Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury) Morris.

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

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myself $5; his traveling expense from conference, for
which he had a claim on the circuit, was $2.50, and their
proportion of mine was fifty cents, making, in the whole,
sacramental expenses included, about $34, or if there
were two preachers, of which I am not sure, it was $59,
which the circuit should have raised. These bills so far
exceeded the amount in the treasury, that it was thought
prudent to defer any appropriation till after the public col-
lection should be made on the Sabbath, of which due
notice had been given. The weather on Sabbath was
remarkably fine and pleasant, so that the house was full
of females and the yard of men. I stood in the door and
preached to the listening crowd, who paid very strict
attention, and seemed to be interested. Sermon ended, I
made a few appropriate remarks on the privilege and
duty of supporting the Gospel, explained the object of the
collection about to be lifted, and sent the stewards through
the congregation, in doors and out. About that time
change in Kentucky consisted mostly of individual notes
on stores, ferry-boats, blacksmith shops, etc.; and when
all the hats were emptied into one, and the money
counted, it was ascertained to be exactly fifty cents in
sliinplasters. Total amount raised by the circuit that
quarter, $1.25.

Now, if the reader will connect with this state of things
the recollection that we were regarded, in early days, by
many as idle strollers, or deceivers, having constantly to
breast a storm of opposition and persecution, he can judge
whether the love of gain, ease, or applause had any hand
in causing men of good character and fair prospects in
life to turn Methodist preachers. No, it was the love of
God and man, and the desire of saving blood-bought
souls, that rendered them willing to spend and be spent
in the cause of Christ. Amidst a thousand nameless
difficulties they persevered in their Master's work, till

N OTES OF T it A \ J. I.. 259

most of the obstacles were overcome; and, thank God! a
brighter day has dawned upon us in this western land.
Our preachers are now as much respected, and upon
an average nearly as well supported as those of other
Churches west of the mountains. And by comparing
their present condition with the condition of those who
preceded them in the cultivation of the Lord's vineyard,
they may see sufficient cause to thank God and take cour-
age, and go on their way rejoicing.

Those who look not beyond the things which perish,
and take no thought for the life to come, might naturally
suppose that the early Methodist preachers of this country,
according to the preceding remarks respecting their diffi-
culties, were very disconsolate men. And truly, in view
of the things they suffered, there would be some plausi-
bility in this supposition, if in this life only they had hope.
But not so. They sought a better country, laying up a
good foundation against the time to come ; and their hope
was anchored within the vail, whither Christ, the forerun-
ner, was for them entered, as an advocate with the Father.
When a man glories not, save in the cross of Christ, by
which he is crucified to the world and the world to him —
when he has a conscience void of offense toward God and
man, and a good hope, through grace, of everlasting life in
heaven, he will be happy under any outward circum-
stances. Now, this was the condition of most Methodist
preachers, under the trying scenes alluded to above.
There may have been exceptions ; but the great body of
them knew that their witness was in heaven, and their
record on high, while they received within their hearts a
kingdom which could not be shaken by the combined
opposition of Satan and his children. The testimony of
Paul, respecting the first teachers of Christianity, was


quite applicable to them : "Even unto this present hour we
both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted,
and have no certain dwelling-place ; and labor, work-
ing with our own hands : beinq- reviled, we bless ; beinq;
persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat; we
are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring
of all things unto this day." "But we have this treasure
in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may
be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every
side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in
despair ; persecuted, but not forsaken ; cast down, but not
destroyed ; always bearing about in the body the dying of
the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus miq-ht be made
manifest in our body."

