Social customs

"The Rapture"

The documents presented in this section, discussing education, religion, medicine, and entertainment demonstrate the rising refinement of the First American West, which followed in the decades after settlement. They also mark the displacement and disparagement of Indigenous and African ways of believing, knowing, and healing, which had been present in the rich tapestry of intercultural exchange in Ohio Valley in the long eighteenth century.

The early nineteenth century saw the massive revival at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky, that sparked the Second Great Awakening, spreading evangelical religion across the new states and territories in the Trans-Appalachian west. These new churches threw off the hierarchy of the established Anglican/Episcopal churches of the mother-state of Virginia in place of a democratic way of worship that prioritized charismatic, lay leadership.

At the same time, because Kentucky was the oldest of the states over the mountains, it became a center for academic learning, medical training, and religious instruction. Transylvania College became the crown jewel in Lexington’s scholarly and social life in the era when that town was said to be the Athens of the West, carrying Enlightenment ideas from Edinburgh, London, and Paris into the First American West.