CHAPTER XV. Earthquake in the South
The Conference was held in Franklin, Tennessee, October 30th, 1817. I was appointed to travel on the Christian Circuit, Green River District, James Axley presiding elder. Our increase this year was 5,163 members, and 7 preachers, in the four conferences. In the winter of 1812 we had a very severe earthquake; it seemed to stop the current of the Mississippi, broke flat-boats loose from their moorings, and opened large cracks or fissures in the earth. This earthquake struck terror to thousands of people, and under the mighty panic hundreds and thousands crowded to, and joined the different Churches. There were many very interesting incidents connected with the shaking of the earth at this time; two I will name. I had preached in Nashville the night before the second dreadful shock came, to a large congregation. Early the next morning I arose and walked out on the hill near the house where I had preached, when I saw a negro woman coming down the hill to the spring, with an empty pail on her head. (It is very common for negroes to carry water this way without touching the pail with either hand.) When she got within a few rods of where I stood the earth began to tremble and jar; chimneys were thrown down, scaffolding around many new buildings fell with a loud crash, hundreds of the citizens suddenly awoke, and sprang into the streets; loud screaming followed, for many thought the day of judgment was come. The young mistresses of the above-named negro woman came running after her, and begging her to pray for them. She raised the shout and said to them, "My Jesus is coming in the clouds of heaven, and I can't wait to pray for you now; I must go and meet him. I told you so, that he would come, and you would not believe me. Farewell. Halleluiah! Jesus is coming, and I am ready. Halleluiah! Amen." And on she went, shouting and clapping her hands, with the empty pail on her head.
Near Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky, lived old Brother Valentine Cook, of very precious memory, with his wife Tabitha. Brother Cook was a graduate at Cokesbury College at an early day in the history of Methodism in these United States. He was a very pious, successful pioneer preacher, but, for the want of a sufficient support for a rising and rapidly-increasing family, he had located, and was teaching school at the time of the above-named earthquake. He and wife were in bed when the earth began to shake and tremble. He sprang out of bed, threw open the door, and began to shout, and started, with nothing on but his night-clothes. He steered his course east, shouting every step, saying, "My Jesus is coming." His wife took after him, and at the top of her voice cried out, "O Mr. Cook, don't leave me."
"O Tabby," said he, "my Jesus is coming, and I cannot wait for you;" and on he went, shouting every jump, "My Jesus is coming; I can't wait for you, Tabby."
The years of the excitement by these earthquakes hundreds joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, and though many were sincere, and stood firm, yet there were hundreds that no doubt had joined from mere fright. My predecessors had for several years held the reins of discipline with a very loose hand, and when Bishop M'Kendree told me privately he wished me to go to the Red River Circuit at the Conference of 1817, my heart was troubled within me, for I knew the state of the circuit. There were many wealthy, fashionable families in the Church; slavery abounded in it, and the members had been allowed to buy and sell without being dealt with; moreover, these were the days of common, fashionable dram-drinking, before the great temperance reformation was started; and extravagant dressing was the unrestrained order of the day; and there were about twenty talented local preachers in the circuit, many of them participators in these evils, and I dreaded the war that must follow. Under this conviction I begged Bishop M'Kendree not to send me there. He very gravely replied: "There are many members in that circuit that may be saved by a firm, judicious exercise of discipline, that otherwise will be lost, and I wish you to go and do for them the best you can."
"Enough said," replied I; "I'll go."
At the upper end of the circuit, not more than eight or nine miles from Nashville, there was a large society and a meeting-house. My predecessor had left a conditional appointment for his successor. I was a total stranger in this region. The day of my conditional appointment was a dark day, misting with rain, but I got there in due time. After waiting till half past twelve o'clock one man came, who had had the misfortune to lose one of his eyes. We sat a little while, and I asked him if there was not an appointment for preaching that day.
"Yes," said he; "but there will be no preacher or people, I suppose." I saw from his answer he did not suspect me for the preacher.
He further said: "As it is late, and no preacher nor people, we had as well go. Come, go home with me and get some dinner."
