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event he wrote to Atmore : ''This will be handed to you
by Dr. Coke, who leaves this country sooner than he in-
tended, on account of the death of that truly great man,
John Wesley. For some years T have been pleasing
myself with the thought of seeing him again before his
departure to paradise ; but I am too late. I always most
affectionately loved him, and shall feel a special regard
for him even in heaven itself If tliere be anything
which touches my heart it is a concern for those preach-
trrs who were in the work before you or I ever heard of
Methodism; and I entreat you to treat ihom with most
tender respect. Yes, my friend, I do and shall eternally
love you ; and if I must not see you any more upon
earth, I shall shortly meet youbef(»re the throne of God.
Wishing you a time of refreshing at your Conference,
I remain, in immortal affection, most unchangeably
yours."' As late as 1807 he wrote again to the same old
friend, " On earth, in heaven, I shall eternally love you.
My heart is ever toward you in the Lord. As I am now
on the border of another world, I feel it t() be my duty to
examine closely the ground upon which I stand. Two
things are essential, a title to the inheritance, and a meet-
ness for the enjoyment of it. By the former the right to
the inheritance is secured; and by the latter the qualifica-
tion for an eternal possession of bliss unutterably full of
glory. It is well for me that it is all of grace ; for wor-
• Wea. Mag., 1S45, p. 210.


thiness of merit belongs not to man, especially to one so
imperfect as I am. I am happy to hear, from various
quarters, that religion is gloriously pi-ospering in En-
gland, and that the Methodists have great success. The
vine, long since planted by the venerable Wesley, has
spread its branches and well-nigh filled the laud. Bless-
ed be God ! Halleluiah ! In this country too, where
we poor under-planters were employed, the word has
taken a universal spread, and the Methodists bid fair to
outnumber most of their neighbors. This is indeed the
Lord's doing ; showing that life and zeal in religion are
w-orth more than all the arts and sciences together. So
it was in England, so it is in America, and so it will be
in all the earth. ' Even so, Lord Jesus.' '"^ This sounds
like his original Methodist vernacular. He never lost
his Methodistic fervor, A veteran American Methodist
itinerant says : " The truly evangelical spirit produced
through his instrumentality in the congregations over
which he presided, and a correspondent attention to some
of the peculiar means of grace which he introduced
among them, continued to manifest themselves for a
number of years after his death.""

Though no minute accounts of the labors of these first
Methodist itinerants, in America, remain, and we are left
to the mere allusions of cotemporary records for an
estimate of their services, these scattered notices sufiice
to show that they laid substantially and broadly the
foundations of the denomination, preaching from Boston
to Sa\ annah, and preparing effectively, during more than
four years, the work which their successors were to prose-
cute with a success which has had no parallel since the
Apostolic Age.

»» Ibid, p. 532.

" Eev. Dr. Sandford, Wes. Miss, to America, p. 26.


Ricbaril Wright also returned to England in the early
part of 17T4. He liad spent but one year in the British
itinerancy before lie accompanied Asbury to America.
He labored chiefly in Maryland and Virginia, though
there is evidence that he spent a part of 1772 in New
York city." On his return to Europe he continued to
itinerate two or three years, when he located, and disap-
peare<l entirely from the records of the ministry.

Captain Webb lingered in the Colonies a year or more,
after the departure of Hoardman and Pilmoor, laboring
with his might to extend and fortify the young Societies,
notwithstanding the increasing tumults of politics and
war. But the cotemporary records give us, further,
only allusions to this noble man and devoted evangelist.
We may here, therefore, properly take our final leave of
hira. He devoted at least nine years to the promotion
of American Methodism, the periods of his absence in
Europe being spent there in its behalf. I have not hesi-
tated to pronounce him the principal founder of the
denomination in the United States. No trace of his
remaining life can, therefore, fail to be interesting to
American re^aders.

