CHAPTER XVIII. Removal to Illinois
My three years on the Cumberland District were years of immense labor and toil, and of great peace and prosperity to the Church. I had seen with painful emotions the increase of a disposition to justify slavery, and our preachers, by marriage and other ways, became more and more entangled with this dark question, and were more and more disposed to palliate and justify the traffic and ownership of human beings, and the legislatures in the slave states made the laws more and more stringent, with a design to prevent emancipation. Moreover, rabid abolitionism spread and dreadfully excited the South. I had a young and growing family of children, two sons and four daughters; was poor, owned a little farm of about one hundred and fifty acres; lands around me were high, and rising in value. My daughters would soon be grown up. I did not see any probable means by which I could settle them around or near us. Moreover, I had no right to expect our children to marry into wealthy families, and I did not desire it if it could be so; and by chance they might marry into slave families. This I did not desire. Besides, I saw there was a marked distinction made among the people generally, between young people raised without work and those that had to work for their living; and though I had breasted the storms and, suffered the hardships incident to an itinerant life for more than twenty years, chiefly spent in Southern Kentucky and Western Tennessee, and though I had just as many friends as any man ought to have, and hundreds that claimed me as the humble and unworthy instrument of their salvation, and felt not the least fear that I should not be well supported during life as a Methodist preacher, the whole country having grown up into improved and comfortable living; and although many, very many of my friends in the Church and out of the Church remonstrated against the idea of my moving to a new country, yet, after much prayer and anxious thought, I very clearly came to the conclusion that it was my duty to move; and although the thought of leaving thousands of my best friends was severely painful to me, and sometimes almost overwhelmed me, and shook my determination, yet I saw, or thought I saw, clear indications of Providence that I should leave my comfortable little home, and move to a free state or territory, for the following reasons: First, I would get entirely clear of the evil of slavery. Second, I could raise my children to work where work was not thought a degradation. Third, I believed I could better my temporal circumstances, and procure lands for my children as they grew up. And fourth, I could carry the Gospel to destitute souls that had, by their removal into some new country, been deprived of the means of grace. With these convictions, I consulted my wife, and found her of the same mind, and in the spring of 1823, with my brother-in-law, R. Gaines, a local preacher, and old Father Charles Holliday, set out to explore Illinois in quest of a future home.
We made the journey on horseback; packed horse feed, and, in part, our own provisions, as best we could, and camped out several times. We knew the country was thinly settled, especially the northeastern, north, and northwestern parts of the state; and our inclination led us in these directions. We took our course, without roads, up the Big Wabash Valley, till we struck the Illinois River above Fort Clark, (now Peoria City;) thence wound our way north of said river, through a part of what was then called the Military Tract; recrossed the river at what is now called Beardstown, (then there was only one solitary family and a small cabin,) and made our way up the Sangamon River to a small settlement on Richland Creek, in Sangamon County, the then extreme northern county in the state, to the place on which I now live, and where I have lived ever since I moved to the state, and at which I expect my friends will deposit my mortal remains in our family cemetery. Here I found a very decent family, with a small improvement, having a double cabin, about the best the country afforded. They were settled on Congress land; and, indeed, though the land had been surveyed by government, it had not been brought into market. I gave him two hundred dollars for his improvement and his claim; bought some stock, and rented out the improvement, with a view to have something to live on in the fall of 1824, when I expected to move to it.
We then retraced our steps homeward through Springfield. There were in this place, now the seat of government, a few smoky, hastily-built cabins, and one or two very little shanties called "stores," and, with the exception of a few articles of heavy ware, I could have carried at a few loads all they had for sale on my back. When we returned home, I made sale of my little property, all with a special view to our removal in 1824; and at the conference, which sat in Shelbyville, Kentucky, I asked and obtained a transfer to the Illinois Conference, from Bishop Roberts, and was appointed to travel the Sangamon Circuit.
When the conference adjourned, and I was about to leave the body of preachers of the Kentucky Conference, many of whom I had labored with for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, it seemed to me that I never felt such a rush of feeling before. As we took the parting hand, our eyes mutually filled with tears. Few of us ever expected to meet again till we meet at the judgment-seat. I shook their hands, made my best bow to the brethren of the Kentucky Conference, asked an interest in their prayers, and hastened away home; and in a few days all my little plunder was packed up and my family mounted, and we started for Illinois.