"No," said I, "we must have meeting; and if you will preach, I will conclude after you."
"No, no," said he; "if you will preach, I will conclude after you."
"Agreed," said I, and up I rose in the stand, sung and prayed, took my text, and preached as best I could for forty-five minutes, and then called on him, and he rose, sung and prayed, and prayed well. I went home with my one man, my entire congregation, and found him to be a pious, religious elder in the Presbyterian Church. From the novelty of the effort of the day, my friend professed to think it was one of the greatest sermons he had ever heard in all his life.
I left another appointment, and went on my way round the circuit. For weeks my one-man congregation proclaimed and circulated my next appointment, telling the people what a great preacher had come to the circuit; and when I came to my next appointment, the whole hill-side was covered with horses and carriages, and the church crowded to overflowing. My heart almost fainted within me for fear I should not meet the expectations of the people; but the Lord helped me, and we had a mighty shaking among the dry bones, and a blessed revival broke out. Our meeting lasted several days and nights, and many souls were happily converted to God and joined the Church on my first round on this circuit.
When I got to the lower end of the circuit I found a large society, a fine class-leader, and a very pious, old, superannuated traveling preacher. He told me the society was in a most wretched condition; that there was a very popular local preacher in the society, who married a great many people, and was in the habit of drinking too much at almost every wedding he attended; and that he had a large connection, all in the Church, and that for years the preachers were afraid to do anything with him.
The next day, which was Sabbath, we had a large congregation, and after preaching, as my uniform custom was, I met the class. My popular local preacher was present. In examining the leader of the class I, among many other questions, asked him if he drank drams. He promptly answered me, No, he did not.
"Brother," said I, "why do you not?" He hesitated; but I insisted that he should tell the reason why he did not.
"Well, brother," said he, "if I must tell the reason why I do not drink drams, it is because I think it is wrong to do so."
"That's right, brother," said I; "speak it out, for it is altogether wrong for a Christian; and a class-leader should set a better example to the class he leads, and to all others."
When I came to the local preacher I said, "Brother W., do you drink drams?":
"Yes," said he.
"Well, brother, there are complaints that you drink too often and too much; and the Saturday before my next appointment here you must meet a committee of local preachers at ten o'clock, to investigate this matter; therefore prepare yourself for trial."
"O!" said he, "if you are for that sort of play, come on; I'll be ready for you."
I had hard work to get a committee that were not dram-drinkers themselves. The trial came on; the class-leader brought evidence that the local preacher had been intoxicated often, and really drunk several times. The committee found him guilty of immoral conduct, and suspended him till the next quarterly meeting; and then the quarterly meeting, after hard debate, expelled him. The whole society nearly were present.
After his expulsion, and I had read him out, his wife and children, and connections, and one or two friends, to the number of thirteen, rose up and withdrew from the society. I told the society if there was anything against their moral character, they could not withdraw without an investigation; but if there was nothing against their moral character, they could withdraw. The leader said there was nothing immoral against them, so I laid down the gap and let them out of the Church. They then demanded a letter. I told them there was no rule by which they had a right to a letter, unless they were going to move and join some other society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They said they never intended to join the Methodist Episcopal Church again. I then told them that they came to us without a letter, and must go without a letter. I then read the rules; exhorted the leader to be punctual, faithful, and pious; the members I urged to attend all the public and private means of grace, especially class-meetings, love-feasts, and the sacraments, and to bring and dedicate their children to God, by having them baptized.
From this very day the work of religion broke out in the society and settlement, and before the year closed I took back the thirteen that withdrew, and about forty more joined the Church, and not a dram-drinker in the whole society; but the poor local preacher who had been expelled, I fear, lived and died a drunkard.
This was a four week's circuit, and I had no helpers; and on examination of the class papers I found over one hundred and fifty delinquent members; some, yea, many of them had not been in a class-meeting for one, two, and three years. I determined, with a mild and firm hand, to pull the reins of our discipline, and by the aid of the leaders, and by my personally visiting the delinquents, we managed to see every one of them, and talk to them.
