Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury) Morris.

Miscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel online

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still pleading, in most plaintive strains, for the dying man.
Subsequently, as he walked slowly toward the house,
bringing his hands softly together, she heard him say, in
a subdued tone, to himself, "He will not die to-night, nor
to-morrow, nor to-morrow night, for so far the Lord has
made known to me; but beyond that I have as yet no
answer." So it turned out; he did not die within the time
specified, but he died the day following. Before he ex-
pired, however, brother Cook went home sick, and died
himself in a very few days — I think on the next Sabbath.
But he died as he had lived, a man of God, and was
lamented by the whole community, which had been so
often moved and profited by his powerful ministrations.
This was perhaps in 1823, though I am not quite certain.
A year or two after his decease I attended a camp
meeting near the farm on which he died, and where his
family still resided. During all the public prayer meet-
ings in the altar, I observed a small boy exceedingly
active among the penitents. His fine, shrill voice, was
distinctly heard on every such occasion, cheering them on
by his exhortations and prayers. Finally, I asked a friend
with whom I was conversing, whose little son he was. He
replied, "That is the youngest son of father Cook, whose
remains lie interred just behind that meeting-house" —
pointing to a plain building in sight. He then proceeded
to relate the following incident, which I give as nearly in


his own way as I can remember it: "Sister Cook's four
younger sons were one day working together in the field.
This youngest one, that you see, had for some time been
seeking religion. That day lie absented himself for a
time, and while praying in the woods, alone, the Lord
converted him. When he returned to the field, and told
his brothers what the Lord had done for him, they were
deeply affected, especially the next youngest brother,
whom he exhorted and prayed for till he was converted.
The two young converts, strong in faith, then commenced
praying for the next youngest brother, and prayed alter-
nately till he was converted. Immediately all three com-
menced exhorting and praying for the oldest brother, and
hung on till he was converted. Having made a clean
sweep, they all returned together to their widowed mother,
rejoicing in their first love, and told her what great things
the Lord had done for them." This remarkable instance
of saving grace reminded me of God's method of working,
"from the least even unto the greatest;" and also of the
promise, "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve
them alive ; and let thy widows trust in me," Jeremiah
xlix, 11.


The name of Jesse Walker will secure a careful reading
of this article, however imperfectly it may reflect his per-
son and character. Among the people of the west, where
he was a noted pioneer, it will awaken the memory of
thousands to incidents not only of stirring interest, but
occasionally bordering upon moral sublimity. Having
emigrated, with his family, from North Carolina to Ten-
nessee, about the close of the last, or beginning of the


present century, he was for some time employed in dress-
ing deer-leather, an article then in great demand, being
much used for gloves, moccasins, pants, vests, hunting-
shirts, etc. JSTo substitute for this early staple of the west
has ever been imported from England or France, nor man-
ufactured in America, to excel it in durability or comfort.
Of course, the business of the " skin-dresser," as he was
sometimes familiarly called, placed him upon ground, in
his day, similar to that now occupied by respectable man-
ufacturers of woolen and cotton goods.

That readers may form some faint idea of the personal
appearance of our hero, let them suppose a man about five
feet six or seven inches high, of rather slender form, with
a sallow complexion, light hair, small blue eyes, prominent
cheek-bones, and pleasant countenance, dressed in drab-
colored clothes, made in the plain style peculiar to the
early Methodist preachers, his neck secured with a white
cravat, and his head covered with a light-colored beaver,
nearly as large as a lady's parasol, and they will see Jesse
"Walker as if spread out on canvas before them.

