CHAPTER XX. Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada
In the fall of 1828 our conference sat in Madison, Indiana, October 9th. This was the only annual conference that I ever missed attending in fifty years. My wife was sorely afflicted, and was supposed to be at the gates of death, so that I did not think it my duty to leave her, though a kind Providence spared her to me a little longer, and she still lives. I was reappointed to the Illinois District. The Oneida Annual Conference was formed at the General Conference in May, 1828. This made nine annual conferences east, and eight west of the mountains. They had a membership in the nine Eastern conferences of 270,210. In the East there were of traveling preachers 984. We had in the West, of traveling preachers, 519. Of members the West had 150,894. Total number of members, 421,104; of traveling preachers, 1,503.
The New-Hampshire and Vermont Conference was formed in the interim, or between the General Conferences of 1828 and 1832. It will also be remembered that Canada had existed as a separate annual conference, and was in union, as a conference, with the Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States, and was regularly supplied with American preachers, and superintended by our American bishops. Being under the British laws, that established the Catholic Church in Lower Canada, and the Church of England in Upper Canada, our people, members, and preachers labored under many civil disabilities. They thought, under all the circumstances, that it would be better to be separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States, and organized into a distinct Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada; elect from among themselves a bishop, that should be resident among them; and thereby avoid many of those disabilities that had fallen so heavily upon them, in consequence of being under the jurisdiction of American bishops. Accordingly, they petitioned the General Conference of 1828, at Pittsburgh, to set them off as a separate and distinct Church; but, after careful consideration and investigation, the General Conference, with great unanimity, resolved, that they were not vested with any constitutional power to divide the Methodist Episcopal Church; and, therefore, declined granting them their request; but said, if they really thought their civil disabilities were a burden too grievous to be borne, they would throw no difficulties in their way, but leave them to make their own choice, whether they would remain as an integral part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, or organize themselves into a separate Church. They chose the latter first, and then merged themselves into the great Wesleyan connexion of England.
In this organization of the Canada Methodist Episcopal Church many false statements have been made, alleging, that the General Conference of 1828, at Pittsburgh, did divide the Church. But be it distinctly remembered, that no official act of that General Conference can be produced to establish the truth of this assertion; so far from it, that directly the contrary is the fact in this case; and generally, those who affirm and publish this unreasonable falsehood, know that these statements are at war with truth, and they only resort to this subterfuge in order to justify the Southern disorganized secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844-45, and thereby claim another division of the Methodist Episcopal Church by the General Conference of 1844.
The organization of all Christian Churches is the voluntary association of individuals, under the accredited supervision of a Divinely-appointed ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not a ministerial act separate and apart from the voluntary choice of the individual consent of the members that compose that Church. The ministerial act, asserted and maintained, in organizing a Church, independent of the choice of the individuals that compose that Church, is clearly "lording it over God's heritage," and is a fearful feature of popery. And that this is the fact, in reference to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, is as clear as a sunbeam; for there are thousands in the pale of that Church that are not there by choice, but of necessity of some kind. And there are many that are greatly entangled with slavery; so much so, that if it had been left to their choice, they would have clung to the Methodist Episcopal Church with a dying grasp. And there are thousands, if they could obtain the ministers of their choice, who would speedily return to the bosom of the Church, and hail with delight the privilege of being united again to their spiritual mother.
How wicked it must be for those ministers of the Church, South, to fabricate every kind of story, to hedge up the way of our ministers, who, from the purest and most benevolent feelings, go into the slave states, simply to gather the poor destitute members of our Church, as a matter of benevolent duty. They cry, "Church North," "Abolitionism," when they know that most of our preachers are not abolitionists, but occupy the very ground our venerable fathers and founders occupied before they were born. They as good as murdered the lamented Kelly, who died from the abuse he received from the blood-stained hands of his persecutors, urged on by those very pro-slavery pretended ministers. Many of them greatly rejoice, and triumph over, having gained the Church suits by the unholy, not to say bribed judges. Mark ye! the blighting curse of God will follow these ungodly and unjust gains; and the time will come, when the visible disapprobation of a just and holy God will be manifest to all men.
There is one circumstance that befell me at the General Conference at Pittsburgh in 1828, that I wish briefly to state; but, for the sake of honorable feelings, I must be sparing of names. Brother Waterman, who was considerably radicalized, had the duty assigned him of billeting out the preachers among the families that had agreed to take care of them during the General Conference. When I arrived in Pittsburgh I went to Brother Waterman to know where I was to stay, and he gave me a ticket to a gentleman's house in Alleghany Town; he was nominally a ruffle-shirted Methodist; he was rich, and abounded in almost all the good things of this world. His lady was a very genteel, fine, fashionable woman, but a stiff-starched Presbyterian; so I was told. One of the bishops was stationed here, and two D.D.s, both preachers. I, of course, very confidently made my way to this gentleman's house. As I approached the dwelling I cast my eye upward, and through a window I saw the bishop and another preacher sitting in an upper room. When I reached the portico the gentleman met me at the entrance. Addressing him, I said:
"Does Colonel --- live here?"
