CHAPTER VI. EXHORTING AND FIRST PREACHING.
I will now resume my personal narrative. I went on enjoying great comfort and peace. I attended several camp-meetings among the Methodists and Presbyterians. At all of them there were many souls converted to God. At one of these camp-meetings something like the following incident occurred:
There was a great stir of religion in the crowded congregation that attended. Many opposed the work, and among the rest a Mr. D-, who called himself a Jew. He was tolerably smart and seemed to take great delight in opposing the Christian religion. In the intermissions, the young men and boys of us, who professed religion, would retire to the woods and hold prayer-meetings; and if we knew of any boys that were seeking religion, we would take them along and pray for them. Many of them obtained religion in these praying circles, and raise loud shouts of praise to God, in which those of us that were religious would join.
One evening a large company of us retired for prayer. In the midst of our little meeting this Jew appeared, and he desired to know what we were about. Well, I told him. He said it was all wrong, that it was idolatry to pray to Jesus Christ, and that God did not nor would he answer such prayers. I soon saw his object was to get us into debate and break up our prayer-meeting. I asked him, "Do you really believe there is a God?"
"Well now, my dear sir," said I, "let us test this matter. If you are in earnest, get down here and pray to God to stop this work, and if it is wrong he will answer your petition and stop it; if it is not wrong, all hell cannot stop it."
The rest of our company seeing me so bold took courage. The Jew hesitated. I said, "Get down instantly and pray, for if we are wrong we want to know it." After still lingering and showing unmistakable signs of his unwillingness, I rallied him again. Slowly he kneeled, cleared his throat, and coughed. I said, "Now, boys, pray with all your might that God may answer by fire."
Our Jew began and said, tremblingly, "O Lord God Almighty," and coughed again, cleared his throat, and started again, repeating the same words. We saw his evident confusion, and we simultaneously prayed out aloud at the top of our voices. The Jew leaped up and started off, and we raised the shout and had a glorious time. Several of our mourners were converted, and we all rose and started into camp at the top of our speed, shouting, having, as we firmly believed, obtained a signal victory over the devil and the Jew.
In 1802 William M'Kendree was presiding elder of Kentucky District. John Page and Thomas Wilkerson were appointed to the Cumberland Circuit.
The Conference this fall was held at Strother's Meeting-house, Tennessee. This was the first time I saw Bishop Asbury, that great, devoted man of God. Here the Cumberland District was formed, and John Page appointed presiding elder. The name of Cumberland Circuit was changed into Red River Circuit, and Jesse Walker was appointed to ride it. This was the circuit on which I lived.
The membership of the Western Conference this year numbered seven thousand two hundred and one, the traveling preachers numbered twenty-seven, probationers and all.
At a quarterly meeting held in the spring of this year, 1802, Jesse Walker, our preacher in charge, came to me and handed me a small slip of paper, with these words written on it:
"Peter Cartwright is hereby permitted to exercise his gifts as an exhorter in the Methodist Episcopal Church, so long as his practice is agreeable to the Gospel. Signed in behalf of the society at Ebenezer.
I was very much surprised. I had not been talked to by the preacher, nor had I formally attempted to exhort. It is true, in class and other meetings, when my soul was filled with the love of God, I would mount a bench and exhort with all the power I had; and it is also true that my mind had been deeply exercised about exhorting and preaching too. I told Brother Walker I did not want license to exhort; that if I did not feel happy I could not exhort, but if my soul got happy I felt that I had license enough. He urged me to keep the license, alleging that it was the more orderly way, and I yielded to his advice.
To show how matters were done up in those early days of Methodism, I will here state that this permit to exhort was all the license I ever received from the Church to preach until I received my parchment of ordination.
The fall of this year my father moved from Logan County down toward the mouth of the Cumberland River, into what was called Lewiston County. This was a new country, and at least eighty miles from any circuit. There was no regular circuit, and no organized classes; but there were a good many scattering members of the Methodist Episcopal Church through that region of country. I applied to Brother Page, our presiding elder, for a letter for myself, my mother, and one sister, which he gave us. On examination I found that mine contained a "Benjamin's mess." It not only stated my membership and authority to exhort, but it gave me authority to travel through all that destitute region, hold meetings, organize classes, and, in a word, to form a circuit, and meet him the next fall at the fourth quarterly meeting of the Red River Circuit, with a plan of a new circuit, number of members, names of preachers, if any, exhorters, class-leaders, &c., &c., &c.
I am sorry I did not preserve the document; for surely, all things considered, it would be a curiosity to educated and refined Methodists at this day.
