Peter Cartwright.

Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the backwoods preacher online

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1 857.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1836. by


to the Clerk's Office of the Diatrict Court of the Soathern District of New-York.


Foe many years past, and especially during
tlie last ten or twelve, I have been almost un-
ceasingly importuned to write out a history of
my life, as one araong the oldest Methodist trav-
eling preachers west of the mountains. This
would necessarily connect with it a history of
the rise and progress of the Methodist Episco-
pal Church in the great valley of the Missis-
sippi. And surely a work of this kind, written
^by a competent historiographer, who had kept
^himself posted, or had kept a journal of his life,
^-and the many thrilling incidents connected
::with the history of the Church, or the life of
a pioneer travehng preacher, could not fail to
interest the Church and many of her friends,
and would rescue from obli\don many, very
many incidents that are now lost, and gone
^forever beyond the reach of the historian's pen.


I have regretted through life that some of
my cotemporaries, who were much better quali-
fied for the task than I am, did not write out
such a work as is contemphited in this imper-
fect sketch. Had I seriously thought of
sending such a work into the world, I should
have tried hard to have been better prepared.
But it must be remembered that many of us
early traveling preachei-s, who entered the vast
wilderness of the West at an early day, had
little or no education; no books, and no time
to read or study them if we could have had
them. We had no colleges, nor even a respect-
able common ^school, within hundreds of miles
of us. Old Dylte or Dilworth was our spell-
ing book; and what little we did learn, as we
grew up, and the means of education increased
among us, we found, to our heai-ts' content, that
we had to unlearn, and this was the liardest
work of all.

And now that I am old and well stricken in
years, it has been, and is, my abiding convic-
tion that I cannot write a book that will be
respectal^le, or one that will be worth reading ;
but I have reluctantly yi(4ded to the many
solicitations of my friends, and I am conscious
that there must be many imperfections and


inaccuracies in the work. I have no books to
guide me ; my memory is greatly at fault ; ten
thousand interesting facts have escaped my
recollection; names and places have passed
from me which cannot be recalled; and I fear
that many scenes and incidents, as they now
occur to my recollection, will be added to, or
diminished from.

Moreover, as I well understand that I have
been considered constitutionally an eccentric
minister, thousands of the thrilling incidents
that have gained publicity, and have been at-
tributed to me, when they are not found in my
book will create disappointment. But I trust
their place will be supplied by a true version,
and thouo^h some of them may not be as mar-
velous, may nevertheless be quite as interesting.
I have many to record that have not seen the
light, which will be quite as thrilling as any
that have been narrated, and their truthfulness
will make them more so.

Some of our beloved bishops, book agents,
editors, and old men, preachers and private
members, as well as a host of our young, strong
men and ministers, who are now actively en-
gaged in building up the Church, have urged
me to undertake this sketch of my life, and I


have not felt at lil)ei-ty to decline, bnt send it
out with all its imperfections, hoping that it
may in some way, and to some extent, conduce
to the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom,
and do more than merely gratify an idle curi-
osity, or offend the fastidious ta.ste of some of
our present more highly favored and better ed-
ucated ministei*s, who enjoy the many glorious
advantages of hooks, a l)etter education, and
improved state of society, from which we as
early pioneers were almost wholly excluded.

Right here I wish to say, (I hope without
the charge of egotism,) when I consider the
insuimountable disadvantages and difficulties
that the early pioneer Methodist preachei-s
labored under in spreading the Gospel in these
Western wilds in the great valley of the ]Mis-
sissippi, and contrast the disabilities wliich sur-
rounded them on every hand, with the glorious
human advantages that are enjoyed l)y their
present successoi-s, it is confoundingly miracu-
lous to me that our modern preachei^s cannot
preach better, and do more good than they do.
Many nights, in early times, the itinerant had
to camp out, without fire or food for man or
beast. Our pocket Bible, Hymn Book, and
Discipline constituted our library. It is true


we could not, many of us, conjugate a verb or
parse a sentence, and mui'dered tlie king's
EnglisL. almost every lick. But there was a
Divine unction attended the word preached,'
and thousands fell under the mighty power of
God, and thus the Methodist Episcopal Church
was planted firmly in this Western wilderness,
and many glorious signs have followed, and
will follow, to the end of time.

I will here state, that, at an early period of
my ministry, I commenced keeping a journal,
and kept it up for several yeai^, till at length
several of our early missionaries to the Natchez
country returned, and many of them, I found,
were keeping a journal of their hves and
labors, and it seemed to me we were outdoing
the thing, and under this conviction I thi'ew
my manuscript journals to the moles and bats.
This act of my life I have deeply regretted, for
if I had persisted in journalizing, I could now
avail myself of many interesting facts, dates,
names, and circumstances that would greatly
aid me in my sketch.

