On the 29th September, 1814, our Tennessee Conference commenced its session at Kenerley's Chapel, nine miles north of Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky. Bishop Asbury and M'Kendree were both present. These two venerable bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church were both single men, and lived and died without ever marrying. There is no doubt but the scanty means of a support, and the vast field of their pastoral labor, induced them to remain unmarried, and devote their whole time to the building up the Church. Their field of ministerial labor was from East to West, from North to South, all over these United States and Territories, and the British Provinces in Canada. The Union itself was in its infancy. When these men bestowed the most of their ministerial labor, we had just thrown off the yoke of the British government, just ended a bloody war; great scarcity of money prevailed; the Methodist Churches were few, feeble, and poor; a single man in that early day was only allowed sixty-four, eighty, and never more than one hundred dollars, and the bishops no more than any other single traveling preacher, and always dependent on the voluntary contributions of the people for this small pittance. Many of our married preachers had been starved into a location, and many more, during their illustrious sacrificing lives, were actually compelled to desist from traveling for want of means of support for their families. From the poverty of the Church, and the vastness of the field of their itinerant life, Mr. Asbury, and Bishop M'Kendree too, advised the traveling preachers to remain single; but a few years proved to these devoted bishops themselves that Methodist preachers were but men, subject to like passions with other men. The various courtships and marriage contracts, to be consummated at some future and distant day, satisfied these devoted men of God that it was better for even Methodist preachers to marry than to remain single, after they had formed a ministerial character and although I had traveled ten years, had a wife and two children, and had acted as steward of the Conference for several years, yet up to this time, as I have elsewhere stated in this narrative, no allowance had been made for me, or any other traveling married preacher, for house rent and table expenses, or for our children.
At this conference, Bishop Asbury came with ten dollars for every traveling preacher's child or children born in the traveling connection. This money he had begged from door to door down East, in the older and wealthier conferences, for the suffering children of the married traveling itinerants in the West. This, indeed, was a fatted calf to many of us, who had received hardly enough to keep soul and body together. At this conference the stewards were instructed to settle all the claims of the preachers and their families, as the Discipline provides.
By an examination of the Minutes, it will be seen that the Ohio Conference still had its six presiding-elder districts, and Tennessee eight districts, (for 1814-15.) For several years, about this time, our increase of members was small, owing to the war and rumors of war. The traveling preachers in the Ohio Conference had increased to sixty-three, and in the Tennessee Conference to sixty-six.
At a camp-meeting holden this year, in the edge of Tennessee, for the Christian Circuit, there were a great many people attended, and among them a gang of rowdies. The ringleaders of the rowdies went by the names of J. P. and William P., two brothers; their parents were fine members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I found it would be hard to keep order, and I went to J. P., and told him I wanted him to help me keep order. Said I, "These rowdies are all afraid of you; and if you help me, you shall be captain, and choose your own men."
He said he did not want to engage in that way; but if I would not bind him up too close, but let him have a little fun, away off, he would then promise me that we should have good order in the encampment through the meeting.
I said, "Very well; keep good order in the congregation, and if you have any little fun, let it be away off, where it will not disturb the worship of God."
There came into the congregation a young, awkward fellow, that would trespass on our rules by seating himself all the time among the ladies. It was very fashionable at that time for the gentlemen to roach their hair; and this young man had a mighty bushy roached head of hair. I took him out several times from among the women, but he would soon be back again.
I told J. P. I wished he would attend to this young man. "Very well," said he; and immediately sent off and got a pair of scissors, and planted his company about a half mile off; then sent for this young fellow, under the pretense of giving him something to drink. When they got him out there, two of them, one on each side, stepped up to him with drawn dirks, and told him they did not mean to hurt him if he would be quiet; but if he resisted or hallooed, he was a dead man. They said they only wanted to roach his hair, and put him in the newest Nashville fashion. The fellow was scared almost to death, but made no resistance whatever. Then one with the scissors commenced cutting his hair, and it was haggled all over at a masterly rate. When they were done shearing him, they let him go; and he came straight to the camp-ground. Just as he entered it, I met him; he was pale as a cloth. He took off his hat, and said, "See here, Mr. Cartwright, what them rowdies have done!" I had very hard work to keep down my risibilities; but I told him he had better say nothing about it, for if he did, they might serve him worse. He soon disappeared, and interrupted us no more during the meeting.
