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Since I have begun paying more attention to early South and Latin American history it made me wonder about the extent of the religious movement in the British Colonies that we call the Great Awakening; particularly why it seems to have been confined to North America when the Spanish colonies also may have been ripe for a Christian religious movement (for those more religiously inclined among its settlers).

I am primarily thinking of the influence that the itinerant preacher George Whitfield might have had, who in my mind would be the best candidate out of any of the preachers of the Great Awakening to go to South America since he traveled extensively, often disregarding parish and parochial borders, on both sides of the Atlantic (unlike Jonathan Edwards who preached mostly in his local region).

Or if the Spanish Colonies were not impacted directly by the Great Awakening then why did they not at least have their own version of it in somewhat analogous fashion? A simplistic suggestion might be that the Great Awakening did not spread to Spanish Colonial soil because the English Colonies were predominantly Protestant and the Spanish Colonies were predominantly Catholic, thus the Spanish Colonies were less likely to be receptive to such a movement.

However, there may be other stronger contributing factors such as political and military reasons, and of course the language barrier not being the least of them. Yet I wonder whether the language barrier could not have been mitigated as well by Spanish speaking preachers who potentially might have shared the motivations of those like George Whitefield to reach masses of people, or perhaps even by employing a Spanish translator. (To use an earlier Protestant example, William Tyndale was actually conversant in Spanish).

Perhaps this is facile to think an originally English, Protestant movement would have any relation to or impact on the Spanish (and Portuguese) Christians, but I wonder why not? The colonies of North and South America were still relatively young and only loosely united amongst themselves, and both were havens for religious communities and peoples seeking a new land. There were a few settlements of French Huguenot and Dutch Protestant settlements in South America as well, and so it was not entirely Catholic, and there were also conscientious Catholics in Spanish America like Bartolomé de las Casas (to use an early example), though I don't know if he was inclined toward preaching.

As for the political and military reasons, the best illustration that I have found of the tensions at that time between the Spanish and the English - during the time period of the Great Awakening - was the "War of Jenkins' Ear". Georgia was a fairly new colony governed by General James Oglethorpe. Interestingly it was in Savannah, Georgia that John and Charles Wesley first came to the British Colonies from over seas (with a group of Protestant Moravians) and only 10 miles south of Savannah was where George Whitefield's orphanage was founded in 1740, all during Oglethorpe's governorship. East and West Florida were Spanish occupied and the tensions of international trade on the seas came to a head between the British and Spanish in the War of Jenkins Ear (1739-1748), which began a year before Whitefield's orphanage was founded in Georgia [Source: War of Jenkins' Ear ]. In 1742 the war came to Georgia:

In 1742, the Spanish launched an attempt to seize the British colony of Georgia. Manuel de Montiano commanded 2,000 troops, who were landed on St Simons Island off the coast. General Oglethorpe rallied the local forces and defeated the Spanish regulars at Bloody Marsh and Gully Hole Creek, forcing them to withdraw. Border clashes between the colonies of Florida and Georgia continued for the next few years, but neither Spain nor Britain undertook offensive operations on the North American mainland. [Source: War of Jenkins' Ear - Invasion of Georgia]

So perhaps it was simply too dangerous for the Great Awakening preachers to have even attempted to reach the Spanish settlements, if they even had the propensity to do so. So what factors do you think are the largest? Language barrier? Protestant versus Catholic? English versus Spanish? Something else?

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1 Answer 1

Perhaps this is facile to think an originally English, Protestant movement would have any relation to or impact on the Spanish Catholic Christians, but I wonder why not? The colonies of North and South America were still relatively young and only loosely united amongst themselves, and both were havens for religious communities and peoples seeking a new land. There were a few settlements of French Huguenot and Dutch Protestant settlements in South America as well, and so it was not entirely Catholic, and there were also conscientious Catholics in Spanish America like Bartolomé de las Casas (to use an early example), though I don't know if he was inclined toward preaching.

The real question is why should it?

  • Catholics and Protestants were just generations from burning each other at the stake
  • England and Spain were often at war or nearly so
  • It was the policy of colonial powers to restrict trade from a colony to other nation's colonies
  • The language barrier.
  • Catholics tend to make improvements within the Church system rather than through individual activism.
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What about the French and Dutch presence in the New World? Didn't they have some (small) presence in South America (albeit possibly more in Portuguese territory)? There was the French Antarctique [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France_Antarctique] and also "Dutch Brazil/New Holland" [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Brazil]. I don't know all the complexities and history of the region since I am just starting to investigate it, but seems that the New World was very much a hodgepodge of trade and opportunity before it later solidified into the hard cultural lines we think of today. –  SeligkeitIstInGott May 24 at 3:16
    
Also as to the restriction of trade between each nation's colonies, that does not prevent the travel of individuals between colonies on non-commercial or non-military ventures. One example might be Francisco de Miranda (later in life a famous Venezuelan revolutionary) who traveled to both North and South America and went "to the United States in 1783, where he met, among others, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, and Thomas Jefferson, embarking from Boston for England on December 15, 1784." [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  SeligkeitIstInGott May 24 at 12:41
    
The Dutch were squeezed out of North America very early. The French were at war with the English and their colonists so frequently that cultural mixing was going to be minimal. Your example of 1783 is after the colonial period was over and the US was independent. –  Oldcat May 27 at 17:33
    
Thanks for the response Oldcat. I am aware that example was after the US became independent, but the other component of my question was "Or if the Spanish Colonies were not impacted directly by the Great Awakening then why did they not at least have their own version of it in somewhat analogous fashion?" This means earlier or later in history, whether from internal or external stimulus. But as far as external stimulus, to put that aspect of my question to rest I really would like to see some strong (cited) negative evidence that few British colonists ever traveled to the Spanish Colonies. –  SeligkeitIstInGott May 29 at 13:59
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