top of page

Amazing Kentucky Revival

Kentucky Outlaws Transformed

The following account is described in the book How to Pastor and Live to Tell About It. Available on Amazon at <

You probably have heard stories about circuit-riding preachers traveling on horseback to sparse settlements of America in the move westward. But before describing the amazing results of their ministry, let's talk about one of the most challenging regions they faced: Kentucky.

Kentucky was not for the faint of heart. Settlers lived in isolated areas, surrounded in the early days by Native Americans who understandably tried to drive them off their land by surprise raids and torture. As if that weren’t enough, bears and wildcats sometimes attacked those working in the woods.

Life was tough in those sparse settlements; many turned to liquor to dull the emotional pain. That, of course, brought drunken brawls and serious fights. Those "Cain-tuck" settlers became experts at gouging out one another's eyes or biting off chunks of their opponents' noses or ears in drunken fury. Fighting was serious business.

However, while Kentuckians grew tough and resilient, they grew away from the faith their ancestors traveled to the New World to practice.

Logan County, in particular, was considered the worst in all the state. Though Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1796, no law enforcement officers existed for some years. Thus, Logan County became a haven for horse thieves, murderers, highway robbers and those passing counterfeit money. 

A few decent people tried to establish churches but were overwhelmed by the rogues among them.

Enter Reverend James McGready, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian circuit rider who wore buckskin breeches likes the rest of the settlers. Even the lawbreakers, when they weren’t drunk, regarded him as their friend.

Three small congregations existed in Logan County. Pastor McGready encouraged the people in these frontier churches to sign a covenant agreement. They were to pray each Saturday evening and Sunday morning for a religious awakening in their county. In addition, they agreed to fast and pray the third Saturday of each month for the transformation of the same.

At first things got worse instead of better.

McGready urged his people to not give up. They searched their own souls, asking God to show them where they needed to repent.

The first inklings of a genuine revival began a year later.  In July of 1799, according to reports, “some of the boldest, most daring sinners in the county covered their faces and wept bitterly.” *From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 61 (see footnote below).

God wasn’t finished with these people. In June of 1800, McGready scheduled a quarterly meeting at the Red River church (one of the tiny congregations). He was astonished when over five hundred people attended! Some traveled by wagons across Kentucky’s hills from over a hundred miles away.  

During the last service, something extraordinary happened.

As John McGee, a Methodist minister from Tennessee, made one last appeal for sinners to repent, someone broke the silence. A woman began shouting loudly at one end of the meeting house. You may recall that Presbyterians were notorious for silent, respectful worship. These hardy mountaineers, however, possessed strong emotions that lay close to the surface.

The result was electrifying. Hardened sinners wept openly. Soon the floor was covered with the most profane among them kneeling and crying out to God for mercy.

News traveled like wildfire through the region. McGready scheduled another meeting for the third of his charges along the Gasper River. He sent word for people to bring supplies and wagons and prepare to camp, because his small group of people could never handle the anticipated crowd.

Logan County was so remote that Lexington, the nearest big town, was over a hundred miles away. And it numbered only 1800 people.

McGready was astonished when ten thousand people showed up!

What happened in that weekend meeting was beyond description.

The Spirit of the living God dealt with the most vile and wicked in the crowd. Many fell down “as men slain in battle”. They groaned as they realized they had offended the God of the universe with their wicked behavior. They cried for mercy.

Finally, deliverance came. They rose, loudly testifying to all about the forgiving, cleansing power of the God of heaven.

The crowds became so large that several ministers needed to preach at the same time. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, all exhorted in a large clearing in the woods, some standing in wagons or on tree stumps.


Note: There is much more to this story, but due to its length, we will save it until next time. You can read the sequel next week at this same website.

*Information gleaned from the book From Sea to Shining Sea by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. C. 1986, Fleming H. Revell.





bottom of page