On his return to England he secured a home for his
family in Portland, on the heights of Bristol, but still
traveled, and preached extensively in chapels, in market-
l)laces, and in the open air, attended by immense congre-
g.ations. " How did he live the remainder of his life?"
asks a British itinerant who knew him through most of
his career ; and he answers : " We add with pleasure that
to him the promise was sure, ' He that hath clean hatids
shall grow stronger and stronger.' Having escaped so
many dangers and deaths, he believed, like Jacob, that his
' Goel,' the good angel of the Lord, had redeemed hira
" Wakeley, chop. 24.


from all miscHef. To the end of his days he was per-
suaded that a ministering spirit, a guardian angel, had,
through divine mercy, attended him all the way in his
diversijfied pilgrimage. He left everywhere a high exam-
ple of persevering diligence and zeal. From the year
1776 to 1782, a time of war by land and sea, he annually
made a summer's visit to the French prisoners at Win-
chester, addressing them in their own language, which
he had studied while in Canada. He proceeded thence
to Portsmouth, where crowded auditories of soldiers
and sailors listened to him with all possible veneration.
In Bristol and the neighboring country, wherever he
preached, spiritual good was effected."

In 1792 he was liberal and active in erecting the Port-
laud Church at Bristol, " one of the most elegant chapels,"
says a Wesleyan author, "in the Methodist connection,
if not in the kingdom." He preached his last sermon in
it. " He appeared," says the same authority, " to have
had a presentiment for some time of his approaching
dissolution, and shortly before his death he spoke to an ,
intimate friend of the place and manner of his interment,
observing : " I should prefer a triumphant death ; but
I may be taken away suddenly. However, I know I
am happy in the Lord, and shall be with him whenever
he calls me hence, and that is sufficient." In the auto-
biography of one of the leading cotemporary preachers
we read : " Dec. 8th, 1 796. I spent a profitable hour with
that excellent man, Captain Webb, of Bristol. He is
indeed truly devoted to God, and has maintained a con-
sistent profession for many years. He is now in his
seventy-second year, and as active as many who have
only attained their fiftieth. He gives to the cause of God,
and to the poor of Christ's flock, the greater part of his
income. He is waiting, with cheerful anticipation, for


liig great aud full rewanl. IIo bids fair to go to the
grave like a sliock of corn, fully ripe." Again we read :
"Wednesday, Dec. 21 st. Last night, about eleven o'clock,
Captain Webb suddenly entered into the joy of his Lord.
lie partodk of his supper, and retired to rest about ten
o'clock in his usual health. In less than an hour his spirit
left the tenement of clay to enter the realms of eternal
bliss. He professed to have had some presentiment that
he should change worlds during the present year, and
that liis departure would be sudden." And again :
''Saturday, Dec. •24th. This afternoon the remains of the
good old captain were dejtositcd in a vault under the
comnumion table of Portland Chapel. He was carried by
six local preachers, and the pall was snj)porte<l by the
Kev. Messrs. Hradford, Pritchard, Hoberts, Davies,
Mayer, and M'Geary. I conducted the funeral service,
and Mr. Pritthanl preachetl from Acts xx, 24. It was
a solemn season, and will long be remembered by those
who were j)resent."

The venerable soldier and evangelist was thus laid to
rest by "a crowded, weeping audience." The "Society
showed him great re8j>ect; the chapel wa,s hung in
mourning;" and the trustees erected a marble monument
to his memory within its walls, pronouncing him " Brave,
Active, Courageous, — Faithful, Zealous, Successful, —
the principal instrument in erecting this chajiel." His
name must be forever illustrious in the ecclesiastical
history of the New World, and Ajuerican Methodists
will close this final account of a character so historically
important ami so intrinsically interesting, with regret
that the record must present such a paucity of facts.




William Walters, the first native Methodist Itinerant — His early Life

— His Conversion — He becomes an Itinerant — Robert Williams —
Rev. Devereu.i: Jarratt — Great religious Excitement in Virginia —
Watters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland— Methodi.^m in Kent
County — Its first Chapel — Philip Gatch, the second native Itinerant

— His early Life — Nathan Perigau — Gatch' s Conversion — He begins
to preach — Itinerates in New Jersey - Benjamin Abbott — His Char-
acter — His early History — His moral Straggles — His Conversion —
The Fall of Abraham Whitforth — Abbott begins to preach —Power
of his Word — A remarkable Example — Daniel RuflT.