I know it is impossible for my friends to
realize the embarrassments I labor under, for
the want of some safe guide to my failing and
treacherous memory. I therefore ask great in-


dulgence from any and all who may chance to
read this imperfect sketch, and pray that our
kind Saviour may forgive any inaccuracies or
errors that it may contain. If I had my minis-
terial life to live over again, my present con-
^nction is that I would scrupulously keep a
journal. But this cannot be ; therefore I must

And now, in the conclusion of this introduc-
tion, I will say, I ask forgiveness of God for
all the errors of this work, and all the erroi*s
of my whole life, especially of my ministerial
life. I also ask for the forgiveness of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, as one of her
unworthy ministers, for any wrongs I may
have done to her, or to the world. I also most
sincerely ask the prayers of the Church, that
while my sun is fast declining, and must soon
set to rise on earth no more, I may have a
peaceful and happy end, and that I may meet
any that I may have been the instrument of
doing good to, with all my dear brethren, safe
in heaven, to praise God together forever.



Pleasant Plains, III., 1856.



His Birth — Parents remove to Kentucky — Dangers and Difficulties of the
Journev — Halt at Camp Defeat — His Father shoots an Indian — Escape
of a White Man from the Indians — His Companions shot — Arrival at
Crab Orchard — Massacre of seven Families — Pursuit of the Indians —
Their Slaughter — Perils of the Early Settlers — Fertility and Resource
of the Country Page 1.


Settlement in Lincoln's Countv, Kentucky — Methodist Ministers —Parents
remove to Logan County, Kentucky — Rogue's Harbor — The " Regula-
tors" — Native Luxuries — Saltpeter Caves — Advantages of Navigation
— Falls into Bad Habits — Is sent to School— Makes little Progress —
Fate of his Teacher 23


Increase of Population — Danger of Extremes in Doctrine— Sacramental
Meeting— Great Revival — First Camp-meeting — Presbyterians cen-
sured for engaging in it — Origin of the " New Lights" — Their Leaders
— " Republican Methodists" — The Shakers — Want of Ministers severe-
ly felt... 29


Goes to a Dance — Is convicted — Obliged to leave his Business — Thought
to be Insane — His Convictions are Strengthened — Attends a Sacra-
mental Meeting, and is Converted — Joins the Methodist Episcopal
Church — Organization of the Western Conference by Bishop Asbury —
Early Western Itinerants -First Secession — Wilson Lee — The Pet Lamb
Taking up the Cross — Happy Conversion — Mr. Lee's Death 34


Wide-spread Revival in the West — Rise of Camp-meetings- Methodists
and Pr^sbvterians unite in the Work — Campground Accommodations —
Great Extravagances among the Presbyterians — The Presbytery grant
Licenses contrary to the " Confession 'of Faith"— Some are centred,
some suspended, and others expelled- They propose to join the Meth'


odist Episcopal Church — Proposal declined — Formation of the •• Cum-
berland Presbyterian Church"^— Splitting the Difference— The Jerks-
Horse whippiiis: escaped — Dreadful Death — Fatal Delusions — Trouble
with the Shakers — Debates with them — Numbers received into the
Church— Organizes a Circuit Page 45


Attends numerous Camp-mcetin?s — Opposers overcome — Meets Bishop
Asbury — Receives an Exhorter s License — Removes to Lew iston County,
Dlinois — Enters an Academy — Exhorts large Congregations and gathers
a Class — Suffers Persecution — Ducks his Tormentors — Leaves Scnool —
Forms a Circuit — Good Success — Gives up the World — Travels Red
River Circuit — First Sermon — Its Effect — Transferred to Waynesville
Circuit — Revival at Stockton Valley — Baptist Proselyters — Thev entice
his Converts — His Scheme to recover them — Is crowned with Success
— Organizes a Society — Increase in the Western Conference — Is re-
ceived into the Traveling Connection 56


Conference of 1804 — Travels Salt River and Shelby ville Circuits — Sim-
plicity in Dress of early Methodists — Studies with Mr. M'Kendree —
Profits much by his Instructions — Duties of Presiding Elders — Pioneer
Methodist Preachers — An educated Ministry — Meets one of the "Regu-
lar Graduates" — Confounds him — A striking Illustration — Danger of
Congregationalism in the Church — Secular Offices should be filled by
Laymen — Evil Effects of the present System — Conference of 1S05 —
William M'Kendree elected President 74


