Formation of Early Circuits in the West

Our Annual Conference this year was held at Franklin, Tennessee, October 20th, 1816. Our increase this year in the West, including the Ohio and Tennessee Conferences, was 1,203. Our increase of traveling preachers in these two conferences was but two, owing to many locations for want of means of support. My four years on the Wabash and Green River District having expired, Bishop M'Kendree told me he desired me to go to the Holston District; but it was a long journey to move, and I had a young and increasing family, and I was poor. I asked him to be excused, but if he thought it best I would go; but he appointed me to the Christian Circuit, in the Green River District, James Axley presiding elder; this was the year 1816-17.

It must be borne in mind that in the West we always received our appointments for the year in the fall of the previous year, and it must also be remembered that the General Conference of 1816 formed the Missouri Conference, which covered that State, and Arkansas, Illinois, and Indiana States. Of course there was a considerable change in our work. They also, at the same General Conference, formed the Mississippi Conference. The Ohio Conference was composed of Ohio, Muskingum, Scioto, Miami, and Kentucky Districts, five in number. The Missouri Conference was composed of Illinois and Missouri Districts, covering the principal settlements in four large states, though only two districts.

It is probable that the first introduction of Methodism in the State of Indiana was in 1802 or 1803. In the fall of 1804 Clark's Grant, or the Illinois Grant, as it was called, which was opposite and north of Louisville, was then included in the Salt River and Shelbyville Circuits, and Brother Benjamin Lakin and myself crossed the Ohio River, and preached at Brother Robertson's and Prather's. In this grant we had two classes, and splendid revivals of religion; and if my recollection serves me correctly, this Illinois Grant was formed into a circuit in 1807-8, and Moses Ashworth was appointed to travel it; it was called Silver Creek Circuit. This was the first regular circuit ever formed in the State of Indiana, and composed of one hundred and eighty-eight members. The next circuit formed in the State of Indiana was called Vincennes Circuit, which I formed in 1808, at the time I fought the memorable battle with the Shakers, in the Busroe Settlement, elsewhere named in this narrative. This circuit was temporarily supplied probably till 1811; it then had 125 members, and Thomas Stillwell was its first regular preacher; it belonged to the Green River District. The first introduction of Methodism in the State of lllinois is hard to determine.

The real pioneer and leader of Episcopal Methodism in the State of Illinois was Captain Joseph Ogle, who came to Illinois in 1785, and was converted under the preaching of James Smith, (Baptist,) of Kentucky, who visited and preached in lllinois in 1787. The first Methodist preacher was Joseph Lillard, who visited this state in 1793, and formed a class in St. Clair County, and appointed Captain Ogle leader. The next Methodist preacher was John Clarke, who was originally a circuit rider in South Carolina, from 1791 to 1796, when he withdrew on account of slavery. He was the first man that preached the Gospel west of the Mississippi, in 1798. The Rev. Hosea Riggs was the first Methodist preacher that settled in Illinois, and he revived and reorganized the class at Captain Ogle's, formed by Lillard, which had dropped its regular meetings.

From 1798 there seems to have been no regular preacher in Illinois till 1804; then Benjamin Young was sent as a missionary. In the fall of 1805 he returned sixty-seven members, and Joseph Oglesby was appointed to succeed Brother Young on the Illinois Circuit. This circuit was in the Cumberland District, Western Conference, and Lewis Garrett presiding elder, though I think he never visited Illinois. In 1806 Charles Methany was appointed to the Illinois Circuit. In 1807 Jesse Walker was appointed to this circuit, and in 1808 John Clingan. All these early pioneer preachers have long since passed away and gone to their reward. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord; they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them."

The Tennessee Conference was composed of Salt River, Nashville, Cumberland, Green River, Holston, and French Broad Districts. The Mississippi Conference was composed of Mississippi and Louisiana Districts. Our old Western Conference had now, in four years from its first division, increased to four Annual Conferences, and they started in this form with the following ministers and members. According to the Minutes of 1817, Ohio had 22,171 members, and 62 preachers; Missouri had 3,173 members, and 23 traveling preachers; Tennessee had 19,401 members, and 53 traveling preachers; Mississippi Conference had 1,941 members, and 11 traveling preachers. Our four conferences now covered the following states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Western Virginia, and some appointments in North Carolina. In the fall of 1813 I had left the Christian Circuit for the District, with 743 members, and I now found 546, but parts of the circuit and membership had been merged into other circuits. I was without any helper, and it was a full four weeks' circuit.

