The Fulton Street Revival, NYC 1857

The Fulton Street Revival, NYC 1857

Amidst the economic downturn and political unrest in 19th-century New York City, the Old Dutch Church, situated at the juncture of Fulton and William Streets, faced imminent closure. In a final attempt to secure its survival, the church leadership enlisted the services of a lay minister, Jeremiah Lanphier. With a modest annual salary of $1,000, Lanphier was tasked with revitalizing the eighty-eight-year-old church. Undeterred, he swiftly embarked on a door-to-door campaign, determined to breathe new life into the struggling congregation.

Despite his efforts to spread the gospel through traditional means, Jeremiah Lanphier, a former merchant, recognized the pressing need for a different approach. It was then that he decided to turn to prayer, identifying it as a transformative force capable of bringing hope to a troubled society.

In a bold move, Lanphier distributed thousands of flyers announcing a noon prayer meeting at a church on Fulton Street, scheduled for September 23, 1857. The initial gathering was met with disappointment as the first half-hour passed without a single participant. Undeterred, Lanphier and a handful of individuals persevered in prayer. Through word of mouth and Lanphier’s persistent efforts, the news of the prayer meeting began to spread.

Within weeks, what began as a humble gathering of a few individuals evolved into a massive movement. Thousands flocked to the Fulton Street prayer meetings each week, transforming the spiritual landscape of New York City. The revival quickly spread throughout the United States, with as many as 10,000 people per week professing faith in Christ in New York alone.

 

The placard outside read:

“Prayer Meeting from 12 to 1 o’clock

Stop 5, 10, or 20 minutes,

or the whole hour,

as your time admits.”

 

The subsequent financial panic of October 14, 1857, which left many unemployed and hungry, may have contributed to the prayer meetings’ rapid growth as individuals sought solace and hope in the face of adversity.

The Fulton Street prayer meetings, initially catering to businessmen, soon became a melting pot of diverse professions, drawing lawyers, physicians, merchants, and laborers alike. The rules were simple – prayers and exhortations were to be kept under five minutes to accommodate the growing crowds. The impact of these meetings was profound, with reports of conversions and changed lives pouring in from various quarters.

As news of the revival reached the front pages of newspapers, the movement gained momentum. The story of the Fulton Street revival inspired similar gatherings across the country. Cities like Philadelphia and Boston experienced remarkable transformations, with thousands turning to faith and embracing a newfound hope.

 

Revival Fires Spread

A twenty-one-year-old resident of Philadelphia, one of the initial attendees at the first Fulton Street meeting, pondered the idea of organizing a prayer gathering in his hometown. Motivated by this thought, he, along with fellow members of the YMCA, sought permission to host a meeting at the Methodist Episcopal Union Church.

The initial turnout was disappointing, with only about forty individuals in attendance. Consequently, the meeting was relocated to a more centrally situated building. Despite the change in venue, the crowd size remained at around sixty.

However, a significant shift occurred suddenly. On March 8, 1858, the attendance surged to 300 people. Two days later, on Wednesday, March 10, an astounding 2,500 individuals packed into a larger auditorium, necessitating the setup of additional seats on the stage. Following this remarkable turnout, no fewer than 3,000 people participated in the gathering each day. In May, a tent was erected, and within four months, an impressive 150,000 individuals had engaged in prayer within its confines.

In Boston, where Evangelist Charles G. Finney delivered his sermons, prayer meetings unfolded at the venerable Old South Church and Park Street Church. The revival had a profound impact on at least 150 towns in Massachusetts, resulting in 5,000 conversions by the end of March. The Boston correspondent of a Washington newspaper emphasized that religion became the primary focus in numerous cities and towns across New England.

In early 1858, the revival fervor surged over the Appalachian Mountains, spreading into the Western territories. Major cities succumbed to its influence, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, and ultimately reaching the Pacific Coast.

The revival’s reach extended beyond national borders, as two Presbyterian ministers from Ireland sought the prayers of the Fulton Street meeting for a similar outpouring of grace in their homeland. By the summer of 1858, news of the prayer meeting had crossed the Atlantic, reinforcing the idea that spiritual revival knows no geographical boundaries.

 

Praying Wives

In a Midwestern church, a group of twenty-five women gathered weekly to fervently pray for their unconverted husbands. The pastor, eager to share the remarkable outcome, journeyed to the Fulton Street meeting and testified that by the time he left, the last of the twenty-five husbands had embraced the faith and joined the church.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, during the inaugural union prayer meeting, a poignant request was submitted: “A praying wife humbly seeks the prayers of this assembly for her unconverted husband, that he may experience conversion and become a humble disciple of the Lord Jesus.”

Immediately, a robust and burly man stood up and declared, “I am that man. Blessed with a pious, praying wife, this request is undoubtedly for me. I implore you to pray for my transformation.” As he took his seat, another man rose, stating, “I too am that man, blessed with a praying wife who has sought your prayers for me. I am convinced this plea is for me, and I earnestly ask for your prayers.”

Subsequently, three, four, or even more individuals stood and declared, “We too seek your prayers.” This marked the beginning of a powerful revival that resulted in at least 500 conversions.

 

Newspaper Headlings

Newspapers nationwide deemed the revival as headline-worthy news.

New York Times —-  March 20, 1858, stated the following about the revival:  The great wave of religious excitement which is now sweeping over this nation, is one of the most remarkable movements since the reformation…. Travelers relate that in cars and steamboats, in banks and markets, everywhere through the interior, this matter is an absorbing topic. Churches are crowded; bank-directors’ rooms become oratories; school-houses are turned into chapels; converts are numbered by the scores of thousands.

 In this City, we have beheld a sight which not the most enthusiastic fanatic for church-observances could ever have hoped to look upon; we have seen in a business-quarter of the City, in the busiest hours, assemblies of merchants, clerks and working-men, to the number of 5,000, gathered day after day for a simple and solemn worship. Similar assemblies we find in other portions of the City; a theatre is turned into a chapel; churches of all sects are open and crowded by day and night….

  • New Haven, Conn. — City’s Largest Church Overflows with Devotees, Gathering Twice Daily for Prayer.
  • Bethel, Conn. — Business Comes to a Halt Every Day for an Hour; Community Unites in Prayer.
  • Albany, N. Y. — State Legislators Humbly Assume a Prayerful Posture, Bending Down on Their Knees.
  • Schenectady, N. Y. — On the Mohawk River, Ice is Shattered for Baptisms in the Wake of Spiritual Renewal.
  • Newark, N. Y. — Firemen’s Meeting Draws 2,000 Attendees, Becoming a Beacon of Spiritual Unity.
  • Washington, D. C. — A Round-the-Clock Prayer Marathon Sees Five Meetings Sweeping the Capital.
  • New Haven, Conn. — Revival Spirit Engulfs Yale University.

In conclusion, Jeremiah Lanphier’s commitment to prayer and the subsequent Fulton Street revival stands as a remarkable moving of God. Lanphier’s simple invitation to gather and pray became a catalyst for widespread spiritual awakening, leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s spiritual landscape.

 

 

On Broadway in Lower Manhattan you can find a brass bench attached to a sculpture of Jeremiah Lamphier seated inviting people to stop and pray with him.  It is located at the Kings College

 

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