Shingleroof Campmeeting

    

Ten Generations of Worship in the Pioneer  Tradition
Located in Henry County, Georgia U.S.A
Documented by Gene Morris Jr.
Henry County Historian
A Local Legacies Project Submitted to
The U.S. Library of Congress in 1999

 

Chapter One

The Origins

Shingleroof Campmeeting, located in the heart of Henry County, Georgia, is a truly remarkable institution. The story of Shingleroof Campmeeting is a tale of religious devotion, love of heritage and cultural preservation. The story of Shingleroof is best understood if placed in historical context. This annual religious campmeeting, which thrives to this day, dates back to at least 1831, and possibly earlier. Prior to 1821, the land where the campmeeting ground is located belonged to the Lower Creeks, a band of the Creek Confederacy. The Creeks spoke the Muskogee language and had lived in the area for centuries. Henry County was created in 1821 from lands purchased from the Creek Confederacy by the Treaty of Indian Springs. This was the Western frontier of Georgia and until the removal of the Cherokee Nation from North Georgia by the United States Army in 1838, Shingleroof was located less than 30 miles from Indian Territory. The campmeeting ground is located four miles north of the county seat of McDonough at the intersection of Georgia Highway 155 and Campground Road; twenty miles southeast of downtown Atlanta.

The pioneer settlers who came to the Henry County wilderness in the 1820's were a hardy lot. Most of these families were of early colonial stock and were descended from the original settlers of the Carolinas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Many came to the County to claim 'bounty lands' they received from the state in honor of their service in, or support of, the American Revolution. A review of genealogies of the families who organized Shingleroof Campmeeting will show a large percentage had been in North America from one to two centuries when they came to Henry County. Further research will show that many of these families had come to this continent due, in part, to religious persecution in Europe. Many of the families are descended from Presbyterians who were persecuted in Scotland by the English Monarchs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and others from the persecuted English Quakers and Puritans and some from the French Huguenots.

The settling of Henry County in the 1820's coincided with the peak of the Second Great Awakening, an evangelical Christian religious revival that swept across our country's western frontier in the first decades of the nineteenth century. A major aspect of this huge revival was the campmeeting phenomenon. The establishment of campmeetings began with Presbyterians in Kentucky in 1800 and quickly spread across the frontier. Methodists immediately adopted the use of campmeetings and the Methodists were, by far, the greatest establishers of campmeetings. Shingleroof Campmeeting was one of those established by the Methodists. The campmeeting movement had an ecumenical flavor, and this is equally true of Shingleroof.

The roots of the Campmeeting Movement lay deep in the history of the Judeo-Christian religion. Campmeetings are patterned closely on the ancient Jewish Holy Week of Sukot. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Booths, Sukot was established by God, speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, when He instructed the Jewish people in Leviticus 23:41-43, "and ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: that your generations may know that I (God) made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God". In the first and second chapters of the Book of Numbers, the Jewish families are instructed to pitch their family tents on the four sides of the tabernacle, while in the wilderness. There is no direct or continuous religious tradition connecting the Jewish Holy Week with Campmeeting; however, the similarities are more than coincidental.

Some similarities between campmeeting and Sukot include: During Sukot the Jewish people are to live in booths, which are frail temporary structures covered with brush for seven days each year - During Campmeeting the attendees live in wooden cabins, called tents, with dirt floors covered in sawdust, but, these originally began as 'brush arbors' and some people continued to use brush arbors over their porches until the middle twentieth century; Sukot begins on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (in the Fall) and is an agricultural festival - Campmeeting traditionally is celebrated in late August and early September during 'lay by time', this is the time between the last cultivation of cotton and the beginning of the harvest; Sukot commemorates the forty years of Jewish wandering in the wilderness and is a time for them to remember their heritage - Campmeeting was established in the American wilderness and is a time to remember family heritage; Sukot is a Jewish pilgrimage festival -Campmeeting is a time of worship and reunion, when family members return from around the country to worship on the ancestral grounds; Sukot is associated with special traditional foods - Campmeeting is associated with traditional foods; Sukot was to be celebrated by each family constructing their 'booths' around the Tabernacle - Campmeeting is organized with family 'tents' set around an open air worship pavilion called the Tabernacle.

It appears unlikely that all of these similarities are mere chance occurrences. It seems more likely that the devout men of God who began the campmeeting movement during the Second Great Awakening were also knowledgeable of this ancient Jewish tradition and saw the applicability of this Divine plan to the situation on the American frontier. In researching this aspect of the campmeeting heritage I sought advice from several Rabbis in the Atlanta area, they concurred that the similarities are astonishing and shared with me a wonderful insight into the importance of basing campmeeting on Sukot. It seems that Sukot is always associated with the Messianic hope and the coming Kingdom of God, when the Messiah will return as a conqueror and bring peace and prosperity to the earth. What a wonderful and appropriate connection between the two traditions. It also seems reasonable to consider that with the profound changes in our society over the past 170 years, an institution so peculiar in its form and practice could only have survived if patterned on a Divine design.

The Campmeeting Movement was somewhat controversial even during the 1820's as evidenced by an article on campmeetings which appeared in the Christian Advocate on, September 9, 1826. The article described the campmeeting controversy as follows: "The powerful voice of public opinion has, at times, been loud against the practice of holding camp- meetings. A thousand murmurs and evil suggestions have found their way into society, very much to the disadvantage of those devoted servants of Christ, who are bold enough to leave the world for a season and worship God in the feast of tabernacles. But the friends of such meetings, feeling how precious these seasons were to the interests of Zion, regardless of praise or blame have held on their successful way; and if the Methodist Church in America has increased beyond parallel during one-fourth of a century past, we must ascribe much of her spiritual prosperity, under God, to the blessed influences of such meetings." Here we see a contemporary writer describing Campmeeting as the Feast of Tabernacles. The same writer goes on to describe the encampments in a very favorable light. He said; "The neat and convenient tents in the shady wilderness, the strict line of demarcation between those who love God and those who love him not, the length of time appropriated to such meetings, the voice of prayer rising with the earliest incense of morning, and the sweet notes of praise floating on the balmy evening air, all united, certainly present a glowing picture of mental enjoyment to the lovers of nature and of nature's God."

End of Chapter One

 

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