Our camp-ground was right on the bank of a creek. Just behind the preachers' camp, there was about room enough to place two or three carriages; then the bank of the creek, which was about ten feet high. Not far from the shore was a deep hole of water, about six feet deep. William P., the brother of my captain of order, was very rude, and I reproved him sharply. I understood that he swore he would run my carriage (which I had placed behind the preacher's tent, right on the bank) into the creek. There was but one way to pass to my carriage. At night I lay watching, with a good stick in my hand; and presently I saw William take hold of my carriage, and begin to turn it, in order to run it down the bank into the creek. I slipped out, and rushed upon him with my cudgel. I was in the only pathway; and he, fearing a good knock-down, leaped over the bank right into the deep hole of water, and came out on the other side, and ran off.
It made him very angry that he was defeated. He swore that he would have satisfaction out of me before the meeting was over. In the meantime, the power of God fell on the people gloriously; many hardened sinners were arrested, and a great many were converted; and on Sunday the mighty power of God was felt to the utmost verge of the congregation. On Sunday night, our altar was crowded with weeping penitents. While I was in the altar, laboring with the mourners, I saw William come up and lean on the pale, on the outside of the altar. I kept my eye on him; and suddenly he leaped over into the altar, and fell at full length, and roared like a bull, in a net, and cried aloud for mercy. While I was talking to and praying for him and others, I trod on something near where he had been standing that felt soft. I stooped down and looked, and lo and behold, what should it be but a string of frogs, strung on a piece of hickory bark! I took them up, and carried them into the tent, not knowing what it meant.
Just about daybreak, Monday morning, William P. raised the shout of victory, after struggling hard all night. Our meeting went on gloriously all that day, and for several days and nights, with very little preaching or intermission; and many were the happy subjects of converting grace. Some time on Monday, my notorious William came to me, and told me, that he gathered and strung that batch of frogs, and brought them to the altar, intending, while I was stooping and praying for the mourners, to slip them over my head and round my neck; and while he was seeking an opportunity to do this, the mighty power of God fell on him. He said he never wanted to be any nearer hell than he felt himself to be when the power of God arrested him. Many of the very worst rowdies that attended this meeting were struck down and converted to God; and thus ended the Frog Campaign. About seventy joined the Church.
There was another incident which occurred at this meeting that I will relate. Not very distant from Hopkinsville, near which town I lived, there was a very interesting, fashionable, wealthy family, who were raised with all the diabolical hatred that a rigidly enforced predestinarian education could impart against the Methodists. It had pleased God, at a camp-meeting near them, that I superintended, to arrest the wife and two of the daughters of the gentleman who was the head of his family, and they were powerfully converted, and joined the Methodist Church, and, as is common, they felt greatly attached to me as the instrument, in the hands of God, of their salvation. This enraged the husband and father of these interesting females very much. He not only threatened to whip me, but to kill me. He said I must be a very bad man, for all the women in the country were falling in love with me; and that I moved on their passions and took them into the Church with bad intentions. His eldest daughter, a fine, beautiful, intelligent young lady, wanted to attend the above-mentioned camp-meeting, and bespoke a seat in my carriage, in company with others going to the same meeting. At first her father swore she should not go; but on second thought he consented, but told his wife and daughter that he would go along, and that he would watch me closely, and that he had no doubt, before he would return, he would catch me at my devilment, and be able to show the world that I was a bad man, and put a stop to the women all running mad after this bad preacher. His daughter made ready, and we all started. We had about twenty-eight miles to go to reach the encampment. His daughter thought it her duty to tell me the designs of her father, and said she hoped I would be on my guard, for she verily thought that her father was so enraged that if he could not get something to lay to my charge to ruin my character as a preacher, that he would kill me from pure malice. I told her, of course, I was wide awake, and duly sober, and I had not the least fear but what God would give me her father as a rescued captive from the devil before the camp-meeting closed. Said I, "You must pray hard, and the work will be done." I said to her, "It is not the old big devil that is in your father; it must be a little weakly, sickly devil that has taken possession of him, and I do not think that it will be a hard job to cast him out. Now," said I, "if God takes hold of your father and shakes him over hell a little while, and he smells brimstone right strong, if there was a ship-load of these little sickly devils in him, they would be driven out just as easy as a tornado would drive the regiments of mosquitoes from around and about those stagnant ponds in the country. Cheer up, sister; I believe God will give me your father before we return." Seeing me so bold and confident she wept, and raised the shout in anticipation of so desirable an event. When we got to the camp-ground I had the company and their horses all taken care of, and then said to this man: "We have a large preachers' tent, well provided with good beds; come, you must go with me and lodge in the preachers' tent." He seemed taken by surprise, and hesitated, but I took him right into the tent. "Now, sir," said I, "make yourself at home, for I hope to see you soundly converted before this camp-meeting comes to a close." I saw his countenance fall, and perhaps this was the starting-point of his deep and pungent convictions. The trumpet sounded for preaching; I mounted the stand and preached; this man came and heard me. I saw clearly from his looks, that he was convicted, and had a hard struggle in his mind. He said to me, after the meeting was over, that my taking him into the preachers' tent and treating him so kindly, was the worst whipping he ever got; he could not sleep, he said. Sometimes he thought he was a poor mean devil to treat me as he had done; and surely I must be a Christian, or I never could treat him so kindly after he had said so many hard and bitter things about me. As the meeting progressed his convictions increased till he could neither eat nor sleep.
