CHAPTER X. MEETING IN A WAGON
Owing to the newness of the country, the scarcity of money, the fewness of our numbers, and their poverty, it was a very difficult matter for preachers to obtain a support, especially married men with families. From this consideration many of our preachers delayed marriage, or, shortly after marriage, located. Indeed, such was our poverty, that the Discipline was a perfectly dead letter on the subject of house rent, table expenses, and a dividend to children; and although I had acted as one of the stewards of the Conference for years, these rules of the Discipline were never acted upon, or any allowance made, till 1813, when Bishop Asbury, knowing our poverty and sufferings in the West, had begged from door to door in the older conferences, and came on and distributed ten dollars to each child of a traveling preacher under fourteen years of age.
After mature deliberation and prayer, toward the close of my labors on the Barren Circuit, I thought it was my duty to marry, and was joined in marriage to Frances Gaines, on the 18th of August, 1808, which was her nineteenth birthday; and we had our infare at my father's, on the 1st of September following, which was my twenty-third birthday.
The Conference, this fall, was held at Liberty Hill, Tennessee, on the 1st of October, 1808. Our increase in members this year was about one thousand three hundred and fifty; our increase of traveling preachers was ten. We had three new presiding-elder districts formed this year, namely, Indiana, Miami, and Muskingum, making seven presiding-elder districts in the Western Conference.
At this Conference I was elected and ordained an elder by Bishop M'Kendree. The parchment reads as follows, viz.:
"Know all men by these presents that I, William M'Kendree, one of the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, under the protection of Almighty God, and with a single eye to his glory, by the imposition of my hands and prayer, (being assisted by the elders present,) have this day set apart Peter Cartwright for the office of an Elder in the said Methodist Episcopal Church; a man whom I judge to be well qualified for that work; and I do hereby recommend him, to all whom it may Concern, as a proper person to administer the sacraments and ordinances, and to feed the flock of Christ, so long as his spirit and practice are such as become the Gospel of Christ.
"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this fourth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eight.
My appointment, this year, was to Salt River Circuit, Kentucky District, James Ward presiding elder. This was a part of the circuit I had traveled in the years 1804 and 1805.
In the course of this year my father died, and left me to settle his little estate, which, owing to the forms of law, took me several months, which was the longest time I have ever had from the regular work of a traveling preacher in fifty years; but upon a proper presentation of the case to my presiding elder, he gave me liberty to go and attend to this business. Giving me this liberty by the presiding elder was then according to Discipline.
At the close of the conference year 1808-9, I attended conference at Cincinnati, and there reported myself ready for regular work, and my appointment was to Livingston Circuit. Our increase of membership was four thousand and fifty-one; our increase of traveling preachers was twenty-one.
Livingston Circuit was in the Cumberland District, Learner Blackman presiding elder. This was my first field of labor as an exhorter; which circuit I had formed in the days of my boyhood, and had then returned to J. Page, presiding elder, seventy members. They had increased now to four hundred and twenty-seven; a good increase for six years.
We had not a very prosperous year, but we had some gracious outpourings of the Spirit of God. I held a camp-meeting this year, which lasted four days and nights, without any ministerial aid, save one little exhorter and an old drunken Baptist preacher, who preached for me once, on Sunday. He then and there confessed his dissipation, and wept bitterly, and made us all cry. We had about thirty converts at this meeting. At the close of the meeting we had many seekers who had not obtained comfort. Twelve of them got into a two-horse wagon, and myself with them. We had to go about fifteen miles, but before we reached our home everyone of them got powerfully converted, and we sung and shouted aloud along the road, to the very great astonishment of those who lived along the way. That night the whole neighborhood gathered in, and we had a glorious time. Several more were powerfully converted, and many deeply convicted. The work broke out around the settlement, and scores were brought to a saving knowledge of the truth.
I will here relate an incident that took place this year, concerning one of our Methodist preachers; his name was J. D. He was raised a very bigoted Dunker, or, as they are sometimes denominated, Seventh-day Baptists. When the Methodist preachers came into his settlement he violently opposed them, asserting the Dunkers were right and everybody else wrong. After a while, however, he either really or pretendedly got under deep conviction and professed religion. (This was when the Methodists had borne down all opposition and become popular.) He joined the Methodists, and they soon licensed him to preach. Now he had found the right way, and all the rest were wrong. He had considerable talent, but was a very lazy man. However, the Methodists got him on a circuit a while, and he was popular, but did not get money enough to support him; so he located, and went into land speculations, and got under par as a good man. This year he moved into the bounds of my circuit, and we renewed our former acquaintance, preached together often, and really we were in a fair way of doing much good. We broke into a very large Free-will Baptist settlement, where the preacher was a very weak brother. We rose high in public opinion, and the Baptists offered us a good salary if we would join them and become their pastor. This was a little too much for my Brother D. He came to me one day and said, "Brother Cartwright, you and I have young and growing families: if we would join these Baptists they would give us a handsome support, and as they have no preacher in all this country of any talents, we could sway a mighty influence, getting hundreds into our Church, and secure a good living for our families in all time to come. Don't you think," said he, "it would be best to do it?" I replied: "Brother D., 'Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou art an offense to me.' If money, sir, or a good living, had been my prime object in joining a Church, I should never have joined the Methodists; but when I joined them I joined them from a firm conviction, believing them to be the best people in the world; and the longer I live with them, and the more I understand of their doctrine and system of Church government, the more firmly I am settled in mind to abide my choice; and this world has not treasure enough to allure me from the Methodist Church."