"Brother Waterman informed me, as one of the delegates to the General Conference, that I was to board with you during the Conference; my name is Peter Cartwright; I hail from Illinois."
"Yes, sir," said he, seriously; "we had intended to take four of the preachers, but my wife thinks she can't take but two, and Bishop and Dr--- are here already, and we can't accommodate you."
I felt a little curious, but so foolish was I, that I hastily concluded that the thing was a trick, played off to plague me. He never invited me in.
"Well," said I, "I must see the bishop anyhow, and I reckon you'll let me stay;" so in I went. After entering,
"Please, sir," said I, "direct me to the bishop's room." He did so, and up I went, and ushered myself into his magisterial presence. After the accustomed salutations, which I thought came from the bishop with unusual coolness, I said to him:
"And is it so that I am not to stay here after Brother Waterman has sent me?"
"Too true, too true," said he; "the lady of the house is not a Methodist, and says she is not willing to take but two."
The reader may be sure I began to feel bad at a mighty rate; the bishop seated himself, and began to write, looking dry, sour, and cool, but paid no further attention to me. I took my hat, and started down stairs in a mighty hurry, gathered my saddlebags, and started off. Just as I mounted the steps leaving his ornamented lot, the landlord hailed me, and requested me to stop. He came near, and in a cold, stiff manner, informed me that his wife had concluded that I might stay, and invited me to return.
"No, sir," said I, "it is too late; I can't, under the circumstances, return; I have money enough to pay my way; and I had rather pay my way than to be treated as I have been."
"But," said the gentleman, "you must not leave my house in this way; it will be a great reproach to me and my family."
"Yes, sir," said I, "you ought to have thought of that sooner."
"Well," he asked, "where are you going?"
"To a tavern," said I, "if I can find an orderly one."
So on I went. After proceeding some distance I saw a tavern sign, and went in, and after looking around a little, I said to the tavern keeper:
"Can I board with you for a month, and be accommodated with a private room?"
He said I could.
"Do you keep an orderly house, or shall I be annoyed by drunkards and gamblers?"
"My house, sir," said he, "is kept orderly; you shall not be annoyed by any rude company whatever. Be seated, sir," said he; "you shall have a room fitted up directly. I judge," said he, "you are one of the delegates to the General Conference."
"Yes, sir, I am," was my reply.
Said he, "Mr. Waterman was to have sent me two preachers, but none have come, unless you are one assigned me."
"No, sir, I am not sent; I come on my own responsibility."
Said he, "I am a member of no Church, but my wife is a Methodist, and she will be glad for you to stay with us."
I soon began to feel that I had got into another atmosphere. I fared well, was treated kindly, and had nothing to pay.
Shortly after I had settled down, the landlord of my first place sought me out, and entreated me to return to his house. He said his wife had fitted up a comfortable room, and desired me to return.
"No, sir," said I, "I shall not do it; I am not dependent on you or yours at all, and I am well provided for here, and I mean to stay."
He went home, and sent to invite me back again. The messenger said I ought to return; that the family were very much mortified at the circumstance that had taken place. I told him that I felt under no obligations to him or them; that they had treated me very cavalierly, and I should abide my determination not to return; but by invitation I visited them, and stayed with them some; but I think I effectually humbled their pride for once.
