SLAVERY IN THE CHURCH
In the fall of 1812, our Tennessee Conference was holden at Fountain Head, State of Tennessee, on the first of November. At this first session of the Tennessee Conference the Illinois District was organized, and J. Walker appointed presiding elder. The Illinois Circuit, as a mission, was formed in 1804, and Benjamin Young appointed to it. It was attached to the Cumberland District, L. Garrett presiding elder. Brother Young returned sixty-seven members.
At this Conference I was appointed by Bishop Asbury to the Wabash District, which was then composed of the following circuits, namely: Vincennes, in the State of Indiana; and Little Wabash and Fort Massack, in Illinois. These three circuits were north of the Ohio River; the balance of the district was in Kentucky, namely, Livingston, Christian, Henderson, Hartford, and Breckenridge Circuits. In traveling the district I had to cross the Ohio River sixteen times during the year.
I told Bishop Asbury that I deliberately believed that I ought not to be appointed presiding elder, for I was not qualified for the office; but he told me there was no appeal from his judgment. At the end of six months I wrote to him, begging a release from the post he had assigned me; but when he returned an answer, he said I must abide his judgment, and stand in my lot to the end of the time. I continued accordingly in the service, but the most of the year was gloomy to me, feeling that I had not the first qualification for the office of a presiding elder. Perhaps I never spent a more gloomy and sad year than this in all my itinerant life; and from that day to this I can safely say the presiding elder's office has had no special charms for me; and I will remark, that I have often wondered at the aspirations of many, very many Methodist preachers for the office of presiding elder; and have frequently said, if I were a bishop, that such aspirants should always go without office under my administration. I look upon this disposition as the out-cropping of fallen and unsanctified human nature, and whenever this spirit, in a large degree, gets into a preacher, he seldom ever does much good afterward.
We had through the summer and fall of this conference year some splendid camp-meetings, many conversions, and many accessions to the Church. In the fall we met at Conference, October 1st, 1813, at Rees's Chapel, Tennessee. The name of Wabash District was changed to Green River District, and Vincennes, Little Wabash, and Fort Massack Circuits, north of the Ohio River, were stricken off and attached to the Illinois District, and Dixon and Dover Circuits, south of the Cumberland River, that had belonged to Nashville District, were attached to Green River District. I was appointed by Bishop Asbury presiding elder of this district, some time in the course of the summer of this conference year, 1813. We had a camp-meeting in the Breckenridge Circuit, and a glorious good work of religion was manifest throughout the meeting. It was at this meeting that Benjamin Ogden, one of the early preachers sent to the West, who became disaffected, and left the Methodist Episcopal Church under the secession of J. O'Kelly, and backslid, professed to be reclaimed, and returned to his mother Church.
Slavery had long been agitated in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and our preachers, although they did not feel it to be their duty to meddle with it politically, yet, as Christians and Christian ministers, be it spoken to their eternal credit, they believed it to be their duty to bear their testimony against slavery as a moral evil, and this is the reason why the General Conference, from time to time, passed rules and regulations to govern preachers and members of the Church in regard to this great evil. The great object of the General Conference was to keep the ministry clear of it, and there can be no doubt that the course pursued by early Methodist preachers was the cause of the emancipation of thousands of this degraded race of human beings; and it is clear to my mind, if Methodist preachers had kept clear of slavery themselves, and gone on bearing honest testimony against it, that thousands upon thousands more would have been emancipated who are now groaning under an oppression almost too intolerable to be borne. Slavery is certainly a domestic, political, and moral evil. Go into a slave community, and you not only see the dreadful evils growing out of the system in the almost universal licentiousness which prevails among the slaves themselves, but their young masters are often tempted and seduced from the paths of virtue, from the associations in which they are placed; and there is an under-current of heart-embittering feeling of many ladies of high and noble virtue, growing out of the want of fidelity of their husbands, and the profligate course of their sons. Let anyone travel through slave states, and see the thousands of mixed blood, and then say if I have misrepresented the dreadful causes of domestic disquietude that often falls with mountain weight on honorable wives and mothers. And although, in the infancy of this republic, it seemed almost impossible to form a strong and democratic confederacy, and maintain their independence without compromising constitutionally this political evil, and thereby fixing a stain on this "Land of the free and home of the brave," yet it was looked upon as a great national or political evil, and by none more so than General Washington, the father of the republic. I will not attempt to enumerate the moral evils that have been produced by slavery; their name is legion. And now, notwithstanding these are my honest views of slavery, I have never seen a rabid abolition or free-soil society that I could join, because they resort to unjustifiable agitation, and the means they employ are generally unchristian. They condemn and confound the innocent with the guilty; the means they employ are not truthful, at all times; and I am perfectly satisfied that if force is resorted to, this glorious Union will be dissolved, a civil war will follow, death and carnage will ensue, and the only free nation on the earth will be destroyed. Let moral suasion be used to the last degree for the sake of the salvation of the slaveholders, and the salvation of the slaves. Let us not take a course that will cut off the Gospel from them, and deliver them over to the uncovenanted mercies of God, or the anathemas of the devil. I have had glorious revivals of religion among the slaves, and have seen thousands of them soundly converted to God, and have stood by the bedside of the dying slave, and have heard the swelling shout of Christian victory from the dying negro as he entered the cold waters of the river of Jordan.