Although the Illinois Conference, at the General Conference, had been stricken off from Missouri Conference, yet the annual meeting this fall of both these conferences was to be held at Padfield's, Looking-glass Prairie, October 23, 1824. It was my intention to meet this conference on my way to Sangamon County; but I was prevented by the following fatal accident on our way. Just before we struck the prairies, the man that drove my team contrived to turn over the wagon, and was very near killing my oldest daughter. The sun was just going down; and by the time we righted up the wagon and reloaded, it was getting dark, and we had a difficult hill to descend, so we concluded to camp there for the night, almost in sight of two cabins containing families. I was almost exhausted reloading my wagon; the evening was warm, and my wife persuaded me not to stretch our tent that night; so I struck fire, and kindled it at the root of a small, and, as I thought, sound, tree. We laid down and slept soundly.
Just as day was appearing in the east, the tree at the root of which we had kindled a small fire fell, and it fell on our third daughter, as direct on her, from her feet to her head, as it could fall; and I suppose she never breathed after. I heard the tree crack when it started to fall, and sprang, alarmed very much, and seized it before it struck the child; but it availed nothing. Although this was an awful calamity, yet God was kind to us; for if we had stretched our tent that night, we should have been obliged to lie down in another position, and in that event the tree would have fallen directly upon us, and we should all have been killed instead of one. The tree was sound outside to the thickness of the back of a carving knife, and then all the inside had a dry rot; but this we did not suspect. I sent my teamster to those families near at hand for aid; but not a soul would come nigh. Here we were in great distress, and no one to even pity our condition. My teamster and myself fell to cutting the tree off the child, when I discovered that the tree had sprung up, and did not press the child; and we drew her out from under it, and carefully laid her in our feed trough, and moved on about twenty miles to an acquaintance's in Hamilton County, Illinois, where we buried her.
Here I will state a fact worthy of record. There was in the settlement a very wicked family, total strangers to me and mine. The old gentleman and two sons heard of our affliction, and they hastened to our relief, and every act of kindness that they possibly could do us was rendered with undisguised and undissembled friendship; and they would on no account have any compensation. This was true friendship, and it endeared them to me in a most affectionate manner. I met and conversed with them years afterward; and although they are now dead and gone to the spirit-land, I hope they will be in heaven rewarded for their kindness to us in our deep and heart-rending affliction; for surely this was giving more than "a cup of cold water" to a disciple. By the blessing of Providence, we prosecuted our journey; and on the 15th of November, 1824, we arrived where we now live.
Sangamon County was not only a newly-settled country, but embraced a large region. It was the most northern and the only northern county organized in the state. It had been settled by a few hardy and enterprising pioneers but a few years before. Just north of us was an unbroken Indian country, and the Indians would come in by scores and camp on the Sangamon River bottom, and hunt and live there through the winter. Their frequent visits to our cabins created sometimes great alarm among the women and children. They were a very degraded and demoralized people, and the white people were very much to blame in dealing out the fire-water so freely among them. But the whites kept advancing further and further into their country, and the Indians kept constantly receding and melting away before their rapid march, until they are now mostly removed west of the Mississippi, the great Father of Waters.
The Sangamon Circuit had been formed about three years when I came to it. Brother J. Sims, I think, formed the circuit. Brother Rice followed, and J. Miller, of one of the Indiana conferences, traveled it in 1823-4. The circuit was in what is called the Illinois District, Samuel H. Thompson presiding elder. I found about two hundred and sixty members in society. The circuit embraced all the scattered settlements in the above-named county, together with parts of Morgan and M'Lean counties. We were almost entirely without ferries, bridges, or roads. My mode of traveling, with a few exceptions, was to go from point to point of timber, through the high grass of the prairie. My circuit extended to Blooming Grove in M'Lean County, near where the City of Bloomington now stands. A few fine Methodist families had settled in this grove; some local preachers from Sangamon Circuit first visited them; then Jesse Walker, who was appointed missionary to the Indians in and about Fort Clark and up the Illinois River toward Lake Michigan. I took it into the Sangamon Circuit, and, in conjunction with Brother Walker, appointed a sacramental meeting at the house of Brother Hendricks, he and his wife being excellent members of the Church, and he was appointed class-leader. Brother Hendricks has long since gone to his reward, while Sister Hendricks still lingers among us a shining example of Christian piety.
An incident occurred at this sacramental meeting worthy of note: The ordinance of baptism was desired by some, and some parents wanted their children baptized, and the brethren desired me to preach on or explain the nature and design of Christian baptism. I did so on the Sabbath. There was present a New Light preacher, who had settled in the grove, and was a very great stickler for immersion, as the only proper mode. That afternoon there arose a dark cloud, and presently the rain fell in torrents, and continued almost all night; nearly the whole face of the earth was covered with water; the streams rose suddenly and overflowed their banks. A little brook near the house rose so rapidly that it swept away the spring house and some of the fences. Next morning I was riding up the grove to see an old acquaintance. I met Mr. Roads, my New Light preacher, and said "Good morning, sir,"
"Good morning," he replied.