Poor human nature! The temptation was too strong. Brother D. yielded, joined the Free-will Baptists, and was soon installed their pastor. Well, now, he proclaimed, he had certainly found the right way, and all the world was wrong. Well, it was not long before he was caught in a criminal act, ruined his moral character, and was dismissed from his pastoral charge. I will here say that this said J. D. was formerly my armor-bearer in the great contest I had with the Shakers at Busroe, in Indiana, mentioned elsewhere in this narrative. What next? Why, J. D. went and joined the Shakers; and now from heaven God had revealed it to him that he was right and everybody else wrong. The Shakers, hearing of his instability of character, had very little confidence in him. They put him to hard labor to try him. This he could not stand; and presently left them, took up with a scattered band of New Lights, moved to Texas, and I expect the devil has got him in safe keeping long before this time.
Our increase for 1809-10 was 1,950. Increase of traveling preachers, fifteen.
At this conference I was returned to Livingston Circuit, Cumberland District; Learner Blackman presiding elder. At the close of this year, 1810-11, we met at New Chapel, Shelby County, Kentucky, November 1st, 1810. Our increase of members, this conference year, 4,264; increase of traveling preachers, thirteen.
The Western Conference met the last time as the Western Conference, at Cincinnati, October 1st, 1811, and our increase this year was 3,600. Our increase in preachers was ten. Our strength of membership in the entire Western Conference at its last session as a Western Conference, was 30,741. In 1787 we had but ninety members that were officially reported from the West; and if, as we have elsewhere stated, that at the General Conference of 1st May, 1800, in Baltimore, the Western Conference was regularly organized, with about two thousand members, the reader will plainly see what God wrought in eleven years by the pioneer fathers that planted Methodism in this vast Western wilderness; and of the little band of traveling preachers that then plowed the wilderness, say twelve men, none are now living save Mr. Henry Smith. In the fall of 1804, when I joined the Conference, there were a little over 9,000 members in the Western Conference; in 1811, 30,741. There were then a little over forty traveling preachers, and in 1810 over one hundred; and yet, at this time there are not more than six of us left lingering on the shores of time to look back, look around, and look forward to the future of the Methodist Episcopal Church, for weal or for woe. Lord, save the Church from desiring to have pews, choirs, organs, or instrumental music, and a congregational ministry, like other heathen Churches around them!
In 1804, the membership of the whole Church was 119,945, traveling preachers 433, throughout the United States, territories, and Canada. Their increase this year, throughout the Union, was 6,811. In 1812, when the Western Conference was divided into Ohio and Tennessee Conferences, our entire membership had increased to 184,567; increase of members in eight years, near 65,000. Traveling ministers in 1804, 433; in 1812, 688.
In 1811 we elected our delegates to the first delegated General Conference ever holden by the Methodist Episcopal Church. This General Conference was holden in New York, 1st May, 1812. At this General Conference, the Western Conference, which had existed some twelve years, was divided into two annual conferences, called Ohio and Tennessee. The Ohio Conference was composed of the following presiding-elder districts, namely: Ohio District, Muskingum District, Scioto District, Miami District, Kentucky District, and Salt River District: six. Tennessee Conference was composed of the following districts, namely: Holston District, Nashville District, Cumberland District, Wabash District, Mississippi District, and Louisiana District: six. It will be seen that the State of Kentucky was divided between the two conferences. There were members in Ohio Conference, 23,284; in Tennessee Conference, 22,700. There were in Ohio Conference, traveling preachers, sixty-four; in Tennessee, sixty-two. These statistics are for 1812.
I was appointed to Christian Circuit, Wabash District; James Axley presiding elder. This was a four weeks' circuit, most of it parts and fragments of other circuits. I formed it into a four weeks' circuit. We had some splendid revivals this year, and took in some three hundred members. We had two or three very successful camp-meetings; at one of them I baptized one hundred and twenty-seven adult persons and forty-seven children, all by sprinkling, save seven adults, whom I immersed. One of them was the daughter of a very celebrated Baptist minister.