Beside peace in believing, and joy in the Holy Ghost,
they had some pleasant things connected with their work ;
for outward circumstances were not all against them. Far
removed from the noise and bustle of commercial cities,
the hurrying crowds of business men, and the frivolity of
fashionable life, they enjoyed the sweet solitude of the
woods, so favorable to pious meditation. This afforded a
most delightful school, in which to gain the knowledge of
God and their own hearts. How precious is the recollec-
tion still, of those evening hours spent in prayer and
meditation, amidst the shady bowers of our western for
ests! For such exercise there is no place equal to the
solemn, silent grove, whose spreading foliage conceals the
kneeling suppliant from the view of all but God. It is
true, we were not always in the country ; for, as our com-
mission was to "go into all the world, and preach the
Gospel to every creature," the villages were not neglected.
In them we had nourishing societies of living Christians,
long before the "educated ministry" ventured to the
"moral desolations" of this great valley; although some
of them reported officially, that they had preached the

N T E B F T B A V E L. 261

first Gospel sermons ever delivered in certain places, where
we had been regularly preaching for many years. But
having preached our sermons, examined our classes, and
visited the sick and serious in town, Ave resumed our
wonted employment of searching for lost sheep in the
wilderness. Exercise on horseback was our element and
favorite recreation. When slightly indisposed, or debil-
itated by excess of public exercise in town or city, it
served at once to invigorate the body and exhilarate
the mind. Thus, this part of our work promoted good
health and fine spirits. It is strange that any Methodist
preacher should prefer a station to a circuit, in view of
these things. And, moreover, our long, solitary rides
were as favorable to study as to health and piety, afford-
ing the best possible opportunity to study a sermon, or
to carry out any train of thought suggested by reading
or conversation. Sometimes we enjo} T ed hours together
almost uninterrupted, in this delightful employment, and
consequently came before the congregation well prepared
to discuss some profitable subject selected for their edifi-
cation, and frequently had times of refreshing from the
presence of the Lord. If the meeting was in a log school-
house, or under the spreading boughs of an oak, it was
nothing the worse of that, so God was worshiped in spirit
and in truth. Week-day congregations in the country
were much larger then than now ; for, though we were
opposed by formalists, infidels, and libertines, very many
of the people loved to hear preaching, and would gather
in from a distance of several miles round, and hang on
the lips of the preacher with solemn attention, as he stood
behind a table or split-bottom chair, proclaiming peace on
earth and good-will to man. Excuses about distance and
want of time were less frequent, than complaints that the
minister came too seldom, or made his sermon too short.
We were frequently importuned to appoint a second meet-


ing in the evening, to which we often consented, and hart
the cabin full of weeping hearers. After sermon and
prayer meeting, when the people started home of a dark
night, it was an interesting spectacle to step out into the
yard and observe a score of torch lights diverging in
every direction from the place of worship, to light the
families to their different homes. But what interested the
preacher most, was the simplicity and fervor of their devo-
tions ; because this was conclusive evidence that his work
was not in vain in the Lord. While he lined the hymn,
all the people stood up and sang the praise of God
together ; and though they had neither pitch pipe, note
book, nor choir, it was most solemn and impressive to hear
them "singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord."
And their prayers were as earnest as their songs were
solemn and melodious. In those cabins and woods we
often witnessed displays of awakening power, pardoning
mercy, and sanctifying influence, over which angels might
well rejoice. And after a few days in the country, labor-
ing in revivals, forming new .societies, enlarging his cir-
cuit, and witnessing numerous conversions, the preacher
returned to town like a messenger of grace newly com-
missioned from on high, filled with faith and the Holy
Ghost, and preached in the power and demonstration of
the Spirit, till sinners trembled, wept, and turned to Christ,
and saints shouted aloud for joy.

Now, if any one is tempted to doubt the excellency of
this itinerant mode of operation, let him lift up his eyes
and look eastward, westward, northward, and southward,
and behold what God hath wrought by it. Where w«
were no people, we have become the people of the Lord,
the wilderness has bloomed, and the fruits of righteous-
ness cluster thickly round us. The handful of members
have swelled to multitudes, and the place of the log hut, in
which we once met to worship, is supplied with a spacious


chapel, and is still full. Truly, "the Lord hath done
great things for us, whereof we are glad;" and the
blessed work is still going on !


I should like to introduce the reader to the Black River
Swamp, in the state of Arkansas, but not till I get to it,
nor yet exactly as I was introduced to it myself.