I felt bad on the reception of this paper, and told Brother Page I did not want to take it, for I saw through the solemn responsibilities it rolled upon me. I told him just to give me a simple letter of membership; that, although I did think at times that it was my duty to preach, I had little education, and that it was my intention to go to school the next year. He then told me that this was the very best school or college that I could find between heaven and earth, but advised me, when my father got settled down there, if I could find a good moral school with a good teacher, to go to it through the winter; then, in the spring and summer, form the circuit and do the best I could.
Shortly after my father settled himself I inquired for a good teacher and school, and found that there was one a few miles off, taught by a well-educated teacher, a Seceder minister, who had finished his education in Lexington, Ky., under a Mr. Rankin. I went and entered as a scholar, and boarded with a fine old Methodist man, close by. This school was called Brown's Academy. He taught all the branches of a common English education, also the dead languages. I now thought Providence had opened my way to obtain a good education, which I had so long desired, and of which I had been deprived without remedy. I entered the school, and was making very rapid progress.
The brother with whom I boarded, being a zealous man of God, insisted that we should hold meetings on Sundays and in the evenings. To this I consented. We held prayer-meetings on evenings, and Sundays I attempted to exhort the large congregations that attended. We soon collected a small class from the scattered Methodists around, had a few conversions, and I began to think that God had wonderfully opened my way before me. But soon a storm of persecution arose. My teacher was a very bigoted Seceder, and I believe he hated the Methodists more than he hated the devil. I know he hated them worse than the bottle, for he would get drunk at times.
There was a large class of young men in school about my age, and they were very wicked and profane. I saw my perilous condition, and put myself under strong restraints, so that I should give no one any just offense. My teacher would try to draw me into debate, but this I avoided. The young men set themselves to play tricks and start false reports on me, by way of diversion calling me the Methodist preacher. Teacher and all would do this. I told Mr. Brown and all the rest that I was no preacher, but that I wished I was a good one. At length two of these young students fixed a plan to duck me in the creek that ran hard by. There was a very beautiful grassy plat of ground right on the bank of the creek, in a retired spot. The bank was about seven feet perpendicular, and there was a deep hole of water right opposite, in which the water was ten feet deep. They decoyed me to this place under the pretense that they wanted me to pray for them, pretending to be in great distress on account of their sins. I was suspicious, but thought if they were sincere it would be wrong to refuse them. So, putting myself on my guard as best I could, I went with them, not knowing their plan. When we came to the bank of the creek they both seized me, intending to throw me over the perpendicular bank into the deep water. As quick as thought I jerked loose from one, and gave the other a sudden flirt over the bank into the stream. The other and I clinched, and, being nearly equal in strength, a hard tussle ensued. In the scuffle we fell to the ground, and I rolled over toward the precipice, holding him fast, until at length into the deep hole we both went, and then had to swim out.
Although this to me was an unpleasant affair, yet there was no shouting over me; for if I had got wet, I had ducked both of them. I bore all these things for some time patiently, but, my difficulties increasing, I complained to Mr. Brown, the teacher. He would do nothing to bring things right. I then left the school, deeply regretting that I was thereby deprived of the privilege of finishing my education. I then prepared myself, and started out to form a kind of circuit, and gather up scattered members and organize classes. I had much opposition in some places, but in others was kindly received. We had some very powerful displays of Divine grace, a goodly number obtained religion, and I received about seventy into society, appointed leaders, met classes, sung, prayed, and exhorted, and, under the circumstances, did the best I knew how.
Here I found the celebrated James Axley, and took him into the Church. Peace to his memory. He was in after years favorably known as a powerful and successful traveling preacher. He was a great and good man of God. He married, located, and long since went to his reward.
In the fall of this year, 1803, I met Brothers Page and Walker, reported my success, and the plan of the circuit. It was called Livingston Circuit, and Jesse Walker was appointed to it, and traveled it in 1804 and 1805. The increase of members this year was over nine thousand throughout the connection. In the Western Conference the increase was fifteen hundred. The number of traveling preachers was about thirty-five. There were four presiding-elder districts in the Western Conference: Holston, Cumberland, Kentucky, and Ohio. Brother Page located, and Lewis Garrett succeeded him on the Cumberland District. The Red River Circuit, in this district, was a very large one. It had but one preacher appointed to it, namely, Ralph Lotspeich.