Said I, "We have had a tremendous rain."
"Yes, sir," said he; "the Lord sent that rain to convince you of your error."
"Ah!' said I, "what error?"
"Why, about baptism. The Lord sent this flood to convince you that much water was necessary."
"Very good, sir," said I; "and he in like manner sent this flood to convince you of your error."
"What error?" said he.
"Why," said I, "to show you that water comes by pouring and not by immersion."
The preacher got into this mad fit because I had satisfied one of his daughters that immersion was not the proper mode of baptism, and she had joined the Methodists; and I am told that this flood to this day is called "Cartwright's Flood" by way of eminence; and though it rained hard, and my New Light preacher preached hard against us, yet he made little or no impression, but finally evaporated and left for parts unknown. His New Light went out because there was "no oil in the vessel."
I had an appointment in a settlement in a certain brother's cabin. He had a first-rate wife and several interesting daughters; and I will not forget to say, had some three hundred dollars hoarded up to enter land. For the thin settlement we had a good congregation. The meeting closed, and there was but one chair in the house, and that was called the preacher's chair. The bottom was weak and worn out, and one of the upright back pieces was broken off. We had a hewed puncheon for a table, with four holes in it, and four straight sticks put in for legs. The hearth was made of earth, and in the center of it was a deep hole, worn by sweeping. Around this hole the women had to cook, which was exceedingly inconvenient, for they had no kitchen. When we came to the table there were wooden trenchers for plates, sharp-pointed pieces of cane for forks, and tin cups for cups and saucers. There was but one knife besides a butcher's knife, and that had the handle off. Four forks were driven down between the puncheons into the ground; for bedsteads, cross poles or side poles put in those forks, and clapboards laid crosswise for cords. The old sister kept up a constant apology, and made many excuses. Now, if the brother had been really poor, I could have excused everything; but, knowing he had money hoarded up, I thought it my duty to speak to him on the subject. I was at first a little careful, so I commenced by praising his good-looking daughters, and noticed what a good cook his wife was if she had any chance. "Now, brother," said I, "do fill up this hole in the hearth, and go to town and get you a set of chairs, knives and forks, cups and saucers, and get you a couple of plain bedsteads and bed-cords. Give your wife and daughters a chance. These girls, sir, are smart enough to marry well, if you will fix them up a little." I saw in a moment the women were on my side, and I felt safe. The old brother said he had seen proud preachers before, and that he knew I was proud the moment he saw me with my broadcloth coat on, and he did not thank me for meddling with his affairs.
"Brother," said I, "you have been a member of the Church a long time, and you ought to know that the Discipline of our Church makes it the duty of a circuit preacher to recommend cleanliness and decency everywhere; and, moreover, if there was nothing of this kind in the Discipline at all, my good feelings toward you and your family, prompt me to urge these things on you; and you ought to attend to them for your own comfort, and the great comfort of your family."
The old sister and daughters joined with me in all I said.
"Brother," said I, "you have two fine boys here, and they will help you do up things in a little better style; and I tell you, if you don't do it by the time I come round in four weeks, I shall move preaching from your cabin somewhere else."
The old brother told me I could move preaching, for if I was too proud to put up with his fare, he did not want me about him. I went on, but left another appointment, and when I came on to it, I tell you things were done up about right. The females had taken my lecture to the old brother for a text, and they had preached successfully to him, for the hole in the hearth was filled up, two new bedsteads were on hand, six new split-bottomed chairs were procured, a new set of knives and forks, cups and saucers, and plates, were all on hand, The women met me very pleasantly, and the old brother himself looked better than usual; and besides all this, the women all had new calico dresses, and looked very neat. We had a good congregation, a good meeting, and things went on very pleasantly with me and the whole family during the two years that I rode the circuit, And better than all this, nearly all the children obtained religion and joined the Church, and those of them who still live, I number among my fast friends.