In September, 1836, I left the Queen City, to attend
the Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama con-
ferences. It appeared like a long, fatiguing journey to
perform on horseback, and alone ; but there were points
m view which could be reached by no other means of
conveyance. There might be disease and danger in the
course; but I was on lawful business, intimately con-
nected with the welfare of redeemed sinners; and why
should any man ever fear to go where duty calls, or remain
till his work is done? Moreover, I was well mounted
upon Nick, a fine pacing gray. He moved as if on ellip-
tic springs, and bore onward with a strength of muscle,
and power of endurance, which excited my admiration.
Far removed, not only from wife, children, and friends,
but from the crowds of strangers which usually throng the
public lines of conveyance, it was a time for reflection on
the responsibilities and difficulties of my new relation, and
not wholly unimproved. Lonely reflection, however, was
soon superseded by practical duties. While in council
with the brethren of Tennessee conference, at Columbia,
a call made for volunteers to supply the wants of the new
conference just set oft" in the state of Arkansas, was
promptly responded to by some noble -hearted, self-
sacrificing young ministers. Three of them were rcadv

264 M I S C E L L A N T

to bear me company thither, immediately after the final
adjournment. Their names were Randle, Duncan, and
Simmons. Passing down through the western district of
Tennessee, we came on the fresh trail of fourteen thou-
sand Creek Indians, just then removing from Alabama to
their new home in the far-off west. At one of their
camping places, then vacated, was seen a standing hollow
tree, out of the side of which had been taken a slab, by
cutting above and below, and splitting it off, and which
had been carefully replaced. A citizen, whose neighbors
had made examination, informed us, that in the hollow of
that tree was a deceased Indian, standing erect, with his
gun, blanket, and hunting costume, as he appeared when
living. We subsequently saw several of these depositories
of their dead. As a matter of convenience, the Indians
were separated into companies of fifteen hundred, and a
sub-agent assigned to each. We came up with the rear
gang in the vicinity of Memphis, were two days passing
their extended line of companies, and slept three nights in
sight of their camps. No nation of men ever exhibited
more powerful muscles than were developed in the persons
of the Creek warriors. Like other people, they bore the
marks of inequality. Some had the appearance of abject
poverty. Among this class the men rode on ponies, car-
rying their guns and camp-kettles, while the women
trudged on foot, bearing heavy packs on their heads,
and small children lashed upon their shoulders. A sec-
ond class were better clad, had a better outfit, and pre-
sented more appearance of comfort. The third class,
probably formed of the nobility of the nation, were
gaudily attired in silk and jewelry, and exhibited the
insignia of wealth and office.

After crossing the "Father of waters," at Memphis, we
immediately entered the Mississippi JSwamp, which, at
that point, was forty-two miles across. The track was so


worked up by the teams and pack-horses, that we found
it more pleasant to avoid it when practicable. For miles
together our horses waded, but generally found firm bot-
tom, except about the sloughs, where many tired Indian
ponies stuck fast, and were left to perish in the bog, and
where our noble animals had to struggle hard to escape
the same fate. On the evening of the second day, we
emerged from the swamp, and crossed the St. Francis
river. At a small, green bottom, two miles beyond the
river, two companies of Creeks, numbering some three
thousand in all, were camped for the night. We took
lodging at a country tavern on the hill, about thirty rods
from them. They had nearly as many ponies as people,
and almost every pony wore a bell. The camp axes
were roaring; dogs and children appeared to be alike
abundant and alike noisy. The whole, taken together,
produced a singular confusion of sounds, and presented
quite a novel spectacle.

Next morning, about daybreak, we rode out through
the encampment, in a north-east direction, on the Bates-
ville road. Having cleared the great swamp, and reached
an undulating surface, we congratulated ourselves that
the worst of the journey was behind. For some twenty-
five miles our course led us over desolate pine and
oak ridges, which, nevertheless, formed an agreeable
contrast with the sludge from which we had escaped. At
noon the rain began to fall, slowly at first, but steadily.
In the afternoon Ave came by a small company of men
engaged in raising a corn-crib near to a cabin, which
seemed to be full, and presented no appearance of com-
fort, when the following conversation ensued :

"How far is it to the next house?"

"Twenty-one miles; and three more to the tavern."