As to his mental endowments, he was without educa-
tion, except the elementary branches of English imper-
fectly acquired, but favored with a good share of common
sense, cultivated some by reading, but much more by
practical intercourse with society, and enriched with a vast
fund of incidents, peculiar to a frontier life, which he
communicated with much ease and force. His conversa-
tional talent, his tact in narrative, his spicy manner, and
almost endless variety of religious anecdotes, rendered
him an object of attraction in social life. Unaccustomed
to expressing his thoughts on paper, he kept his journal
in his mind, by which means his memory, naturally reten-
tive, was much strengthened, and his resources for the en-
tertainment of friends increased. He introduced himself
among strangers with much facility, and so soon as they


became acquainted with him, his social habits, good tem-
per, unaffected simplicity, and great suavity of manners,
for a backwoodsman, made them his fast friends. As a
pulpit orator he was certainly not above mediocrity, if up
to it ; but his zeal was ardent, his moral courage firm, his
piety exemplary, and his perseverance in whatever he
undertook was indefatigable. Consequently, by the bless-
ing of God upon his labors, he was enabled, in the third
of a century, to accomplish incalculable good as a travel-
ing preacher.

My object, in this article, is not to write a journal of
Jesse Walker's ministerial life, but to rescue from oblivion
a few incidents thereof, which he narrated to me as we
journeyed together on horseback to the General confer-
ence in Baltimore, in 1 824, he being then a delegate from
Missouri conference, and I a delegate from Kentucky.
Those incidents made a strong impression upon my mind
as he recited them. Subsequently, I heard him repeat
them to others; and having related them occasionally
myself, I believe I can write them out substantially as he
told them. It is possible that some of those events, in
part, may have been published through other channels,
but I shall follow my own recollection of them, as they
came fresh from the original source.

It appears, from the printed Minutes, that Jesse Walker
was admitted as a traveling preacher in the Western con-
ference in 1802, and appointed alone to the Red river cir-
cuit, in Tennessee, and that the next three years he was
on Livingston and Hartford circuits, in Kentucky. In
1806 he was appointed to Illinois. The work had no
designation on the Minutes but Illinois. Of course, it
was a mission, embracing the entire population of that
territory, and it was under the superintendence of Rev.
William M'Kendree, afterward bishop, but then presiding
elder of Cumberland district. Between Kentucky and the



interior of Illinois was then a wilderness, and to reach the
mission was difficult. The enterprising M'Kendree deter-
mined to accompany the missionary through the wilder-
ness, and aid him in forming his plan and commencing the
work. They put off together on horseback, camped in
the wild woods every night, roasted their own meat, and
slept on their saddle-blankets under the open canopy of
heaven. Their chief difficulty was in crossing the swollen
streams. It was a time of much rain; the channels were
full to overflowing, and no less than seven times their
horses swam the rapid streams with their riders and bag-
gage ; but the passengers, by carrying their saddle-bags
on their shoulders, kept their Sibles and part of their
clothes above the water. This was truly a perilous busi-
ness. At night they had opportunity, not only of drying
off and resting, but of prayer and Christian converse.
In due time they reached their destination safely. Mr.
M'Kendree remained a few weeks, visited the principal
neighborhoods, aided in forming a plan of appointments
for the mission ; and the new settlers received them both
with much favor. After preaching near a place called
Turkey hill, a gentleman said to Mr. M'Kendree, "Sir, I
am convinced there is a divine influence in your religion ;
for though I have resided here some years, and have done
all within my power to gain the confidence and good-will
of my neighbors, you have already many more friends
here than I have." It is presumed that the presiding
elder went next to Missouri, to visit a mission there.

Jesse Walker, though left alone in his new field of
labor, was not discouraged. After pursuing the regular
plan of appointments till the winter closed in severely
upon him, he suspended that plan from necessity, and
commenced operating from house to house, or, rather,
from cabin to cabin, passing none without calling and
delivering his Gospel message. He went by the openings