Through the blessing of God upon our labors, we saved to the Church about sixty of them; the others we dropped, laid aside, or expelled. This was awful work, to turn out or drop ninety persons in about nine months; it bowed me down in spirit greatly; it looked like as if a tornado had fearfully swept over the Church; but there was a stop put to trading in slaves, and the dram-drinkers became very few, and many threw off their jewelry and superfluous dressing; prayer-meetings sprung up, class-meetings were generally attended, our congregations increased, our fasts were kept. Toward the last quarter of the year I beat up for a general camp-meeting, and there was a general rally. We had a large camp ground, seats for thousands prepared, a large shed built over the altar and pulpit that would shelter more than a thousand people. The square of our camp ground was well filled. The camp-meeting lasted eight days and nights; the preachers preached, the power of God attended, sinners by the score fell; the altar, though very large, was filled to overflowing; and while many managed and labored in the altar with mourners, we erected another stand at the opposite end of the encampment, and there the faithful minister proclaimed the word of life. The power of God came there as the sound of a mighty, rushing wind; and such was the effect, that crowds of mourners came forward and kneeled at the benches prepared, and, indeed, the work spread all over the encampment and almost in every tent. There were two hundred and fifty who professed religion, and one hundred and seventy joined the Church, besides about forty colored people. Glory to God! Zion travailed, and brought forth many sons and daughters to God.
Many of these converts and accessions to the Church were from different and distant circuits around; for people in those days thought no hardship of going many miles to a camp-meeting. I was continued two years on this circuit: the first year J. Axley, presiding elder; the second year M. Lindsey was my presiding elder. There were many interesting incidents that occurred during my stay on this circuit. A few I will name.
At Mount Zion Meeting-house there was a good class of poor, simple-hearted Methodists that desired to hold class-meetings according to rule with closed doors, admitting persons not members of the Church only two or three times, unless they intended to join. There was an old lady in the settlement, a New Light by profession, who hated the Methodists and despised class-meetings with closed doors, but would stay in in spite of the leader. She would take her seat near the door, and open it while the leader was speaking to the class. They had tried to stop her many ways, but did not succeed. When I came round the leader complained to me, alleging that they were greatly annoyed by her disorderly conduct. I preached, then read the rules, then requested all to retire but the class, or such as desired to join the Church, and then closed the door, and proceeded to examine the class. I knew this lady was in, and sat near the door as usual. I asked the leader if there were any in but members. He answered, "Yes, there are three that are not members." I told him to take me to them first. He did so. The first was a man. I asked him his intention in staying in class-meeting. He told me he wanted to serve God, and join the Church. "Very well," said I. The next was a woman, whom I questioned, and who answered in the same way. While I was talking to her my New Light got up and opened the door, and took her seat close by it. I approached her, and asked her what was her motive for staying in class-meeting.
She said she wanted to be with the people of God.
"You can't do it," she replied; and sprung to her feet, and began to shout and clap her hands; and as she faced to the door, I took hold of her arms behind her shoulders, and moved her toward the door. She threw up her hands against the cheek of the door, and prevented me from putting her out. I saw a scuffle was to take place, and stooped down and gathered her in my right arm, and with my left hand jerked her hand from the cheek of the door, and lifted her up, and stepped out and set her on her feet. The moment I set her down she began to jump and shout, saying, "You can't shut me out of heaven." I sternly ordered her to quit shouting, for, said I, you are not happy at all, you only shout because you are mad and the devil is in you. When she quit shouting, I said, "I knew you were not happy, for if God had made you happy I could not have stopped it; but as it was the devil in you, I have soon stopped your shouting." I then stepped back and shut the door, and met my class standing against it; and we had a very good time, and effectually foiled our old New Light tormentor, and she never troubled me any more during my two years on this circuit.
The Tennessee Conference sat in Nashville, October 1st, 1818, when I was reappointed to Red River. Our increase this year, in the four Western Conferences, was five thousand one hundred and sixty-four. Our increase of traveling preachers was only nine.
