The Spiritual Pilgrimage of Sarah Osborne by Charles E. Hambrick–Stowe is an article that seeks to do several things. First of all, it describes the early life of Sarah Osborne and then moves on to illustrate her early interest in religion and the ways in which she influence religion in her lifetime. Included in this illustration is an account of her experiences in regards to early seventeenth century Puritanism, the Great Awakening, and piety in the Revolutionary era. This article also points out Osborn’s ability to foresee certain elements of the Second Great Awakening that Osborn would not live to experience.
The first section of the article describes how the childhood family of Sarah Osborn came to settle in the area of Rhode Island. Osborn had migrated to the area in 1722 after reuniting with her father who had arrived some time earlier. The author suggests that at least part of the reason for moving to this area was her mother’s interest in the ministry of a man by the name of Nathaniel Clap who was the pastor of a church in the Newport community. Clap would himself be the center of religious controversy in the coming years that would result in a divide in the church that he led, the subsequent creation of another church in the community, and his eventual removal from the meeting place of that church.
The author mentions in the article that this event also resulted in a divide in Osborn’s own family, with her parents meeting with the new church that was formed while Osborn remained loyal to Clap. The author also briefly mentions in the first section of this article her first marriage to Samuel Wheaton and her unsuccessful second husband Henry Osborn. The author suggests that the hardships caused by the financial insecurity of her marriage to Henry Osborn caused her to have to teach to help support the family and played a role in her conversion experience in 1737. Also mentioned in the article was that Osborn attended some of the preaching services of George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent during the First Great Awakening as well as that Osborn began her own “Religious Female Society” that would be a major part of her churches ministry.
It seems that the author wrote this article for several reasons; the first of which is to show how much Osborn was devoted to her religion. The author includes remarks from Osborn which indicated that the preaching of Clap revealed the “secrets of [her] heart” and that Clap’s sermons were “dreadful” in the way that they described her sins. The author includes in the description of her religious practices confessions with her pastor, her prayer life, and the “ecstasies” she experienced from reading religious poetry. He also describes how she kept a journal and also a spiritual autobiography as well as her desire to immerse herself in the writings of the Puritans.
It appears that the second reason for this depiction of Sarah Osborn is to show that the way in which she practiced her religion counters the belief that the Great Awakening was a forward thinking movement. The source of much of Osborn’s religious zeal was clearly grounded in the past rather than the progressive movement of the eighteenth century.
The third reason for writing this article seems to be that the author wanted to show that Osborn not only played a role in grounding the Great Awakening in the past but was also influential in extending the Great Awakening period well into the future. Her role in securing a position for Samuel Hopkins as pastor of First Church seemed to propel Hopkins, who the author regards as “the most influential Congregational systematic theologian of the Revolutionary period,” into a prominent career in teaching and writing. The author also suggests that this helped to extend Osborn’s influence beyond her own lifetime and into the Second Great Awakening.
One final reason that the author seems to write this article is to show that Sarah Osborn is a shining example of selflessness in a period that many consider to be the birth of the glorification of the selfish and a communalist in a dawning of individuality.
It seems that the author was writing this article to those that have a very simplistic idea of the Great Awaking. The example of Sarah Osborn shows the complexity of the movement by providing an example of a prominent person in the movement that runs contrary to conventional wisdom about the period. If one takes into account the life of Sarah Osborn it should cause one to at least reconsider their beliefs about the period and possibly draw different conclusions altogether. While Osborn in many ways confirms the ideas of a future oriented movement she is also a great example of someone who clung to the ideas of the past promoted them during her lifetime and thrust them into the future.