CHAPTER XXV The New-School Preacher
In the fall of 1836, our conference was holden in Rushville, lllinois State. Bishop R. R. Roberts attended and presided. My field of labor had for four years been the Quincy District. My constitutional time was out, and I was again appointed to the Sangamon District, which was composed of the following appointments: Jacksonville Station, Jacksonville Circuit, Winchester, Springfield Station, Sangamon, Flat Branch, Athens, Pecan Mission, Beardstown Mission, nine in all. It will be perceived that Beardstown was this year first formed into a distinct station, and Dr. P. Akers appointed missionary. It will also be noticed that the Illinois Conference, at this date, not only reached to the northern limits of the State, but had spread with the constantly increasing population into Wisconsin and Iowa Territories, and covered, in its missionary stations, almost the entire unbroken Indian country, now called the Minnesota Territory, and we had thirteen presiding-elder districts, and at our annual conference, held in Jacksonville, Morgan County, September 27th, 1837, we had over one hundred and thirty traveling preachers, and over twenty-one thousand members. Any one of our traveling preachers was liable to be sent from the mouth of the Ohio and Wabash Rivers nearly to the head waters of the Mississippi, a thousand or twelve hundred miles, and all the northern part of our conference was frontier work or Indian wilds. Hard were our labors, but glorious was our success.
This year, 1837, J. T. Mitchell was appointed to the Jacksonville Station, and we had a blessed revival of religion in the station, and a number were added to the Church. At one of our quarterly meetings there was a minister who was what was called a New-School minister, and he was willing to work anywhere. When the mourners presented themselves at the altar of prayer, he would talk to them, and exhort them to "change their purpose," and assured them that all who changed their purpose were undoubted Christians. I plainly saw he was doing mischief, and I went immediately after him, and told them not to depend on a change of purpose in order to become a Christian, but to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with a heart unto righteousness, and they should be saved. Thus I had to counteract the false sentiments inculcated by this New-School minister. It is very strange to me to think these educated and home-manufactured preachers do not understand the plain, Bible doctrine of the new birth better. They say man is a free agent in so far as to change his purpose, and in changing his purpose he is constituted a new creature. Thus he makes himself a Christian by his own act without the Spirit of God.
This year we had a gracious work of religion in the town of Winchester, in the Winchester Circuit. We had no meeting-house or church built there at this time to worship in, and when our quarterly meeting came on the friends had procured an unfinished frame building, large and roomy, to hold the quarterly meeting in. There was a very large concourse of people in attendance. The house was crowded to overflowing; our seats were temporary; no altar, no pulpit, but our meeting progressed with great interest. The members of the Church were greatly revived, many backsliders were reclaimed, and scores of weeping and praying sinners crowded our temporary altar that we had erected.
There happened to be at our quarterly meeting a fresh, green, live Yankee from down East. He had regularly graduated, and had his diploma, and was regularly called, by the Home Missionary Society, to visit the far-off West--a perfect moral waste, in his view of the subject; and having been taught to believe that we were almost cannibals, and that Methodist preachers were nothing but a poor, illiterate set of ignoramuses, he longed for an opportunity to display his superior tact and talent, and throw us poor upstarts of preachers in the West, especially Methodist preachers, into the shades of everlasting darkness. He, of course, was very forward and officious. He would, if I had permitted it, have taken the lead of our meeting. At length I thought I would give him a chance to ease himself of his mighty burden, so I put him up one night to read his sermon. The frame building we were worshiping in was not plastered, and, the wind blew hard; our candles flared and gave a bad light, and our ministerial hero made a very awkward out in reading his sermon. The congregation paid a heavy penance and became restive; he balked, and hemmed, and coughed at a disgusting rate. At the end of about thirty minutes the great blessing came: he closed, to the great satisfaction of all, the congregation.
I rose and gave an exhortation, and had a bench prepared, to which I invited the mourners. They came in crowds; and there was a solemn power rested on the congregation. My little hot-house reader seemed to recover from his paroxysm of a total failure, as though he had done all right, and, uninvited, he turned in to talk to the mourners. He would ask them if they did not love Christ; then he would try to show them that Christ was lovely; then he would tell them it was a very easy thing to become a Christian; that they had only to resolve to be a Christian, and instantly he or she was a Christian. I listened a moment, and saw this heterodoxy would not do; that it produced jargon and confusion. I stepped up to him, and said:
"Brother, you don't know how to talk to mourners. I want you to go out into the congregation, and exhort sinners."
