On the night of 29th October 1727, the people of New England lay fast asleep. At 10:40 pm, the colonists were wakened by a terrific series of noises. The clamour built in volume until it sounded like canon fire was tearing the heavens apart.
While these dreadful clamours were heard overhead, the ground beneath began to shake so violently that people dashed out into the streets fearful that their houses would collapse on them. Standing outside in their night clothes, men and women found they could not keep their balance. Even when the earthquake subsided, there were continuous recurrences that kept the people in a state of terror throughout the night.
The event was immediately interpreted in apocalyptic terms. Even before the sun rose, folk were seeking out their ministers and making supplications to God.
18th century New Englanders had good reason to want to make things right with their Maker. Though only a hundred years had elapsed since the Pilgrim Fathers established their settlement in Plymouth, New England faith was but a shadow of its previous lustre. Historian Frank Lambert noted that many of the ministers “saw men and women attending worship services, but they witnessed little practice of genuine piety. They feared that, for many, faith had been reduced to an intellectual acceptance of certain propositions rather than a life-changing conversion experience.”
The Puritan minister, Cotton Mather (1663 – 1728), had seen the handwriting on the wall when he cited the old Latin saying, “Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.”
The town of Northampton Massachusetts was like many others on the morning of 30th October. Though townsfolk were concerned about the broken walls and chimneys that lay about them, they were even more concerned with the question, “what shall I do to be saved?” Their pastor, the great theologian and revivalist Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), was always ready with the answer, and pointed people towards a personal experience of Christ.
During nearly half a century of ministry in the town, Solomon had been involved in four other periods of revival. The fifth and final revival, triggered by the earthquake, was witnessed by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards, who was then assisting his maternal grandfather in the ministry. Two years later Solomon would pass away, leaving Jonathan to fill his place.