Samuel Stennett (1727–95)
The Promised Land (1787)
Arranged by Daniel McDavitt (2011)
“[American evangelicals] transformed the text into earthly and vital metaphors of the vision, vigor, enthusiasm, and optimism of frontier life moving on to the promised land of Kentucky or Missouri.”
— Carlton R. Young
Editor, United Methodist Hymnal
Although he was prominent among ministers who dissented from the Church of England, Samuel Stennett was a friend and supporter of King George III. For ten years, he served as assistant minister to his father at the Little Wild Street Church in London and continued as pastor there for 37 years after his father’s death. He was well-known for his writings in support of dissenters and for his contributions to hymnody.
Stennett’s The Promised Land has found a number of different homes over nearly two and a half centuries. It was first published as an eight-stanza hymn under the category “Heaven Anticipated” in Rev. John Rippon’s influential 1787 A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors. Thirty-eight of Stennett’s hymns appeared in Rippon’s collection.
The hymn quickly found its way to the New World, where its description of a perfectly glorious afterlife awaiting the earthbound faithful was very popular among American Methodists and a favorite in camp meetings. In 1835, it was included in The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, set to a shaped-note tune attributed to Matilda Durham. An arrangement by Rigdon M. McIntosh in 1895, changed the tune from minor to major and added the refrain, creating a standard setting carried in many hymnals today. Stennett’s text has been set to a number of different melodies. The Sacred Harp, for example, offered seven.
Daniel McDavitt is assistant professor of music and director of choral activities at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland. He prepared this setting of The Promised Land for the Brigham Young University Concert Choir. McDavitt earned his Bachelor of Arts in music and a Master of Music in choral conducting from Brigham Young University, and he holds a Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting and literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.