Brother Garrett, the new elder, called on me at my father's, and urged me to go on this circuit with Brother Lotspeich. My father was unwilling, but my mother urged me to go, and finally prevailed. This was in October, 1803, when I was a little over eighteen years of age. I had a hard struggle to give my consent, and although I thought it my duty to preach, yet I thought I could do this and not throw myself into the ranks as a circuit preacher, when I was liable to be sent from Greenbrier to Natchez; no members hardly to support a preacher, the discipline only allowing a single man eighty dollars, and in nine cases out of ten he could not get half of that amount. These were times that tried men's souls and bodies too.
At last I literally gave up the world, and started, bidding farewell to father and mother, brothers and sisters, and met Brother Lotspeich at an appointment in Logan County. He told me I must preach that night. This I had never done; mine was an exhorter's dispensation. I tried to beg off, but he urged me to make the effort. I went out and prayed fervently for aid from heaven. All at once it seemed to me as if I could never preach at all, but I struggled in prayer. At length I asked God, if he had called me to preach, to give me aid that night, and give me one soul, that is, convert one soul under my preaching, as evidence that I was called to this work.
I went into the house, took my stand, gave out a hymn, sang, and prayed. I then rose, gave them for a text Isaiah xxvi, 4: "Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." The Lord gave light, liberty, and power; the congregation was melted into tears. There was present a professed infidel. The word reached his heart by the Eternal Spirit. He was powerfully convicted, and, as I believe, soundly converted to God that night, and joined the Church, and afterward became a useful member of the same.
I traveled on this circuit one quarter, took twenty-five into the Church, and at the end of three months received six dollars. The health of Brother Crutchfield, who was on the Waynesville Circuit, having failed, he retired from labor, and Brother Garrett placed me on that circuit in his place, and put on the circuit with me Thomas Lasley, a fine young man, the son of an old local preacher who lived in Green County.
Our circuit was very large, reaching from the north of Green River to the Cumberland River, and south of said river into the State of Tennessee. Here was a vast field to work in; our rides were long, our appointments few and far between. There were a great many Baptists in the bounds of the circuit, and among them were over thirty preachers, some of whom were said to be very talented. In the four weeks that it took us to go round the circuit, we had but two days' rest, and often we preached every day and every night, and although in my nineteenth year, I was nearly beardless, and cut two of my back jaw teeth this year. Hence they called me the boy preacher, and a great many flocked out to hear the boy. A revival broke out in many neighborhoods, and scores of souls were converted to God and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church; but there was also considerable persecution.
We had a preaching place in what, at that early day, was called Stockton Valley. There were several members of the Methodist Episcopal Church scattered around in the neighborhood, but no organized class. The Baptists, some years before, had a society here, and had built a log meeting-house, which was very common at an early day in the West. It was covered with boards. The Baptists flourished here for a considerable time, and they had enjoyed regular monthly preaching; but the society had nearly died out, and the preaching had been withdrawn for several years. The house was old and out of repair. As I passed round my circuit, I was requested to preach a funeral sermon at this old church. Accordingly, I left an appointment on a Sabbath. When I came there was a very large congregation. While I was preaching, the power of God fell on the assembly, and there was an awful shaking among the dry bones. Several fell to the floor and cried for mercy.
The people besought me to preach again at night. I gave out an appointment accordingly, and having several days' rest, owing to a new arrangement in the circuit, I kept up the meeting night and day for some time, and at every coming together we had a gracious work. Many obtained religion, and great was the joy of the people. There were twenty-three very clear and sound conversions. As a matter of course they felt a great love to me, whom they all claimed as the instrument, in the hand of God, of their conversion. I was young and inexperienced in doctrine, and especially was I unacquainted with the proselyting tricks of those that held to exclusive immersion as the mode, and the only mode, of baptism. I believe if I had opened the doors of the Church then, all of them would have joined the Methodist Church, but I thought I would give them time to inform themselves. Accordingly, I told them that when I came again, I would explain our rules and open the doors of the Church, and then they could join us if they liked our rules and doctrines. In the mean time I left them some copies of our Discipline to read.
After doing this I started on my circuit round, and although the Baptist preachers had left this place, without preaching in it for years, yet, in a few days after I was gone, there were sent on appointments for the next Sabbath three of the Baptist preachers, and they came on, and all three preached as their custom was, and they all opened with the cry of "Water, water; you must follow your Lord down into the water." They then appointed what they called a union meeting there, to commence the next Friday and hold over Sabbath, and although I have lived long and studied hard, I have never to this day found out what a Baptist means by a union meeting. But to return. The few scattered Methodists in the neighborhood took the alarm, for fear these preachers would run my converts into the water before I would come round, and they dispatched an old exhorter after me, saying I must come immediately, or my converts would all be ducked. I had appointments out ahead, and I told the old exhorter if I went, he must go on and fill my appointments, to which he readily agreed. So back I came on Friday to the commencement of their, union meeting. Two of them preached, but they paid no attention to me at all. As they had no meeting at night, I gave out an appointment for night at S-'s, Esq. He and his wife were two of my converts, and kind of leaders in the neighborhood. The people flocked out, and we had a good meeting and two conversions.