B I O G K A P H I C A L g K j; X QHES, 1 63

of Providence, and took shelter for the night wherever he
could obtain it, so as to resume his labor early next day;
and continued this course of toil till the winter broke.
The result of this movement was a general revival with
the opening spring-, when the people were able to reassem-
ble, and he resumed his regular plan. Shortly after this,
a young preacher was sent to his relief; and being thus
reinforced, Jesse determined to include, in the plan of the
summer's campaign, a camp meeting, which was the more
proper, because the people had no convenient place of
worship but the shady forest. The site selected was near
a beautiful spring of pure water. All friends of the enter-
prise were invited to meet upon the spot on a certain day,
with axes, saws, augers, hammers, etc., for the work of
preparation. The ground was cleared off and dedicated
by prayer, as a place of public worship. Jesse took the
lead as boss of the work; and tents, seats, and pulpit
were all arranged before the congregation assembled. It
was the first experiment of the kind in that country ; but
it worked well, admirably well. After the public services
commenced, there was no dispute among preachers or
people as to the choice of pulpit orators. The senior
preached and the junior exhorted, then the junior
preached and the senior exhorted, and so on through
the meeting of several days and nights; the intervals
between sermons being occupied with prayer and praise.
They had no need of night-guards, or even managers, to
keep order. The congregation, gathered from a sparse
population, was of course limited; no populous city was
near to disgorge its rabble upon them ; and there was a
divine power resting upon the people, which bore down all
opposition, and awed every soul into reverence. Early in
the meeting, a young lady of influence, sister-in-law of
the territorial judge sent out by the General Government,
was so powerfully converted, that her shouts of joy and


triumph broke the silence of all the surrounding forest,
and sent a thrilling sensation through every heart in the
encampment. This example of the power of saving grace
cheered on the soldiers of the cross, and inspired all with
conridence of success. After operating till, as Jesse
"Walker expressed it, "the last stick of timber was used
up" — that is, till the last sinner left on the ground was
converted — the meeting adjourned.

The impulse which the work received from that camp
meeting was such, that it extended through most of the
settlements embraced in the mission, which was constantly
extending its borders as the people moved into the terri-
tory. Jesse visited one neighborhood, near the Illinois
river, containing some sixty or seventy souls. They all
came to hear him, and having preached three successive
days, he read the General Rules, and proposed that as
many of them as desired to unite to serve God according
to the Bible, as expressed in those rules, should come
forward and make it known. The most prominent man
among them rose to his feet and said, "Sir, I trust we
will all unite with you to serve God here;" then walked
forward, and all the rest followed. As the result of his
first year's experiment in Illinois, two hundred and
eighteen Church members were reported in the printed

Jesse Walker's next field of labor was Missouri, which,
as may be supposed, was similar to that of Illinois. From
that time forward he operated alternately in the two terri-
tories, till 1812, when he was appointed presiding elder of
the Illinois district, which, however, included all the
ground then occupied both in Illinois and Missouri. That
was an ample field for the exercise of all his zeal. The
old Western conference having been divided, in 1312,
into Ohio and Tennessee conferences, the Illinois and Mis-
souri work pertained to the latter. He was continued on


districts in the two territories, till 1819, when he was
appointed conference missionary, to form new fields of
labor among the destitute, or, as they used to say, "to
break up new ground ;" a work to which he was peculiarly
adapted, both by nature and grace, and in which he con-
tinued to be employed for many years.

In 1820 our veteran pioneer formed the purpose, at
once bold and benevolent, of planting the standard of
Methodism in St. Louis, Missouri, where, previously,
Methodist preachers had found no rest for the soles of
their feet ; the early inhabitants, from Spain and France,
being utterly opposed to our Protestant principles, and
especially to Methodism. He commenced laying the train
at conference, appointed a time to open the campaign and
begin the siege, and engaged two young preachers, of
undoubted zeal and courage, such as he believed would
stand by him "to the bitter end," to meet him at a given
time and place, and to aid him in the difficult enterprise.
Punctual to their engagement, they all met, and proceeded
to the city together. When they reached St. Louis, the
territorial legislature was there in session ; and every pub-
lic place appeared to be full. The missionaries preferred
private lodgings, but could obtain none. When they
announced their profession, and the object of their visit,
no one appeared to show the slightest sympathy with
them. Some laughed at, and others cursed them to their
face. Thus embarrassed at every point, they rode into
the public square, and held a consultation on their horses.
The prospect was gloomy ; no open door could be found ;
every avenue seemed to be closed against them. The
young preachers expressed strong doubts as to their being
in the order of Providence. Their leader tried to rally
and encourage them, but in vain. They thought the Lord
had no work there for them to do, or there would be some
way to get to it. Instead of a kind reception, such as