At the Nashville Conference an incident occurred substantially, as well as my memory serves me, as follows: The preacher in charge had risen from very humble beginnings, but was now a popular, fashionable preacher. We talk about "Young America" these times; but Young America was as distinctly to be seen in those days, among our young, flippant, popularity-seeking preachers, as now.
Brother Axley and myself, though not very old, were called old-fashioned fellows; and this popular young aspirant was afraid to appoint Brother Axley or myself to preach at any popular hour for fear we would break on slavery, dress, or dram-drinking. But at length the old staid members and the young preachers began to complain that Axley and Cartwright were slighted, and an under-current of murmuring became pretty general. The city preacher had been selected to appoint the time and place where we were to preach. Brother Axley and myself had our own amusement. At length, on Saturday of the Conference, this preacher announced that Brother Axley would preach in the Methodist church on Sunday morning at sunrise, thinking there would be but few out, and that he could do but little harm at that early hour.
When we adjourned on Saturday afternoon, I rallied the boys to spread the appointment; to rise early and get all out they could. The appointment circulated like wildfire, and sure enough, at sunrise the church was well filled. Brother Axley rose, sung, prayed, took his text: "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds;" and if the Lord ever helped mortal man to preach, he surely helped Brother Axley. First he poured the thunders of Sinai against the Egyptians, or slave oppressors; next he showed that no moderate dram-drinker could enter heaven; and then the grape-shot of truth rolled from his mouth against rings, ruffles, and all kind of ornamental dress. Dr. Bascom was sitting right before him. He had a gold watch-chain and key, and two very large gold seals. The Rev. H. B. was so excited that unconsciously he took up one of the seals, and he began to play with the other seal with his right hand. Axley saw it, stopped suddenly, and very sternly said to him, "Put up that chain, and quit playing with those seals, and hear the word of the Lord." The claret rushed to the surface of his profile.
The sermon went off admirably, and really it seemed as though a tornado had swept the ruffles and vails; and the old members of the Church shouted for joy. Having achieved another signal victory over error and pride, the ministers and ruling elders of other sister Churches had opened their pulpits, and invited us to preach to their people during Conference. Among the rest, Dr. Blackbourn had opened his church. Dr. Blackbourn was a strong, popular Presbyterian minister.
In the course of the Sabbath, the city preacher informed me that I was to preach on Monday evening in Dr. Blackbourn's Church, and charged me to be sure and behave myself. I made him my best bow, and thanked him that he had given me any appointment at all; and I assured him I would certainly behave myself the best I could. "And now," said I, "Brother Mac, it really seems providential that you have appointed me to preach in the doctor's church, for I expect they never heard Methodist doctrine fairly stated and the dogmas of Calvinism exposed; and now, sir, they shall hear the truth for once." Said the preacher, "You must not preach controversy." I replied, "If I live to preach there at all, I'll give Calvinism one riddling." "Well," said the preacher, "I recall the appointment, and will send another preacher there; and you must preach in the Methodist Church Monday evening, and do try and behave yourself." "Very well," said I; "I'll do my best."
The preacher's conduct toward me was spread abroad, and excited considerable curiosity. Monday evening came; the Church was filled to overflowing; every seat was crowded, and many had to stand. After singing and prayer, Brother Mac took his seat in the pulpit. I then read my text: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" After reading my text I paused. At that moment I saw General Jackson walking up the aisle; he came to the middle post, and very gracefully leaned against it, and stood, as there were no vacant seats. Just then I felt some one pull my coat in the stand, and turning my head, my fastidious preacher, whispering a little loud, said: "General Jackson has come in; General Jackson has come in." I felt a flash of indignation run all over me like an electric shock, and facing about to my congregation, and purposely speaking out audibly, I said, "Who is General Jackson? If he don't get his soul converted, God will damn him as quick as he would a Guinea negro!"
The preacher tucked his head down, and squatted low, and would, no doubt, have been thankful for leave of absence. The congregation, General Jackson and all, smiled, or laughed right out, all at the preacher's expense. When the congregation was dismissed, my city-stationed preacher stepped up to me, and very sternly said to me: "You are the strangest man I ever saw, and General Jackson will chastise you for your insolence before you leave the city." "Very clear of it," said I, "for General Jackson, I have no doubt, will applaud my course; and if he should undertake to chastise me, as Paddy said, 'There is two as can play at that game.'"
