History of the Red River Revival

The Red River Revival began in July of 1800 at a communion service officiated by Reverend James MacGready.  The Red River is located in Logan County, Kentucky, and in the years preceding this revival, conditions were really bad.   “Logan County attracted so many murderers, horse thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters that it was nicknamed ‘Rogues Harbor’ by the outlaws who fled there to escape justice back east.” (1) It was on the cutting edge of the frontier in the late 1700’s.  There was no real police force, per se, and locals often attempted to administer justice themselves.  “ So many desperadoes and ungodly people had settled there, that when an attempt was made by vigilantes to run these outlaws out, the outlaws burned the homes of some of the vigilantes, killed others, and forced still others and their families to flee the area. (2)  Reverend MacGready began praying for revival long before he moved to Logan County.  He pastored a congregation in North Carolina and developed intercessory prayer groups who signed the ‘Carolina Covenant’, in which, they agreed to prayer specifically for revival in Logan County (more on this in a moment).

Reverend James MacGready  rode into Rogues Harbor in 1798.  He wore buckskins, like the local frontiersmen, and was a Presbyterian minister.  He oversaw three congregations in the County along three different rivers, the Muddy, the Gasper and the Red.  MacGready was a man given to prayer and a pastor who encouraged parishioners to pray for revival.  He encouraged them to join him in covenant to pray for revival in Logan County.  He wrote on the covenant:  “When we consider the Word and promises of a compassionate God to the poor lost family of Adam, we find the strongest encouragement for Christians to pray in faith–to ask in the name of Jesus for the conversion of their fellow-men.  None ever went to Christ when on the earth, with the case of their friends, that were denied, and , although His people, He has left it on record, that were two or three agree upon earth to ask in prayer, believing, it shall be done…With these promises before us, we feel encouraged to unit our supplications to a prayer-hearing God for the outpouring of His Spirit, that His people may be quickened and comforted, and that our children , and sinners generally, may be converted.” (3)  Those who joined him in covenant agreed to pray every Saturday night and Sunday morning for revival. Furthermore, they devoted the third Saturday of each month for fasting.  They continued in prayer despite the worsening of conditions, they remained faithful.  God always honors covenant , commitment, and humility expressed through prayer and fasting.  Those who remained faithful would not be disappointed.

The first instance of revival began at a quarterly communion service in the summer of 1799.  At the end of the three-day event. God moved upon the congregation,   MacGready described it as, “some of the boldest, most daring sinners in the county covered their faces and wept bitterly.” (4) MacGready knew prophetically that this was not the end of the outpouring but the beginning.   He described the event as “a few scattering drops before a mighty rain-the overflowing floods of salvation that would commence the following summer.” (5)

In June of 1800, another communion service was scheduled.  The “buzz” from last years event had drawn a crowed of over 500 people surprising even MacGready.  The event was scheduled for three days with not much happening till the last service on the last day.  In fact, many of the ministers MacGready had invited to participate had already gone home.  At the end of the last service, which was preached by William Hodge, “a solemn weeping fell over the house” (8).  John McGee, a Methodist minister who was attending the meetings, composed himself for a final appeal to the lost.  McGee explains, “I exhorted them to let the Lord Omnipotent reign in their hearts and submit to Him, and their souls should live.  Many broke silence.  The woman in the east end of the house shouted tremendously.  I left the pulpit to go to her…Several spoke to me:  ‘You know these people.  Presbyterians are much for order, they will not bear this confusion, go back and be quiet.’  I turned to go back, and was near falling, the power of God was strong upon me.  I turned again and losing sight of the fear of man, I went through the house exhorting with all possible ecstasy and energy.” (9)  When McGee turned around to look over the church, he states that, “the floor was covered with the slain; their screams for mercy pierced the heavens.” (10)  God had poured out His Spirit and MacGready described the effect on the lost as, “As multitudes were stuck down under the awful conviction the cries of the distressed filled the whole house.  There you might see profane swearers, and Sabbath breakers pricked to the heart, and crying out, ‘what shall we do to be saved.’  There frolickers and dancers crying for mercy.  There you might see little children of 10,11, and 12 years of age praying and crying for redemption, in the blood of Jesus, in agonies of distress.  During this sacrament, and until the Tuesday following, 10 persons we believe were savingly brought home to Christ.” (11)  This was the beginning, a year later, another meeting was scheduled at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, and the response was overwhelming.  To put this into perspective, the closest city to Cane Ridge was Lexington and it was 100 miles away.  Its population in 1801 was around 800 people.  At the Cane Ridge revival, it was estimated that 10,000 people came with God pouring out His Spirit similarly to what happened at Red River.  This was the beginning of the camp meetings and the beginning of the Second Great Awakening.

