|Lincoln/Net||Prairie Fire||Illinois During the Civil War||Illinois During the Gilded Age||Mark Twain's Mississippi||Back to Digitization Projects||Contact Us|
Cartwright, Peter. Autobiography of Peter Cartwright . New York: Nelson and Phillips, 1856. [format: book], [genre: autobiography]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Our Conference met in Bloommgton, Indiana, Sept. 28th, 1826. Bishop Soule and Bishop Roberts attended and presided. S. H. Thompson's time on the Illinois District, having expired, he was appointed to the Illinois Circuit, and I was appointed to succeed him in the district, which was composed of the following circuits, or appointments: Illinois, Kaskaskia, Shoal Creek, Sangamon, Peoria, Mississippi, Atlas, and the Pottawattomie Mission. This district thus extended from Kaskaskia River to the extreme northern settlements, and even to the Pottawattoime nation of Indians, on Fox River; up that: river into the heart of the nation. And there were only about three thousand members of the Church in it, and only half of another presiding-elder district in the state. The Wabash District, Charles Holliday, presiding elder, lay on the west side of the Wabash River, in Illinois, and on the east side of that river, in Indiana.
The following appointments were in Illinois: Mount Carmel, Wabash, Carmi, Mount Vernon, and Cash River, with a membership of about thirteen hundred and fifty; a little over four thousand in the entire state. My district was four hundred miles long, and covered all the west side of the Grand Prairie, fully two thirds of the geographical boundaries of the state. The year before I moved to the state, there had been a strong move, by a corrupt and demoralized
Legislature, to call a convention with a view to alter the Constitution, so as to admit slavery into the state. I had left Kentucky on account of slavery, and, as I hoped, had bid a final farewell to all slave institutions; but the subject was well rife through the country; for, although the friends of human liberty had sustained themselves, and carried the election by more than one thousand votes, yet it was feared that the advocates of slavery would renew the effort, and yet cause this "abomination of desolation to stand where it ought not." I very freely entered the lists to oppose slavery in this way, and without any forethought of mind, went into the agitated waters of political strife. I was strongly solicited to become a candidate for a seat in the Legislature of our state. I consented, and was twice elected as representative from Sangamon County.
But I say, without any desire to speak evil of the rulers of the people, I found a great deal of corruption in our Legislature; and I found that almost every measure had to be carried by a corrupt bargain and sale; which should cause every honest man to blush for his country.
The great national parties were now organized, and, as my honest sentiments placed me in the minority in my county, of course I retired from politics. But I say now, if the people would not be led by party considerations, but would select honest and capable men, I cannot see the impropriety of canvassing for office on Christian principles.
There is an incident or two connected with my little political experience, that I will give:
get acquainted with the people, for I was at that early day a great stranger to many of them. Passing through a brushy point of undergrowth, near a ferry where I intended to cross the river, I heard just before me some one talking very loud. I reined my horse to listen. I heard some one say that Peter Cartwright was a d--d rascal; and so were all Methodist preachers; they would all steal horses, and that it was a scandal to the country that such a man as Cartwright should offer for a representative of the county; and that the first time he saw him, he intended to whip him for his impudence. This surprised me a little, and I looked round for some way to pass without coming in contact with this company; but there was no path that I could see, and the brush was so thick I could not get through. So I summoned all my courage, and rode boldly up, and spoke to the man. There were six of them; and, as I learned, but one of them had ever seen me. So I said: "Gentlemen, who is it among you that is going to whip Cartwright the first time you see him?" The man who had threatened spoke out and said: "I am the lark that's going to thrash him well." Said I: "Cartwright is known to be much of a man, and it will take a man to whip him, mind you." "O! no," said he; "I can whip any Methodist preacher the Lord ever made." "Well, sir," said I, "you cannot do it; and now I tell you my name is Cartwright, and I never like to live in dread; if you really intend to whip me, come and do it now."
He looked a little confused, and said, "O! you can't fool me that way; you are not Cartwright."
"Well," said I, "that is my name, and I am a candidate for the Legislature, and now is your time; if you must whip me, do it now."
He said, "No, no, you are not Cartwright at all; you only want to fool me."
By this time we had moved slowly to the boat, and when we got on it, he broke out in a fresh volley of curses on Cartwright. I said to a gentleman on the boat, "Here, hold my horse;" and stepping up to this cursing disciple, I said sternly to him, "Now, sir, you have to whip me as you threatened, or quit cursing me, or I will put you in the river, and baptize you in the name of the devil, for surely you belong to him." This settled him; and strange to say, when the election came off, he went to the polls and voted for me, and ever afterward was my warm and constant friend.