"What sort of road is it?"

"Not very good, nor bad; just middling."


"Is there any deep water to cross?"

"None that will swim, except Bayou de View, sixteen
miles from here ; and I don't reckon that will swim quite."

Then among ourselves we held a conference, on horse-
back, the rain still coming down. "It is two o'clock;
say lour hours till daylight will be entirely gone. Can
we reach the point of difficulty before dark?" "Yes, I
think we can." "If we fail to get through, we shall
need our dinner by to-morrow." "Well, I have a little
piece of corn bread," said one. "And I have part of a
sweet potato," said another. "That is as good fare as
we can get here," responded a third. It was suggested,
if we had to camp out, there was no means of striking
lire ; but perhaps other campers might have left fire on
the way. The case was finally summed up thus: our
time in w T hich to reach conference is short; there is no
use staying here in the rain : come on. And onward we
went, ignorant of what was before us. In a few minutes
our road disappeared under water. What does this mean?
Why, the Black River Swamp. "They said, last night,
we should cross it, but it looks worse than we expected."
The sludge increased, and the horses sank more and
more. Presently, while passing a bad place, Nick, better
acquainted with M'Adamized turnpikes than swamps,
went down till he w r as nearly buried alive in quicksand
and water. After a long and hard struggle, he came out
and brought me with him, but my heavy saddle-bags
were left behind in the mud. Having recovered them, we
resumed the journey, but soon reached another slough,
where, to prevent a greater evil, I dismounted, drove the
horse, and followed on foot, through mud and water to
the knees, by which we made a safe crossing. But the
thought of its being twenty miles to the next house, wet
and cold, my boots full of water, and the night approach-
ing, was not very cheering. It was about the last of


October. The climate was supposed to be unhealthy.
We had fairly entered a dismal swamp, thirty-two miles
wide, and, in consequence of heavy rains, unusually full
of water. Instead of traveling four miles an hour, as we
had expected, our horses were unable to make three.
The beaten track was the least dangerous, as it always
is over quicksand ; but for miles together it was wholly
under water, varying in depth from six inches to three
feet, and the bottom little more than a continuous quag-
mire, as deep as the horses could struggle through.
While daylight lasted, we could follow the trace by the
old blazes on the sides of the trees ; but night closed in
upon us long before we reached the main point of diffi-
culty, and the rain still increasing. We lost the track,
our feet dragged through brushwood, and the morass
shook beneath us ; but giving the affrighted horses loose
rein, they returned to it. Again we took the wrong direc-
tion, and went plunging through water and alder-bushes,
in danger, every moment, of being ingulfed in quicksand,
but, after some time, found our road once more. A con-
ference was then called, to discuss the question, "Shall
we give it up, or try to proceed ?" It was a solemn con-
ference; and though darkness and storm prevailed without,
order and peace were maintained within. The sum of our
conversation was briefly this: to stay here all night, wet,
cold, and hungry, without shelter, without fire, or a foot
of dry ground on which to stand, is perilous : to proceed
was only perilous ; and the conclusion was, to try it again.
After losing and regaining the beaten way a third time, at
last coming to a bank of sand, and then a rapid descent
of some feet to a sheet of deep water, we inferred that we
were at the margin of the much-dreaded Bayou de View.
The bill of direction was, to enter near a large tree, bear
up to the point of an island, then, forming an angle down-
ward, steer for a projecting log on the opposite shore.


But, alas ! under the lofty trees and lowering clouds, the
darkness was such that we could not see the animals on
which we rode. What was to be done? To encounter
the turbid stream at random, was bordering on presump-
tion ; to wait for daylight, when the stream was rising,
was discouraging, and might defeat our whole enterprise.
As it was a case in which life might be involved, a regu-
lar vote was taken, by calling the roll, and it was unani-
mous in favor of going ahead. It was also agreed that I
should be commander. The line was promptly formed, as
follows : brother Randle, having a steady horse, and being
a light rider, was to lead off; brother Simmons, second;
the writer third; and brother Duncan was to bring up the
rear. It was further ordered, to keep two rods apart, so
that if we struck a swim, every man might have sea-room,
and a chance for life. ''All ready?" "Yes." "Proceed.
Cry soundings." "Knee-deep; up to the girth; mid-
sides ; steady : over the withers, but still feel bottom ;
more shallow now. Here is the point of the island."
"Very well. Now form an angle to the left; down
stream is easy." The latter channel was no deeper than
the former, and all made safe landing. Thanks to kind
Providence !

