CHAPTER IX. ITINERANT LIFE
At the close of this conference year, 1806, I met the Kentucky preachers at Lexington, and headed by William Burke, about twenty of us started for conference, which was held in East Tennessee, at Ebenezer Church, Nollichuckie, September 15th. Our membership had increased to twelve thousand six hundred and seventy; our net increase was about eight hundred.
This year another presiding-elder district was added to the Wester Conference, called the Mississippi District. The number of our traveling according to the printed Minutes, this was placed in 1807, but it was in the fall of 1806. Two years before there were eighteen of us admitted on trial; that number, in this short space of time, had fallen to thirteen; the other five were discontinued at their own request, or from sickness, or were reduced to suffering circumstances, and compelled to desist from traveling for want of the means of support.
I think I received about forty dollars this year; but many of our preachers did not receive half that amount. These were hard times in those Western wilds; many, very many, pious and useful preachers, were literally starved into a location. I do not mean that they were starved for want of food; for although it was rough, yet the preachers generally got enough to eat. But they did not generally receive in a whole year money enough to get them a suit of clothes; and if people, and preachers too, had not dressed in home-spun clothing, and the good sisters had not made and presented their preachers with clothing, they generally must retire from itinerant life, and go to work and clothe themselves. Money was very scarce in the country at this early day, but some of the best men God ever made, breasted the storms, endured poverty, and triumphantly planted Methodism in this Western world.
When we were ordained deacons at this Conference, Bishop Asbury presented me with a parchment certifying my ordination in the following words, namely:
"Know all by these presents, That I, Francis Asbury, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, under the protection of Almighty God, and with a single eye to his glory, by the imposition of my hands and prayer, have this day set apart Peter Cartwright for the office of a DEACON in the said Methodist Episcopal Church; a man whom I judge to be well qualified for that work; and do hereby recommend him to all whom it may concern, as a proper person to administer the ordinances of baptism, marriage, and the burial of the dead, in the absence of an elder, and to feed the flock of Christ, so long as his spirit and practice are such as become the Gospel of Christ, and he continueth to hold fast the form of sound words, according to the established doctrine of the Gospel.
"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and six.
I had traveled from Zanesville, in Ohio, to East Tennessee to conference, a distance of over five hundred miles; and when our appointments were read out, I was sent to Marietta Circuit, almost right back, but still further east. Marietta was at the mouth of the Muskingum River, where it emptied into the Ohio. This circuit extended along the north bank of the Ohio, one hundred and fifty miles, crossed over the Ohio River at the mouth of the Little Kanawha, and up that stream to Hughes River, then east to Middle Island. I suppose it was three hundred miles round. I had to cross the Ohio River four times every round.
It was a poor and hard circuit at that time. Marietta and the country round were settled at an early day by a colony of Yankees. At the time of my appointment I had never seen a Yankee, and I had heard dismal stories about them. It was said they lived almost entirely on pumpkins, molasses, fat meat, and bohea tea; moreover, that they could not bear loud and zealous sermons, and they had brought on their learned preachers with them, and they read their sermons, and were always criticizing us poor backwoods preachers. When my appointment was read out, it distressed me greatly. I went to Bishop Asbury and begged him to supply my place, and let me go home. The old father took me in his arms, and said, "O no, my son; go in the name of the Lord. It will make a man of you."
Ah, thought I, if this is the way to make men, I do not want to be a man. I cried over it bitterly, and prayed too. But on I started, cheered by my presiding elder, Brother J. Sale. If ever I saw hard times, surely it was this year; yet many of the people were kind, and treated me friendly. I had hard work to keep soul and body together. The first Methodist house I came to, I found the brother a Universalist. I crossed over the Muskingum River to Marietta. The first Methodist family I stopped with there, the lady was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but a thorough Universalist. She was a thin-faced, Roman-nosed, loquacious Yankee, glib on the tongue, and you may depend on it, I had a hard race to keep up with her, though I found it a good school, for it set me to reading my Bible. And here permit me to say, of all the isms that I ever heard of, they were here. These descendants of the Puritans were generally educated, but their ancestors were rigid predestinarians; and as they were sometimes favored with a little light on their moral powers, and could just "see men as trees walking," they jumped into Deism, Universalism, Unitarianism, etc., etc. I verily believe it was the best school I ever entered. They waked me up on all sides; Methodism was feeble, and I had to battle or run, and I resolved on the former.