On Sunday night, when such a tremendous power fell on the congregation, and my gang of rowdies fell by dozens on the right and left, my special persecutor fell suddenly, as if a rifle ball had been shot through his heart. He lay powerless, and seemed cramped all over, till next morning; and about sunrise he began to come to. With a smile on his countenance, he then sprang up, and bounded all over the camp-ground, with swelling shouts of glory and victory, that almost seemed to shake the encampment. This was a glorious time for his daughter; she came leaping and skipping to me, and shouted out that those little mean and sickly devils were cast out of her father. He joined the Church, went home, and for days the family did little else but sing, pray, and shout the high praises of God.
From this family a blessed revival broke out and spread all round, and many were awakened and converted to God. O, how often the devil overshoots the mark by inducing his subjects to persecute preachers and the Church. God is above the devil, and the devil can never be cast out until he is first raised, or waked up.
Although I have never laid much stress on dreams, yet on Monday night of this camp-meeting I had a dream that made some impression on my mind. I here relate it and what followed, and let it go for what it is worth; for "what is the chaff to the wheat?" In my night visions I thought I went on a fishing expedition. I thought the fish bit well, and I drew up and threw out many excellent, fine fish. At length I felt that a large fish, or something else, had got hold of my hook. I began to draw whatever it was out, but it came slow and pulled heavy. At length I drew it to land, when behold, it was a large mud turtle. I awoke, and lo it was a dream; and I was glad of it.
There had been in attendance on our camp-meeting, an old apostate Baptist preacher, who had left his wife, who was yet living, and taken up with a young woman, and they were actually living in open adultery. He had, as he said, been awfully convicted during the meeting. He said he knew he had once enjoyed religion, but had lost it. He knew he had lost it all, and that, therefore, the doctrine of the unconditional perseverance of the saints, which he had preached for many years, was false; but he wanted to be saved, and he desired to join the Methodist Church. He said he belonged to a secret society, and they had not excluded him from that society, and they were honorable, high-minded men.
All this took place in the public congregation. I told him that if we, as a Church, could do him any good on fair Scriptural terms, we should be glad to do it. "But," said I, "you cannot be so ignorant as not to know that the word of God condemns your course, and if our sins are as dear to us as a right foot, or hand, or eye, they must be cut off, or plucked out, and cast from us, or we cannot enter heaven. Now, sir, are you willing, and will you give up this course of living, put away the woman with whom you are now living, and go and live with your lawful wife, and will you do it now?"
He burst into tears, wrung his hands in apparent agony, and said he wanted to be saved. "But will you not take me in on trial six months?"
"No, sir, we will not, unless you sacredly pledge yourself, before God and the Church, that you will, from this moment, abandon your present course of living."
He said he was afraid to promise this.
"Then," said I, "it is altogether useless to say another word on the subject, for we will not, under any consideration, receive you even on trial."
So we parted, and I fear he was eternally lost. Now whether this was my mud turtle or not, about which I dreamed, I cannot say; yet it really looked to me very much like it.