Our next direction was, to leave the old trace here, turn
down the bayou some distance without any road, so as to
intersect a new way, which had been recently cut out,
starting from a point lower down. Between the ford and
the new way Ave tore through brushwood, leaped over
logs, and plunged into sloughs, at the risk of our limbs,
but finally reached the road, when our horses gladly
resumed the proper course. It was, to our great mortifi-
cation, soon ascertained that the new w r ay was more miry
than the old. As we could see nothing, our quadrupeds
had all the credit for keeping the road. Presently brother
Randie's horse was heard plunging, at a fearful rate, for

N O T E 6 O F T EAVEL, 269

some time, when he announced a very dangerous place;
"water up to midsides, and the bottom very boggy."
Brother Simmons next put in, and was glad when he got
out. He advised me to veer to the left; it might be bet-
ter, and, he thought, could be no worse. It proved to be
unfortunate advice, as it threw me on to a heap of logs,
that had been rolled in to fill up a deep and dangerous
boo-, but w r hich were then all afloat. Nick had a terrible
scuffle over them. Once his foot hung fast; twice the
water rolled over him, and the rider was well-nigh
unhorsed; but, finally, he righted, and brought me out
unhurt. Taking a position, as nearly as I could guess,
opposite to where the others crossed, I called to brother
Duncan to steer by my voice, and put in. He came near
sticking fast, but received no damage. At a late period
of the night, while groping amid darkness that could be
felt, mingled with incessant showers, we were suddenly
aroused by the joyful note, "A light! a light!" Ap-
proaching as near as some unseen obstruction allowed,
we hailed. An old lady came to the door and demanded,

"Who is there?"


"Ah! I thought my sons had got back from bear-

"No, madam, we are strangers; have been belated in
the swamp, and wish to know if you will shelter us the
balance of the night."

"Why, la, me! I wouldn't turn oft' a dog such a night
as this."

Securing the horses to the trees, we joyfully entered
the cabin of poles, about sixteen feet long, and fourteen
wide. The chimney was unfinished. There was a place
for a hearth, but it was not filled up, and the fire was
down in a hole, some eighteen inches below the pun-
cheons. Four of us, with our wet baggage, added to the


family, and two other strangers that were there before us,
scarcely left us room to turn round. At midnight we
made a comfortable dinner on pork and corn-dodger ; and
having dried off a little, we held our evening prayers at
two o'clock in the morning, and quietly laid us down to
sleep, grateful for our kind reception. About daylight we
asked the old lady for our bill, which was two dollars.
When we inquired if she meant two dollars each, "she said,

"La, me ! I should be rich if I had that much. I mean
two dollars for all four."

Having completed our preparation, we resumed the
swamp; but the limbs of our animals were so lacerated
by maple-roots and cypress-knees, that they took it very
reluctantly. We reached the Cash river tavern, with hard
toiling, in an hour and a half, the distance being three
miles, where the landlady, in the absence of her husband,
first served us with breakfast, and then ferried us over the
river. When the boat had crossed the rapid channel, she
grounded on the bank, which was entirely inundated ; so
that we had no alternative but to mount in the boat, and
leap over the bow into the water. Eight miles more of
wading and plunging, which consumed just four hours,
brought us out of the Black River Swamp at Litchfield,
thankful that we were alive.

After reaching solid ground, and obtaining lodgings,
our first concern was to unpack our clothes, books, and
papers, and dry them. This done, we preached, exhorted,
and held prayer meeting in the village of Litchfield,
where the inhabitants received us kindly, and requested
regular preaching, which was of course provided for them.
Our little party felt toward each other like a band of
patriot soldiers, who had endured a hard and hazardous

Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 20 of 30)