At our Breckenridge Circuit camp-meeting the following incident occurred. There were a Brother S. and family, who were the owners of a good many slaves. It was a fine family, and Sister S. was a very intelligent lady, and an exemplary Christian. She had long sought the blessing of perfect love, but she said the idea of holding her fellow-beings in bondage stood out in her way. Many at this meeting sought and obtained the blessing of sanctification; Sister S. said her whole soul was in an agony for that blessing, and it seemed to her at times that she could almost lay hold, and claim the promise, but she said her slaves would seem to step right in between her and her Saviour, and prevent its reception; but while on her knees, and struggling as in an agony for a clean heart, she then and there covenanted with the Lord, if he would give her the blessing, she would give up her slaves and set them free. She said this covenant had hardly been made one moment, when God filled her soul with such an overwhelming sense of Divine love, that she did not really know whether she was in or out of the body. She rose from her knees, and proclaimed to listening hundreds that she had obtained the blessing, and also the terms on which she had obtained it. She went through the vast crowd with holy shouts of joy, and exhorting all to taste and see that the Lord was gracious, and such a power attended her words that hundreds fell to the ground, and scores of souls were happily born into the kingdom of God that afternoon and during the night. Shortly after this they set their slaves free, and the end of that family was peace.
There was another circumstance happened at this camp-meeting that I will substantially relate. It was one of our rules of the camp-meeting that the men were to occupy the seats on one side of the stand, and the ladies the other side, at all hours of public worship. But there was a young man, finely dressed, with his bosom full of ruffles, that would take his seat among the ladies; and if there was any excitement in the congregation, he would rise to his feet, and stand on the seats prepared for the occupancy of the ladies. I reproved him several times; but he would still persist in his disorderly course. At length, I reproved him personally and sharply, and said, "I mean that young man there, standing on the seats of the ladies, with a ruffled shirt on." And added, "I doubt not that ruffled shirt was borrowed."
This brought him off the seats in a mighty rage. He swore he would whip me for insulting him. After a while, I was walking round on the outskirts of the congregation; and he had a large company gathered round him, and was swearing at a mighty rate, and saying he would certainly whip me before he left the ground.
I walked up, and said, "Gentlemen, let me in here to this fellow."
They opened the way. I walked up to him, and asked him if it was me he was cursing, and going to whip.
He said it was.
"Well," said I, "we will not disturb the congregation fighting here; but let us go out into the woods, for if I am to be whipped, I want it over, for I do not like to live in dread."
So we started for the woods, the crowd pressing after us. I stopped and requested everyone of them to go back, and not a man to follow; and assured them if they did not go back, that I would not go another step; they then turned back. The camp-ground was fenced in. When we came to the fence I put my left hand on the top rail and leaped over. As I lighted on the other side one of my feet struck a grub, and I had well-nigh sprained my ankle; it gave me a severe jar; and a pain struck me in the left side from the force of the jar, and involuntarily I put my right hand on my left side, where the pain had struck me. My redoubtable antagonist had got on the fence, and looking down at me, said,
"D--n you, you are feeling for a dirk, are you?"
As quick as thought, it occurred to me how to get clear of a whipping.
"Yes," said I; "and I will give you the benefit of all the dirks I have;" and advanced rapidly toward him.