A few years before this, there had been transferred from the Baltimore Conference, a warm-hearted, lively, and zealous preacher by the name of James Ward. His labors were greatly blessed, and some very powerful revivals of religion followed. There was also a tolerably popular Baptist minister, by the name of J. V---n, who attended several of Brother Ward's meetings; and whether he was in reality stirred up, or from other considerations, I will not pretend to judge, but so it was; he started out on a large preaching scale. He was a tolerably good preacher, and he was popular, and he soon had a mighty stir in the Baptist Church, and hundreds joined that Church, and he baptized them. He greatly erred on one subject; that was, he took a great deal of pleasure in proselyting from other Churches and making them members of his Church, as he said, by "wetting their jackets," that is, immersing them. He had been very successful in the upper counties of Kentucky.
I had once accidentally fallen in at one of his appointments, and heard him preach, but had no introduction to him; and from this circumstance I knew him, but he did not know me. About this time he sent a train of appointments down in the southern parts of Kentucky and West Tennessee, about Nashville, etc., etc. I had been on to Baltimore, attending General Conference, and was returning home near Hopkinsville, in Southern Kentucky, in the month of June. We traveled in those days mostly on horseback. It was very warm, and dusty riding. When I got to Nashville I was informed that Mr. V. had just closed a protracted meeting in Nashville, and was to start for Hopkinsville that morning, and that it was probable I would fall in with him; and so it turned out. A few miles from Nashville I fell in with him. It being so warm and dusty I had pulled off my coat and neckerchief, and tied them on behind me, and of course I was very dirty, and looked, I suppose, very little like a preacher. I rode up and spoke to Mr. V., and he to me. I had, in one respect, the advantage of him. I knew him, but he did not know me, but I studiously avoided calling him by name. He was very familiar and loquacious.
"You are traveling, sir?"
"Yes, sir," was my reply.
"What parts are you from?"
"I am directly from the City of Baltimore," said I.
"Well, what is the news in that country ?', said he.
"Nothing very strange," said I.
"Well," said he, "what is the most prevalent religion, or most numerous denomination in that city?"
"Well," said I, "those despicable Methodists are the most numerous of any Protestant Church there," answering him with a view to draw him out.
"Well," said he, "that is a pity, for they are on a very rotten and sandy foundation."
"Yes," said I, "but perhaps the people might fall into worse hands."
"Hardly," said he. "But, sir, how are the Baptists prospering in and about Baltimore?"
"Well," said I, "the Baptists are hardly known in that country."
"Are you not mistaken, sir?"
"No, sir, I am not mistaken."
"Well, what can be the cause of that?"
"Why, sir, it is not strange at all; the Baptists are exclusive immersionists, and won't commune with any other Christian denomination; and they, on these principles, cannot flourish among an enlightened and intelligent religious community."
Just here the battle commenced, and this was what I wanted. He began to eulogize the Baptists, and contended that their mode of baptism was the only one that was Scriptural. The battle, or argument, lasted several hours, as we rode on side by side; but at length he showed unmistakable signs of confusion, for he left the field of argument, and began to boast of the hundreds of Methodists and Presbyterians that he had immersed, and said "he was on his way then to Hopkinsville, and expected to immerse many of the Methodists, the converts of Peter Cartwright, a Methodist preacher that lived down there; and, sir," said he, "there is no Scripture for infant baptism." I then asked the following questions:
"Do you believe that all children are saved, and go to heaven, and that there is not one infant in hell?"
"Certainly I do," said he.
"Well, if there are no children in hell, and all children dying in minority go to heaven, is not that Church that has no children in it more like hell than heaven?"
This question closed our argument, for he answered not at all. Just then we came to the forks of the road; the right, which he was to go, led to Russellville, and the left, my road, to Hopkinsville. As we shook hands and parted, said I, "Mr. V., I know you, and have the advantage of you; my name is Peter Cartwright; I live two miles from Hopkinsville, where you are going next week to wet so many of the jackets of my Methodist members; call and stay all night with me; I will help you make out your notes, and will see to the wetting of the jackets of my members." He promised to do so, but never came to my house. He attended to his appointments, but wet no Methodist jackets, and never succeeded in winning any great spoils in that region of country. He flourished awhile; then joined the Campbellites; then left them, and returned to the Baptist Church, as I am informed; then moved to Missouri, and died. I hope his end was peaceful.