In the north end of my circuit there was a district of densely-populated country, about thirty-five miles across. A Methodist preacher had seldom, even if ever, preached in this district of country. About midway of it there lived a Baptist minister, with a large society and a large meeting-house. He, at an early day, had settled among them, and prejudiced nearly all the country against the Methodist preachers and people.
I had to make a day's ride through this settlement every round, and thought it singular that no Methodist preacher, as I could learn, had ever made a break in it; and I determined to make one in this region somehow or somewhere. While riding through, I stopped at many houses, and asked for the privilege to preach among them. They looked shy, and denied me. I prayed God to open my way; and at length, through an acquaintance I had made, left an appointment to preach at the Baptist meeting-house on my next round.
The Baptist minister publicly warned the people not to hear me; but somehow the novelty of the thing excited their curiosity, and though a weekday, a large congregation turned out, and among the rest, their preacher. He told me he should not hinder me that time from preaching in his meeting-house; "but," said he, "you must leave no more appointments at my church, or if you do, you will find the doors barred against you." Well, I had to submit. I went in, and preached as well as I could, and the congregation were considerably affected, even to weeping. I called on the Baptist minister to conclude, but he refused; so after closing the services, I told the congregation that I could preach to them every round, but that their minister had forbidden me the use of his meeting-house any more; but if there was any man present that would open his private house for me to preach in, I would leave an appointment. A gentleman rose up, and tendered me the use of his house, and invited me home with him for dinner; so I left an appointment, and went with this man and partook of his hospitalities.
When I came round to my appointment, the house was filled to overflowing, though large. While I was preaching, near the close of the discourse, suddenly the power of God fell on the congregation like a flash of lightning, and the people fell right and left; some screamed aloud for mercy, others fell on their knees and prayed out aloud; several Baptist members fell to the floor under the power of God. There was a Baptist preacher present. After I had talked, and exhorted, and sung a long time, I called on this preacher to pray, but he was so astounded that, he told me, he could not pray. Our meeting lasted nearly all night. About twelve persons were converted in the good old way, and shouted aloud the praises of God. I opened the doors of the Church, and thirteen came forward and joined. From this time the work broke out and many professed religion, and we succeeded in planting Methodism on a firm footing here. The Baptist minister who was pastor of the congregation that worshiped at the meeting-house where I preached, had a dreadful rude set of children, especially a daughter whom they called Betsy. She would stand on the seats, point and laugh, and when any would fall under the power of God, she would say it was nothing but a Methodist fit.
At a camp-meeting this summer, held on the land of R. Dellam, Esq., now of St. Louis, a fine man, old Valentine Cook, of precious memory, attended with me, and labored like a true minister of Christ. There was a large crowd of people, and mostly raised under old Baptist influence and prejudice, and as ignorant of Methodism and the power of religion as the beasts that perish. There were several preachers to aid Brother Cook and myself, but all our preaching seemed powerless. The meeting dragged heavily till Sunday. Brother Cook and myself walked out to pray; when we arose from our knees, Brother Cook said to me:
"Brother, have you any faith?"
"A little," I replied.
"I have some," said he.
We were both to preach in succession, commencing at eleven o'clock. He was to preach first, and I to follow. Said he to me:
"If I strike fire, I will immediately call for mourners, and you must go into the assembly and exhort in every direction, and I will manage the altar. But," said he, "if I fail to strike fire, you must preach; and if you strike fire, call the mourners and manage the altar. I will go through the congregation, and exhort with all the power God gives me."
We repaired to the stand. He preached; it seemed as if every word took effect. There was no outbreak; the vast crowd were melted into silent tears. When he closed, he bade me rise and preach. I did so. Just as I was closing up my sermon, and pressing it with all the force I could command, the power of God suddenly was displayed, and sinners fell by scores through all the assembly. We had no need of a mourners' bench. It was supposed that several hundred fell in five minutes; sinners turned pale; some ran into the woods, some tried to get away and fell in the attempt, some shouted aloud for joy; among the rest my Baptist preacher's daughter, whom we have called Betsy. As I went through the assembly I came across Betsy, who had fallen to the earth, and was praying at a mighty rate. When I came to her, she said to me:
"O, do pray for me; I am afraid I am lost and damned forever!"
I said to her, "Betsy, get up; you have only got a Methodist fit," (using her former language;) but she roared the louder two or three times. I bid her get up, saying to her, "You are playing the hypocrite, and have only got a Methodist fit; get up, Betsy." But I assure you she was past getting up. Just hard by I saw her father, the Baptist preacher. He was crying, and shaking every joint in him. I went to him, and said, "Brother A., come and pray for Betsy." He replied:
"Lord, have mercy on me! I cannot pray."