I was at this first place several evenings; but everything seemed to come wrong. The bishop seemed as cold as an icicle, and as stiff in his manners as if he had been the autocrat of all the Russians. I felt that there was not the least congeniality in them, and that I was alone in such company. The time of evening devotions came on. The master of ceremonies asked me to lead the devotions; but the moment I was requested to do so, it appeared to me that thick darkness fell on me, and if ever I felt the power of the devil physically and mentally, it was just then. I turned almost blind, literally blind, and the great drops of sweat rolled off my face. I was so blind I feared I could not see to read a chapter, hence I turned to the first Psalm, which I could, and had, repeated often by memory; but I found my memory as defective as my sight, and surely, memory, sight, and all gone, I made a very stammering out at repeating the first psalm; but I stammered over it in some sort. My voice was usually clear in those days, and I could sing tolerably well. I rose and commenced singing a verse of one of our familiar hymns, but not a soul in the crowd, by name or nature, would sing with me. I stopped short, and kneeled down to pray, but in all my life I was never in a worse plight to pray but once, and that was the first time my leader called on me to pray in public after I had professed religion. I then thought my head was as large as a house, and I now thought I had no head at all. It seemed to me that the devil was veritably present, and all around, and in everybody and everything. I stammered over a few incoherent sentences, and closed by saying "Amen." And you may rely on it, while in this wretched state of feeling, and before I was delivered from the hour and power of temptation, I felt as though the devil reigned triumphant, and had a bill of sale of us all. The next day, when the General Conference adjourned, at noon, the presiding bishop called on me to close by prayer. O, how awful I felt! I fell on my knees and uttered only a few words, and said "Amen" before one half of the preachers had fairly got on their knees. They looked round and scuffled up, and looked queer; and I assure you I have no language at my command by which I could describe my feelings, for I felt "unutterable woe." This state of bad feelings lasted during a whole week.
One night I heard of a prayer-meeting near by where I lodged. I determined to go; and it pleased God that night to roll back the clouds that had covered me in such thick darkness. I was very happy, and the next evening hastened to the house where I had made such a dreadful out in reading, singing, and praying. It so happened that when the family got ready for prayer, and sent up for the preachers to come down, they were all very much engaged in finishing an interesting report. The bishop said he could not go, and that he wished some one would go and hold prayer with the family, and let the rest stay. I spoke up and said, "Let me go, for I feel so much better than I did when I tried to pray with them before, I want to go and try again." He bade me go. I went, took the book, read a chapter readily, sung a hymn clearly, knelt and prayed with more than my accustomed liberty, and got happy. The family wept. We talked, wept, and sung together, and I felt as independent of the devil and a stiff bishop as if there were no such beings in the world.
When the General Conference adjourned, and I had started for the steamboat, the landlady that I thought was so stiff, formal, and proud, followed me to the boat, and sent by me a present of a silk dress to my wife. Why this dispensation of darkness should be permitted to fall on me I cannot tell, but there is no doubt on my mind there was a special Providence in it, if I only understood the matter; but I leave all to the revelations of the great day of judgment. "The Lord reigneth."
At our Conference, in the fall of 1828, Galena Charge was added to the Illinois District; so that my district reached nearly from the mouth of the Ohio River to Galena, the extreme northwest corner of the state, altogether six hundred miles long. This was a tremendous field of travel and labor. Around this district I had to travel four times in the year, and I had many rapid streams to cross, mostly without bridges or ferry-boats. Many of these streams, when they were swollen, and I had to cross them to get to my quarterly meetings, I would strike for some point of timber, and traverse up and down the stream until I could find a drift or a tree fallen across. I would then dismount, strip myself and horse, carry my clothes and riding apparatus across on the fallen tree or drift, and then return and mount my horse, plunge in and swim over, dress, saddle my horse, and go on my way, from point to point of timber, without roads. Often night would overtake me in some lonesome, solitary grove. I would hunt out some suitable place, strike fire, for I always went prepared with flint, steel, and spunk, make as good a fire as circumstances called for, tie up or hopple out my horse, and there spend the night. Sometimes, in traveling from point to point of timber, darkness would come upon me before I could reach, by miles, the woods, and it being so dark that I could not see the trees I was aiming for, I would dismount and hold my horse by the bridle till returning light, then mount my horse, and pursue my journey.
The northern part of my district was newly settled; and where it was settled at all, a few scattering cabins, with families in them, were all that could be looked for or expected in a vast region of the north end of my district; and I assure my readers that when I came upon one of these tenanted cabins, in those long and lonesome trips, it was a great treat, and I have felt as truly thankful to God to take shelter in one of those little shanties and get the privilege of a night's lodging, as I have, under other circumstances, been when I have lodged in a fine house, with all the comforts of life around me. I recollect, in one of my northern trips, I had a very large and uninhabited prairie to cross; about midway across the prairie, twenty miles from any house, I came to a deep and turbid stream; twenty miles beyond was the point I was aiming for that day. The stream looked ugly and forbidding. I was mounted on a fine large horse, and I knew him to be an excellent swimmer. I hesitated for a moment. To retrace my steps I could not consent to, and if I advanced, a swim, on my horse, was to be performed, no timber being in sight. I got down, readjusted my saddle, girded it tolerably tight, tied my overcoat on behind, put my watch and pocket papers in my saddle-bags, and then tied them around my neck, letting the ends rest on my shoulders, and said, "Now, Buck," (that was the name of my horse,) "carry me safe to the other bank." In we went; he swam over easily, and rose on the opposite bank safely. I readjusted my affairs, and went on my way rejoicing, and was not wet but a trifle. Three times this day I swam my horse across swollen streams, and made the cabin I was aiming for. Here lived a kind Methodist family, who gave me a hearty welcome; gave me good meat and bread, and a strong cup of coffee, and I was much happier than many of the kings of the earth. I arrived safe at my quarterly meeting. All the surrounding citizens had turned out, twenty-seven in number. We had five conversions; seven joined the Church; and we were nearly all happy together.