Take another instance of what an honest man has to bear, if he mixes in the muddy waters of political strife; and what powerful temptations it throws in his way to do wrong, and thereby wound his tender conscience, if he has any. There was a man, whom I never knowingly saw, and he did not know me by sight, as I clearly proved. At a large gathering in Springfield, he stated that he had lived my neighbor in Kentucky, and that he saw, and heard me offer to swear off a plain note of my indebtedness; and this statement was gaining and spreading like wildfire. Those opposed to my election were chuckling over it at a mighty rate; some of my friends came to me and told me of it, and said, I must meet it and stop it, or it would defeat my election. Said I:
So a crowd gathered around me, and I walked up to the public square where this man was defaming me. I said to the company, "Take me right up to the man, and I will show you that he never saw me, and
never knew me." They did so; and when we came to him, one said to me, "This is Mr. G."
Looking him in the eye, said I, "Well, sir, I want to know something about this lying report you have been circulating about me." There was a large crowd gathered around.
"Who are you, sir?" said he. "I don't know you."
"Did you ever see me before?"
"No, sir, not that I know of."
"Well, sir, my name is Peter Cartwright, about whom you have circulated the lying statement that I, in your presence, in Kentucky, offered to swear off a plain note of my indebtedness; and I have proved to this large and respectable company that you are a lying, dirty scoundrel; and now, if you do not here acknowledge yourself a liar and a dirty fellow, I will sweep the streets with you to your heart's content; and do it instantly, or I will give you a chastisement that you will remember to your latest day."
The crowd shouted, "Down him, down him, Cartwright; he ought to catch it."
After the crowd was a little stilled, my accuser said,
Now, you see, gentle reader, the muddy waters that a candidate for office in our free country has to wade through; and well may we pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
I will relate an incident that occurred in the Legislature. After we were sworn in as members of that body, there was a flippant, loquacious lawyer, elected from Union County. He was a pretty speaker, but not very profound, and had a very high opinion of his
own tact and talent. He was also a great aspirant, and had a thirst for popularity, and there were several congregations of Dunkers, or Seventh-day Baptists, in the district. This lawyer represented that they kept Saturday for the Christian Sabbath, and thought, or professed to think, it was altogether wrong that they should pay taxes, work on roads, perform military duty, or serve on juries, etc., etc., etc.
He wanted to have a law passed, favoring them in all these particulars, and thus exclusively legislating for their particular benefit, thereby making a religious test, and making a sectarian distinction, and legislating for their pretended scruples of conscience. He accordingly introduced a bill for their special benefit. I opposed the passage of the bill, and briefly remarked, that as a nation, we all acknowledged Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, and that there ought to be no distinctions in Churches, or among the people; and as to bearing arms, that the people who were unwilling to take up arms in the defense of their country, were unworthy of the protection of the government; and as for not working on roads, if there were any unwilling to work on roads, they should not be allowed the privilege of traveling them; as to serving on juries, if anybody was unwilling to serve on them, he ought to be deprived the privilege of having the right of trial by jury; and if there were any unwilling to pay taxes to support government, they should be declared outlaws, and denied the protection of government. The representative from Union, at this, flew into a mighty rage, and, instead of arguing the case, began to eulogize the Dunkers and drew a contrast between them and the Methodists. He said the Dunkers were an honest, industrious, hard-working people; their preachers worked for their own support; there
was no hypocritical begging among them; no carrying the hat round in the congregation for public collections, and hypocritical whining among them for support, as was always to be seen among Methodist preachers. Thus he laid on thick and fast. It was my good fortune to know, that a few years before this same lawyer was a candidate for Congress, and the lamented S. H. Thompson was the presiding elder, and his district covered the congressional district this lawyer desired to represent; and as Brother Thompson was very popular among the people, and had a number of camp and quarterly meetings in the bounds of this congressional district, this said lawyer had pretended to be serious on the subject of religion; and here he followed Brother Thompson from appointment to appointment, appearing to be very much concerned about religion, threw in liberally at every public collection, offering to carry the hat round himself when collections were taken.