On Horse Creek we had an appointment, and a good society; old Brother Joseph Dixon was class-leader and steward. I think he was one of the best stewards I ever saw. The country was new; our little market was at St. Louis, distant one hundred miles or more; and some of the people had to go sixty miles for their grinding and bread-stuff; and this country was generally settled with poor, but very kind people; money was very scarce, and what little there was, was generally kept close to enter lands when our Congress should order sales; almost universally we were settled on Congress or government lands. In this condition of affairs, the support of a traveling preacher was exceedingly small. The first year I traveled the Sangamon Circuit with a wife and six children, I received forty dollars all told; the second year I received sixty. This was considered a great improvement in our financial affairs. I state these things that the reader may see the extreme difficulties our early preachers had to contend with. The round before each quarterly meeting, Brother Dixon, the steward, would take his horse and accompany the preacher, and after preaching, and the class had met, he would rise and call on the Church for their aid in supporting the Gospel. He invariably made it a rule to see that every member of his own class paid something every quarter to support the Gospel, and if there were any too poor to pay, he would pay for them.
Brother D. had been a real back-woodsman, a frontier settler, a great hunter and trapper to take furs. Among other early and enterprising trappers, he prepared himself for a hunting and trapping expedition up the Missouri River and its tributaries, which at that early day was an unbroken Indian country, and many of them hostile to the whites. He made himself a canoe or dug-out, to ascend the rivers, laid in his traps, ammunition, and all the necessary fixtures for such a trip, and he and two other partners slowly ascended the Missouri. After ascending this stream for hundreds of miles, and escaping many dangerous ambuscades of the Indians, winter came on with great severity. They dug in the ground and buried their furs and skins at different points, to keep them from being stolen by the Indians. They then dug a deep hole on the sunny side of a hill, gathered their winter meat and fuel, their leaves and grass, and carried them into the hole, and took up their winter quarters. The snows were very deep, the weather intensely cold; but they wintered in comparative safety till returning spring, which they hailed with transports of joy. They were robbed several times by the Indians, had several battles with them, and killed two or three of them. The next fall his partners fell out with him, bought a canoe of the Indians, left him alone, descended the river, dug up their furs, and returned home. Dixon fortunately secured most of the ammunition they had on hand. He again found a dreaded winter approaching. He resorted to the former winter's experiment, and dug his cave in the side of a steep hill, laid up his winter provisions, and took up his winter quarters all alone. In this perilous condition, his eyes became inflamed, and were very much affected from constant gazing on the almost perpetual snows around him, until, such was their diseased state, he could not see anything. Here he was utterly helpless and hopeless. He began to reflect on his dreadful condition, while he felt nothing but certain death, and realized himself to be a great sinner and unprepared to die. For the first time in his life, almost, he kneeled down and asked God for mercy and deliverance from this awful condition. Then and there he promised God if he would spare and deliver him, he would from that solemn moment serve him faithfully the rest of his life. This promise, he told me, he had faithfully kept; and there is not in my mind a single doubt but he kept his covenant till he was safely housed in heaven.
When he made this covenant with God in his desperate condition, all of a sudden there was a strong impression made on his mind that if he would take the inside bark of a certain tree that stood a few steps from the mouth of his earthly habitation, and beat it up, soft and fine, soak it in water, and wash his eyes with it, he would soon recover his sight. He groped his way to the tree, got the bark, prepared it as impressed, bathed his eyes, bound some of this bark to them, and laid down and slept, not knowing whether it was day or night. When he awoke his eyes felt easy; the inflammation was evidently subsiding, and in a short time his sight began to return, and soon was entirely restored. When he gained confidence in his restoration to sight he fell on his knees to return thanks to God; a sweet and heavenly peace run all through his soul, and he then and there, all alone, shouted aloud the high praises of God. He then felt that God had forgiven his sins, blessed his soul, restored his sight, and that he ought to praise and give glory to his holy name.
When the weather opened for trapping he said he had astonishing good luck; took a great amount of the very best furs; and collecting them, began to descend the river. He had an Indian village to pass on the bank of the river, and as they were a deceitful, sly, bad tribe of Indians, he determined to keep his canoe as far from their shore as possible. They made many friendly signs for him to stop, so he concluded to land and trade a little with them. He had his rifle well loaded, and was a very strong man. When his canoe struck the bank a large, stout Indian jumped into it, and others were following. He, accordingly, shoved off, when one on the bank raised his rifle and aimed to shoot him. As quick as thought Dixon jerked the Indian that was in the canoe between him and the other that raised his rifle; the gun fired, and lodged its contents in the heart of the large Indian in the canoe, who fell overboard dead. Dixon paddled with all speed down the river, and escaped being robbed or killed. When he returned to St. Louis he sold his furs for several thousand dollars, and returned to his family, after having been absent nearly three years. He then packed up, moved to Horse Creek, in Sangamon County, took preaching into his cabin, joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, and continued to be a faithful member, leader, and steward for many years. His children mostly grew up, married, and left him; his most excellent wife at length died, witnessing a good confession; his youngest son he named Missouri, in memory of his conversion on the trapping expedition up that turbid stream, and also to keep fresh in his recollection the solemn vow he had made in his perilous condition. After the death of his wife he lingered a few years, and then died in peace, at his daughter's, in Morgan County.