Next day we repaired to the old log meeting house, and heard two more water sermons. When they were done preaching, they opened the way for persons to join the Church by giving in their experience. One old lady rose, and gave in something for an experience that had happened about ten years before. Then an old man rose, and told a remarkable dream he had in North Carolina twenty years before. They were both accordingly received by giving them the right hand of fellowship. There was then a seeming pause. The preachers urged the people to come forward and give in their experience. O, how I felt! I was afraid that some one of my young converts would break the way, and the rest would then follow, and so I would lose all my converts. At length one of those young converts rose, and gave in his experience, claiming me, under God, as the instrument of his conviction and conversion; then another and another, till twenty-three of them told their experience; every one of them claiming me, under God, as the instrument of their salvation.
Their experiences were pronounced good, and the right hand of fellowship was freely given, and there was great joy in the camp, but it was death in the pot to me. I thought I could not bear up under it. I was sitting thinking what I would do. I am bereft of my children, and what have I left? Just behind me sat a very intelligent lady, who had long been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. About the time they were done giving the right hand of fellowship and rejoicing over my stolen children, a thought struck my mind very forcibly to give in my experience, and act as though I intended to join the Baptist Church. It may be that I can yet save them. I rose up, and gave in my experience; they gave me the right hand of fellowship, and then there was great rejoicing over the Methodist preaching boy.
Just as I sat down I felt some one touch me on the shoulder. I turned, and as I looked round I met the eyes of my intelligent Methodist sister, and the large tears were coursing down her cheeks and dropping off her chin.
"O, brother," said she, in a subdued tone, "are you going to leave us?"
I replied to her, "Dear sister, fear not; I know what I am about. Pray hard. I hope to retake my children yet." And though she did not understand my plan, yet my reply seemed to quiet her fears.
There was a fine creek running near the old church. The preachers directed us all to appear next morning at nine o'clock, with a change of apparel, to be baptized.
I held meeting again that night, and had a good time. My situation was a critical one. I had no one to advise with. I dared not tell any one what I was going to do, for fear my plan would out and my object be defeated. I rose early next morning, retired to the woods, and if ever I asked God in good earnest for help it was then.
Brother and Sister S-, with whom I stayed, prepared a change of apparel, in order to baptism. At the appointed hour we all met at the creek, but I took no change of apparel. I had been baptized, and I did not intend to abjure my baptism. But I kept this all to myself: There was a great crowd out to see us immersed. My twenty-three young converts and the two old, dry dreamers that first gave in their experience, were all dressed and ready for the performance of what they considered to be their Christian duty. The preachers appeared. One of them sang and prayed, then gave us an exhortation, and bade us come forward. I knew all the time that it was all important to my success that I should present myself first. Accordingly I stepped forward, and said, Brother M-"--who was the preacher and administrator "I wish to join the Baptist Church if I can come in with a good conscience. I have been baptized, and my conscience is perfectly. satisfied with it, and I cannot submit to be re-baptized. Can I come into your Church on these terms?"
The position I occupied startled the preacher.
I replied, "The Scriptures say that baptism is not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience, and my conscience is perfectly satisfied with my baptism, and your conscience has nothing to do with it.
"Well," said he, "it is contrary to our faith and order to let you come into the Baptist Church in that way. We cannot do it."
"Brother M-," said I, "your faith and order must be wrong. The Church has heard my experience, and pronounced it good; and you believe that I am a Christian, and cannot fall away so as to be finally lost. What am I to do? Are you going to keep me out of the Church, bleating round the walls like a lost sheep in a gang by myself? Brother you must receive me into the Church. I have fully made up my mind to join you on these terms; now, will you let me into the Church?"
Our preacher by this time had evidently lost his patience, and he very sharply bid me stand away, and not detain others. It was an intensely thrilling moment with me. I cast a look around on the crowd, and saw they were enlisted in my favor. I cast a wistful eye on the young converts; their eyes met mine most sympathetically, and many of them were weeping, they were so deeply affected. They all in voluntarily seemed to move toward me, and their looks plainly spoke in my favor. It was an awful moment O, how I felt! who can describe my feelings?