He did not appear the least disconcerted, but at my bidding he left the altar, and out he went into the crowd, and turned in to talking to sinners. There was a very large man, who stood a few steps from the mourners, who weighed about two hundred and thirty pounds; he had been a professor, but was backslidden. The power of God arrested him, and he cried out aloud for mercy, standing on his feet. My little preacher turned round, and pressed back through the crowd; and coming up to this large man, reached up, and tapped him on the shoulder, saying,
"Be composed; be composed."
Seeing, and indistinctly hearing this, I made my way to him, and cried out at the top of my voice,
"Pray on, brother; pray on, brother; there's no composure in hell or damnation."
And just as I crowded my way to this convicted man, who was still crying aloud for mercy, the little preacher tapped him again on the shoulder, saying,
"Be composed; be composed, brother."
I again responded:
"Pray on, brother; pray on, brother; there is no composure in hell."
I said to the throng that crowded the aisle that led to the altar,
"Do, friends, stand back, till I get this man to the mourner's bench."
But they were so completely jammed together that it seemed almost impossible for me to get through with my mourner. I let go his arm, and stepped forward to open the way to the altar, and just as I had opened the aisle, and turned to go back, and lead him to the mourner's bench, the Lord spoke peace to his soul, standing on his feet; and he cried, "Glory to God," and in the ecstasy of his joy, he reached forward to take me in his arms; but, fortunately for me, two men were crowded into the aisle between him and myself, and he could not reach me. Missing his aim in catching me, he wheeled around and caught my little preacher in his arms, and lifted him up from the floor; and being a large, strong man, having great physical power, he jumped from bench to bench, knocking the people against one another on the right and left, front and rear, holding up in his arms the little preacher. The little fellow stretched out both arms and both feet, expecting every moment to be his last, when he would have his neck broken. O! how I desired to be near this preacher at that moment, and tap him on the shoulder, and say, "Be composed; be composed, brother!" But as solemn as the times were, I, with many others, could not command my risibilities, and for the moment, it had like to have checked the rapid flow of good feeling with those that beheld the scene; but you may depend on it, as soon as the little hot-bed parson could make his escape, he was missing.
Our annual conference was held in Alton this fall, September 12th, 1838. Owing to the low stage of water in the Ohio River, Bishop Soule was detained on the way, and did not reach Alton till the fourth day of the Conference. He not being present when we organized, I was elected president of the Conference till the bishop arrived.
In the fall of 1839, our Illinois Conference was held in Springfield, Sangamon County; here we elected our delegates to the eighth delegated General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I was one of the delegates, and this was the seventh General Conference to which I was elected. Our General Conference sat in Baltimore, May 1st, 1840. At this Conference, the unhappy agitation of slavery was revived. The two ultra parties had their representatives there. The slavery party from the South contended that slavery was no disqualification for the episcopal office. The abolitionists from the North contended that slavery was a sin under all circumstances. This party was led on by O. Scott; and they urged that it should not only be a test of office, but of membership, in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the slaveholding states, as well as the free states. Our Committee on Episcopacy had recommended the election of two more bishops; believing that if we went into an election of these officers of the Church, a conflict on the subject would ensue, and believing that the then present incumbents of that office could discharge all the labors necessary for the healthy action of the Church, I flung myself against the election of any more bishops at that Conference. In this, nearly all the conservative members of the General Conference joined me, and thereby defeated the designs of both the ultra parties, and every aspiring expectant for that office, for the time being, and, in all probability, a rupture in the Church. At this General Conference, the following additional annual conferences were formed: Rock River, North Ohio, Memphis, and Texas, all in the West and Southwest. Rock River Conference was stricken off from the Illinois Conference, and consisted of the following presiding-elder districts: Chicago, Ottawa, Mount Morris, Burlington, Iowa, Indian Mission, Plattville, and Milwaukie; eight in number.
The Illinois Conference consisted of the following presiding-elder districts, namely: Danville, Mount Vernon, Vandalia, Lebanon, Jacksonville, Springfield, Quincy, Knoxville, and Bloomington; nine in number. We had in Rock River Conference, 6,585 members, and 75 traveling preachers; in Illinois Conference, we had 24,687 members, and 103 traveling preachers. North Ohio Conference was stricken off from Ohio Conference; the Memphis Conference was stricken off from the Tennessee Conference; the Texas Conference was taken from Mississippi Conference, and had three presiding-elder districts, namely: San Augustine, Galveston, Rutersville; having 18 traveling preachers, and 1,853 members. Thus you see in the two original divisions of the work, namely, East and West, the East had sixteen annual conferences; and the West, with her enlargements, had sixteen annual conferences; making, in all, thirty-two, besides the Liberia Mission Conference and the Canadas, which were under foreign governments.
