McNemar instances boys of eight and ten years, and the Rev. John Lyle mentions one of seven, who called on sinners to repent, with an eloquence singularly overpowering. Possessed by one dominant idea, the people gave themselves up to the wildest enthusiasm, and it was no uncommon thing for them to spend the whole night in religious orgies such as have been described.
The spectacle of persons falling down in a paroxysm of feeling was first exhibited at Gasper River Church, in one of McGready's congregations in the summer of 1779. The movement proved highly contagious and spread in all directions. After a rousing appeal to the feelings of the listeners, and especially during spirited singing, one and another in the audience would fall suddenly to the ground and swoon away. Not only nervous women, but robust young men were overpowered. Some, continues the historian, fell suddenly as if struck by lightning, while others were seized with a universal tremor before they fell shrieking, Dr. Ely the, who often witnessed scenes of this sort, assured Dr. Davidson that he had once felt the sensation himself, and only overcame the tendency to convulsion by a determined effort of his will. A few shrieks never failed to put the assembly in motion, and set men and women to falling all around. A sense of "pins and needles" was complained of by many of the subjects, and others felt a numbness of body, and lost all volitional control of their muscles. It soon grew into a habit, and those who had once fallen were ready to fall again under circumstances by no means exciting. Women who had suffered repeated attacks sometimes fell from their horses on their way to or from the meeting-house, while relating their past religious exercises.
The condition in some of the subjects was cataleptic, lasting generally from a few minutes to two or three hours; but in a few cases it continued many days. Others were violently convulsed as in hysteria or epilepsy, "wrought hard in fitful nervous agonies, the eyes rolling wildly." Most were speechless, but some were capable of conversing throughout the paroxysm. The extremities were cold; the face was pale or flushed, the breathing hard. Sensibility was annulled. Mr. Lyle, one of the prominent preachers of the times, having been furnished by Dr. Warfield with a vial of hartshorn, applied it to a stout young man who was lying flat on his back, and, inadvertently, let some of the fluid run into his nostrils; but he took not the slightest notice of it. Others who fell hard to the ground, or in running encountered stumps or trees, felt no pain from the violence. So many fell at Cabin Creek camp-meeting, it is related, that to prevent their being trodden upon "they were laid out in order on two squares of the meeting-house, covering the floor like so many corpses. At Paint Creek Sacrament two hundred were estimated to have fallen; at Pleasant Point three hundred were prostrated; while at Cane Ridge, as has
- Davidson, op. cit.
- Lyle's "Diary."
- Davidson's "History."