When he closed his tirade of abuse, I rose and said, "Mr. Speaker, I award to the gentleman from Union the honor of being one of the best judges of hypocrisy in all the land;" and then narrated the above facts. He rose and called me to order; but the speaker said I was in order, and directed him to sit down. Presently, he rose again, and said if I was not called to order, he would knock me down at the bar. The speaker again pronounced me in order, and bade me proceed. I finished my speech, and left my mark on this belligerent son of the law.
When we adjourned, our clerk told me to be on my guard; that he heard this lawyer say, the moment I stepped out of the State House door he intended to whip me. I walked out and stepped up to him, and asked, "Are you for peace or war?"
"O," said he, "for peace; come, go home with me and take tea."
We locked arms, and I went. When we got there, we found the governor and his lady, and a number of genteel people. We sat, down to tea, and I found they were going to eat with graceless indifference. Said I, "Governor, ask a blessing." He blushed, apologized, and begged me to do it. I did so; and then remarked that I had called on his excellency by way of reproof, for I thought the governor ought to be a good man and set a better example. He readily admitted all I said to be true; and this was the last time during the session that I ate at any of their houses without being requested to ask a blessing.
At a quarterly meeting I held in Kaskaskia in 1827, an incident occurred which I will relate. S. L. Robinson and A. E. Phelps were the circuit preachers, both of whom have passed away, witnessing a good confession. E. Roberts and Colonel Mather lived in Kaskaskia at this time, and although neither of them was a professor of religion, yet they were both friendly to religion, and treated Methodist preachers with great kindness. We stayed with them during the quarterly meeting; and although neither of them was a drinking man, yet they sometimes took a little rum; so also did Methodist and other preachers. These two men, in all kindness, poured out some wine, as they supposed, into glasses, and sent it round in a waiter to us preachers, but through mistake it happened to be brandy. The most of the preachers turned off their wine as was supposed, and they did it so suddenly and unsuspiciously, the mistake was not detected till it was drank Fortunately for me, I got the smell of the brandy, and held back from drinking at all.
Said I, "Gentlemen, this is brandy as sure as you have. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Mather were greatly surprised at their mistake, and were mortified. The preachers who had drank their brandy through mistake were alarmed, fearing they would be intoxicated, being so little in the habit of using ardent spirits. No serious intoxication was the result of this mistake; but how much better it would have been wholly to abstain from all, and then these accidents would never happen. Suppose any, or all of us, through this mistake, had become intoxicated, what a dreadful reproach we would have caused to religion, and the worthy name of Christ would have been blasphemed through an idle, not to say sinful habit.
The last year Brother Thompson was on this district, it being very large, he requested me to attend some of his quarterly meetings, and, among others, I attended one in Green County, near what is now called Whitehall. John Kirkpatrick, a local preacher from the Sangamon Circuit, went down and arrived there a little before me. When I came he approached me and said,
"Why, what's the matter?" "The people have heard that you are one of the greatest preachers in the West, and their expectations are on tiptoe, and no bishop could satisfy them; but do your best."
These statements somewhat disconcerted, me, though I never was very anxious to gratify idle curiosity; I knew my help must come from God, and unless the Lord helped me, every effort would be vain; but if God would help me, I asked no other aid. At length
the hour arrived, and I rose in the stand, and tried to preach the best I knew how. The people gave me their kind attention, but I saw in their countenances they were disappointed. During the intermission, Brother Kirkpatrick came to me and said,
Accordingly, on Sunday I took the stand, and tried to look wise, and I not only tried to look so, but I tried to preach so, and in all good conscience I went at the top of my speed, and did my very best, but it was a failure. Brother Kirkpatrick came to me again, and deeply sympathized with me.
Said I, "Brother, I know what is the matter; I'll come it the next time."
So on Sunday night I mounted the stand, took my text, and, though I had loaded in a hurry, drew the bow at a venture, and let fly arrows in almost all directions: some laughed; some cried; some became angry; some ran; some cursed me right out; some shouted; some fell to the earth; and there was a general uproar throughout the whole encampment. Our meeting lasted all night, and the slain of the Lord were many; and although this discourse was delivered without connection, system, or anything else but exhortation, I redeemed myself, and now it was admitted that I was a great preacher.