The Eastern division of the work had, in members, 466,561; in traveling preachers, 3,125; the membership in the West was, 375,433; traveling preachers we had, 1,447. Total in members, 841,994; in traveling preachers, 4,572. Increase in four years in the East was, in members, 60,500; in the Western division was over 11,200.
Here I wish to remark that the abolition party up to this time had universally, as far as I knew, opposed most strenuously the Colonization Society; and it really appeared to me that if they could not effect an immediate emancipation, and a restoration of the people of color to equal rights and privileges with the whites, they did not care what became of them. I will state a case. In Natchez, Mississippi, the Methodist Episcopal Church had erected a good, substantial church at a considerable cost. The galleries of the church were appropriated for the use and benefit of the colored people. Some time in 1839 or 1840, a fearful tornado had swept over the town of Natchez, and done a great deal of damage; and among the rest, it had well-nigh overturned the Methodist Church, so that it was not safe to worship in it. The society was weak, and comparatively poor. In this situation they were deprived of any suitable place to worship in, either the whites or blacks.
The delegates from the Mississippi Conference came on to the General Conference, and asked aid of their Eastern brethren, and of the members of the General Conference, to rebuild, or refit their church; and a collection was taken up in the Conference for this purpose; and if my memory serves me, the members of the General Conference gave them over one thousand dollars; but our abolition brethren would not give anything, alleging that the Church or the Gospel could do no good to either the slaves or slaveholders, so long as slavery existed among them. I went to those members of the General Conference who refused, and tried to reason the case with them; but all in vain. I urged that these poor slaves could not help themselves; they were in bondage, not of choice, but from circumstances beyond their control; and we ought not to withhold the Gospel from them, for it was all the comfort these poor slaves could have in this life, or to fit them for happiness in the life to come. But no; it was upholding and countenancing slavery, and, therefore, their consciences would not let them contribute anything. Now look at it; who does not see that there was a wrong and fanatical spirit which actuated them, and that their consciences, for solidity and rotundity, very much resembled a ram's horn. But this false view has prevented many, very many, from doing their duty by these poor children of Ham.
In the fall of 1840-41, I was appointed to Jacksonville District; and on September 15th, 1841, our annual conference was holden in Jacksonville. Bishop Morris presided. The Jacksonville District embraced the following appointments, namely: Carrollton Station, Carrollton Circuit, Grafton, Whitehall, Winchester, Jacksonville Station, Jacksonville Circuit, and Manchester, eight appointments. In the course of this year, we had a camp quarterly meeting, for the Winchester Circuit, in what was called Egypt. We had a beautiful camp-ground, a few miles from Winchester. There was a general turn-out among the members, who tented on the ground. William D. R. Trotter was the circuit preacher.
We had been threatened by many of the baser sort, that they would break up our camp-meeting; and there was a general rally from the floating population of the river, and the loose-footed, doggery-haunting, dissipated renegades of the towns and villages all round. They came and pitched their tents a few hundred yards from the camp ground. Many also came in wagons and carriages, bringing whisky and spirits of different kinds, pies, cigars, tobacco, etc. We had many respectable tent-holders and proper officers on the ground, but I plainly saw we were to have trouble, so I summoned the tent-holders and friends of good order together, and we adopted rules to govern the meeting, and then urged them, one and all, to aid me in executing those rules for the maintenance of good order. But. I thought there was a disposition in some of the friends to shrink from responsibility, and that they must be roused to action.
