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Sketches of eminent Methodist ministers online

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Spirit, who gave such a light to the eighteenth century, and
such an example to the remainder of the Christian age.


ON a beautiful bold bluff, which extends into the Chesa-
peake Bay, still stands a venerable dwelling, whose quaint
little bricks exhibit not only the age in which they were
made, but their European origin. The dwelling was
erected by Garrett Garrettson, the great grandfather of
the REV. FREEBOKN GABBETTSON, and the first of the family
who emigrated to this country; and well had he chosen
the place of his abode. On one side, the Susquehanna
poured its noble waters into the broad bay, which, on the
other, was seen as far as the eye could reach ; while many
a point of land projecting into it gave grace and variety
to the landscape.

Rutland Garrettson, the only son of Garrett Garrettson,
was married to Elizabeth Freeborn, an English lady, who
was also an only child, and thus the name borne by so
many of their descendants was introduced. They had a
numerous family of sons and daughters, who were after-
ward all settled near this first home of their father. The
plantations of five of the brothers lay side by side in a
part of Harford County, still known as the Garrettson
Forest ; and side by side in the old Spesutia church stood
their antiquated pews.

John Garrettson, who was one of these brothers, married


Sarah Hanson; she died when the subject of this memoir
was quite young, leaving five sons and several daughters.
Though Mr. Garrettson never again married, his family
remained unbroken, and his children were brought up in
those principles of integrity and virtue by which they
were afterward characterized. Of the good order that
obtained in his father's family, the Rev. Freeborn Garrett-
son often spoke, remarking, among other things, that he
had never heard a profane word spoken in his father's
house, either by children or servants.

The means of education were limited in that day, yet
Mr. Garrettson endeavoured to supply the deficiency to his
children by engaging teachers who resided with him, and
taught his own and his brothers' children ; and thus from
the age of eight until seventeen, Freeborn, his third son,
was kept at school obtained a good English education,
began to study Latin and French, but preferring the
" exact sciences," abandoned the study of languages and
devoted himself more exclusively to them. " I was," says
he, " so drawn out in these studies, particularly astronomy,
that I spent hours alone, both by night and by day, until
my school-fellows began to laugh at me." Grave, sedate,
and thoughtful from his early boyhood, beloved by his
friends, esteemed by his teachers, with no stain on his
moral character, the beautiful youth stood in the opinion
of all as a rare example of Christian virtue; and when
the Spirit of God showed him his real condition, and
in the bitterness of his heart he sought by multiplied
observances to find peace and safety, it is not at all sur-
prising that in their darkened state they counted him
as mad.

The minister of " old Spesutia," in whom he had trusted,


could give him no direction ; lie had already gone a step
beyond his guide, and left him for those who, pointing to
the cross of Christ, could bid him cast his burden there
for those who could speak of the knowledge of sins for-
given, and urge him to walk in the light of God's coun-

Though only twenty years of age, he was intrusted with
the management of his father's plantation, and had, also,
frequent land surveys to make; yet he found time to
attend all the means of grace in his neighbourhood, and
was "instant in prayer and supplication." He was often
"ravished by the sweet drawings of heavenly love, and
again he sank back into doubt and despondency. As
months passed, his worldly anxieties increased. His father's
death left him burdened with the care of a family, and
executor to the estate. At length, after several years of
almost Pharisaic strictness, which, however, could by no
means allay the deep thirst of his soul, he made the
surrender of his heart to God. He was riding home from
church on "Whitsunday-night" when it was made: there
was a fearful struggle. " I felt," says he, " Satan on my
left, the good Spirit on my right." The one contrasted the
world and its allurements, prosperity in business, a good
name, honest renown, with that which a proud man likes
least to incur obloquy, shame, distrust, the averted glance
of friends, the open taunt of enemies ; while the blessed
Spirit of grace impressed upon his heart the ponderous
realities of eternity, and demanded an instant decision.
The crisis had arrived. Dropping the bridle, he clasped
his hands and exclaimed, in the fulness of his heart,
"Lord, I will part with all, and become an humble
follower of thee !"