There was here in Marietta a preacher by the name of A. Sargent; he had been a Universalist preacher, but finding such a motley gang, as I have above mentioned, he thought (and thought correctly too) that they were proper subjects for his imposture. Accordingly, he assumed the name of Halcyon Church, and proclaimed himself the millennial messenger. He professed to see visions, fall into trances, and to converse with angels. His followers were numerous in the town and country. The Presbyterian and Congregational ministers were afraid of him. He had men preachers and women preachers. The Methodists had no meeting-house in Marietta. We had to preach in the court-house when we could get a chance. We battled pretty severely. The Congregationalists opened their Academy for me to preach in. I prepared myself, and gave battle to the Halcyons. This made a mighty commotion. In the meantime we had a camp-meeting in the suburbs of Marietta. Brother Sale, our presiding elder, was there. Mr. Sargent came, and hung around and wanted to preach, but Brother Sale never noticed him. I have said before that he professed to go into trances and have visions. He would swoon away, fall, and lay a long time; and when he would come to, he would tell what mighty things he had seen and heard.
On Sunday night, at our camp-meeting, Sargent got some powder, and lit a cigar, and then walked down to the bank of the river, one hundred yards, where stood a large stump. He put his powder on the stump, and touched it with his cigar. The flash of the powder was seen by many at the camp; at least the light. When the powder flashed, down fell Sargent; there he lay a good while. In the meantime, the people found him lying there, and gathered around him. At length he came to, and said he had a message from God to us Methodists. He said God had come down to him in a flash of light, and he fell under the power of God, and thus received his vision.
Seeing so many gathered around him there, I took a light, and went down to see what was going on. As soon as I came near the stump, I smelled the sulphur of the powder; and stepping up to the stump, there was clearly the sign of powder, and hard by lay the cigar with which he had ignited it. He was now busy delivering his message. I stepped up to him, and asked him if an angel had appeared to him in that flash of light.
He said, "Yes."
Said I, "Sargent, did not that angel smell of brimstone?"
"Why," said he, "do you ask me such a foolish question?"
"Because," said I, "if an angel has spoken to you at all, he was from the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone!" and raising my voice, I said, "I smell sulphur now!" I walked up to the stump, and called on the people to come and see for themselves. The people rushed up, and soon saw through the trick, and began to abuse Sargent for a vile impostor. He soon left, and we were troubled no more with him or his brimstone angels.
I will beg leave to remark here, that while I was battling successfully against the Halcyons, I was treated with great respect by the Congregational minister and his people, and the Academy was always open for me to preach in; but as soon as I triumphed over and vanquished them, one of the elders of the Congregational Church waited on me, and informed me that it was not convenient for me to preach any more in their Academy, I begged the privilege to make one more appointment in the Academy, till I could get some other place to preach in. This favor, as it was only one more time, was granted.
I then prepared myself; and when my appointed day rolled around, the house was crowded; and I leveled my whole Arminian artillery against their Calvinism; and challenged their minister, who was present, to public debate; but he thought prudence the better part of valor, and declined. This effort secured me many friends, and some persecution; but my way was opened, and we raised a little class, and had a name among the living.
I will here mention a special case of wild fanaticism that took place with one of these Halcyon preachers while I was on this circuit. He worked himself up into the belief that he could live so holy in this life, that his animal nature would become immortal, and that he would never die; and he conceived that he had gained this immortality, and could live without eating. In despite of all the arguments and persuasion of his friends, he refused to eat or drink. He stood it sixteen days and nights, and then died a suicidal death. His death put a stop to this foolish delusion, and threw a damper over the whole Halcyon fanaticism.
I will here state something like the circumstances I found myself in, at the close of my labors on this hard circuit. I had been from my father's house about three years; was five hundred miles from home; my horse had gone blind; my saddle was worn out; my bridle reins had been eaten up and replaced, (after a sort) at least a dozen times; and my clothes had been patched till it was difficult to detect the original. I had concluded to try to make my way home, and get another outfit. I was in Marietta, and had just seventy-five cents in my pocket. How I would get home and pay my way I could not tell.
But it was of no use to parley about it; go I must, or do worse; so I concluded to go as far as I could, and then stop and work for more means, till I got home. I had some few friends on the way, but not many; so I cast ahead.
My first day's travel was through my circuit. At about thirty-five miles' distance there lived a brother, with whom I intended to stay all night. I started, and late in the evening, within five miles of my stopping-place, fell in with a widow lady, not a member of the Church, who lived several miles off my road. She had attended my appointments in that settlement all the year. After the usual salutations, she asked me if I was leaving the circuit.
I told her I was, and had started for my father's.
"Well," said she, "how are you off for money? I expect you have received but little on this circuit."
I told her I had but seventy-five cents in the world. She invited me home with her, and told me she would give me a little to help me on. But I told her I had my places fixed to stop every night till I got to Maysville; and if I went home with her, it would derange all my stages, and throw me among strangers. She then handed me a dollar, saying it was all she had with her, but if I would go home with her she would give me more. I declined going with her, thanked her for the dollar, bade her farewell, moved on, and reached my lodging-place.
By the time I reached the Ohio River, opposite Maysville, my money was all gone. I was in trouble about how to get over the river, for I had nothing to pay my ferriage.