General Jackson was staying at one of the Nashville hotels. Next morning very early, my city preacher went down to the hotel to make an apology to General Jackson for my conduct in the pulpit the night before. Shortly after he had left, I passed by the hotel, and I met the general on the pavement; and before I approached him by several steps he smiled, and reached out his hand and said:
"Mr. Cartwright, you are a man after my own heart. I am very much surprised at Mr. Mac, to think he would suppose that I would be offended at you. No, sir; I told him that I highly approved of your independence; that a minister of Jesus Christ ought to love everybody and fear no mortal man. I told Mr. Mac that if I had a few thousand such independent, fearless officers as you were, and a well-drilled army, I could take old England."
General Jackson was certainly a very extraordinary man. He was, no doubt, in his prime of life, a very wicked man, but he always showed a great respect for the Christian religion, and the feelings of religious people, especially ministers of the Gospel. I will here relate a little incident that shows his respect for religion.
I had preached one Sabbath near the Hermitage, and, in company with several gentlemen and ladies, went, by special invitation, to dine with the general. Among this company there was a young sprig of a lawyer from Nashville, of very ordinary intellect, and he was trying hard to make an infidel of himself. As I was the only preacher present, this young lawyer kept pushing his conversation on me, in order to get into an argument. I tried to evade an argument, in the first place considering it a breach of good manners to interrupt the social conversation of the company. In the second place I plainly saw that his head was much softer than his heart, and that there were no laurels to be won by vanquishing or demolishing such a combatant, and I persisted in evading an argument. This seemed to inspire the young man with more confidence in himself; for my evasiveness he construed into fear. I saw General Jackson's eye strike fire, as he sat by and heard the thrusts he made at the Christian religion. At length the young lawyer asked me this question:
"Mr. Cartwright, do you really believe there is any such place as hell, as a place of torment?"
I answered promptly, "Yes, I do."
To which he responded, "Well, I thank God I have too much good sense to believe any such thing."
I was pondering in my own mind whether I would answer him or not, when General Jackson for the first time broke into the conversation, and directing his words to the young man, said with great earnestness:
"Well, sir, I thank God that there is such a place of torment as hell."
This sudden answer, made with great earnestness, seemed to astonish the youngster, and he exclaimed:
"Why, General Jackson, what do you want with such a place of torment as hell?"
To which the general replied, as quick as lightning,
"To put such d-d rascals as you are in, that oppose and vilify the Christian religion."
I tell you this was a poser. The young lawyer was struck dumb, and presently was found missing.
In the fall of 1819, our Tennessee Conference sat again in Nashville. This year the Minutes show an increase of members in the four Western conferences of 5,085; of traveling preachers, 38: our whole membership in the West, 56,945; our traveling preachers, 194. Our Tennessee Conference lay partly in Tennessee and partly in Kentucky. In Kentucky our rules of Discipline on slavery were pretty generally enforced, and especially on our preachers, traveling and local. Whenever a traveling preacher became the owner of a slave or slaves, he was required to record a bill of emancipation, or pledge himself to do so; otherwise he would forfeit his ministerial office. And under no circumstances could a local preacher be ordained a deacon or an elder if he was a slaveholder, unless he gave the Church satisfactory assurances that he would emancipate at a proper time. In Tennessee some of our prominent preachers fell heir to slaves. They were unwilling to emancipate them, and they sought refuge in the plea of their disabilities, according to the laws of the State.
At this conference I complained of some of our strong preachers living in constant violation of the Discipline of the Church. They tried to make out a fair excuse, and to show that it was impracticable, according to the laws of the State, and I, in order to sustain my charges of violating the Discipline of the Church, had to show that they could at any time emancipate their slaves by becoming surety that their negroes, when emancipated, did not become a county charge. They employed a distinguished lawyer, F. Grundy, and I went to General Jackson for counsel. The case was fairly stated and explained in open conference, and these preachers were required to go to court and record a bill of emancipation.