He sprang back on the other side of the fence from me. I jumped over after him, and a regular foot race followed. I was so diverted at my cowardly bully's rapid retreat that I could not run fast; so he escaped, and I missed my whipping.
There was a large pond not very far from the camp-ground, and what few rowdies were there, concluded they would take my bully and duck him in that pond as a punishment for his bad conduct; so they decoyed him off there, and they got a long pole, and stripped some hickory bark, and securing him on the pole, two of them, one at each end, waded in and ducked him nearly to death; he begged and prayed them to spare his life; he promised them that he would never misbehave at meeting again, and that he would immediately leave the ground if they would let him go. On these conditions they released him, and I got clear of my ruffle-shirted dandy.
It may be asked what I would have done if this fellow had gone with me to the woods. This is hard to answer, for it was a part of my creed to love everybody, but to fear no one; and I did not permit myself to believe any man could whip me till it was tried; and I did not permit myself to premeditate expedients in such cases. I should no doubt have proposed to him to have prayer first, and then followed the openings of Providence.
This year there was a considerable decrease in membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church, owing chiefly to the war with England; and we felt the sad effects of war throughout the West, perhaps as sensibly as in any part of the Union. A braver set of men never lived than was found in this Western world, and many of them volunteered and helped to achieve another glorious victory over the legions of England, and her savage allied thousands. Of course there were many of our members went into the war, and deemed it their duty to defend our common country under General Jackson.
In the fall of 1813, October 1st, our Conference was held at Rees's Chapel, Tennessee, and for 1813-14 our appointments remained pretty much as they were before. I was returned to the Green River District; this year the Missouri District was formed, and admitted as part of the Tennessee Conference. In the course of this year, or about this time, there were new fields of labor entered by our preachers along the Cumberland River, near the line between Tennessee and Kentucky. We preached in new settlements, and the Lord poured out his Spirit, and we had many convictions and many conversions. It was the order of the day, (though I am sorry to say it,) that we were constantly followed by a certain set of proselyting Baptist preachers. These new and wicked settlements were seldom visited by these Baptist preachers until the Methodist preachers entered them; then, when a revival was gotten up, or the work of God revived, these Baptist preachers came rushing in, and they generally sung their sermons; and when they struck the long roll, or their sing-song mode of preaching, in substance it was "water!" "water!" "you must follow your blessed Lord down into the water!" I had preached several times in a large, populous, and wicked settlement, and there were serious attention, deep convictions, and a good many conversions; but, between my occasional appointments, these preachers would rush in, and try to take our converts off into the water; and, indeed, they made so much ado about baptism by immersion, that the uninformed would suppose that heaven was an island, and there was no way to get there but by diving or swimming.
Among the Baptist preachers that rushed in on us in this new settlement there came along a lank, long-legged, and extremely illiterate and ignorant old preacher by the name of H---s, and he was as impudent as a wolf. He sent an appointment, and he was to blow the Methodists skyhigh. I had never seen him, nor had he ever seen me. I heard of his appointment, and concluded that I would go; and if he really killed all the Methodists, if I could muster force enough I would bury them out of the way. The time came on, and this mighty Goliath appeared, with two armor-bearers. I stayed out until he commenced the battle, then I moved into the congregation, and took my seat with pen, ink, and paper; thinking if I was to be killed, and he did not dispatch me too suddenly, I would at least try to write my will. He commenced the battle by warning the people to take care of these Methodist preachers that wore black broadcloth coats, silk jackets, and fair-topped boots, and a watch in their pockets; that rode fine fat horses, &c. He then said he would tell them how these Methodist preachers got the money to buy all these fine clothes and horses. He said, that in order to join the Methodist Church, the preacher received twenty-five cents for everyone that they took into the Church, and twenty-five cents for every baby they sprinkled, and that these babies were considered members of the Church, and thus that every member, adult or infant, had to pay a dollar a head annually; and that these moneys constituted a large fund, and the Methodist preachers could well afford to dress fine and ride fat horses. But, said he, here is poor old H---s, (alluding to himself,) if he can get a wool hat and a wallet of dumplings he is content, and thinks himself well off. Now, said he, my dear brethren, these Methodist preachers often remind me, in the doctrine they preach, of the manner of certain men that catch monkeys in certain countries. The monkeys are very fond of black haws; the monkey-catchers go and scatter these black haws around the roots of the trees in which the monkeys are, and then they retire: the monkeys come down, and devour the haws. The next time these monkey-catchers come they bring sheep-saffron, that very much resembles black haws. They scatter the sheep-saffron around the roots of the trees and retire, and the poor, simple monkeys eat up the saffron, and it makes them so sick they cannot climb, but lie down, and then these men rush out and catch them. So it is, said he, my brethren, with these Methodist preachers. They preach some truth, which takes with the people; then they come with their sheep-saffron, or rotten doctrine, and the poor, simple people, like the foolish monkeys, swallow down these false doctrines, and it makes them sick, and then these Methodist preachers catch them. He then compared Methodist preachers to a boy climbing a pole, &c. You may be sure this was a deadly shot.