It is important to note that the frontiers people were not schooled in theology.  They placed great value in demonstrations of power.  God would meet them where they were at and they would not be disappointed.  Some powerful manifestations of the revival have been recorded.  A Reverend Stone writes, “ There, on the edge of a prairie in Logan County, Kentucky, the multitudes came together and continued a number of days and nights encamped on the ground, during which time the worship was carried on in some part of the encampment.  The scene was new to me and passing strange.  It baffled description.  Many, very many, fell down as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state, sometimes for a few minutes reviving and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep grown or a piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy fervently uttered.  After lying there for hours, they obtained deliverance.  The gloomy cloud that had covered their faces seemed gradually and visibly to disappear, and hope in smiles brightened into joy.  They would rise, shouting deliverance and then would address the surrounding multitude in language truly eloquent and impressive.  With astonishment did I hear men, woman, and children declaring the wonderful works of God, and the glorious mysteries of the Gospel. (12)  The power of God would come over people so tremendously that it would appear that they were having some seizure-like activity.  It became known as “the jerks.”  Peter Cartwright, the well-known Methodist circuit rider, and himself converted at Red River writes, “To see proud young gentlemen and young ladies dressed in their silks, jewelry, and prunella, form top to toe take the jerks would often excite e my risibilities.  The first jerk or so you would see their fine bonnets, caps, and combs fly and so sudden would be the jerking of the head their long loose hair would crack almost as loud as a waggoner’s whip.” (13)  It baffled the theology of the time.  They called it experimental religion, but today, we would call it experiential religion.  An encounter with the living God who displays the gospel of power.

The revival was not without opposition.  MacGready was never immune to persecution throughout his ministry and even at Red River.  In North Carolina he had his pulpit burned and received death threats written in blood.  AT one point, the opposition at Red River, chained and locked the door to the revivalist.  MacGready, not to be deterred, continued top preach on the steps of the meeting house.  While preaching and gesticulating backwards violently, the power of God upon him broke the lock.  The door was never locked again.  MacGready own denomination denounced him and sent a man from the seminary to debunk and renounce the revival.  Dr, George Baxter of the Presbyterian denomination came to Kentucky to discredit the revival and became, himself, a revivalist.  He writes, “The power with which this revival has spread, and it influence in moralizing the people, are difficult for you to conceive, and more so for me to describe…I found Kentucky,  to appearance, the most moral place I had ever seen.  A profane expression was hardly ever heard.  A religious awe seemed to pervade the country…Never in my life have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which…looks to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only way of acceptance with God.  I was indeed highly pleased to find that Christ as all and in all in their religion…and it was truly affecting to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners inquired for Christ, as the only physician who could give them any help.  Those who call these things ‘enthusiasm’ ought to tell us what they understand by the Spirit of Christianity…Upon the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the Church of Christ, and all things considered, peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country… Something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable, and futurity, a dream.  This revival has done it; it has confounded infidelity, awed vice to silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions. (14)  God, by an outpouring of His Spirit, had changed Rogues Harbor into one of the most moral places in the country.  This is the gospel.  Describing the events of the summer, MacGready would write, “The present summer has been the most glorious time that our guilty eyes have ever beheld.  All the blessed displays of Almighty power and grace, all the sweet gales of divine Spirit and soul-reviving showers of the blessings of heaven which we enjoyed before, and which we considered wonderful beyond conception, were but like a few scattering drops before the mighty rain which Jehovah has poured out like a might river upon this, our guilty, unworthy country.  The Lord has indeed shoed himself a prayer-hearing God; He has given His People a praying sprit and a lively faith, and then he has answered their prayers far beyond their highest expectations,  This wilderness and solitary place has been made glad, this dreary desert now rejoices and blossoms abundantly, and rejoices even with joy and singing.”  (15)

This is the spiritual heritage that God has left for us to obtain.  The Spirit breathes prayer through
God’s People and He answers their prayers with miracles, signs, and wonders.  This is the Gospel of power and how genuine revival is hallmarked.  Let us join those who have gone on before us, joyfully expecting and praying for the mighty river to be again, poured out upon us.


1.  Marshall, Peter, Manual, David, From Sea to Shining Sea, Revell Cp, Old Tappan New Jersey, 1986, page 60.

2.  Anzac Prophetic List, The Red River Revival, associate.com/groups/anzac/0::17read.html – 16k

3.  Jarboe, Frank, The Red River Revival, http://www.goodshepherdfarm.us/1800/redtext.htm.

4.   Marshall, page 61.

5.  Ibid.

6.  Ibid, page 62.

7.  Ibid.

8.  Ibid.

9.  Ibid.

10.  Marshall and Manual, page 63.

11.  Grider, J.S.  The Red River Meeting House, http://www.cumberland.org/hfcpc/churches/RedRivKY.htm.

12.  Marshall, page 63.

13.  Grider, page 2.

14.  Marshall, page 69.

15.  Marshall, page 64.

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