Appointment to Scioto Circuit — Favored with good Superintendents — A
drunken Minister — Strange Apology — Powerful Awakenings — Afflict-
ing Dispensation — Father Teel — His Eccentricity cured — Large Camp-
meeting — The Rowdies troublesome — A drunken Magistrate — A knock-
down Argument — The Meeting progresses — Cheering Results — James
Axley — Scene at the Governor's Table — A useful Preacher 84


Starts for the Conference of 1806 — Increase of Membership — A new Dis-
trict — Meager Salary — Is ordained Deacon by Bishop Asbury — Sent
to Marietta Circuit — A Colony of Yankees — Hard Appointment — The
Halcyon Church — Brimstone Angels — A vile Impostor — Deluded
Fanatics — Want of an Outfit — Goes Home — Timely Assistance — A
Friend in Need — A Generous Landlord — Singular Conversion — Arrives
at Home — New Outfit — Starts afresh — Conference of 1807 — Appoint-
ed to Barren Circuit — Dying Convert — A knotty Case — Affecting
Scene — Methodism obtains a Footing 96


Poverty of Preachers — Enters into Matrimony — Conference of 1808 —
Ordained Elder by Bishop M'Kendree — Father's Death — Has leave of
Absence for a Time — Returns to tlie Regular Work at the Conference
of 1809 — Appointed to Livingston Circuit — Holds a Camp-meeting —


Good Results— A bigoted " Dunker" — Turns Methodist— Bought by
the Baptists — Tries the Shakers — Objects to hard "Work — Resorts to
the Xew Lights — Last Session of the "Western Conference in 1811 —
Lacrease of Membership — First delegated General Conference — Divis-
ion of the Western Conference — Goes to Christian Circuit, Tennessee
Conference — Glorious Revivals — Overcomes Prejudice — New Appoint-
ment — Another Camp-meeting — A Methodist Fit — Preaches at Red
River — Opposed by a Presbyterian Minister — Results of Opposition —
Forms a Society Page 111


First Session of Tennessee Conference in 1812 — Made Presiding Elder by
Bishop Asbury — Objects to taking the OflBce — Travels Wabash District

— Holds several Camp-meetings — Agitation on the Slavery Question —
Testimony of the Church against it — Harm done by Rabid Abolitionists

— Breckenridge Camp-meeting — An impudent Dandy — Threat of a
Horsewhipping — Dandy escapes with a Ducking — Decrease of Member-
ship at Conference of 1813 — Causes thereof— Returned to Green River,
formerly Wabash District — New Fields of Labor — A Baptist Goliath —
Slander on the Methodists — Vulgar Comparisons — Goliath Defeated —
Is blown to Never — A Waisky-drinking Preacher — Charging full
Price 126


Tennessee Conference of 1814 — Bishops Asbury and M'Kendree — Their
Ministerial Labors — Privations of the Preachers — A Fatted Calf—
Camp-meeting at Christian Circuit — Disturbance from Rowdies — A
stroke of Policy — A Disturber roached — Another soused, and afterward
converted — The String of Frogs — An enraged Father — Evil Surmis-
ings — His Conviction and Conversion — A singular Dream — Its Ful-
fillment — Baptist Proselyter — Extended Argument — An unanswerable
Question 139


Bishop Asbury attends the Tennessee Conference of 1815 — His feeble
Health — Election of Delegates to General Conference — The Bishop's
Advice to them — His Endeavors to reach the General Conference — In-
creasing Weakness — Death and Burial — Reinterment — Epitaph —
The Bishop's Talents — His Knowledge of Character — General Confer-
ence of 1816-^ Difficulties of Travel — Election of Bishops George and
Roberts — A Year of Prosperity — Introduction of Pro-slavery Feeling
into the Church — Injurious Effects — Clamors for Lay Representation
first heard — They increase at the Conference of 1820 — Other Radical
Measures then brought forward — Presiding Elders to be Elected — An
entering Wedge— Bishop Soule's Opposition — Suspension of the Elec-
tive Rule — Harmony destroyed in the Church — Expulsion of the Radi
cals — Peace restored — Formation of the Methodist Protestant Church

— Schisms originate among the Ministers — Examples cited — Wretched
Policy of the Church South on Slavery 152


Sessions of Western Conferences for 1816 — Is appointed to Christian
Circuit — New Conference formed — Introduction of Methodism into
Indiana and Illinois — Increase of Members and Ministers — Glorious



