Gospel Music

Gospel music in the United States from 1800 to 1850 flourished because of the Second Great Awakening. The large camp style sermons performed by ministers of various faiths intertwined music into their services. While attending church in the 18th century singing was popular for Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Anglicans. These gospel songs tended to be that of scripture or talked about a specific psalm in the Bible.

Origin of American gospel music

With the rise of slaves converting to Christianity the gospel songs began to change. At first slaves sang songs known as spirituals. Spiritual songs related to a larger community. The songs were stories that referred to passages in the Bible about bondage. Slaves related to the problems of bondage with Moses’ people and themselves in captivity.

As more slaves became Christianized the songs and lyrics began to change. During the Second Great Awakening slaves became more involved in Baptist and Methodist religions. The slaves were encouraged by the preachers and ministers that spoke of hope and redemption. Slaves began to sing songs from their homelands that included shouting, dancing, and spirit possession.

Slave and plantation owners were weary of slaves singing. They would restrict slaves to singing about religion. The slaves sang Protestant and Methodist spiritual hymns but with a twist. Each song was uniquely changed to provide an upbeat rhythm and harmonies

Encoded messages

Some researchers believe spiritual songs also included instructions to slaves. They believe the lyrics helped slaves escape capture and explained safe routes freedom. One popular spiritual song was Wade in the Water. Later the gospel song named Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was popular with slaves. The encoded message in the lyrics referred to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad networks.

Gospel song books

One of the earliest gospel song books was named A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodist. The book was comprised by John Wesley. The songs became a favorite with black church goers with songs like There is a Fountain Filled with Blood and Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee.

Another important book of gospel songs was composed by Reverend Richard Allen named a Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns. He went on to create two more books including the Sacred Harp in 1844.

Popular gospel songs

In the early 1800s there were several popular gospel songs written. Gospel songs like Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages were written by members of the Anglican Church. The two songs were adapted into Baptist and Methodist services during the Second Great Awakening.

Legacy of early gospel music

The legacy of early gospel music is seen in full today. Gospel music was intertwined with different genres of music. Gospel and folk music are seen as the frontrunner of musical genres like the blues, jazz, country, and pop.

Important facts about Gospel Music in the United States from 1800 to 1850

  • Early gospel music was prominent in Congregational, Anglican, and Presbyterian churches in the form of hymns.
  • The most widely used book of gospel music and hymns was comprised by John Wesley, a Methodist, in 1787.
  • Early gospel music in the United States became popular with Baptists and Methodists during the Second Great Awakening.
  • Early gospel songs like Amazing Graceand Rock of Ages were transformed with different rhythms over time.
  • Slaves and freed black people began to convert to different religions like Baptist and Methodist during the Second Great Awakening.
  • Slaves and freed black people originally sang spirituals based on their communities which included sing-a-longs, shouting, and dancing.
  • Plantation and slave owners prohibited slaves from singing traditional spirituals. Thus, they converted many spirituals to include scripture with praise for god and religion.
  • Slaves and freed blacks used gospel music to convey messages to one another.
    Philip Paul Bliss
    (Gospel Music Author Philip Paul Bliss)


What were the religious songs sung by slaves and freed black people?
Spiritual songs

Who wrote TheSacred Harp?
Reverend Richard Allen

When did gospel music begin to grow in the United States?
The Second Great Awakening

Which religious preachers and ministers used gospel music during their services?
Baptist and Methodist

What are the two most popular gospel songs written in the early 1800s?
Rock of Ages and Amazing Grace