they had been accustomed to elsewhere, they were not
only denied all courtesy, but turned off, at every point,
with insult. As might be expected, under these circum-
stances, they thought it best to return whence they came
immediately; and though their elder brother entreated
them not to leave him, they deliberately brushed off the
dust of their feet, for a testimony against the wicked city,
as the Savior had directed his disciples to do in similar
cases, and, taking leave of father Walker, rode off, and
left him sitting on his horse. These were excellent young
ministers, and, in view of the treatment they had met
with, no blame was attached to them for leaving. Per-
haps that hour brought with it more of the feeling of
despondency to the veteran pioneer than he ever experi-
enced in any other hour of his eventful life ; and, stung
with disappointment, he said, in his haste, "I will go to
the state of Mississippi, and hunt up the lost sheep of the
house of Israel," reined his horse in that direction, and
with a sorrowful heart rode off alone.

Having proceeded about eighteen miles, constantly
ruminating, with anguish of spirit, upon his unexpected
failure, and lifting his heart to God in prayer for help and
direction, he came to a halt, and entered into a soliloquy
on this wise, "Was I ever defeated before in this blessed
work ? Never. Did any one ever trust in the Lord Jesus
Christ and get confounded ? No ; and, by the grace of
God, I will go back and take St, Louis." Then, reversing
his course, without seeking either rest or refreshment for
man or beast, he immediately, and with all convenient
haste, retraced his steps to the city, and, with some diffi-
culty, obtained lodging in an indifferent tavern, where he
paid at the highest rate for every thing. Next morning
he commenced a survey of the city and its inhabitants; it
being his first object to ascertain whether any Methodist,
from distant parts, had been attracted there by a prospect


of business, who might be of service to him. Finally, he
heard of one man, who, by rumor, was said to be a Meth-
odist, and went directly to his shop, inquired for him by
name, there being several persons present, and he was
pointed out, when the following conversation was held:
"Sir, my name is Walker; I am a Methodist preacher;
and being told that you were a Methodist, I have taken
the liberty to call on you." The man blushed, and, with
evident confusion, called the preacher one side, and said :
"I was a Methodist once, before I came here; but finding
no brethren in St. Louis, I never reported myself, and do
not now consider myself a member ; nor do I wish such a
report to get out, lest it injure me in my business." The
missionary, finding him ashamed of his name, concluded
he was worthless, and left him.

While passing about the city, he met with some mem-
bers of the territorial legislature, who knew him, and said,
"Why, father Walker, what has brought you here?"
His answer was, "I have come to take St. Louis." They
thought it a hopeless undertaking, and, to convince him,
remarked, that the inhabitants were mostly Catholics and
infidels, very dissipated and wicked, and there was no
probability that a Methodist preacher could obtain any
access to them, and seriously advised him to abandon the
enterprise, and return to his family, then residing in Illi-
nois. But to all such suggestions and dissuasions, Jesse
returned one answer: "I have come, in the name of
Christ, to take St. Louis, and, by the grace of God, I will
do it."

His first public experiment was in a temporary place of
worship occupied by a few Baptists. There were, how-
ever, but few present. Nothing special occurred, and he
obtained leave to preach again. During the second effort
there were strong indications of religious excitement; and
the Baptists, fearing their craft was in danger, closed their