As soon as he was done, to keep up appearances, he said, if there was anyone present that wanted to reply to him, let him come forward. I arose, and marched up, and took the stand, and in a very little time nailed all his lies to the counter; and by respectable gentlemen out of any Church proved his statements to be false, and poured round upon round on him so hot and so fast, that he started for the door. I ordered him to stop, and told him, if he did not, I would shoot him in the back for a tory; he got out at the door. He was taken so at surprise, and charged on so suddenly, that he forgot his hat, and he peeped round the door-chink at me. I blazed away at him till he dodged back, and started off, bare-headed, for home, talking to himself by the way. As he retreated in this situation he was met by a gentleman, who hailed him, and said, "Mr. H---s, what is the matter? where is your hat?" "O Lord!" he exclaimed, "that Methodist bull-dog Cartwright came to my meeting, and opened a fire on me that no mortal man could stand, and I left." "Come," said the gentleman, "go back and get your hat." "No," said he, "I will not go back, if I never see another hat on earth." This encounter blowed this proselyting, sheep-stealing preacher to never, where another Baptist preacher that I once heard of would have gone to, if he had jumped off.
Now I must explain this allusion a little. At an early day I heard a Baptist preacher preach, and toward the close he alluded to his own experience. When in a state of conviction, he said he was in great distress; he sought relief on the right and left, but found none, and at length he said he thought he would start off and travel to the ends of the yearth, and when he got there that he would jump off; and now stopping suddenly, he asked his congregation, "Where do you think I would have gone to?" and answering for them, said he, "I should have gone to NEVER."
While I am giving a few strictures on the unworthy conduct of a few preachers of this denomination. I will state another incident that occurred about this time. I settled on a little new place, near the road leading from Hopkinsville, Christian County, to Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky, and was destitute of stabling. Presently there rode up an old gentleman and a youth he called his son.
He asked me if Peter Cartwright, a Methodist preacher, lived there.
I answered he did.
He asked, "Are you the man?"
I answered, "Yes."
"Well," said he, "I am a Baptist preacher, have been to Missouri after this my sick son, and I have called to stay all night with you." I told him to do so, and alight and come in. I disposed of their horses as best I could, supper was prepared, and they partook of our fare. After supper they both stepped into the other room, and when they returned I smelled whisky very strongly; and although these were not the days of general temperance as now going on, yet I thought it a bad sign for a preacher to smell very strong of whisky, but said nothing. When we were about to retire to bed, I set out the books and said, "Brother, it is our custom to have family prayer; take the books and lead in family prayer." He began to make excuses and declined. I urged him strongly, but he refused, so I took the books, read, sung, and prayed; but he would not sing with me, neither did he, nor his son, kneel when we prayed. Next morning the family was called together for family prayer; again I invited him to pray with us, but he would not. As soon as prayer was over he went into the other room, and brought out his bottle of whisky; he asked me to take a dram. I told him I did not drink spirits. He offered it to all my family, but they all refused. After breakfast he and his son harnessed up their horses to start on their way home.
"Perhaps, brother," said he, "you charge?"
"Yes," said I, "all whisky-drinking preachers, that will not pray with me, I charge."
"Well," said he, "it looks a little hard that one preacher should charge another."
"Sir," said I, "you have given me no evidence that you are a preacher, and I fear you are a vile impostor; and when any man about me drinks whisky, and will not pray with me, preacher or no preacher, I take a pleasure in charging him full price; so haul out your cash." He did so, but very reluctantly.
I am glad these unworthy examples of these preachers do not apply to the Baptist ministry generally, but many of them are friends of temperance, and scorn the contemptible business of proselyting members from other Churches. So may they continue, and give up their exclusive baptism by immersion.