Revivals in North America: The Hamilton, Ontario, Canada Revival of 1857
Written by Gerald Procee
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Reformed Worldviews - The Hand of God in History

Last time we considered the great Revival of 1857 in New York City. Unknown to many, there was a revival taking place simultaneously and independently in Hamilton, Ontario. This has been known as the Hamilton Revival of 1857. It took place within the local Methodist churches. Rev. Bruce A. Woods, currently residing in Ancaster, Ontario, wrote an extensive research paper on this revival, supplying much of the information related in this article.

Methodism

In 1857, Hamilton was a stronghold of Methodism. The October 1857 Hamilton revival increased its strength even more. For the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century four large United churches dominated the religious life of downtown Hamilton. They were First United, Wesley United, Centenary United, and Zion United. In their heyday they accommodated crowds of churchgoers in excess of five thousand people. These numbers can be traced to the revival that occurred in Hamilton in 1857.

The Palmers

The evangelist behind this revival was a wealthy physician turned evangelist named Walter Palmer, supported by his wife Phoebe, who also spoke at the evangelistic meetings. The Palmers held meetings primarily in the United States, but on several occasions came to Canada. In August 1853 they spoke at a camp meeting held at a farm in an eastern township near Nappanee, Ontario. The immediate result was that five hundred people were converted. In 1854 the Palmers returned to Nappanee and Walter wrote to his daughters: “The meetings I cannot describe to you; there were hundreds converted. It was one of the most glorious meetings I ever attended.” In 1855 they held meetings in Barrie, where again hundreds were converted.

Revival Meetings in Hamilton

The greatest blessings were still to come. In the fall of 1857 the thriving community of Hamilton numbered 23, 000 people with three Methodist churches. After having returned from an evangelistic meeting in Georgetown, Ontario, where 3,000 had been in attendance, Walter and Phoebe Palmer planned to merely stay overnight in Hamilton on their way back to Albany in New York State because their luggage, which was to be forwarded to their final destination, had been lost. Therefore, the Palmers had to stay with friends in Hamilton longer than anticipated. When their presence came to the attention of two downtown ministers who entertained the Palmers at tea, they urged the Palmers to speak at a Thursday prayer meeting and the three downtown Methodist churches combined for this gathering. About 65 persons were in attendance and they were challenged to pray for a revival. Some thirty of them raised their hands, indicating that they would earnestly give themselves to engage in prayer for revival. They would not only engage in personal, fervent prayer but also seek to take fellow Hamiltonians with them to church. The first meeting was scheduled for the next day, Friday, and was to convene in the John Street Methodist Church (now known as Wesley United). The church could accommodate 500 people, but the meeting was held in the basement.

The Word was preached and immediately there was a tremendous response. Twentyone conversions were reported. The following Saturday another twenty professed salvation and by the following Lord’s day the number had risen to seventy-five. Meetings were held in the church from seven in the morning until ten at night. Men and women, with great brokenness of heart, testified what God had done in their lives.

One of the men most powerfully touched was the city mayor, Mr. John Moore, who owned a planing mill and a lumber yard. His conversion became the talk of the town. After ten days of meetings, the converts numbered four hundred, and there were many more who were interested and awakened. Meetings were extended to Ancaster, where revival meetings also were held. These meetings lasted well into November of 1857.

Newspaper Reports

Even the newspapers reported these surprising events. On October 28, 1857, The Christian Guardian was the first newspaper to report the unusual events that were transpiring in Hamilton to fellow Canadians under the heading, “A Revival after Apostolic Times.” The article stated:

We are happy to inform the lovers of our Zion, that a most glorious revival is now going on in Hamilton. A note from the Rev. S.D. Rice informs us that within the last two weeks upwards of three hundred persons have been made the subjects of justifying grace, and the work is still progressing with unabated interest and power.

The Christian Advocate, a New York newspaper, reported on November 5, 1857 that a spiritual revival was taking place in Hamilton, Ontario.

The work is taking within its range... persons of all classes. Men from low degree and men of high estate for wealth and position, all men and maidens, and even little children are seen humbly kneeling together pleading for grace. The Mayor of the city with other persons of like position is not ashamed to be seen bowed at the altar of prayer beside their humble servants.

Effect upon The Churches

Before the revival the combined membership of the three Methodist churches was about 500 souls, but after the revival the official statistics show that the number had risen to 800. As only those who regularly attended class meetings were allowed to become members, the overall church attendance was much higher. In reality, church attendance had increased by 1,000 persons. The three downtown Methodist churches in Hamilton were overcrowded. To ease the situation, the John Street church enlarged its premises and in 1858 a fourth church was built in the West end, Zion United, to alleviate the overcrowding.  The “Hamilton Revival of 1857” affected basically only the Methodist churches. The spiritual fervour of these early Methodists remained within the confines of their denomination. The Baptists and the Presbyterians were largely untouched. The Anglicans remained aloof. There was a general hesitancy within other denominations toward “Methodist enthusiasm,” which caused them to lose out on the opportunity to witness remarkable changes in the lives of so many people.

The Power of Prayer

Just as the New York Revival of 1857 was the result of prayer, so the Hamilton Revival of 1857 also came in response to prayer. Thirty men united in fervent prayer for the extension of God’s kingdom and a season of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them and their neighbours. As in New York, here we see again the power of prayer. Let among us also prayer be multiplied for God’s reviving work in our lives, in the lives of our families, in our congregations, and in our consistories, that sinners outside the church may be brought within the church. What a blessing it would be if there would be those among us who are united in earnest prayer for God’s reviving work in our midst.

In our society we see a wall of opposition against God and His service, also among our church members, and even within our own hearts. It is only by the power of God that deliverance and salvation can be received. Let us be faithful in prayer. Are there persons among us who will commit themselves to pray, even in secret, for God’s reviving work in our midst? Unless God revives us, our churches will decay. We need the Lord and His power working in and among us. Then our children will be converted also. Then there will be a hunger and a thirst for righteousness among us. Then God will be glorified and sinners will inherit life everlasting.

Let our prayer be that of Psalm 85:6-9: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly. Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.” And has the Lord not said: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him?” (Isaiah 64:4).

Dr. Gerald Procee is the pastor of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Middelharnis, NL. This article was printed in the FRC Messenger and is repubished here with permission.