In one of those northern trips I was earnestly solicited to cross the Mississippi and preach to the few new settlers near what is now called Burlington City, on the west of the Father of Waters. My son-in-law, Wm. D. R. Trotter, perhaps was the first traveling preacher who broke ground in the Iowa State, and I followed a short time afterward. I had sent them an appointment to hold a two days' meeting, just back of where Burlington City stands. Then there were only a few cabins in the place; now it is a growing city, containing, perhaps, ten thousand souls.
When I went to my appointment, although there was but a scattered population, yet when they came out to meeting the cabins were so small that there was not one in the whole settlement which would hold the people. We repaired to the grove, and hastily prepared seats. Years before this time an old tree had fallen down across a small sapling and bent it near the earth. The sapling was not killed, and the top of it shot up straight beside the tree that had fallen on it, and it had grown for years in this condition. The old tree had been cut off, and they scalped the bark off of that part of the sapling that lay parallel with the ground. They drove a stake down, and nailed a board to it, and the top of the sapling that grew erect, and this was my hand-board, and I stood on that part of the sapling that lay near and level with the ground. This was my pulpit, from which I declared the unsearchable riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and we had a good meeting.
On the 23d of August, 1828, one of our beloved bishops, Enoch George, fell a victim to death. He had been an itinerant preacher thirty-eight years, and had honorably discharged the duties of a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church for twelve years. One has said of him, "Bishop George was a man of deep piety, of great simplicity of manners, a very pathetic, powerful, and successful preacher; greatly beloved in life, and very extensively lamented in death."
The Illinois Conference met this fall (September 18th, 1829) at Edwardsville. Our country was rapidly filling up, our work constantly enlarging, and Bishop Roberts, at conference in Vincennes, September 30th, 1830, found it necessary to divide the circuits, and multiply the presiding-elder districts. The following new districts were formed in the bounds of the Illinois Conference, namely: the Illinois District was divided into two: the Kaskaskia and Sangamon Districts. The Kaskaskia District embraced the following appointments: Kaskaskia,. Brownsville, Jonesborough, Golconda, Mount Vernon, Shoal Creek, and Shelbyville, in all seven. The Sangamon District embraced the following appointments: Lebanon, Apple Creek, Atlas, Spoon River, Sangamon, Salt Creek, Peoria, Fox River Mission, and Galena Mission, nine. Samuel H. Thompson was appointed to the Kaskaskia District, and I was appointed to the Sangamon District. This district still covered a large field of labor, embracing from opposite St. Louis to the northern limits of the state.
Within the bounds of this district there lived a local preacher, who was a small, very easy, good-natured, pleasant man; he was believed to be also a very pious man, and a good and useful preacher. His wife was directly the reverse of almost everything that was good, saving it was believed she was virtuous. She was high-tempered, overbearing, quarrelsome, and a violent opposer of religion. She would not fix her husband's clothes to go out to preach, and was unwilling he should ask a blessing at the table, or pray in the family. And when he would attempt to pray, she would not conform, but tear around and make all the noise and disturbance in her power. She would turn the chairs over while he was reading, singing, or praying, and if she could not stop him any other way, she would catch a cat and throw it in his face while he was kneeling and trying to pray. Poor little man! surely he was tormented almost to desperation. He had invited several preachers home with him to talk to her, and see if they could not moderate her; but all to no purpose; she would curse them to their face, and rage like a demon. He had insisted on my going home with him several times, but I frankly confess I was afraid to trust myself. I pitied him from my very heart, and so did everybody else that was acquainted with his situation. But at length I yielded to his importunities, and went home with him one evening, intending to stay all night. After we arrived I saw in a minute that she was mad, and the devil was in her as large as an alligator; and I fixed my purpose, and determined on my course. After supper he said to her very kindly, "Come, wife, stop your little affairs, and let us have prayer." That moment she boiled over, and said, "I will have none of your praying about me." I spoke to her mildly, and expostulated with her, and tried to reason; but no, the further I went, the more wrathful she became, and she cursed me most bitterly. I then put on a stern countenance, and said to her, "Madam, if you were a wife of mine, I would break you of your bad ways, or I would break your neck."