Revivals — Preaches to Slaves — Numbers converted — Want (f faithful
Preachers amonj;: them — Quarterage not twenty-five Cents — Hospitable
Farmer — Nothing lost by entertaining Ministers — Meets with a
Wealthy Wesleyan — He builds a Church — Dedicated by a Protracted
Meeting — A great Concourse attends — Several converted — Scarcity of
Bibles — Organization of Bible Society Page 166


Earthquake of 1S12 — Consequent Excitement — Numbers join the Church,
of \vliom many fall away — Is stationed on Red River Circuit at Confer-
ence of 1817 — Preaches to a single Hearer — His Fame is spread abroad —
Draws crowded Congregations — Dram-drinking — Reasons for and
against — Deals summarily with Breakers of the Rules — A Revival
springs up — Class meetings with closed Doors — A New-Licrht Torment-
or — How she is got rid of — Young America — Sermon on Worldliness —
Dr. Bascom reproved — Is kept in the Shade — "Who is General Jack-
son?" — His Independence approved — Need of a Hell — Conference of
1819 — Complains of Violators of the Discipline — They are obliged to con-
form — General Conference of 1820 — Plan of the Pro-slavery Party —
Formation of Kentucky Conference — The Church in the West — Con-
ference of 1820 — Publishes two Anti-Calvinistic Pamphlets — A Satanic
Reply— The Rejoinder 180


Sets out with Father Walker for the General Conference — Lodges with a
shouting Local Preacher — Resumes his Journey — Finds a loaded Pistol

— Met by a Robber — Pistol becomes useful — A Universalist Landlord —
Praying off a Bill — Return from Conference — Effects of " New Cider" —
A surly Host — Refuses Payment in Bills — Second Thoughts the best —
Dance at a Tavern — Is asked to join — First offers a Prayer — The Danc-
ing ceases — Prays and exhorts — Many converted — Being instant in and
out of Season — A Preacher up to the Times — Dumb Devil — Evil of Dram-
drinking — Makes an Enemy by his Temperance — Use of Liquor defend-
ed by Methodists — Appointed Presiding Elder of Cumberland District
at Conference of 1821 — First round of Quarterly Meetings — Prayerless
Frofessors — Roaring River Camp-meeting — A Disorderly Congregation

— Arrests their Attention — Defends the Divinity of Christ — Vanquishes
its Disputants — Outpouring of the Spirit — An Arian Devil cast out —
Simon Carlisle — He Reproves a young Profligate — His Revenge — Car-
lisle arrested for Robbery — Requests his Conference to suspend him —
Restored to his Standing in the Church — His Innocence proved 199


Poplar Grove Camp-meeting — -Spunky Widow — A Proselyting Baptist — In-
auced to hear Mr. Cartwright preach — Hears part of the Sermon and then
runs — Promise of Immortality scouted — Publicly reproves a young Lawyer

— Is challenged in conseqiience — Chooses his Weapons — His Opponent
is Conscience-stricken — Requests his Prayers — Finds Peace in Believ-
ing — Revival at Quarterly Meeting — Regulates the Altar Exercises —
Sanctified Wealth a Blessing to the Church — Needless Church Expendi-
tures — Might be better applied — Rowdies at a Camp-meeting — They
determine to break it up — Essay to carry out their Plans — They are
dispersed — Conversion and Reconciliation of bitter Enemies — Ungen-
tleraanly Infidel — Sessions of Kentucky Conference for 1822 and 1823

— Delegated to General Conference of 1824 — Close of his twentieth Year
In the Itinerancy— Retrospective View 226



Detennines to remove to Illinois — Reasons for so doing — Maxes the
Jonrney on Horseback — Selects a Location — Returns through Springtield
— Is transferred to Illinois Conference — Parting with old Friends —
Fatal Accident to one of his Daughters — Kindness from Strangers —
Settles in Sangamon County — Vicinage of Indians — Extent of San-

faraon Circuit — Appoints a Sacramental Meeting — "Cartwright's
lood " — A close Brother — A Word in Season — Its good Etfect —
Scarcity of Money — Jan: es Dixon — Hunters' Expedients — Their Priva-
tions— Dixon loses his Eyesight — Singular Dream — His Sight restored
— Good Luck — Voyage to St. Louis — Escapes from the Indians — A suc-
cessful Trip — Becomes a Methodist — His peaceful Death — Increase on
Sangamon Circuit — Conference of 1825 — Violent Bilious Attack —
Journey homeward - An unkind Companion — His Dismissal — Stops
to recruit — Proceeds on his Way — Ts Sick on the Road — Lies down to
Die — Good Samaritans — Is met by his Wife — Partial Recovery —
Crossing the Grand Prairie Page 244


