2022 Leadership Institute: Evangelism in Colonial Presbyterianism


In the Westminster Society’s series of lectures at the 2022 Leadership Institute, Don Fortson provided an overview of Presbyterianism in colonial America in the 1600-1700s.

Fortson discussed Francis Makemie, known as “the Father of American Presbyterianism.” Makemie was one of seven ministers in the initial Presbytery of Philadelphia meeting in 1706—the first Presbytery in North America.

“We have the minutes from 1706-1746, and they are fascinating to read. Presbyterians haven’t learned a thing in 300 years,” he quipped. “We are still fussing about the same things and concerned about the same things.”

Fortson also traced how waves of Scotch-Irish immigrants in the early 1700s led to the spread of the gospel in the Middle Atlantic region, including colonial Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Among these immigrants was William Tennent, founder of the “Log College” that emphasized personal piety—what Tennent called “Experimental Divinity.” Many of its students later became leaders of the First Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740.

Fortson serves as Professor of Church History and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary’s Charlotte, N.C., campus. He is the author of Liberty in Non-Essentials: The Story of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and five other books on Christian and Presbyterian history.

The Leadership Institute is part of the EPC’s 42nd General Assembly, June 21-24 at Ward Church in Northville, Mich.


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