"The devil you would!" said she. "Yes, you are a pretty Christian, ain't you?" And then such a volley of curses as she poured on me, was almost beyond human endurance.
"Be still," said I; "we must and will have prayer." But she declared we should not.
"Now," said I to her, "if you do not be still, and behave yourself, I'll put you out of doors." At this she clinched her fist, and swore she was one half alligator, and the other half snapping-turtle, and that it would take a better man than I was to put her out. It was a small cabin we were in, and we were not far from the door, which was then standing open. I caught her by the arm, and swinging her round in a circle, brought her right up to the door, and shoved her out. She jumped up, tore her hair, foamed; and such swearing as she uttered, was seldom equaled, and never surpassed. The door, or shutter of the door, was very strongly made to keep out hostile Indians; I shut it tight, barred it, and went to prayer, and I prayed as best I could, but I have no language at my command to describe my feelings; at the same time, I was determined to conquer, or die in the attempt. While she was raging and foaming in the yard and around the cabin, I started a spiritual song. and sung loud, to drown her voice as much as possible. The five or six little children ran and squatted about and crawled under the beds. Poor things, they were scared almost to death.
I sang on, and she roared and thundered on outside, till she became perfectly exhausted, and panted for breath. At length, when she had spent her force, she became calm and still, and then knocked at the door, saying, "Mr. Cartwright, please let me in."
"Will you behave yourself if I let you in?" said I.
"O yes," said she, "I will;" and throwing myself on my guard, and perfectly self-possessed, I opened the door, took her by the hand, led her in, and seated her near the fireplace. She had roared and foamed till she was in a high perspiration, and looked pale as death. After she took her seat,
"O," said she, "what a fool I am!"
"Yes," said I, "about one of the biggest fools I ever saw in all my life. And now," said I, "you have to repent for all this, or you must go to the devil at last." She was silent. Said I, "Children, come out here; your mother won't hurt you now," and turning to her husband, said, "Brother C., let us pray again." We kneeled down, and both prayed. She was as quiet as a lamb.
And now, gentle reader, although this was one of the hardest cases I ever saw on this earth, I must record it to the glory of Divine grace, I lived to see, in less than six months after this frolic with the devil, this woman soundly converted to God, and If there was ever a changed mortal for the better, it was this said woman. Her children, as they grew up, all, I believe, obtained religion, and the family became a religious, happy family, and she was as bold in the cause of God as she had been in the cause of the wicked one.
When I came to the County of Sangamon in 1824, and rode the Sangamon Circuit in 1825-26, Springfield, our present seat of government for the state, was a very small village. Even the county seat was not located at it, and for several years there was no regular society of any denomination organized there save the Methodist. We had a respectable society in point of numbers and religious moral character, but they were generally very poor. There was no meeting-house or church in the place. We preached in private houses almost altogether for several years. The first Presbyterian minister who came to the town, that I have any recollection of, was by the name of ----. He was a very well educated man, and had regularly studied theology in some of the Eastern states, where they manufacture young preachers like they do lettuce in hot-houses. He brought with him a number of old manuscript sermons, and read them to the people; but as to common sense, he had very little, and he was almost totally ignorant of the manners and usages of the world, especially this new Western world; yet he came here to evangelize and Christianize us poor heathen. He did not meet with much encouragement, but he certainly was a pious, good man, much devoted to prayer. He came to my appointments, and we became acquainted. He, in part, traveled with me round my circuit, anxious to get acquainted with the people, and preach to them. He soon saw and felt that he had no adaptation to the country or people. I told him he must quit reading his old manuscript sermons, and learn to speak extemporaneously; that the Western people were born and reared in hard times, and were an outspoken and off-hand people; that if he did not adopt this manner of preaching, the Methodists would set the whole Western world on fire before he would light his match. He tried it awhile, but became discouraged, and left for parts unknown.
Shortly after this others came in, but still there was no church in the town of Springfield to worship in for any denomination. The Methodists were poor, the Presbyterians few, and not very wealthy. At length the citizens put up a small school-house, which was appropriated to religious purposes on the Sabbath, but it was often attended with difficulty, as different ministers of different denominations would make their appointments in this little school-house, and their appointments would often come together and clash. This was attended with no good results, and at length a proposition was made for the Methodists and Presbyterians to unite and build a church between them, and define each denomination's time of occupancy and legal rights in the church till such time as one or the other could be able to build separately, and then sell out to the other denomination. A subscription was set on foot, and five or six hundred dollars subscribed.