I was acquainted with Brother J. Armstrong, a merchant in Maysville, and concluded to tell the ferryman that I had no money, but if he would ferry me over, I could borrow twenty-five cents from Armstrong, and would pay him. Just as I got to the bank of the river he landed, on my side, with a man and a horse; and when the man reached the bank, I saw it was Colonel M. Shelby, brother to Governor Shelby, of Kentucky. He was a lively exhorter in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and an old acquaintance and neighbor of my father's.
When he saw me he exclaimed:
"Peter! is that you?"
"Yes, Moses," said I, "what little is left of me."
"Well," said he, "from your appearance you must have seen hard times.
Are you trying to get home?"
"Yes," I answered.
"How are you off for money, Peter?" said he.
"Well, Moses," said I, "I have not a cent in the world."
"Well," said he, "here are three dollars, and I will give you a bill of the road and a letter of introduction till you get down into the barrens, at the Pilot Knobb."
You may be sure my spirits greatly rejoiced. So I passed on very well for several days and nights on the colonel's money and credit, but when I came to the first tavern beyond the Pilot Knobb my money was out. What to do I did not know, but I rode up and asked for quarters. I told the landlord I had no money; had been three years from home, and was trying to get back to my father's. I also told him I had a little old watch, and a few good books in my saddle-bags, and I would compensate him in some way. He bade me alight and be easy.
On inquiry I found this family had lived here from an early day, totally destitute of the Gospel and all religious privileges. There were three rooms in this habitation, below--the dining-room, and a back bedroom, and the kitchen. The kitchen was separated from the other lower rooms by a thin, plank partition, set up on an end; and the planks had shrunk and left considerable cracks between them.
When we were about to retire to bed, I asked the landlord if he had any objection to our praying before we laid down. He said, "None at all;" and stepped into the kitchen, as I supposed, to bring in the family. He quickly returned with a candle in his hand, and said, "Follow me." I followed into the back bedroom. Whereupon he set down the candle, and bade me good night, saying, "There, you can pray as much as you please."
I stood, and felt foolish. He had completely ousted me; but it immediately occurred to me that I would kneel down and pray with a full and open voice; so down I knelt, and commenced praying audibly. I soon found, from the commotion created in the kitchen, that they were taken by surprise as much as I had been. I distinctly heard the landlady say, "He is crazy, and will kill us all this night. Go, husband, and see what is the matter." But he was slow to approach; and when I ceased praying he came in, and asked me what was the cause of my acting in this strange way. I replied, "Sir, did you not give me the privilege to pray as much as I pleased?" "Yes," said he, "but I did not expect you would pray out." I told him I wanted the family to hear prayer, and as he had deprived me of that privilege, I knew of no better way to accomplish my object than to do as I had done, and I hoped he would not be offended.
I found he thought me deranged, but we fell into a free conversation on the subject of religion, and, I think, I fully satisfied him that I was not beside myself, but spoke forth the words of truth with soberness.
Next morning I rose early, intending to go fifteen miles to an acquaintance for breakfast, but as I was getting my horse out of the stable the landlord came out, and insisted that I should not leave till after breakfast. I yielded, but he would not have anything for my fare, and urged me to call on him if ever I traveled that way again. I will just say here, that in less than six months I called on this landlord, and he and his lady were happily converted, dating their conviction from the extraordinary circumstances of the memorable night I spent with them.
I found other friends on my journey till I reached Hopkinsville, Christian County, within thirty miles of my father's, and I had just six and a quarter cents left. This was a new and dreadfully wicked place. I put up at a tavern kept by an old Mr. M'. The landlord knew my father. I told him I had not money to pay my bill, but as soon as I got home I would send it to him. He said, "Very well," and made me welcome. His lady was a sister of the apostate Dr. Allen whom I have elsewhere mentioned.
Shortly after I laid down I fell asleep. Suddenly I was aroused by a piercing scream, or screams, of a female. I supposed that somebody was actually committing murder. I sprang from my bed, and, after getting half dressed, ran into the room from whence issued the piercing screams, and called out, "What's the matter here?" The old gentleman replied, that his wife was subject to spasms, and often had them. I commenced a conversation with her about religion. I found she was under deep concern about her soul. I asked if I might pray for her. "O, yes," she replied, "for there is no one in this place that cares for my soul."
I knelt and prayed, and then commenced singing, and directed her to Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour, and prayed again. She suddenly sprung out of the bed and shouted, "Glory to God! he has blessed my soul." It was a happy time indeed. The old gentleman wept like a child. We sung and shouted, prayed and praised, nearly all night. Next morning the old landlord told me my bill was paid tenfold, and that all he charged me was, every time I passed that way, to call and stay with them.