"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,

Into thine arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,

My Jesus, and my all I"

In that instant his soul was filled with joy and peace,
the "peace of God, which passeth understanding." Nature
seemed in that solemn solitary place to unite with him in
highest jubilee. "The stars," said he, "seemed like so
many seraphs going forth in their Maker's praise." As
he approached his home the servants, hearing the sound
of his rejoicing, ran out to meet him, and to ask what was
the matter. "I called the family together for prayer,"
said he, " for the first time, but my prayer was turned to
praise." It was a few days after this, that, as he stood up
to give out a hymn at family worship, the moral evil of
slavery was impressed on his mind, and with a willing
heart he responded, " Lord, the oppressed shall go free ;"
and, turning to the astonished negroes, he proclaimed their
liberty, and promised a just compensation for any services
they might render him in future ; and " my mind was as
clear of them," said he, " as if I had never owned them."

And now the expansive principle of Christianity im-
planted in his heart impelled him to labour for the salva-
tion of others. From house to house, despite of trials and
temptations, of buffetings without and fears within, he
went, first to the homes of his friends, in one of which he
left a dear cousin "under deep awakening," in another a
brother "groaning for redemption in Jesus," at another
brother's twenty seeking their soul's salvation. He soon
saw all his brothers added to the Lord, Methodist preach-
ing established among them, and a society of thirty formed
and placed under the care of the circuit preacher. Of


these first fruits of Iris labours, two, if not more, were
added to the ministry his brother Richard and his cousin
Freeborn Garrettson. "Well was it that the Lord set the
broad seal of his approbation to the labours of his young
servant. Though strong were his temptations and heavy
his cross, yet on he went now to the quarter of the negro,
now to the domicil of the master, bearing his message of
love. What mattered it that his name was cast out as
evil that insults and sometimes blows awaited him that
the doors of some who had loved him best were closed
against him, when his Saviour so filled his soul with joy
that ofttimes, like St. Paul, he scarcely knew whether he
was " in the body" or " out of the body?" Before the parson
and the vestry, as before other companies of men, the
Lord filled his mouth with arguments, while the sweetness
of his spirit often turned the lion into the lamb. The
poor blacks! how they must have hailed the new light
that dawned upon them how blessed the only power that
could rescue them from degradation, and make them
kings arid priests unto God !

It would surpass the limits of this sketch were I to
dilate on the severe exercises which preceded his entrance
into the ministry. To become a Methodist preacher in
that day, was to abandon all that the world holds dear
ease, honour, wealth, home, and the social relations which
'make home so sweet : and all were abandoned when, weak
and almost fainting under the severity of the struggle, he
rose from his bed, left his house, rode to Baltimore, where
the Conference was in session, and gave his name (which
he had often been solicited to do) as a member of the
Church and Conference. Still the cross was almost insup-
portable; and when he returned to his lodgings, he fainted


under a deep sense of responsibility, and an humbling view
of his own unfitness for so great a work. On recovering
lie found himself surrounded by his brethren : his soul was
filled with a foretaste of heavenly bliss a baptism for the
arduous service on which he had entered.

The field of his labours for the next nine years lay in
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. He
went forth " weeping, bearing precious seed," and came
again "with rejoicing," having gathered many sheaves.
There was another warfare waging at this time which often
threatened interruption to his labours : he could not take
the oath of allegiance proffered him in Virginia, first
because, though from the beginning his feelings had been
enlisted in behalf of his country, his mind was not yet
clear as to the lawfulness of resistance; secondly, because
the oath was so worded as to bind him " to take up arms
whenever called upon," &c. He "felt no disposition to
use carnal weapons." For the arrest and imprisonment
with which he was menaced he was not careful, but left
himself and his cause in the hands of One who would make
all things work together for good. Under this date, Vir-
ginia, 177Y, he says: "The more I am despised and perse-
cuted the happier my soul is, the larger my congregations,
and the more my labours are blessed." How often during
these years did he realize the promise of our Lord, " Every
one that forsaketh houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father,
or mother, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall
receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life."
How many homes were open to the way-worn wanderer !
How many kind friends greeted him as a son and brother !
" Even treated more like a son than a stranger, more like an
angel than a poor clod of earth," is an entry in his diary.