I attended several camp-meetings in this neighborhood during my continuance on the district, and we always had good times; there was, however, considerable opposition and persecution. At one of these camp-meetings, the wicked young men, who were chiefly children of religious people, or professors in other Churches, brought their whisky and hid it in
the woods, where they would collect together and drink, and then come and disturb the worshiping congregation. I closely watched them, and after they had gone out to their whisky and drank freely, and returned to interrupt us, I captured their keg of whisky, and brought it in and placed it under guard. After a while they missed it, and there was great confusion among them. They finally suspected me, and sent me word, if I would give up their whisky they would behave themselves or go away. I sent them word, that I never hired people to behave, and if they did not behave I would make them. They then sent me word, if I did not give up their whisky they would stone the preachers' tent that night, and one of them had the impudence to tell me so. I utterly refused to give up the whisky, and told him to stone away, that I would be ready for them.
There was, close by the camp ground, a beautiful running stream, with a gravelly bottom, and many little rocks or pebbles. After dark a while, the camp ground was brilliantly lighted up; I went and borrowed some old clothes, and dressed myself in disguise, and obtained an old straw hat. Thus attired, I sallied out, and presently, unperceived, I mixed among these rowdies, and soon got all their plans; they were to wait till the congregation was dismissed, the lights put out, and the people retired to rest; and then they were to march up and stone the preachers' tent, and if I made my appearance to annoy them in any way, they were to give me a shower of stones. I mixed freely among them, and do not suppose any one even suspected me at all. Meeting closed, the lights were blown out, and the people mostly retired to rest; in the meantime I had slipped down to the brook, and filled the pockets of the old overcoat that I had borrowed
with little stones; and as I came up to them, they were just ready to commence operations on the preachers' tent; but before they had thrown a single stone, I gathered from my pockets my hands full of stones, and flung them thick and fast right in among them, crying out, at the top of my voice, "Here they are! here they are! take them! take them!" They broke at full speed, and such a running I hardly ever witnessed. I took after them, hallooing, every jump, "Take them! take them!" Thus ended the farce. We had no more interruption, and our camp-meeting went on gloriously, and we had many conversions clear and powerful.
There lived in this settlement a very pious sister, who was much afflicted; she was poor, and money was scarce, and hard to get; but this sister believed it to be her duty, and the duty of every member of the Church, to aid in the support of the Gospel. She was very liberal, and very punctual in paying her quarterage; but circumstances, entirely beyond her control, prevented her from getting the money to pay her quarterage. The above-named camp-meeting was the last quarterly meeting before conference, and the thought, that her preachers were to go away without their pay, greatly afflicted her; she talked to me about it, and felt greatly distressed, and even wept over it. On Monday morning she went home, living but a short distance from the camp ground, to get a fresh supply of provisions, and, as she returned to the camp ground, she found, lying in the road, a silver dollar; she picked it up, and came to the camp ground greatly rejoicing, and said, the Lord had given her that dollar to pay her preachers, and she gave it to the support of the Gospel with great cheerfulness. Now, if all our Church members would act as conscientiously
as this beloved sister, our preachers would never go without their pay. This sister lived and died a noble pattern of piety; her end was peace, and well might she say, on her dying couch, to her surrounding friends, who wept by her bedside: "Follow me, as I have followed the Lord Jesus Christ."
Before I take leave of this camp-meeting, I will relate an incident, to show what lengths people can go in wild and unjustifiable fanaticism. There came a man to this meeting from one of the Carolinas, who had professed religion in some of the revivals in that country. He was a man of good education, and wealthy, of polite manners, of chaste and pleasant conversation; he had joined no Church, had no license to preach from any accredited branch of the Christian Church, had no testimonials of his good character, or of being in fellowship with any Christian body whatever; and yet he professed to be called of God to the ministry of the word, and that God had appointed him to travel all over the world, and to travel on foot too.