Next day I reached home with the six and a quarter cents unexpended. Thus I have given you a very imperfect little sketch of the early travel of a Methodist preacher in the Western Conference. My parents received me joyfully. I tarried with them several weeks. My father gave me a fresh horse, a bridle and saddle, some new clothes, and forty dollars in cash. Thus equipped, I was ready for another three years' absence.
Our Conference, this year, was held in Chillicothe, September 14, 1807. Our increase of members was one thousand one hundred and eighty; increase of traveling preachers, six. From the Conference in Chillicothe I received my appointment for 1807-8, on Barren Circuit, in Cumberland District, James Ward presiding elder, who employed Lewis Anderson to travel with me. This brother is now a member of the Illinois Conference. It was a four weeks' circuit. We had several revivals of religion in different places. The circuit reached from Barren Creek, north of Green River, to the head of Long Creek, in Tennessee State. I received about forty dollars quarterage. We had an appointment near Glasgow, the county seat of Barren County. A very singular circumstance took place in this circuit this year; something like the following:
There were two very large Baptist Churches east of Glasgow. These Churches had each very talented and popular preachers for their pastors, by the name of W. and H. The Baptists were numerous and wealthy, and the great majority of the citizens were under Baptist influence. The Methodists had a small class of about thirteen members. There lived in the settlement a gentleman by the name of L., who was raised under the Baptist influence, though not a member of the Church. His lady was a member of one of these large Baptist Churches. Mr. L. was lingering in the last stages of consumption, but without religion. These Baptist ministers visited him often, and advised, and prayed with, and for him. Learning that I was in the neighborhood, he sent for me! I went; he seemed fast approaching his end, wasted away to a mere skeleton; he had to be lifted, like a child in and out of the bed. I found him penitent, and prayed with him, sat up, with him, and in the best way I knew I pointed him to Jesus. It pleased God to own the little effort, and speak peace to his troubled soul; he was very happy after this. He told me the next morning that he wished to be baptized, join the Church, and receive the sacrament. In the meantime, the Baptist ministers came to see him, and as I knew he was raised under Baptist denominational influences, I was at a loss to know how to act. I took the two Baptist ministers out, and said to them: "This afflicted brother has obtained religion, and he desires to be baptized, join the Church, and receive the sacrament. And," said I, "brethren, you must now take the case into your own hands, and do with it as you think best. He was raised a Baptist, and, as a matter of course, he believes in immersion. And," said I, "my opinion is, if he is immersed, he cannot survive it; and as you are strong in the faith of immersion, you must administer it."
"No, no," said they; "he is your convert, and you must do all he desires. We believe, as well as you, that he cannot be immersed."
"Now," said I, "brethren, he wants not only to be baptized, but wants to join the Church, the Baptist Church of course; and if I baptize him by sprinkling or pouring, you will not receive him into the Baptist Church; or, in other words, if I do, will you receive him into your Church?"
"Well, no," said they; "we cannot do it."
"Now," said I, "brethren, this is a very solemn affair. You will not baptize him and take him into your Church; and if I baptize him, still you will not receive him. There must be something wrong about this very solemn matter."
They then said they would have nothing to do with it; that I must manage it in my own way. I then went and consulted the wife of the sick man. I told her what her ministers had said. "Now," said I, "sister, what must I do?"
Said she, "Go and ask my husband, and do as he wishes, and I will be satisfied."
I went, and said, "Brother L., if I baptize you, it must be by sprinkling or pouring; you cannot be immersed."
Said he, "I know I can't, and I am willing to be baptized in any mode; it is not essential."
As soon as preparation was made, I baptized him by sprinkling, and then proceeded to consecrate the elements and administer the sacrament. I turned and invited both of the Baptist ministers to come and commune with the dying saint, but they refused. Then I turned to his wife, and invited her to come and commemorate the dying sorrows of her Saviour with her dying husband. She paused for a moment, and then, bursting into a flood of tears, said, "I will;" and came forward, and I administered to them both.
After this I said, "Brother L., do you wish to have your name enrolled with the members of the little class of Methodists that worship in the neighborhood?"
He said, "O, yes;" and then added, "before you get round your circuit, I shall be no more on earth, and I wish you to preach my funeral."
After consultation with his wife, I left an appointment for his funeral. In a few days he breathed his last, and went off triumphant.
When I came to the appointment, there was a vast crowd. We had a very solemn time. I stated all the circumstances above narrated, and at the close I opened the door of the Church, and Mrs. L., and six others of her relatives, all members of the Baptist Church, came forward and joined the Methodists. This circumstance gave us a standing that enabled us to lift our heads and breathe more freely afterward.
In the course of this year we carried Methodist preaching into a Baptist congregation on Bacon Creek. A great many of their members gave up Calvinism, close communion, and immersion, and joined the Methodist Church; and we took possession of their meeting-house, and raised a large society there that flourishes to this day. Out of this revival several preachers were raised up that trained and blessed the Methodist Episcopal Church for years afterward.