This year we had some glorious revivals. There was a small society of good members some five miles north of Hopkinsville; one of our quarterly meetings was holden here, and a blessed work broke out; some seventy were converted and joined the Church. Several of these young converts made useful ministers in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Down near the Tennessee State line, there moved and settled two wealthy Methodist families, but they were surrounded by a strong settlement who were very rigid Calvinists, raised to hate the Methodists. I took them in the circuit, but it being a week-day appointment, and strong prejudices against us, our congregations were small. These two families had over one hundred and twenty slaves, and the slaves were dreadfully wicked; they were a drunken, Sabbath-breaking, and thievish set of slaves. The masters were very humane and indulgent. There were but two, I believe, among them that were professors at all; two old gray-headed men. One of them was a Methodist, the other was a Baptist; both were exhorters among the people of color. The brother at whose house I preached was a plain, old-fashioned Methodist in almost everything save slavery. I was opposed to slavery, though I did not meddle with it politically, yet I felt it my duty to bear my testimony against the moral wrong of slavery. The old brother took some exceptions to my testimony against it. I saw very plainly that in all probability these slaves must be lost. On week days they were under an overseer, and not permitted to hear preaching. Sundays they were out drinking and trading, selling brooms, baskets, and the little articles they manufactured. I felt distressed at the thought that they would be lost. At length I asked the old brother to give me the privilege to go to their cabins and preach to them; he thought this too great a degradation for a preacher. I told him if something was not done for them they would all be lost, and that God held him in a strong sense accountable, and that something must be done. He said he was willing I should preach to them if I would preach to them in his house. I told him I had this objection to that: "You white people will be present, and your very presence will embarrass them and me both. I want to talk to them as ignorant negroes, and tell them of all their drunkenness, stealing, acts of adultery, and Sabbath-breaking; and I cannot do it if the white people are present." He then proposed to give the negroes the large room and entry, and that he and his brother-in-law's family would retire to another room. I said, "If you will let me lock you up, I will agree to it." He assented.

The appointment was made, and all the slaves of the two families directed to attend. I told John and Harry, the two black men that were exhorters, that if any impression was made on any of them, they must set out a mourners' bench, and assist me in talking to and praying with them.

The day rolled on; I attended; the room was full, and entry too. I locked up the white people in another room and went in and took my stand. There was belonging to the old brother, a large, likely mulatto man, the carriage-driver; he dressed much finer than his master; he came and took his stand in the door, his bosom full of ruffles. He looked scornfully on me, as good as to say, "Yes, you think you are going to do great things in preaching to us colored people." I sung and prayed; took my text; explained the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ; then told them of all their dirty deeds, in as plain language as I could command; and then, in as warm an exhortation as I could give, I warned them to flee from the wrath to come; and just as I closed, the large ruffle-shirted carriage-driver fell full length on the floor, and made the house jar and tremble. In a few minutes they fell right and left, till the place was strewed with them in every direction. John and Harry, my two armor-bearers, set out a bench, and gathered them to it till they could get no more, for the crowd; and the first thing I knew, here were the old brother and his wife, his brother-in-law and wife, talking to and praying with the negroes, and several of their children down with the negroes praying for mercy at a mighty rate. Our meeting lasted all the afternoon and night, and there were forty conversions; several of the white children among the rest. From this a blessed revival spread among the slaves, and many of them, I believe, were soundly converted. I took some seventy into the Church; baptized them and their children. Several of these colored men made respectable local preachers to preach to the slaves around the country.

These two old Methodist men said I had in a temporal sense bettered or enhanced the value of their servants more than a thousand dollars; they ceased getting drunk, stealing, and breaking the Sabbath. This revival among the slaves, with many others that I have been engaged in, fully satisfies me that the Gospel ought to be carried to slaves and owners of slaves; for if the religion of Jesus Christ will not finally bring about emancipation of the slaves, nothing else will. I am greatly astonished at many good Methodist preachers that say, "Don't carry the Gospel into slave states, but deliver over to the uncovenanted mercies of God slaves and their masters;" for they say virtually, none of them can be saved. But I know better; and unless freedom for the slaves is accomplished, under the redeeming influence of religion, this happy Union will be split from center to circumference, and then there will be an end to our happy and glorious republic. And if we do not carry the Gospel to these slaves and their masters, who will? surely not the ministers who justify slavery by perverting the word of God; and still more surely not abolition preachers, who by political agitation have cut themselves off from any access to slave-holders or slaves.