Thinking all was right, I left to fill my appointments; but when the deed to this property was to be made, it was settled on Presbyterian trustees, and the Methodists only occupied it by grace. There was a very honest old gentleman, who was an intelligent lawyer, that had not subscribed anything, but intended to; but he wanted equal rights and privileges secured to the Methodists, though he himself was a Universalist. He saw how things were driving, and sent for me. I went, and, on examination, found that the agreement between the two denominations was violated in the deed. I expostulated with them, but all in vain; they persisted. I then went, and immediately drew up a subscription to build a Methodist church, and subscribed seventy-five dollars. My oId honest lawyer told me he would either give two lots in the new town, above where the most of the town then was, or he would give fifty dollars. I took the two lots, on which the Methodist church now stands.
The Presbyterians went on and built the little brick shanty that stands near where the first Presbyterian church now stands, and in one day I obtained about six hundred dollars, and the Methodists built their old frame meeting-house that stood as a monument of their covetousness for many years, and, indeed, till lately, when they saw their folly, and now have a fine church. But still they ought to have at least two more good churches in a city containing ten thousands souls, and constantly increasing in population, and, undoubtedly, is destined to become a large inland city, and, from its central position and railroad facilities, will, in a very few years, contain fifty thousand inhabitants.
The securing those two lots at an early day in Springfield, clearly shows the sound policy of taking early measures in every new country, city, town, village, and prospectively strong settlement, to secure lots for churches and parsonages when they can be obtained at a nominal price, and often as a donation. Our people and preachers are often too negligent in this very thing. They wait till lots rise in value, and sometimes have to give for a suitable one, on which to build a church or parsonage, as much as would erect a decent house in which to worship God. The two lots above named were, by their owner, valued at fifty dollars. They would now sell, I suppose, for seven or eight thousand dollars. They will soon be in the heart of the city, and are as beautiful lots, for church purposes, as are to be found in the city.
A few years ago our beloved Bishop Janes, in a visit to Springfield, saw clearly its rapid growth, and the slowness of the members of the Church in that place in regard to church extensions, and he advised, and organized, through the mission committee, the establishment of a mission in Springfield. But such was the short-sighted policy of many of the members of the Church belonging to the old charge, that they directly and indirectly opposed the establishment of this mission. But, through the strong and persevering efforts of the missionaries and the superintendent of the mission, we succeeded in procuring a lot and erecting a neat little mission church at a cost of something like twenty-seven hundred dollars.
When the church was finished, it was in debt some four hundred dollars, and instead of the members of the old charge, and the mission charge, making an effort to pay this indebtedness, they suffered the church to be sold for less than three hundred dollars; and even the members of the old charge devised a plan to buy it in, and diverted it from its original purpose of a church, to an academy, for the benefit of the old charge; and, consequently, our mission was blown out, our labor, for from two or four years, lost, and, in open violation of the provisions of the Discipline of the Church, the mission property was converted from Church to academical purposes; and a house and lot, that had cost near three thousand dollars, was thus sacrificed for a debt of less than three hundred dollars. This very transaction will stand out to future generations as evidence of the folly and stupidity of the members of the Methodist Church in Springfield, and will bar our approach to the citizens for years to come, when we desire to solicit aid to erect houses of worship in our metropolis.
Somewhere about this time, in 1829-30, the celebrated camp-meeting took place in Sangamon County and Circuit; and, as I suppose, out of incidents that then occurred was concocted that wonderful story about my fight with Mike Fink, which has no foundation in fact. We had this year two fine camp-meetings on the same ground, a few weeks apart; at the first, it was thought, over one hundred professed religion, and most of them joined the Methodist Church. At the second camp-meeting, over seventy joined the Church. Our encampment was large, and well seated; and we erected a large shed, that would, it was supposed, shelter a thousand people. The story to which I have alluded was published in "The National Magazine," and Brother Finley's Autobiography. It originated, I believe, in a paper, published in New York, called "The Sunday Times;" from this paper, it has been republished almost all round the Union. I would not care about the publication of this story by the secular press, if it had not found its way into our religious papers. One of the editors of one of our religious papers, who had published it, in reply to a letter of mine complaining of the caricature, and correcting some of the wrong statements, said, "It was good enough for me; and that if I would not publish a true history of my life it was no matter if others published a false one."
While I was on the Sangamon District, I rode one day into Springfield, on some little business. My horse had been an excellent racking pony, but now had the stiff complaint. I called a few minutes in a store, to get some little articles; I saw in the store two young men and a young lady; they were strangers, and we had no introduction whatever; they passed out, and off. After I had transacted my little business in the store, I mounted my stiff pony, and started for home. After riding nearly two miles, I discovered ahead of me, a light, two-horse wagon, with a good span of horses hitched to the wagon; and although it was covered, yet the cover was rolled up. It was warm weather, and I saw in the wagon those two young men and the young lady that I had seen in the store. As I drew near them, they began to sing one of our camp-meeting songs, and they appeared to sing with great animation. Presently the young lady began to shout, and said, "Glory to God! Glory to God!" the driver cried out, "Amen! Glory to God!"