When we were called to the stand by the sound of the trumpet, I called the attention of the congregation to the absolute necessity of keeping good order. I stated that my father was a Revolutionary soldier, and fought for the liberties we enjoyed, and all the boon he had left me was liberty; and that, as the responsible officer of the camp-meeting, if the friends of order and the sworn officers of the law would give me backing, I would maintain order at the risk of my life. My lecture roused the friends of order, and they gave me their countenance and aid; but the whisky sellers and whisky drinkers, nothing daunted, commenced their deeds of darkness. Some were soon drunk, and interrupted our devotions very much. I then ordered several writs, and took into custody several of those whisky venders and drunken rowdies; but these rowdies rose in mob force, and rescued the whisky seller and his wagon and team from the officer of the law. The officer came running to me, and informed me of the rising of the mob, and that the whisky man was given up, and was making his escape; and it appeared to me he was very much scared. I told him to summon me and five other men that I named, and I would insure the re- taking of the transgressor, in spite of any mob. He did so. We rushed upon them and stopped the team. The man that had transgressed drew a weapon, and ordered us to stand off; that he would kill the first man that touched him: and as one of the men and myself that were summoned to take him rushed on him, he made a stroke at my companion with his weapon, but missed him. I then sprang upon him and caught him by the collar, and jerked him over the wagon bed, in which he was standing, among his barrels. He fell on all-fours. I jumped on him, and told him he was my prisoner, and that if he did not surrender I should hurt him. The deputy sheriff of the county, who was with the mob, and a combatant at that, ran up to me, and ordered me to let the prisoner go. I told him I should not. He said if I did not, he would knock me over. I told him if he struck to make a sure lick, for the next was mine. Our officer then commanded me to take the deputy sheriff, and I did so. He scuffed a little, but finding himself in rather close quarters, he surrendered.
We then took thirteen of the mob, the whisky seller, and the sheriff, and marched them off to the magistrate, to the tune of good order. They were fined by the justice of the peace; some paid their fine, some appealed to court. This appealing we liked well, because they then had to give security, and this secured the fine and costs, which some of them were not able to pay.
This somewhat checked them for a while, but they rallied again, and gave us trouble. There was one man, a turbulent fellow, who sold whisky about a quarter of a mile off. He had often interrupted us by selling whisky at our camp-meetings. He generally went armed with deadly weapons, to keep off officers. I sent the constable after him, but he had a musket, well loaded, and would not be taken. He kept a drinking party round him nearly all night; however, toward morning they left him, and went off to sleep as best they could, and he lay down in his wagon, and went to sleep, with his loaded musket by his side.
Just as day dawned, I slipped over the creek and came up to his wagon. He was fast asleep. I reached over the wagon bed and gathered his gun and ammunition; then struck the wagon bed with the muzzle of the musket, and cried out, "Wake up! wake up!" He sprang to his feet, and felt for his gun. I said, "You are my prisoner; and if you resist, you are a dead man!" He begged me not to shoot, and said that he would surrender. I told him to get out of the wagon, and march before me to the camp ground; that I was going to have him tried for violating good order and the laws of his country. He began to beg most piteously, and said if I would only let him escape that time, he would gear up and go right away, and never do the like again. I told him to harness his team, and start. He did so. When he got ready to go, I poured out his powder, and fired off his musket and gave it to him; and he left us, and troubled us no more.
On Sunday night, the rowdies all collected at the Mormon camp. It was so called, because some Mormons had come and pitched a tent a quarter of a mile from our encampment, with whisky and many other things to sell. They ate and drank; and by way of mockery, and in contempt of religion, they held a camp-meeting; they preached, prayed, called for mourners, shouted, and kept up a continual annoyance. They sent me word they would give me ten dollars if I would bring an officer and a company to take them; that they could whip our whole encampment. They fixed out their watchers.
I bore it, and waited till late in the night; and when most of our tent-holders were retired to rest, I rose from my bed, dressed myself in some old shabby clothing that I had provided for the purpose, and sallied forth. It was a beautiful moonlight night. Singly and alone I went up to the Mormon camp. When I got within a few rods of their encampment, I stopped, and stood in the shadow of a beautiful sugar-tree. Their motley crowd were carrying on at a mighty rate. One young man sprang upon a barrel, and called them to order, saying he was going to preach to them, and must and would have order, at the risk of his life. Said he, "My name is Peter Cartwright; my father fought through the old war with England, and helped to gain our independence, and all the legacy he left me was liberty. Come to order and take your seats, and hear me!"
They obeyed him, and took their seats. He then sung and prayed, rose up, took his text, and harangued them about half an hour. He then told them he was going to call for mourners, and ordered a bench to be set out; and it was done. He then invited mourners to come forward and kneel down to be prayed for. A vast number of the crowd came and kneeled, more than his bench could accommodate. This self-styled preacher, or orator of the night, then called lustily for another bench; and still they crowded to it. A thought struck me that I would go and kneel with them, as this would give me a fine chance to let loose on them at a proper time; but as I had determined to rout the whole company and take their camp single-handed and alone, I declined kneeling with the mourners. So this young champion of the devil called on several to pray for these mourners; he exhorted them almost like a real preacher. Several pretended to get religion, and jumped and shouted at a fearful rate. Their preacher by this time was pretty much exhausted, and became thirsty. He ordered a pause in their exercises, and called for something to drink; he ordered the tent-holder to bring the best he had.