I wish we had a trained band of preachers of the Methodist Episcopal Church who are willing to let our Discipline be as it is, to send into every slave state in the Union. Surely here is missionary ground that ought to be occupied with great care, for the salvation of the perishing thousands of the South, and for the final overthrow of slavery, under the benign influences of the Christian religion.

There was another incident occurred this year, that I will mention in this place. Many of the early Methodists somehow imbibed the notion that a quarter of a dollar meant what we call quarterage; and although many of them were wealthy, it was hard to convince them that twenty-five cents were not quarterage, and that every member should pay according to his ability. This was one cause why so many of our preachers were starved into a location, and of necessity had to retire from the itinerant field.

There were two wealthy families moved into my circuit from one of the old states, and settled in a very wicked neighborhood. They came to me, and insisted that I should take them into the circuit and preach to them. I did so; and formed a class of five white members, and one old black man. The round on the circuit before the next quarterly meeting I told them, as none of them would go to the quarterly meeting, that if they had anything to send up as their quarterage to support the Gospel, if they would hand it to me, I would credit it to their names on the class paper.

The old negro man stepped forward and laid down his quarter of a dollar. Next came his mistress; she handed me two dollars; then came her husband and the master of the old black man, and threw down twenty-five cents.

So I left the money on the table. "And now, sir," said I, "if you will not support the Gospel, I shall not leave any other appointment here, but will go and preach to those who are willing to support the Gospel."

The old brother was considerably riled. His good lady expostulated with him; but he was inexorable. The sister told me afterward that the colonel spent a sleepless night; he kept twisting, and turning from side to side, and groaning all night. She spoke to him several times, and told him if he would resolve to be more liberal, his bad feelings would go off, and he would sleep better. The old brother got up the next morning, and after family worship, he said to me:

"Brother, what ought I to give as quarterage?"

"O," said I, "brother, I can't answer that question; that is a matter between God and your conscience. But," said I, "brother, solve the following question, and you will know what you ought to give: If your old negro man, not worth ten dollars, gave twenty-five cents a quarter, what ought Colonel T., who has seventy slaves, two thousand acres of good land, several thousand dollars out at interest, and worth, at least, fifty thousand dollars, to give?",

The solving of this question stumped him, and his quarterage ever afterward, as long as I knew him, came by dollars and not cents. And when last I saw him, as I moved to Illinois, he stopped me in the road, and said:

"Brother, I owe you a thousand dollars, and here's part of it," handing me a fifty dollar bill.

His excellent wife, leaning on his arm, said to me, "I owe you as much as my husband, take a part," and handed me a twenty dollar bill. Thus I cured a quarter-of-a-dollar-quarterage member; and, my dear reader, if you are one of these old dispensationists, look out for a perfect cure, or come and be healed of this parsimonious leprosy.

In traveling the Christian Circuit, which crossed the Tennessee State line, and lay partly in Tennessee, and partly in Kentucky, in one of my exploring routes, hunting up new ground and new appointments to preach at, late one evening, in or near the Cumberland River Bottom, I called at a gentleman's gate, and asked the privilege of staying all night. The gentleman very readily granted my request. He was a wealthy farmer, the owner of several slaves. I found a mild, good, easy, fashionable family. After supper, several neighbors came in to spend an evening in social chat. Being a stranger among them, I turned the conversation on religious subjects; inquired if they had any preaching. I soon found they had very little preaching of any kind. I told the gentleman my business was to preach anywhere I could get peaceable and orderly hearers, and asked him if I might not leave an appointment to preach at his house. He pleasantly said, if he had heard me preach and liked my preaching, he could better determine whether to grant me the privilege to leave an appointment or not. I told him as he had a large family, black and white, and as there was some five or six visitors present, if he had no objections, and would call them together, I would preach to them, and he could the better judge how he liked my preaching, and determine whether I should leave a future appointment. He agreed to the proposition, and called all in. I sung and prayed, took my text, and preached to them about an hour as best I could. The colored people wept; the white people wept; the man of the house wept; and when I closed, he said, "Do leave another appointment, and come and preach to us, for we are sinners, and greatly need preaching." I left an appointment, but before I came round, the devil stirred up opposition. One man told the gentleman at whose house I preached, that if he let the Methodist preachers preach at his house, it would not be long before they would eat him out of house and home. He said his father had taken in Methodist preachers, and in a few years they ate him out, and brought him to poverty; and, besides, these Methodist preachers were a very bad set of men. Mr. B. told this man that he thought he could stand it a while, and if he found there was any danger of being eaten out, he would send us adrift.