It may be gratifying to some to see what has grown out of what was within the bounds of the old Sangamon Circuit in 1824-5. There is Beardstown Station, Virginia Circuit, Havana Circuit, Delavan Mission, East and West Charges in Bloomington, Randolph's Grove Circuit, Waynesville Circuit, Mount Pleasant Circuit, Clinton, Honey Creek, Mount Pulaski, Decatur Station and Circuit, Taylorsville, Sulphur Spring, Virden Island Grove, and Springfield Station. Thus the old hive has sent forth twenty swarms, and still retains its old name, Sangamon. Perhaps this circuit has retained its first name longer than any circuit in the state or conference. At the close of my second year I returned four hundred members, being an increase, in two years, of one hundred and sixty. At our Conference in Charlestown, Indiana, August 25, 1825, Bishop M'Kendree attended and presided; and I was reappointed to Sangamon Circuit. At the time of this conference I was taken down with a violent attack of bilious fever. Three friendly doctors attended me. They succeeded in stopping the fever. My doctor advised me to travel homeward slowly, and only a few miles a day, till I gained strength, and to take good care of myself. Some of the preachers secured a preacher acquainted with the country through which I had to pass, to go with and take care of me, for I was very feeble. This preacher was under marriage contract, and the day set for the ceremony, but I knew it not. The first day we rode twenty-eight miles. I urged him to stop long before we did. But no; he knew of a Judge Somebody, a fine Methodist, and a good place, etc.; he lived in the west end of a little town. As we passed the tavern I urged the preacher again to stop; but no, he rode up to the judge's, told my name and condition, but he would not take us in. There was present a kind-hearted man, who, on learning my condition, took me home with him and treated me well. Next morning we started on, and when we got into another little town, having rode that day twenty miles, I begged my preacher to let me stop. "O no, no," said he; "there is a fine place three miles down here; we must get there." At that moment I saw a doctor who had been a traveling preacher in Kentucky, and I knew him and called to him, and begged him to take me somewhere that I could rest. I then told my preacher guide to move on and move off, for certainly I would not travel with him a step further. So he left, and the doctor took me home with him, and treated me kindly. On Sunday morning he took me a few miles up the country, on Honey Creek, to a camp-meeting that was in progress. Here I tarried and rested a while. I was aiming to cross the Wabash, and get to J. W. M'Reynold's, near Paris.
The day I left the camp-meeting my fever returned, just while I was crossing Honey Creek Prairie. It seemed to me I should die for want of water, there being no house on the road. I was immensely sick, and the day was intensely warm. At length I found a little green bush that afforded a small shade. Here I laid down to die. I saw a house a little way off, over a field, but was unable to get to it. In a few minutes a lady rode up to me, and although I had not seen her for twenty years, I instantly knew her, and she recognized me, and after a few minutes she rode off briskly after help.
In a little time there came a man and buggy, and a small boy. The boy mounted my horse. The man helped me into the buggy, and drove up to his house, and took me in, and placed me on a bed between two doors, where I had a free circulation of air. This was the house where the lady lived. The man was her husband. They took all possible care of me till I got a little better, then I started, and got safe to Brother M'Reynold's. And now I had the Grand Prairie to cross, ninety miles through. To go alone seemed out of the question, and Brother Mac's family was not in a situation for him safely to leave, and carry me in a carriage through; but he said he would go, as I must not go alone.
We arranged to start next morning early; and just as we were about leaving, I saw a carriage with a span of horses drive up to the steps with three persons, and who should they be but Brother and Sister Springer, my neighbors, and my wife, who had heard of my sickness, and had come to convey me home.
A bed was placed in the carriage, and we started. There was but one house for eighty miles across this Grand Prairie, and no water but a few ponds. I thought that these two days that we were crossing, I should surely die for the want of good water. I drank freely of these ponds, and it made me very sick every time; and I threw off great quantities of bile, and this, perhaps, saved my life. After all my fever abated, I gradually grew better, and finally recovered my wonted health.
We had a glorious camp-meeting this year on what was called Waters' Camp Ground, on Spring Creek, six miles west of Springfield. It lasted five days and nights. Over forty professed religion, and joined the Church; and the circuit generally was in a healthy condition.
The country this year settled up very rapidly, and improvements went up equally as rapid in almost every direction.