Just at this moment I fetched two or three loud whoops, and said, "Here! here! here, officers and men, take them! take them! everyone of them, tent-holders and all!" and I rushed on them. They broke, and ran pell-mell. Fortunately, five or six little lads were close by, from our encampment, who had been watching me raise the shout, and rushed with me into their camps; but all the motley crowd fled, tent-holders and all, and the lads and myself had not only peaceable, but entire possession of all their whisky, goods, chattels, and some arms, and not a soul to dispute our right of possession. Thus you see a literal fulfillment of Scripture, "The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth;" or, "One shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight."
There are but very few hardened wretches who disturb religious worship but what at heart are base cowards; this I have proved to my entire satisfaction throughout my ministerial life, for more than fifty years. I will here say, on Monday, the day after the rout of the Mormon camp, the power of God fell on our congregation, and the whole encampment was lighted with the glory of God. The Church, or members of the Church, were greatly blessed, and felt fully compensated for all the toil and trouble that they had been at in pitching their tents in the grove and waiting upon the Lord a few days and nights. Hardened sinners were brought to bow before the Lord, and some of them were soundly converted. And I will record it to the glory of the stupendous grace of God, that the young man who had been the ringleader in the ranks of these disturbers of God's people, and the mock preacher in the Mormon camp the night before, was overtaken by the mighty power of God, and awfully shaken as it were over hell. He fell prostrate before God and all the people he had so much disturbed and persecuted, and cried for mercy as from the verge of damnation, and never rested till God reclaimed him, for he was a wretched backslider. I had known him in Tennessee, and had often preached in his father's house.
Of the disorderly fellows who had been arrested and fined, and had appealed to the court, hardly one of them came to a good end, or died a natural death; some ran away to Texas, some were stabbed in affrays of different kinds; it seemed as if God had put a mark on them, and his fearful judgments followed them even into strange and distant lands. When their appeals came on for trial in court, there were two distinguished lawyers who volunteered to conduct the prosecution against them; one of them was the lamented General Hardin, of Morgan County, who afterward fell in Mexico in General Taylor's army, at the memorable battle of Buena Vista, while fighting, or contending with Santa Ana's unprincipled minions; but he died like a brave soldier and subordinate officer. Peace to his memory! He was considered a worthy member of the Presbyterian Church, and a stanch friend to good order.
The other lawyer, Mr. Sanbourn, though somewhat dissipated at times, was a talented gentleman of the bar, and a friend to religious order. These gentlemen, without fee or reward, volunteered their services to prosecute these wretched disturbers of the worship of God, and by their eloquent appeals to the jurors made these transgressors quail before the public bar of their country; and these suits, first and last, cost those offenders against the morals of their country over three hundred dollars, showing them clearly that the way of the transgressor is hard. I must remark here that I was much pleased with the decision of Judge Lockwood, who presided at the trial; his decision was substantially this, that no matter what the articles were that were sold at a place of worship, if it disturbed the peace and quiet of the worshipers, it was punishable by the statute that was enacted for the protection of worshiping assemblies; that as a free people, where there was no religious test, we had a right to assemble and establish our own forms, or rules of order, and that anything which infracted those rules of order made to govern a worshiping congregation, the law made a high misdemeanor, and therefore those who transgressed those rules were punishable by the law. Our present law to protect worshiping congregations is too loose and obscure. In the hands of good officers of the law, the present statute will protect people in the sacred right to worship God; but in the hands of corrupt officers it is often construed to screen offenders, and thereby give encouragement to disorderly persons to trample with impunity on the rights of religious people. I have often wondered why legislative bodies of men should be so reluctant to pass a stringent law on this subject. If people don't like the forms of worship of any religious denomination, let them stay away; but if they will attend their religious assemblies, they ought to behave themselves; and if they will not behave and conform, they ought by law to be compelled to do it, or punished severely for trampling under foot the rights of a free people assembled for the express purpose of peaceably worshiping God. The good book is right when it declares, "When the wicked bear rule the land mourneth," and that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people;" but we still hope to see better days, better laws, and better administrators of law. The Lord hasten it in his time.