Sometimes these beloved friends would have allured
him from his appointed work by their kindness. " Abide
with us, and we will do thee good," was their language.
To him, however, who had laid his all on the altar, these
temptations only added other victories to those already
won. He says, under date of June, 1777: "The people
here wanted to ruin me with their kindness. The tempta-
tion was strong. Satan began to lay a hundred schemes
to entrap me, in order that my usefulness might be hindered.
The thing itself was pleasing to nature, to live at ease, with
an abundance of what the world calls good, and the pros-
pect of doing good withal! World, away with thy flat-
tery ! I can rejoice in my God with the testimony of a
conscience void of offence, knowing that the oblation is
made for the sake of Christ's Church, whom he purchased
with his own blood, being convinced that I can do more
good in wandering up and down the earth without any
encumbrance. As for the riches of the world I have
enough to serve my turn. It is no time to think of lands,
or houses, &c. I passed on, rejoicing in God my Saviour."

Preaching from one to four times daily, often beset by
enemies to the cross of Christ who testified their animosity
by deed as well as word, besought by friends not to expose
himself, how must the heart of the youthful disciple have
longed for rest! It was just after he had resisted the
importunity of his more prudent friends that he met one
of those ruffians who sometimes bear a title only to dis-
grace it. After several threats, finding that he could not
intimidate Mr. Garrettson, he commenced a furious assault,
in which he commanded his servants to engage, and ended
it only when his victim lay senseless on the ground. A
woman providentially passed by with a lancet, who had


him removed to the nearest house and bled him. What a
scene that cottage presented! The young minister just
awaking from his trance, but not able to rise, his face
wounded and bleeding, but radiant with a joy that he
could scarcely contain, believing himself near the eternal
world, and ravished by the view which faith presented, yet
pausing to pray for his murderer and to guide him to the
way of safety ; the poor persecutor, frightened at the effect
of his passion, either pacing the room with agitated steps,
or sitting beside his victim and reading, by his direction,
passage after passage of Holy "Writ. Mr. Garrettson, in
after life, when speaking of this assault, said : " Brown was
a small man, and I was strong and agile ; in a contest I
could have overpowered him." But it was not by conflict
or by violence that Christianity won its trophies either in
the first or the eighteenth century.

This constant warfare with the powers of darkness gave
to the countenance of those dear servants of God a solem-
nity and elevation of character which sometimes awakened
the careless when no word was spoken. " My first convic-
tion, when a boy," said an eminent Presbyterian divine,
"was received from observing Mr. Garrettson as he was
walking by there was something so holy, so heavenly, in
his expression, that I was strongly impressed with the truth
of religion."

Such were the men that kindled a flame through the
length and breadth of our country. Had the world seen
their like since apostolic days? The Keformers, though
bold in the cause of truth, were full of asperity ; here
courage was tempered by meekness and love.

The life of the itinerant, however, was not wholly marked
by toil and trial. Green spots there were in the path of


his pilgrimage "sweet resting bowers," where the weary
might repose beside the still waters delectable mountains
where sweet counsel might be taken and new strength
imbibed. Such a spot, among many others, was the house
of Henry Airey, Esq. When being conducted to the prison
at Cambridge, by a mob, it was this devoted friend who
accompanied him ; and when the mob was dispersed by a
remarkable flash of lightning, and the two friends were left
to themselves, how cheerfully the light of that home
gleamed in the distance ! What sweet communion did its
inmates enjoy when, gathered together around its ample
hearth, they talked of all that befell them by the way ! The
next day was to bring its trouble, but that they left to God.
When the morrow came, and the prison-life was a reality,
it was still to that dear friend he owed his earthly solace ;
it was to him he owed the comforts which made confine-
ment less irksome. " No weapon that was formed against
him prospered." Fire-arms pointed at him dropped harm-
lessly from the hands that held them. Mobs raged around
him, but had no power to injure. Committals were writ-
ten, but left unexecuted. Even in the exceptions to these
escapes God brought abundant good out of the unjust
infliction, and many heard the gospel from his prison win-
dows who might not have heard it otherwise.