When the great Southern secession took place in 1844-45, Dr. Bascom wrote a pamphlet, and there represents the circumstance above alluded to as a great abolition move. Now there is nothing more foreign from the truth. Ultra abolition was not then known among us in the West; and if it was, we never meddled politically with slavery, but simply required our preachers and members to emancipate their slaves whenever it was practicable, according to the laws of the state in which they lived, and which permitted the liberated slave to enjoy freedom.
The discussion on the subject of slavery waked up some bad feeling, and as we had at this conference to elect our delegates to the General Conference, which was to hold its session in Baltimore in May, 1820, these slaveholding preachers determined to form a ticket, and exclude every one of us who were for the Methodist Discipline as it was, and is to this day. As soon as ever we found out their plan we formed an opposite ticket, excluding all advocates of slavery, and, on the first ballot, we elected every man on our ticket save one, and he was a young preacher who had only traveled six years. He and their strongest man tied in the vote. Of course, we had to ballot again, but on the second ballot we elected our man by a large majority. This triumph made the slavery party feel very sore. They then went to work and wrote a very slanderous pamphlet, in which they misrepresented us, and sent a copy of it to each member of the General Conference. But they missed their mark, for instead of lowering us in the estimation of the members of the General Conference, that body approved our course fully.
It was at this General Conference of 1820, in Baltimore, that radicalism threatened to shake the foundations of the Church, but as I have freely spoken of these trying scenes to the Church elsewhere in this sketch, I forbear making any further remarks. At this General Conference, the Kentucky Conference was organized, which made five annual conferences out of the old Western Conference, namely:
1. Ohio Conference, composed of the following presiding-elder districts: Ohio, Muskingum, Lancaster, Scioto, Lebanon, and Miami; with a membership of thirty-four thousand one hundred and seventy-eight, and eighty-seven traveling preachers.
2. Missouri Conference, with the following districts: Indiana, Illinois, Cape Girardeau, and Arkansas; with a membership of seven thousand four hundred and fifty-eight, and thirty-nine traveling preachers.
3. Kentucky Conference, with five districts: Kenhawha, Kentucky, Salt River, Green River, and Cumberland; with a membership of twenty-three thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, and eighty-four traveling preachers.
4. Tennessee, composed of Nashville, Tennessee, French Road, Holston, and Duck River Districts; seventeen thousand six hundred and thirty-three members, and fifty-one traveling preachers.
5. Mississippi, with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama Districts; four thousand one hundred and forty-seven members, and nineteen traveling preachers.
Making in 1820-21 our membership, eighty-seven thousand one hundred and thirty-nine, and our traveling preachers two hundred and eighty. See what God has done for our "far West." From the time I had joined the traveling ranks in 1804 to 1820-21, a period of sixteen years, from thirty-two traveling preachers, we had increased to two hundred and eighty; and from eleven thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven members, we had now over eighty-seven thousand; and there was not a single literary man among those traveling preachers.
In the fall of 1820, our Conference sat in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I was reappointed to the Christian Circuit, M. Lindsey presiding elder. About this time, owing to my having reprinted and circulated two small pamphlets, one called, "The Dagon of Calvinism," and the other, "A Useful Discovery," both of them satires on Calvinism, some Presbyterian clergymen, judging me to be the author of these pamphlets, and not being willing publicly to debate the points at issue between us, concluded to take satisfaction of me by writing me a letter in the name of the devil, complimenting me for promoting the interests of his Satanic majesty's kingdom, by spreading the Arminian doctrine. Whereupon I wrote a rejoinder, and both these letters, the one to me and my answer, were published in pamphlet form, and created a considerable buzz for a while. Those clergymen called a council in order to answer me, but considering prudence the better part of valor, realizing that
- "He that lived to run away,
- Might live to fight another day,"
so they abandoned the project of answering me altogether. This was regretted by many of my friends, who wanted them to speak out in their own proper names, and not skulk behind the name of the devil to hide their errors or malice. And perhaps it was best that they did not answer back again.