I stepped aside. Brother S- stood next to the preacher, dressed ready for baptism; his wife was also dressed, and leaning on her husband's arm. Brother S- said:
"Brother M-, are you going to reject Brother Cartwright, and not receive him into the Church?"
I cannot receive him," said Brother M-.
"Well," said Brother S-, "if Brother Cartwright, who has been the means, in the hand of God, of my conversion, and the saving of so many precious souls, cannot come into the Church, I cannot and will not join it." "Nor I," said his wife; "Nor I," "Nor I;" and thus it went round, until every one of my twenty-three young converts filed off, and gathered around me. "That's right, brethren," said I, "stand by me, and don't leave me; the Lord will bring all right!"
Well, the two old dreamers were baptized, and then the preachers urged the rest to come; but all in vain. Now, my dear reader, just imagine if you can, how I felt. I had a great mind to shout right out, and should have done so, but forbearance; at that time at least, was a virtue.
From the creek we repaired to the old log-church. Three of their ministers preached; and you may depend on it, I got a large share of abuse. They compared me to the Pharisees of old, for they said I would not go in myself, and those that would go in I had prevented; but I bore it as best I could. They stated that in all probability these souls that I had hindered would be lost, and if so, their damnation would be laid to me; but this did not alarm me much, for they had pronounced us all Christians good and true, and had often in their sermons there said that if a person were really converted, he never could lose his religion. How, then, could we be lost? and what was there to alarm us? The congregation saw the absurdity, and more and more were interested in my favor.
Next came on their communion. There were some loose planks laid across the benches, and all the members of their particular faith, that had been immersed, were invited to seat themselves on these planks. I was determined to give them another downward tilt, so I took my seat with the communicants; and some of the young converts, seeing me do so, seated themselves there also. But when the deacons came with the bread and wine, they passed us by. When they had got round, I rose and asked for the bread and wine for myself and the young converts. This threw a difficulty in the way of the deacons; however, they asked the preacher if they might give us the elements. The preachers peremptorily forbade it.
I then said, "My brethren, you, after hearing our experience, pronounced us Christians; and you say a Christian never can be lost; and our Saviour pronounced a solemn woe on those that offend one of his little ones; now do, therefore, give us the bread and wine!"
One of the preachers gave me a sharp reproof, and told me to be silent. This treatment enlisted the sympathies of almost the entire assembly, and they cried out, "Shame! Shame!" Just as the preacher was about to dismiss the congregation, I rose, and asked of them the privilege of speaking to the people fifteen or twenty minutes, to explain myself. This they refused. I said, "Very well; I am in a free country, and know my rights." He then dismissed them, and I sprang on a bench, and said to the people that if they would meet me a few rods from the church, and hear me, I would make my defense.
The people flocked out; I mounted an old log, and the crowd gathered around me. I showed them the inconsistency of the Baptist preachers, and laid it to them as well as my inexperience would permit; and closed by saying that, as I and my children in the Gospel could not, in any consistent way, be admitted into the Baptist Church, I was now determined to organize a Methodist Church. I explained our rules, and invited all that were willing to join us, to come forward, and give me their hands and names. Twenty-seven came forward; all of my twenty-three young converts, and four others; and before the year ended, we took into the Church there seventy-seven members, but my Baptist friends blowed almost entirely out. I was greatly encouraged to go on, and do the best I could.
This year, (1804,) in the Western Conference there were 9,600 members; our increase was 2,400. The number of traveling preachers was thirty-six. Our Annual Conference this fall was held in October, at Mount Gerizim, in Kentucky. Our Annual Conferences in those days were universally held with closed doors, none but members of the conference, or visiting members from other annual conferences, being permitted to occupy seats in the body. At this conference Bishop Asbury presided.
At the close of my labors on Waynesville Circuit, I was recommended to the Annual Conference by the quarterly meeting as a proper person to be received into the traveling connection. There were eighteen preachers recommended and received at this Conference, and, perhaps, of this number, I am the only surviving one left. One by one, these early pioneers in the traveling ranks have fallen victims to death; most of them, as far as I am informed, witnessed a good confession, and have gone to heaven to swell the triumphant shouts of the redeemed, and meet their spiritual children in a better country than the "far West." There was one of this number that made shipwreck, and proved the truth of God's word, which says, "One sinner destroyeth much good;" and perhaps of all the men that then composed the Western Conference when we joined, there are but two now living, namely, William Burke and Jacob Young. Since writing the above, William Burke has gone to his everlasting home.