Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

"A Faithful Watchman on the Walls of Charlestown": Josiah Smith and Moderate Revivalism in Colonial South Carolina

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

"A Faithful Watchman on the Walls of Charlestown": Josiah Smith and Moderate Revivalism in Colonial South Carolina

Article excerpt

BENJAMIN COLMAN, BOSTON'S LEADING EVANGELICAL pastor in the early eighteenth century, thought of the expansion of the gospel in Atlantic and global terms. In 1727 he turned his eye to North America's Atlantic coast, where he envisioned establishing links of the evangelical network in every key port city. On the occasion of Ebenezer Pemberton's ordination, Colman commended Pemberton's willingness to serve "in the head City of another Province," New York, and he thought that Pemberton's example would help spread Massachusetts and Harvard's influence up and down the Atlantic seaboard. "Our Colleges are for the Continent and not barely for our own Provinces," he admonished the gathering. In particular, he hoped that some young Massachusetts ministers would take up the banner of Christ in the southern colonies: "The desireable people of South-Carolina have two of our sons, and they need two more; Whom shall we send, & who will go for us?"1

One of those "sons" was Josiah Smith, a native South Carolinian trained at Harvard who extended the evangelical network to Charleston and who would shepherd the town's dissenting cohort through the revivals of the great Anglican itinerant George Whitefield. Smith has received relatively little attention from historians of southern evangelicalism, who have instead focused on George Whitefield's public quarrels with Alexander Garden or on the cases of Hugh and Jonathan Bryan, planters whose conversion under Whitefield led especially Hugh to flirt with egalitarian views of South Carolina society and slaves.2 Smith, as the key local defender of Whitefield, played a crucial role in managing the revivals. While on one hand Smith was no doubt a thoroughgoing evangelical, he also insisted at all times in promoting a moderate revival that would restrain excesses, be they egalitarian, enthusiastic, commercial, or otherwise. Moreover, while Hugh Bryan has proven interesting because he was so unusual, Smith promoted a form of Christianity that would ultimately come to define much of white South Carolina's religion: an evangelicalism that might threaten the planter class's consumer excesses, but not the southern colonies' racial order.

"SUCH A SON TO BOAST OF"

Smith's southern colonial origins are striking, as he was born in 1704 into the elite Smith clan of Charleston. His grandfather, Landgrave Thomas Smith, had served briefly as South Carolina governor in 1693-1694.3 His father, Dr. George Smith, a prominent dissenter and graduate of the University of Edinburgh, moved the family to Bermuda, apparently soon after Josiah's birth. This placed Josiah and his family in the stream of the Atlantic trading system that used Bermuda as an entrepot, shipping service center, and seasonal resort. Its location off the east coast of southern North America and favorable, healthful climate had made the small island an obvious stopover for years in the Atlantic trades, and its residents often had connections to assorted Puritan movements designed to settle the Caribbean basin and counter the Spanish threat. Now, despite the fact that Anglo-Bermudans were becoming predominately Anglican, Smith and his family remained part of the smaller dissenting cohort on the island under the influence of Boston's powerful Congregationalists.4 Smith's father, lamenting the lack of proper ministers in Bermuda, eventually concluded that his own son would make a fine candidate and decided to send him to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to receive proper training.5 Smith graduated from Harvard in 1725 and returned to the Independent church in Bermuda, which received his plain but vigorous preaching well and arranged for his ordination in Boston.

Colman, Smith's chief patron in Boston, gave him a hearty endorsement in the preface to Smith's ordination sermon. "No one has risen among us & gone from us, so suddenly, with like esteem, affection & applause, as Mr. Smith has done . . . It is an honour to our College to have such a Son to boast of among the Islands. …

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