While some of the laborers were retiring from the field,
others were entering it — more important, because native
evangelists. William Watters's name appears in the list
of appointments made at the first American conference,
and to him is now universally conceded the peculiar dis-
tinction of being the first native American itinerant of
Methodism ; an honor never to be shared, never impaired.
He has left us an unpretentious "Short Account" of his
" Christian experience and ministerial labors."^ He was
bom in Baltimore county, Maryland, on the 16th of Oc-
tober, 1751. His parents were strict members of the
English Church, and from his infancy he was addicted
to religious reflections. "At a very early period," he
writes, " I well remember to have been under serious im-
pressions at various times ;" but when about twelve or
fourteen years old he took, he says, "great delio-ht in

> A Short Account of the Christian Experience and Ministerial Labors
of William Watters. Drawn up by himself Alexandria. Printed by
S. Suowden. The imprint has no date, but the pretace is dated Fairfti:L
May 14, 1806. ^


dancing, card-playing, horse-racing, and such pernicious
practices, though often t<:MTifieJ witli thoughts of eternity
in the midst of them. Thus did my precious time roll
away while I was held in the chains of my sins, too often
a willing captive of the devil. I had no one to tell me
the evil of sin, or to teach me the way of life and salva-
tion. The two ministers in the two parishes, with whom
I was acquainted, were both immoral men, and had no
gifts for the ministry; if they received their salary they
apjieared to think but little about the souls of the people.
The blind were evidently leading the blind, and it was
by the mere mercy of God that we did not Jill fall into
hell altogether." When sixteen or seventeen years of
age he was considered by his associates "a very good
Christian," but he thought of himself quite otherwise.
"It was," he says, "my constant practice to attend the
church with my prayer book, and to often read my Bible
and other good books, and sometimes I attempted to say
my j)rayers in private. Many times, wlien I have been
sinning against God, I have felt much inward uneasiness,
and often, on reflection, a hell within, till I could invent
something to divert my mind I'rom such reflections.
Hence, strange as it may appear, I liave left the dancing-
room to pray to God that he might not be oflijnded with
me, and have then returned to it again with as much de-
light as ever."

Strawbridge, King, and Williams were abroad around
him, preaching in private houses, and in 1 770 he had fre-
quent opportunities of hearing them. "I could not con-
ceive," he writes, " what they meant by saying we must
be born again, and, though I thought but little of all I
heard, for some time, yet I dared not despise and revile
them, as many then did. By frequently being in com-
pany with several of my old acquaintances, who had pro-


fessed Methodism, among whom was ray oldest brotlier
and his Avife, (who I thought equal to any religious people
in the world,) and hearing them all declare, as with one
voice, that they knew nothing of heart-religion, the re-
ligion of the Bible, till since they had heard the Meth-
odists preach, I was utterly confounded ; and I could not
but say with Nicodemus, ' How can these things be V
While I was marveling at the unheard-of things that
these strange people were spreading wherever they
came, and before I was aware, I found my heart in-
clined to forsake many of my vain practices, and at
the last place of merriment I ever attended, I remem-
ber well I was hardly even a looker-on. So vain did
all their mirth appear to me, as did also their dancing,
which I was formerly so fond of, that now no argu-
ments could prevail on me to be seen on the floor. I
had my reflections, though I was on the devil's ground ;
and, among others, while I was looking at a young man
of property, who was beastly drunk and scarcely able to
sit in his chair, a dog passed by, and I deliberately thought
I would rather be that dog than a drunkard. Some,
even of my friends, began to fear that I should become a
Methodist ; but I had no such thought, and yet I often
found my poor heart drawn to them, as a people that
lived in a manner I never had known any to live before."
By the religious care of his early education and the
natural tenderness of his conscience, it was impossible
that he could long resist the Methodist influences which
now met him on every side. " I seldom, if ever," he
adds, " omitted bowing my sinful knees before the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, four or five times
a day. It was daily my prayer that God would teach
me the way of life and salvation, and not sufier me to be
deceived. After being uncommonly uneasy for several
A— 12