When I came to my appointment there was a large congregation; the house and porch were literally crowded. I preached to them with great freedom, and almost the whole congregation were melted into tears. I sung, prayed, and went through the congregation, and shook hands with a great many of them. When I came to the man of the house, he wept, and fell on his knees, and begged me to pray for him. Soon his wife and children, and several others, knelt by his side, and cried aloud for mercy. It was late at night before our meeting closed, and not until the swelling, shouts of five or six went to heaven that the dead were alive and the lost were found. I opened the doors of the Church for the reception of members, and some ten persons joined, the man of the house, his wife, two children, and two servants. This was the first-fruits of a gracious revival, and a large society in this neighborhood; and while I lived in that country, we held a sacramental meeting at this place every year. After the first sacrament we held there, Brother B. rose and addressed the large assembly. He said, "Some of you kindly warned me not to take in these Methodist preachers. You said they would eat me out and bring me to poverty; but, neighbors, I have raised more corn, more wheat, more hemp, more tobacco, and never lived as well and plentifully in all my life. I could feed a regiment of Methodist preachers all the time, and then get rich, for God blesses me in my basket and in my store."

During this year, while on this circuit, something like the following occurred: An Englishman, a Wesleyan Methodist, moved into a very wicked and highstrung predestinarian settlement. He came several miles, and made himself known. He invited me to preach at his house. I told him the people were so prejudiced against the Methodists that we could not get them out to hear on a week-day; but he insisted, and I gave him an appointment. When I came there were only five besides the family. I preached; two of the little company wept. I left another appointment. For several times that I preached to them, my congregation increased, and were orderly and somewhat affected. At length the Englishman, being wealthy, told me he was going to build a church. I tried to dissuade him from it. I told him he could get no help to build; that there was no society, and not much probability that there would ever be a Methodist society there; but, he said, he thought a man lived to very little purpose in this world, if he did not live so as to leave his mark, that would tell when he was dead and gone. "Now," said he, "if you will promise me that you will hold a protracted meeting, and give us a sacrament, and get some help, and come and dedicate the church, it shall be up and finished in eight or ten weeks." I told him I would do so, if spared; in the meantime, while the church was in process of building, we had two or three conversions at our little meetings. The church being finished, I got the help needed, appointed a protracted sacramental meeting to dedicate the church, and invited people far and near to attend; and it being a new thing in the settlement, when the day came there was a very large concourse of people. The first sermon, on Saturday was attended with great power; that night there were several mourners and two sound conversions. On Sunday, under the sermon of dedication, the word was attended with great power; many fell under the mighty power of God. Our meeting lasted all that day and night, with very little intermission, and about twenty were converted.

Our meeting continued several days and nights; many were the happy conversions to God, and forty joined the Church. My Englishman was so happy, he hardly knew whether he was in the body or out of it. Methodism was firmly planted here. Long since my English brother died in great peace, and rests in heaven from his labors, and his works do follow him; but surely he made his "mark," and it will be owned in heaven.

From the earliest of my recollection, up to this time, 1816, there were scarcely any books of any kind in this now mighty West; but especially was there a great scarcity of Bibles and Testaments. We were young and poor as a nation; had but a few years gained our liberty; had hardly begun to live as a republic after a bloody and devastating war for our independence; and although Congress, the very first year after the declaration of our independence, had wisely taken steps for furnishing the struggling infant for independence with the word of God, and did order that precious book, yet there was a great lack of the Bible, especially in the wilderness of the West; but this year the Lord put it into the hearts of some of his people to organize a Bible Society, which was done on the 11th of May, 1816; and although at first it was a feeble concern, yet God has prospered it, and millions upon millions of this precious book have been printed and circulated, and it is pouring streams of light, life, and knowledge upon almost every nation of this sin-stricken world. The man of sin has quailed before it; the false religion of the God-dishonoring prophet is tottering before its mighty truths; the dying idolatrous pagan millions are receiving its soul-converting truths, and we hope for its universal spread till every crowned head shall be brought down to the dust, every oppressive yoke broken, universal civil and religious liberty enjoyed by our fallen race, and the benefits of the redeeming stream be enjoyed by all mankind.

Nothing but the principles of the Bible can save our happy nation or the world, and every friend of religion ought to spread the Bible to the utmost of his power and means. Then let us look for the happy end of the universal spread of truth, when all flesh shall see the salvation of God.