"Amen," said I. "Pray on, Brother A., the Lord will have mercy." I then exhorted Betsy, and prayed for her. If ever I saw the great deep of a sinner's heart broken up, hers was. She wrestled and prayed all night. Next morning, about sunrise, the Lord in a powerful manner converted her. She rose and went over the camp-ground like a top. She at length met her father, the preacher, and of all the exhortations that I ever heard fall from the lips of a mortal, hers was the most powerful to her father. She said to him:
"You, father, have taught me from my childhood to hate and despise the Methodists till my soul was well-nigh lost and ruined forever!"
She then assured him that he had no religion at all, and begged him to repent and get his soul converted. She made him kneel down, and she engaged for him in mighty prayer.
About eleven o'clock on Monday I opened the doors of the Church, and forty-two joined, and among the rest, Betsy. From this meeting a revival spread almost through the entire country round, and great additions were made to the Methodist Church. The circuit was large, embracing parts of Logan, Muhlenburgh, Butler, Christian, and Caldwell Counties in Kentucky, and parts of Montgomery, Dixon, and Stewart Counties in Tennessee.
On the west part of Red River there was a Presbyterian minister settled, who had a large brick church. He had settled at an early day, and the few scattered Methodists who lived in the bounds of his congregation, having no Methodist preaching, had joined his Church rather than live out of Church altogether. I was invited to preach about five miles from this minister's church. I sent an appointment. At the time a large congregation turned out; the people were deeply affected. When I closed, I stated to the assembly that I could preach to them every four weeks, if they desired it. They told me they did, and I accordingly left another appointment. When I came the house was crowded, and the Presbyterian minister came. I preached, and there was a general weeping all through the congregation. The minister concluded for me, and I left another appointment. The minister stayed and dined with me. After dinner he asked me to walk out with him. I did so. When we had seated ourselves, he told me he wanted to talk to me about my preaching in that neighborhood. He said that this neighborhood was in the bounds of his congregation; that I was heartily welcome to preach but, said he, you must not attempt to raise any society. I told him that was not our way of doing business; that we seldom ever preached long at any place without trying to raise a society. He said I must not do it. I told him the people were a free people and lived in a free country, and must and ought to be allowed to do as they pleased; that I should never condescend to try to proselyte; but if I continued to preach there, and if any of the people desired to join the Methodist Church, I should surely give them the privilege to do so; and that I understood there were ten or twelve members of the Methodist Church had joined his Church as Methodists, with the fair understanding that if the Methodists ever organized a society convenient to them, they were to have the privilege of joining their own Church without any hard thoughts or censures. He said that was true; but if we raised a society it would diminish his membership, and cut off his support. "Well," said I, "my dear sir, if the people want me to preach to them I shall do it, and if they desire to join our Church I shall take them in; and I intend, when I come next time, to organize a class, for several have desired me to do so." Said he, "I will be here, and will openly oppose you." Said I, "If you think that the best way, do so." While I was absent for three Sabbaths successively, he opened his batteries on me, told them what I had said, and warned them not to attend my meeting. This roused the whole country, and made me many fast friends; even his own members remonstrated against his course, saying to him, nobody was obliged to join the Methodists, and if they preferred the Methodist Church to his, it was their right to join it.
When I came round we had a vast crowd out, but the minister did not appear. At the close of my sermon I read our General Rules, and explained our economy. I then told them that my father had fought in the Revolution to gain our freedom and liberty of conscience; that I felt that my Presbyterian brother had no bill of sale of the people; that I was no robber of Churches; but if I had any members in my Church that liked the Presbyterians better than the Methodists, I wanted them to go and join them; but if there were any there that day that believed the Methodist doctrine, and were willing to conform to the Discipline of the Methodist Church, and desired to join us, let them come and give me their hand, and I would form them into a class and appoint them a leader. There were twenty-seven came forward; thirteen of them were members of this minister's Church. I publicly ascertained this fact, and then told the thirteen that I did not want to give any offense, and that I wanted them all to go to their next meeting, and ask a letter, stating their reasons, and I would receive them into full membership at once. One of them, a fine, intelligent man, and an elder, said that he knew they would not give them letters. I remarked, "Go and ask for them; and if they refuse, come back, and I will receive you anyhow." They went, but the Church would not give them letters, although there was nothing against their moral characters. After that I received them into the Methodist Church. Public opinion was in my favor, and many more of this preacher's members came and joined us, and the minister sold out and moved to Missouri, and before the year was out I had peaceable possession of his brick church.