My first impressions were, that they had been across the Sangamon River to a camp-meeting that I knew was in progress there, and had obtained religion, and were happy. As I drew a little nearer, the young lady began to sing and shout again. The young man who was not driving fell down, and cried aloud for mercy; the other two, shouting at the top of their voices, cried out, "Glory to God! another sinner's down." Then they fell to exhorting the young man that was down, saying, "Pray on, brother; pray on, brother; you will soon get religion." Presently up jumped the young man that was down, and shouted aloud, saying, "God has blessed my soul. Halleluiah! halleluiah! Glory to God!"
Thinking all was right, I felt like riding up, and joining in the songs of triumph and shouts of joy that rose from these three happy persons; but as I neared the wagon, I saw some glances of their eyes at each other, and at me, that created a suspicion in my mind that all was not right; and the thought occurred to me that they suspected or knew me to be a preacher, and that they were carrying on in this way to make a mock of sacred things, and to fool me. I checked my horse, and fell back, and rode slowly, hoping they would pass on, and that I should not be annoyed by them any more; but when I checked my horse and went slow, they checked up and went slow too, and the driver changed with the other young man; then they began again to sing and shout at a mighty rate, and down fell the first driver, and up went a new shout of "Glory to God! Another sinner's down. Pray on, brother; pray on, brother; the Lord will bless you." Presently up sprang the driver, saying, "Glory to God! he has blessed me." And both the others shouted, and said, "Another sinner's converted, another sinner's converted. Halleluiah! Glory to God!" A rush of indignant feeling came all over me, and I thought I would ride up and horsewhip both of these young men; and if the woman had not been in company, I think I should have done so; but I forbore. It was a vexatious encounter; if my horse had been fleet, as in former days, I could have rode right off, and left them in their glory, but he was stiff, and when I would fall back and go slow, they would check up; and when I would spur my stiff pony, and try to get ahead of them, they would crack the whip and keep ahead of me; and thus they tormented me before, as I thought, my time, and kept up a continual roar of "Another sinner's down! Another soul's converted! Glory to God! Pray on, brother! Halleluiah! halleluiah! Glory to God!" till I thought it was more than any good preacher ought to bear.
It would be hard for me to describe my feelings just about this time. It seemed to me that I was delivered over to be tormented by the devil and his imps. Just at this moment I thought of a desperate mudhole about a quarter of a mile ahead; it was a long one, and dreadful deep mud, and many wagons had stuck in it, and had to be prized out. Near the center of this mud hole there was a place of mud deeper than anywhere else. On the right stood a stump about two feet high; all the teams had to be driven as close to this stump as possible to avoid a deep rut on the left, where many wagons had stuck; I knew there was a small bridle way that wound round through the brush to avoid the mud, and it occurred to me that when we came near this muddy place I would take the bridle way, and put my horse at the top of his speed, and by this means get away from these wretched tormentors, as I knew they could not go fast through this long reach of mud. When we came to the commencement of the mud I took the bridle path, and put spurs and whip to my horse. Seeing I was rapidly leaving them in the rear, the driver cracked his whip, and put his horses at almost full speed, and such was their anxiety to keep up with me, to carry out their sport, that when they came to this bad place they never saw the stump on the right. The fore wheel of the wagon struck centrally on the stump, and as the wheel mounted the stump, over went the wagon. Fearing it would turn entirely over and catch them under, the two young men took a leap into the mud, and when they lighted they sunk up to the middle. The young lady was dressed in white, and as the wagon went over, she sprang as far as she could, and lighted on all fours; her hands sunk into the mud up to her armpits, her mouth and the whole of her face immersed in the muddy water, and she certainly would have strangled if the young men had not relieved her. As they helped her up and out, I had wheeled my horse to see the fun. I rode up to the edge of the mud, stopped my horse, reared in my stirrups, and shouted at the top of my voice,
"Glory to God! Glory to God! Halleluiah! another sinner's down! Glory to God! Halleluiah! Glory! Halleluiah!"
If ever mortals felt mean, these youngsters did; and well they might, for they had carried on all this sport to make light of religion, and to insult a minister, a total stranger to them. But they contemned religion, and hated the Methodists, especially Methodist preachers.
