still more eminently the last quarter-century, has presented to view such a succession and general distribution of spiritual refreshings, and such a general increase of believing prayer and sustained, systematic, evangelical effort among Christians, as to encourage the hope that a period of loftier aim and steadier progress — in other words, of permanent "revival" — may be even now setting in, ushered by this glorious and inspiring manifestation of the Divine presence.
But we return to our simple task, to throw together the more immediate, open, and prominent beginnings and characteristics of a work of grace which we hope is but begun, and which certainly at this present writing (the first week in April, 1858,) shows no signs of abatement. Of course nothing can be farther from the character of history, than such a premature notice of events just opening to view. Yet without these vivid contemporaneous notices, history, if not left wholly without materials, would lose half its light. It should be remembered however, that at so early a stage of the work, a large part even of its earliest and most interesting features, have as yet found no opportunity to reach the public eye. Such as we find we can give.
*We believe it was soon after the institution of daily Business Men's prayer-meetings that a prominent business man in this city was reported to have expressed himself in the following manner:
"Prayer never was so great a blessing to me as it is in this time! I should certainly either break down or turn rascal, except for it! When one sees his property taken from him every day, by those who might pay him if they were willing to make sacrifices in order to do it, but who will not make the least effort, even for this end, and by some who seem designedly to take advantage of the times, in order to defraud him — and when he himself is liable to the keenest reproaches from others if he does not pay money, which he cannot collect and cannot create — the temptation is tremendous to forget Christian Charity, and be as hard and unmerciful as anybody. If I could not get some half hours every day to pray myself into a right state of mind, I should certainly either be overburdened and disheartened, or do such things as no Christian man ought."
From Narratives of Remarkable Conversions and Revival Incidents by William C. Conant (1858).