'Awake, Awake': The Richmond Theater Fire of 1811 and the Renewal of Religiosity in America
Lisa Freeman, University of Illinois at Chicago
On December 26, 1811, a fire broke out during a holiday performance at the theater in Richmond, Virginia. The blaze spread quickly, and to horrific effect, the entire playhouse was soon engulfed in flames. Of the six hundred plus people who packed the theater to bursting that night, more than seventy died. This paper focuses on the sermons that were delivered up and down the eastern seaboard in the aftermath of the fire. It demonstrates how clergymen caught up in the evangelical throes of the Second Great Awakening availed themselves of the opportunity offered by the occasion to call into being and to cultivate what I term a Christian body public.
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