doors against him. He next found a large but unfinished

dwelling-house, inquired for the proprietor, and succeeded
in renting it, as it was, for ten dollars a month. Passing
by the public square, he saw some old benches stacked
away by the end of the court-house, it having been
recently refitted with new ones. These he obtained from
the commissioner, had them put on a dray and removed to
his hired house; borrowed tools, and repaired, with his
own hands, such as were broken, and fitted up his largest
room for a place of worship. After completing his
arrangements, he commenced preaching regularly twice
on the Sabbath, and occasionally in the evenings between
the Sabbaths. At the same time, he gave notice, that, if
there were any poor parents who wished their children
taught to spell and read, he would teach them five days
in a week, without fee or reward ; and if there were any
who wished their servants to learn, he would teach them,
on the same terms, in the evenings. In order to be always
on the spot, and to curtail his heavy expenses, which he
had no certain means of meeting, he took up his abode
and kept bachelor's hall in his own hired house. The
chapel-room was soon filled with hearers, and the school
with children. Some of the better class of citizens insisted
on sending their children to encourage the school, and
paying for the privilege ; and to accommodate them, and
render the school more useful, he hired a young man,
more competent than himself, to assist in teaching. In
the mean time he went to visit his family, and returned
with a horse-load of provisions and bedding, determined
to remain there and push the work till something was
accomplished. Yery soon a work of grace commenced,
first among the colored people, then among the poorer
class of whites, and gradually ascended in its course till
it reached the more intelligent and influential, and the
prospect became truly encouraging.


About this time an event transpired, which seemed, at
first, to be against the success of his mission, but which
eventuated in its favor. The work of death caused ihc
hired house to change hands; and he was notified to
vacate it in a short time. Immediately, he conceived a
plan for building a small frame chapel; and, without
knowing where the funds were to come from, but trusting
in Providence, put the work under contract. Jesse was to
furnish the materials, and the carpenter to have a given
sum for the work. A citizen owning land across the Mis-
sissippi gave him leave to take the lumber from his forest
as a donation, and when he started with his choppers and
hewers, followed them to the boat, and had them ferried
over, from time to time, at his expense. Soon the chapel
was raised and covered ; the ladies paid the expense of
building a pulpit; and the vestry-men of a small Episcopal
church, then without a minister, made him a present of
their old Bible and cushion. They also gave him their
slips, which he accepted, on condition of their being free ;
and having unscrewed the shutters, and laid them by, he
lost no time in transferring the open slips to his new
chapel. New friends came to his relief in meeting his
contracts ; the chapel was finished, and opened for public
worship, and was well filled ; the revival received a fresh
impulse; and, as the result of the first year's experiment,
he reported to conference a snug little chapel erected
and paid for, a flourishing school, and seventy Church
members in St. Louis. Of course he was next year regu-
larly appointed to that mission station, but without any
missionary appropriation, and considered it an honorable
appointment. Thus " father Walker," as everyone about
the city called him, succeeded in taking St. Louis, which,
as he expressed it, had been "the very fountain-head of
devilism." Some idea of the change there had been
effected for the better, may be inferred from the fact,


that Missouri conference held its session in the city, Octo-
ber 24, 1822, when our most excellent and lamented
brother — William Beauchamp — was appointed successor
of the indefatigable Walker. St. Louis is now a large
and flourishing city, well supplied with churches and a
church -going people.

Jesse Walker was continued conference missionary, and
in 1823 began to turn his special attention to the Indian
tribes up the Mississippi. When he reached their villages,
he learned that most of them had gone a great distance
to make their fall's hunt. Not a whit discouraged by this
disappointment, he procured a bag of corn and an inter-
preter, and set off in pursuit of them, crossing the Missis-
sippi in a canoe, and swimming his horse by the side of it.
After a difficult and wearisome journey, they reached
one cluster of camps, on the bank of a small stream, about
the dusk of evening. When they first rode up, an In-
dian — who knew the interpreter — said, "Who is with you,
a Quaker?" "No." "A minister?" "Yes." Word
was conveyed to the chief, a tall, dignified man, who came
out and gave them a welcome reception, secured their
horses, with ropes, to the trees, with his own hands, and
then showed them into his own camp, which was a tempo-
rary hut, with flat logs laid round inside for seats, and a
fire in the center, and, in his own Indian style, introduced
them to his wife, who received them kindly, and enter-
tained them cheerfully.

The chief, learning that his white guest wished to hold
a talk with him and his people, sent notice to the neighbor-
ing camps of a council to be held in his lodge that even-
ing. In the mean time, the chief's wife prepared a repast
for the occasion, consisting of broth, enriched with venison

Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 14 of 30)