days concerning the state of my soul, I went with my
eldest brother and family to a prayer-meeting in his neigh-
borhood on a Sabbath day ; and while one was at prayer
I saw a man near me, whom I knew to be a poor sinner,
trembling, weeping, and praying, as though his all de-
pended on the present moment ; his soul and body were
in an agony. The gracious Lord, who works by what
means he pleases, blessed this circumstance greatly to
my conviction ; so that I felt, in a manner which I have
not words fully to express, that I must be internally
changed, that I must be bom of the Spirit, or never see
the face of God. Without this, I was deeply sensible
that all I had done or could do was vain. I went home
much distressed, and fully determined, by the grace of
God, to seek the salvation of my soul with my whole
heart. In this frame of mind, I soon got by myself and
fell upon my knees. But, alas ! my sinful heart felt as a
rock, and though I believed myself in the ' gall of bitter-
ness and in the bonds of iniquity,' and, of course, that if
I died in that state I must die eternally, yet I could not
shed one tear, neither could I find words to express my
wretchedness before my merciful High Priest ; I could
only bemoan my forlorn state, and I wandered about
through the afternoon in solitary places, seeking rest but
finding none."

That night, however, in another prayer-meeting, both
his heart and eyes melted. " I was so melted down and
blessed with such a praying heart, that I should have
been glad if they would have continued on their knees
all night in prayer for me, a poor, helpless wretch."

The next day he was unfit for any business : he spent
it in retirement. " I refused to be comforted but by the
Friend of sinners. My cry was, day and night. Save,
Lord, or T perish ; give me Christ, or else I die. In this


State I loved nothing better than weeping, mourning,
and prayer, humbly hoping, waiting, and longing for the
coming of the Lord. For three days and nights eatmg,
drinking, and sleeping in a measure fled from me, while
my flesh wasted away and my strength failed in such a
manner that I found it was not without cause that it
is asked, 'A wounded sj^irit who can heal?' Having
returned in the afternoon from the woods to my
chamber, my eldest brother (at whose house I was)
knowing my distress, entered my room with all the
sympathy of a brother and a Christian. To my great
astonishment he informed me that God had that day
blessed him with his pardoning love. After giving me
all the advice in his power, he kneeled down with me,
and with a low, soft voice (which was frequently
interrupted by tears) he ofiered up a fervent prayer
to God for my present salvation." He received "a
gleam of hope," but was not content with it. The
next day several " praying persons," who knew his dis-
tress, visited him. He requested them to pray with
him, and the family was called in, though it was about
the middle of the day. " While they all joined in sing-
ing, my face," he says, " was turned to the wall, with
my eyes lifted upward in a flood of tears, and I felt a
lively hope that the Lord, whom I sought, would sud-
denly come to his temple. My good friends sung with
the spirit and in faith. The Lord heard and appeared
spiritually in the midst of us. A divine light beamed
through my inmost soul, and in a few minutes encircled
me around, surpassing the brightness of the noonday
sun. Of this divine glory, with the holy glow that I felt
within my soul, I have still as distinct an idea as that I
ever saw the light of the natural sun, but know not how
fully to express myself so as to be understood by those


who are in a state of nature, unexperienced in the things
of God ; for ' the natural man receiveth not the things
of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness imto him;
neither can he know them, for they are spiritually dis-
cerned,' My burden was gone, my sorrow fled, all that
was within me rejoiced in hope of the glory of God ;
while I beheld such fullness and willingness in the Lord
Jesus to save lost sinners, and my soul so rested in him,
that I could now, for the first time, call Jesus Chiist
' Lord, by the Holy Ghost given unto me.' The hymn
being concluded, we all fell upon our knees, but my
prayers were all turned into praises."

Such was the spiritual birth of the first regular
Methodist preacher of the new world. This " memora-
ble change," he says, took place in May, 1771, in the
twentieth year of his age. In the same house where he
was bora " a child of wrath," he was also " born a child
of grace." He immediately joined a Methodist class.
All Methodists were, in those days, lal>orers in the evan-
gelical vineyard. On the Lord's day, he says, they com-
monly divided into little bands and went out into differ-
ent neighborhoods, wherever there was a door open to
receive them, two, three, or four in company, and
would sing their hymns, pray, read, talk to the people,
" and some soon began to add a word of exhortation."
" We were weak, but we lived in a dark day, and the
Lord greatly owned our labors ; for though we were not
full of wisdom, we were blessed with a good degree of
faith and power. The little flock was of one mind, and
the Lord spread the leaven of his grace from heart to
heart, from house to house, and from one neighborhood
to another. It was astonishing to see how rapidly the
wo'k extended all around us, bearing down opposi-
tion as chaff before the wind. Many will praise God


forever for our prayer-meetings. In many neighbor-
hoods they soon became respectable, and were consider-
ably attended." Two of his brothers were converted
through his instrumentality, one of them becoming a
zealous Local Preachei-, and later, a Traveling Preacher.