Just as Mr. Garrettson was preparing to go to Charles-
ton, S. C., Dr. Coke arrived, with full power to organize a
Church. Mr. Wesley had "been for many years con-
vinced that bishops and presbyters are the same order,
and consequently have the same right to ordain," but had
hitherto refused to exercise it " for peace' sake ;" now, how-
ever, that America had achieved her independence, and
was untrammelled either by Church or State, he deemed it


a duty to assume the right, and accordingly, in conjunc-
tion with several other ministers of the English Church,
ordained the Rev. Messrs. Whatcoat and Vasey elders, and
set apart Dr. Coke, already a presbyter, to the office of
superintendent of the American work.

"Like an arrow" from the bow, Mr. Garrettson went
from North to South to summon the preachers to attend the
Christmas Conference, to be held in Baltimore, Dec., 1784.
He travelled twelve hundred miles in six weeks, preaching
often as he went. At that Conference he was ordained, and
from thence he went as a volunteer to ISTova Scotia.

For two years this indefatigable minister of the Lord
Jesus ceased not to preach the word in that cold inhospita-
ble region; traversing its mountains and valleys, often on
foot, with his knapsack on his back, he threaded Indian
paths in which it was not expedient to take a horse ; some-
times waded through morasses, his hunger satisfied by no
dainty morsel, his thirst slaked at some babbling brook,
his weary limbs rested on a couch of leaves. But God
blessed his labours abundantly : many, many souls were
added to the Lord ; chapels were built, but were too small
to contain the crowds who pressed to hear the word.
Hearts and homes were open to receive him, and though
sometimes " stones flew," and a heavy one was " aimed at
his head," they passed close by without injuring him ; and
he remarks, "This is but trifling, if I can win souls to

At the Conference in Baltimore, May 7th, 1787, Dr.
Coke, by the direction of Mr. "Wesley, proposed to appoint
Mr. Garrettson superintendent of the work throughout the
British provinces in America. The question was taken,
and he was unanimously elected to that office. On mak-


ing this election known to Mr. Garrettson, he said that he
would take one year to visit the field thus tendered, and, if
acceptable to the people, he would return to the next Con-
ference and be consecrated for the office. Letters of com-
mendation to the "West India Islands, &c., &c., were writ-
ten; but when his name was read off the next day, it was
not as missionary bishop to the British provinces, but as
Presiding Elder of the Peninsula, where he had formerly
laboured so successfully. And he never inquired into the
reason of the change, but went, followed by the deep
regrets of his Nova Scotia friends. The storm of persecu-
tion and war had ceased a flood-tide of prosperity and
popularity bore him onward. It was a rest of spirit he
had fairly earned a short rest, for the next Conference
appointed him presiding elder over a new and unsettled
field in New- York. Methodism, previous to this time,
(1788,) had travelled no higher up than New-Rochelle.
Mr. Garrettson's new district comprised the country lying
between New-Rochelle and Lake Champlain, and extended
from the Eastern States to "Whitestown, near Utica. Before
Mr. Garrettson left Conference, such light seemed to illu-
minate his path that he was enabled to allot to each of the
young men whom the Conference had placed at his disposal
his appropriate field of labour, and to fix the time and
place of their several quarterly meetings. How little did
he imagine, as he set out on his journey northward, the
important bearing that this station would have upon his
future happiness ! It was in 1789, while Mr. Garrettson
was at Poughkeepsie, that a servant-man inquired for him,
bearing his master's compliments, and an invitation to visit
Rhinebeck. The invitation was accepted, and Mr. Gar-
rettson went to the house of Thomas Tillotson, Esq., where


he was received with kindness and hospitality. Mr. Til-
lotson was from Maryland, and had heard much of Mr.
Garrettson in his native state. Preaching was established
and a class of two formed, of which Miss Catharine Livings-
ton (afterward Mrs. Garrettson) was one. Miss Livingston
had experienced religion several years before, had been
much edified by Mr. Wesley's Works, and was already a
Methodist in doctrine and affection, when Methodist preach-
ing was so unexpectedly supplied. Mr. Garrettson received
from these friends introductory letters to other branches of
the family, who also received him with great kindness.

