The Evolution of the Spirit: the Salem Camp Meeting, 1824-2022
Amidst the Second Great Awakening of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a new form of Protestant revivalism known as the camp meeting was born. Camp meetings were held in rural locations and brought hundreds of people from a variety of denominational backgrounds together for days and sometimes weeks of outdoor worship services. By the 1820s, the American camp meeting was most strongly associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, a denomination that grew rapidly during the early nineteenth century largely as a result of camp meeting evangelism. The phenomenon became particularly popular in the American South as rural lands were opened to white settlement. By the dawn of the Civil War, however, the growth and development of rural areas where camp meetings were held resulted in a significant decline in the number and frequency of these gatherings. The decline of the camp meeting after the Civil War has led many historians to conclude that while the southern camp meeting was a significant feature of the early-nineteenth-century South, it was limited to a particular era in American religious history.This study of the Salem Camp Meeting in Covington, Georgia challenges the view that camp meetings were limited to a particular era by analyzing the continued history of one of the South's oldest and largest camp meetings. First held in 1824, Salem responded to changing landscapes, denominational expectations, and social realities by evolving into new forms that fit within the larger social environment of the South. Foremost among the driving forces behind Salem's evolution was a commitment to white social values, values that were reenforced after the Civil War, challenged during the late twentieth century, and ultimately modified by the turn of the twenty-first century. This dissertation analyzes Salem's interactions with larger social forces, the ways in which the camp meeting responded to outside change, and the ways in which Salem has been able to navigate changes within southern society for nearly two centuries.