When I became tired of shouting over them, I said to them:
"Now, you poor, dirty, mean sinners, take this as a just judgment of God upon you for your meanness, and repent of your dreadful wickedness; and let this be the last time that you attempt to insult a preacher; for if you repeat your abominable sport and persecutions, the next time God will serve you worse, and the devil will get you."
They felt so badly that they never uttered one word of reply. Now I was very glad that I did not horsewhip them, as I felt like doing; but that God had avenged his own cause, and defended his own honor without my doing it with carnal weapons; and I may here be permitted to say, at one of those prosperous camp-meetings named in this chapter, I had the great pleasure to see all three of these young people converted to God. I took them into the Methodist Church, and they went back to Ohio happy in God. They were here on a visit among their relations from that state, and went home with feelings very different from those they possessed when they left.
There is another small incident connected with these two prosperous camp-meetings before named. There was a great and good work going on in our congregation from time to time; and on Sunday there were a great many from Springfield, and all the surrounding country. A great many professors of religion in other Churches professed to wish their children converted, but still they could not trust them at a Methodist meeting, especially a camp-meeting. A great many of these young people attended the camp-meetings, and on Sunday the awful displays of Divine power were felt to the utmost verge of the congregation. When I closed my sermon, I invited mourners to the altar, and there was a mighty shaking among the dry bones; many came forward, and among the rest there were many young ladies whose parents were members of a sister Church; two in particular of these young ladies came into the altar. Their mother was present; and when she heard her daughters were kneeling at the altar of God, praying for mercy, she sent an elder of her Church to bring them out. When he came to tell them their mother had sent for them, they refused to go. He then took hold of them, and said they must go. I then took hold of him, and told him they should not go, and that if that was his business, I wanted him to leave the altar instantly. He left, and reported to their mother; and while we were kneeling all round the altar, and praying for the mourners, the mother in a great rage rushed in. When she came, all were kneeling around, and there was no place for her to get in to her daughters. As I knelt and was stooping down, talking, and encouraging the mourners, this lady stepped on my shoulders, and rushed right over my head. As, in a fearful rage, she took hold of her daughters to take them out by force, I took hold of her arm, and tried to reason with her, but I might as well have reasoned with a whirlwind. She said she would have them out at the risk of her life.
"They are my daughters," said she, "and they shall come out."
Said I to her, "This is my altar and my meeting, and I say, these girls shall not be taken out."
She seized hold of them again. I took hold of her, and put her out of the altar, and kept her out. Both of these young ladies professed religion, but they were prevented by their mother from joining the Methodists. She compelled them to join her Church, sorely against their will. They married in their mother's Church, but I fear they were hindered for life, if not finally lost.
I have often thought of the thousands who have been awakened and converted under Methodist preaching, but, from the prejudice of their husbands, wives, parents, or children, and friends, have been influenced to join another branch of the Church. What a fearful account will many have to give who, through prejudice or bigotry, have opposed their relatives or friends in joining the Church of their choice; if these souls are lost, who will have to answer for it at the bar of God? "Lord, we saw some casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade them, because they followed not us." "Forbid them not," was the reply of our Saviour; "for there is no man can do a miracle in my name, and speak lightly of me." Let us be careful on this subject, for the loss of a soul is a fearful consideration to all.
We had a camp-meeting in Morgan County, Sangamon District. While I was on this district the following remarkable providence occurred: There were large congregations from time to time, many awakened and converted to God, fifty joined the Church. G. W. Teas, now a traveling preacher in the Iowa Conference, made the fiftieth person that joined the Church. We had worship for several days and nights. On Monday, just after we dismissed for dinner, there was a very large limb of a tree that stood on the side of the ground allotted for the ladies, which, without wind or any other visible cause, broke loose and fell, with a mighty crash, right in among the ladies' seats; but as the Lord would direct it, there was not a woman or child there when the limb fell. If it had fallen at any time while the congregation was collected, it must have killed more than a dozen persons. Just in the south of Morgan, near Lynnville, we had another camp-meeting, perhaps the same summer. In the afternoon, at three o'clock, I put up a very good local preacher to preach. He was not as interesting as some, and the congregation became restless, especially the rowdies. I went out among them, and told them they ought to hear the preacher.
"O," said they, "if it was you we would gladly hear you."
"Boys," said I, "do you really want to hear me?"
"Yes, we do," said they.
"Well," said I, "if you do, go and gather all those inattentive groups, and come down in the grove, two hundred yards south, and I will preach to you."
They collected two or three hundred. I mounted an old log; they all seated themselves in a shade. I preached to them about an hour, and not a soul moved or misbehaved. In this way I matched the rowdies for once.