Sent to Illinois Circuit by Conference of 1826 — Is a Candidate for the
Legislature — Hears himself defamed — Faces his Reviler — He apolo-
gizes — Another Calumniator — Proves his Assertions to be false — An
aspiring Lawyer — He is taken down — Becomes friendly — Dangers in
the Use of Liquor — Preaches to a highly expectant Congregation —
Annoyance at Camp-meeting from a Drunken Crew — They are dis
persed by an Artifice — An Insane Enthusiast — Various Delusions — Ex-
pulsion i'rom the Church of an Impostor — A good Investment — Value
of Useful Books — Appointed Superintendent of Pottawattomie District
— Meeting with Indian Chiefs — Expenses of this Mission — Conference
of 1827 — Voyage to General Conference at Pittsburgh — Immoral Fel-
low-Passengers — An exciting Debate — Comes oflf Victorious — Preaches
on the Steamboat 261


Absent from Conference of 1828 — Sickness of Mrs.Cartv.right — Formation
of Oneida Conference — Organization of Canada Methodist Episcopal
Church — Attends the General Conference of 1828 — Gets the Cold
Shoulder — Hearty Reception — Spiritual Darkness — Obtains Relief —
Dangers of New Circuits — A Rough Pulpit — Death of Bishop George

— Illinois Conference of 1S29 — A hen-pecked Husband — He is relieved

— Written Sermons not liked — A Union Church — Unfair Dealing —
A Methodist Church built — Great Sacrifice — Sangamon Camp-meeting

— Groundless Stories — Tormented by Mockers — They stick in the
Mud — The Tables turned — A bigoted Mother — Her impotent Rage —
A Providential Escape 292


Elected to the General Conference of 1832 — Prevented from attending by
Family Sickness — Annoyed at Camp-meeting by a Huckster — Prosecutes
him — He refuses to payhis Fine — His Stores seized, and himself taken
to Prison — Pays, and is released — His Companions desire to retake his
Liquor — Their Ringleader quieted — Revival among the Persecutors

— Di\'ision of Illinois Conference — Is Superannuated for ten Hours


— Quincy District formed — None willing to go to it — Takes the Ap
pointment — Character of the District — A long Shower — An encourag-
ing Motto — Watery Journey — A High-strung Predestinarian — Hat€r
of the Methodists — The Eternal Decrees — Barton Randle — His Priva-
tions and Usefulness — Visit to Pwock Island Mission — A rascally
Ferryman — Former Site of an Indian Town — Fording Rock River —
An unexpected Wetting — Galena Mission — Dangerous Ride with his
Daughter — Contrast between Traveling then and now — D. B. Carter

— A beloved Minister — His Death — Fort Edwards Mission... Page 320


Rise of the Mormons under Joe Smith — Their Expulsion from Missouri,
and Establishment at Nauvoo — Acquaintance with Joe Smith — His
Ignorance and Cunning — Controversy concerning his Doctrines — Re-
lates to him an Encounter with Mormons at a Camp-meeting, and how
they were silenced — Smith grows Restive under this Recital — Curses
him in the Name of his God — Mormons driven from Dlinois — Illinois
Conference of 1833 — Bishop Soule's Western Tour — Travels with him to
a Quarterly Meeting — Visitation of the Cholera — The Bishop attacked
with Fever — Preacher stationed at Jacksonville — First Quarterly Con-
ference there — Rapid Growth of the Town — Illinois Conference of 1834

— Religious Excitement in Rushville Circuit — A Papist Convert 341


Knox County Camp-meeting — A Yankee Family — Parents' Dislike of the
Methodists — Efforts to keep their Children from the Meeting — The
Daughters seek Religion — Opposition of their Mother — Laughable
Incidents — Whole Family becomes Religious — Unhealthiness of Quincy

— A Dying Stranger — Takes Charge of his Affairs — A Campbellite De-
bater — He resists the Spirit — Becomes Insane — Commits Suicide ... 353


Slissionaries sent to the West — They make Evil Reports of the Land —
Their Preaching productive of no Good — Election to General Conference
of 1836 — Church Paper at Cincinnati — Morris, Waugh, and Fisk elected

Online LibraryPeter CartwrightAutobiography of Peter Cartwright, the backwoods preacher → online text (page 1 of 37)