Burned-over district

Map showing the counties of New York considered part of the "Burned-over District"

The Burned-over District refers to the western and central regions of New York State in the early 19th century, where religious revivals and the formation of new religious movements of the Second Great Awakening took place, to such a great extent that spiritual fervor seemed to set the area on fire.[1]

The term was coined by Charles Grandison Finney, who in his 1876 book Autobiography of Charles G. Finney referred to a "burnt district" to denote an area in central and western New York State during the Second Awakening. "I found that region of country what, in the western phrase, would be called, a 'burnt district.' There had been, a few years previously, a wild excitement passing through that region, which they called a revival of religion, but which turned out to be spurious." ... "It was reported as having been a very extravagant excitement; and resulted in a reaction so extensive and profound, as to leave the impression on many minds that religion was a mere delusion. A great many men seemed to be settled in that conviction. Taking what they had seen as a specimen of a revival of religion, they felt justified in opposing anything looking toward the promoting of a revival." These spurious movements created feelings of apprehension towards the revivals in which Finney was influential.

In references where the religious revival is related to reform movements of the period, such as abolition, women's rights, and utopian social experiments, the region is expanded to include areas of central New York that were important to these movements. The historical study of the phenomena began with Whitney R. Cross, in 1951.[2][3] However, Linda K. Pritchard uses statistical data to show that compared to the rest of New York State, the Ohio River Valley in the lower Midwest, and indeed the country as a whole, the religiosity of the Burned-over District was typical rather than exceptional.[4]

Religion in the districtEdit

Western New York was still a United States frontier during the early Erie Canal boom, and professional and established clergy were scarce. Many of the self-taught people were susceptible to enthusiasms of folk religion. Evangelists won many converts to Protestant sects, such as Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists. Converts in nonconformist sects became part of numerous innovative religious movements, all founded by laypeople during the early 19th century. These include:

In addition to religious activity, the region known as the Burned-over District was noted for social radicalism. The Oneida Institute, while it existed (1827–1843), was a hotbed of abolitionism, and the first college in the country to admit black students on the same terms as white students. The similarly short-lived New-York Central College was the first college that from its beginning accepted both black students and women; it was also the first college in the country to employ African-American professors. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the early American feminist, was a resident of Seneca Falls in central New York in the mid-1800s. She and others in the community organized the Seneca Falls Convention devoted to women's suffrage and rights in 1848.

The larger region was the main source of converts to the Fourierist utopian socialist movement, starting around 1816. The Skaneateles Community in central New York, founded in 1843, was such an experiment. The Oneida Society was also considered a utopian group. Related to radical reform, upstate New York provided many members of Hunter Patriots, some of whom volunteered to invade Canada during the Patriot War from December 1837 through December 1838.


The District can be broadly described as the area in New York State between the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie,[5][6] and contains the following counties:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cross (1950).
  2. ^ Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New, 1800–1850 (1951)
  3. ^ Wellman, Judith (2000). Grassroots Reform in the Burned-over District of Upstate New York: Religion, Abolitionism, and Democracy. ISBN 0815337922.
  4. ^ Pritchard, Linda K. (1984). "The Burned-Over District Reconsidered: A Portent of Evolving Religious Pluralism in the United States". Social Science History. 8 (3): 243–265. doi:10.1017/S0145553200020137. JSTOR 1170853.
  5. ^ Martin, John H (2005). "An Overview of the Burned-over District". Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited.
  6. ^ Revivalism, social conscience, and community in the Burned-over District: the trial of Rhoda Bement. Altschuler, Glenn C., Saltzgaber, Jan M., First Presbyterian Church of Seneca Falls, New York. Session. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 1983. p. 35. ISBN 0801415411. OCLC 8805286.CS1 maint: others (link)


Further readingEdit

  • Martin, J.E. "Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-over District Re-Visited", The Crooked Lake Review, Fall 2005, no. 137. Book-length study in a local history quarterly.

External linksEdit