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"Burned-over district" was a name popularized by historian Whitney Cross in his 1950 book "The Burned-over District": the social and intellectual history of enthusiastic religion in western New York State, 1800-1850. The term appears to have been coined however, by Charles Grandison Finney who in his 1876 book Autobiography of Charles G. Finney referred to a "burnt district" (p78) to denote an area in central and western New York State during the Second Great Awakening. The name was inspired by the notion that the area had been so heavily evangelized during antebellum revivalism as to have no "fuel" (unconverted population) left over to "burn" (convert).

When religion is related to reform movements of the period, such as abolition, women's rights, and utopian social experiments, the region expands to include areas of central New York that were important to these movements.

Religion in the District

Western New York still had a frontier quality during the early canal boom, making professional and established clergy scarce, lending the piety of the area many of the self-taught qualities that proved susceptible to folk religion. Besides producing many mainline Protestant converts, especially in nonconformist sects, the area spawned a number of innovative religious movements, all founded by laypeople during the early 19th century. These include:

In addition to religious activity, the region including the burned-over district was famous for social radicalism. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the early feminist, was a resident of Seneca Fallsmarker in central New York where she and others in the community initiated the seminal Seneca Falls Convention devoted to women's suffrage.

The larger region was the main source of converts to the Fourierist utopian socialist movement. The Skaneateles Community in central New York was such an experiment. The Oneida Society, likewise in central New York, was also considered a utopian group. Related to radical reform, central New York provided many members of Hunter Patriots, some of whom volunteered to invade Canada during the Patriot War.


The district can be broadly described as the area in New York State west of the Finger Lakesmarker and south of the Erie Canal (built in 1825) and contains the following counties:


  • Glenn C. Altschuler, Jan M. Saltzgaber: Revivalism social conscience, and community in the Burned-over District. The trial of Rhoda Bement. Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY 1983 ( online version)
  • Cross, Whitney, (1950) R. The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800–1850.

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