One of Wesley's sermons, published by Robert Wil-
liams, led William Watters into a still deeper spiritual
experience, and he became an advocate, by his life as
well as his exhortations, of entire sanctification.

In 1772, when he was twenty-one years old, he began
to preach. Robert Williams perceived his capacity for
usefulness, and took him, in the autumn, to Norfolk, Va.
The scene of his departure for an itinerant life was
deeply affecting. His mother, whom he loved tenderly,
oifered him all her possessions if he would abandon his
purpose. Many of his friends " wept and hung around "
him ; " but," he adds, " I found such resignation and so
clear a conviction that my way was of the Lord, that I
was enabled to commit them and myself to the care of
our heavenly Father, in humble confidence, that if we
never met again in this vale of tears, we should soon
meet where the wicked cease from troubling and the
weary are at rest. Calling at one of my brothers on my
way to take my leave of them, at parting my fortitude
seemed all banished, and I was so exceedingly aifected,
that it was with the greatest difficulty I could find any
utterance to commit them in prayer to the Divine pro-
tection. O for a continual preparation to meet where aU
tears shall be wiped away. Even so, Lord Jesus. Amen."
And now he began in earnest his itinerant career. The
two evangelists journeyed and preached, almost daily,
through Baltimore, Georgetown, and other places, and
arrived at last in Norfolk, where, under many discour-
agements, Watters soon formed a circuit, extending


Bome distance among the neighboring towns. He was
seized with the measles, but continued his labors.
"To my inexpressible consolation," he says, "several,
both in town and country, were brought to know
the Lord, which gave a fresh spring to my humble en-
deavors. I felt liberty and power to speak the words of
eternal life, and often resolved to be more faithful in
the important work, and to labor while it was called

F*ilmoor had been preacliing in Norfolk ; he was now
released by Watters to pursue his southern tour to
Charleston. Williams also left the young itinerant and
hastened to Portsmouth and further; Jarratt and M'Rob-
erts, " two English clergymen," received him with open
arms, and welcomed him to their parishes, Jarratt be-
came a staunch friend to the Methodist itinerants and the
confidential friend of As1)ury : his name often occurs in
the early Methodist publications. He had the good
sense, like Fletcher, Grimshaw, Venn, and Perronet, in
England, to co-operate with them ; and had his clerical
brethren, of the colonies, more generally followed his
example, the subsequent relations of the Protestant
Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal Churches might have
been very different from what they have been. Samuel
Davies, the celebrated President of Princeton College,
and the friend and correspondent of Wesley, had trained
Jarratt for the ministry. The latter became rector
of the parish of Bath, Dinwiddle county, Va., in 1763.
His zealous labors produced a widespread sensation.
" Revivals " prevailed around him for fifty or sixty miles
during about twelve years. He held frequent meetings,
and, like the Methodists, formed numerous societies,
" which," he says, he " found a happy means of building
up those who had believe<l and of preventing the rest


from losing tlieir convictions.'" In 1V73 he wrote to
Wesley,' " Virginia (the land of my nativity) has long
groaned through a want of faithful ministers of the Gos-
pel. Many souls are perishing for lack of knowledge,
many crying for the bread of life, and no man is found
to break it to them. We have ninety-five parishes in
the colony, and all, except one, I believe are supplied
with clergymen. But, alas ! you well understand the
rest. I know of but one clergyman of the Church of En-
gland who appears to have the power and spirit of vital
religion ; for all seek their own, and not the things that
are Christ's. Is not our situation then truly deplorable ?
And does it not call loudly upon the friends of Zion on
your side the Atlantic to assist us ? Many people here
heartily join with me in returning our most grateful
acknowledgments for the concern you have shown for

Online LibraryAbel StevensHistory of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 33)