Such was his first reception into the family of which he,
several years afterward, became a member. He believed
that his union with Miss Livingston was divinely appointed ;
and from that event the social happiness he so nobly relin-
quished at the commencement of his ministry became his
in no common degree.

Mr. Garrettson took this district in 1788, and left it in
the spring of 1793. The membership during that time had
increased from ten to upwards of two thousand five hun-
dred. In 1793 he was appointed to the Philadelphia Dis-
trict, where he spent the first year of his wedded life.
The next year he was returned as Presiding Elder of the
Dutchess District, and settled at Rhinebeck, about four
miles from the Hudson.

This first dwelling of Mr. and Mrs. Garrettson was a
very humble one, well suited to their narrow income.
Salary there was none for Mr. Garrettson would never
lessen the stipend his brethren received by accepting his
own proportion. His patrimony during those years of
deep devotion to a better service had suffered loss, though
it had still been sufficient for his moderate wants. Mrs.


Garrettson's income was also, at that time, a very limited
one ; so that their experience, during the first six years of
married life, was more in unison with that of their brethren
than has been generally supposed. But their home,
though lowly, was a bright and cheerful one. Peace and
contentment, hospitality and love made it such ; and when,
in 1800, its inmates left it for a larger and more convenient
abode, on the banks of the Hudson, many tears were shed
as a tribute to the hours of sweet enjoyment passed beneath
its roof.

Mr. Asbury's impression, on first visiting the new abode
of his friend, is recorded in these few pithy words : " He
hath a beautiful land and water prospect, and a good,
simply elegant, useful house, for God, his people, and the
family." Perhaps, to make this description of the good
bishop more just, the word elegant should have been
obliterated. Certain it is that no article of the furniture or
dress of these dear friends, to whom he paid an annual
visit, wounded his almost ascetic conscience. When this
house was raised, God's blessing was invoked, and an
answer of peace given; when finished and consecrated,
God's power was most manifestly felt. For twenty-seven
years it was the resting-place of Mr. Garrettson; his
labours ceased only with his life. He continued, with few
intervals, to exercise the office of presiding elder until
1815 ; after this he travelled at large, visiting the Churches
among whom he had formerly laboured, rejoicing every-
where to preach Christ and him crucified. He was deeply
interested in the missionary and educational interests
of our Church. His anxiety for the establishment of
societies for these purposes was ever in advance of his
brethren; his pleasure when they were established, and


the zeal with which he asserted their claim to public
patronage, partook more of the fervour of youth than the
cool sobriety of age. To all charities, indeed, he con-
tributed to the extent of his ability his moderate income,
like his house, was " for God, his people, and the family."
His public obligations never interfered with his private
duties ; the same love which prompted him to seek sinners
in the highways and hedges, shed a hallowing influence over
his home. He was a devoted husband, a tender father, an
affectionate brother, a beneficent uncle. All claims were
properly adjusted. His discipline was so tempered by love
that the rule of the house was always felt to be both kind
and just. Ever more ready to commend than censure,
with a judgment that seldom erred, the right way was
made the pleasant way as well as the way to please.
Seldom, perhaps, has the master of a household been more
loved and honoured. He rarely, if ever, rebuked any one
of his family in public. Were there evils to be corrected,
a private interview was sought at some suitable time
which should most avoid observation; plain, affectionate
conversation was concluded by prayer, and the culprit
came from that private interview loving his reprover with
a more ardent affection, and manifested by his conduct, for
months to come, how deeply it had impressed him. The
ruffled brow of care was smoothed, discordant tempers
harmonized, and a new spirit infused. !No one knew, by
word or hint from the master of the household, that
reproof had been administered ; but a quiet smile passed
around as the settled demeanour and the cheerful alacrity

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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 16 of 26)