First, he was to bring about a universal peace among all nations; then, secondly, he was to unite all the branches of the Christian Church, and make them one. Until then he was forbidden to ride, or go in any other way than on foot; and when he had accomplished the object of his mission, the closing of which was to be attended by the bringing in of the Jews, and their return to Palestine, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the rearing up of the Temple; then Christ was to descend bodily as he ascended, and reign a thousand years on earth, in the midst of his saints; and then, and not till then, he, the preacher, was to ride, and ride in triumph into the new Jerusalem, and this was to be the commencement of the
millennium. This man would talk on the subject until his feelings would be wrought up to an ecstatic rapture, and he would shout in apparent triumph, as if he had performed the greatest work ever accomplished on earth, saving the redemption of the world. Although his whole conversation on the subject was replete with supreme absurdities, yet it was astonishing to see with what earnest attention the people heard him in his private conversations; I say private, because I would not let him occupy the pulpit, and deliver his discourses from the stand, although he, and others, importuned me to let him do so; but I told them, No, I could not, in view of my responsibility to God and man, permit any such religious foolishness to disturb and divert the minds of the people from the sober truths of the Gospel, and gave, as my decided opinion, that God would not swerve one hair's breadth from the system of truth recorded in the Gospel to save or to damn the world. This gave him great offense, and shortly he left us; and I was exceedingly glad when he took his departure. During the time he stayed among us I tried to reason him out of his absurd notions, to show the great folly and inconsistency of his views, but all in vain; he construed it into persecution, and a disposition to fight against God. I have lived to see many of these insane enthusiasts on the subject of religion, and I have never seen any good resulting from giving them any countenance at all; but in several instances, great harm was done by showing them countenance. They can manufacture more fanatics, and in a shorter time, than twenty good, sound, Gospel ministers can turn five sinners from the error of their ways to the service of the living and true God. Perhaps it may not be considered out of place to indulge here in a
few remarks on the subject of this wild, frenzied fanaticism.
There are several classes of these fanatics, according to the best observations that I have been able to make, and I have had many opportunities in the course of my fifty years' ministry. First, there are many that are truly awakened and soundly converted to God, and are pious, but instead of taking the word of God for their only infallible guide, and trying the spirits, and their impressions, or feelings, by that as a standard, they take all their impressions and sudden impulses of mind as inspirations from God, and act accordingly. If you oppose them, they say and believe you are fighting against God. If you try to reason them out of their visionary flights, and settle them down on the sure foundation, the word of God, they construe it all into the want of religion and cry out persecution.
Secondly. There is another class of enthusiastic persons, that not only seem, but actually are, so supremely wrapped up in self, that all they do, or say, or perform, is to be seen of men, and if they can only get the ignorant multitude to run after them, and cry "Hosannah! blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," they wrap themselves in their mantle of supreme self-complacence. They surely have not the fear of God before their eyes, and their fearful responsibilities seem not to enter into their calculations from first to last. Woe unto them! If they want to go to hell, they had better take the most obscure route to that dismal region, and go single-handed and alone, than to draw the ignorant and gaping crowds, the riff raff of all God's creation, after them; but all rebels against the government of God love company. The devil himself is a fearful
witness of this fact, when under his mutinous and revolting conspiracy against the eternal majesty of Heaven, he drew the third part of the stars of heaven after him in his rebellion against God. It is impossible to calculate the mischief done by this class of fanatics, and the many souls they have ruined forever.
Thirdly. There is a dark, motley crowd of wizards, witches, and spiritual rappers, so called, that have, sooner or later, infested all lands, and are the common property of the devil. They must have a fee for divining and soothsaying and make a gain of their pretended art, and some of them pretend to be ministers of Christ and followers of the Lamb. By the indulgence of my readers I will give a very brief and, of course, imperfect statement of a case that will set this matter in a true light.
There was, in one of our Eastern conferences, a very talented, shrewd traveling preacher, whose piety was of a doubtful complexion. If his piety had been equal to his talents as a pulpit orator, he certainly could have done a great deal of good; but being weighed in the balances of the public mind, and, in point of piety, found wanting, he thought he must rise somehow, so he fell in with those locusts of Egypt, the spiritual rappers, took a few lessons, and then commenced operations, and really astonished the ignorant multitudes, himself with the rest. He pretended to call up the dead from every country and clime; he summoned them from heaven, earth, and hell; he not only could tell who was happy in heaven, as he said, but, who were miserable in hell; he could hold communion with God, with angels, spirits, and the devil also. The last part I am not disposed to doubt. Indeed, I have very little doubt that he was in constant communion with the devil.
The Church was grieved with this state of things, and the ministers thought it their duty to arrest him, not only for these presumptuous pretensions, but for sundry other moral delinquencies. They tried him, and expelled him from the Church. He appealed to the General Conference that sat in Pittsburgh in 1848. On examination the General Conference thought that there was some informality in his trial in the annual conference to which he belonged, and they remanded it back to his conference for a new trial. The conference took up the case again, found him guilty of several immoralities, and expelled him again. From this act of expulsion he appealed to the General Conference that sat in Boston in 1852. In his defense before that body, he openly avowed that he could tell what was going on in heaven, earth, and hell; that he had foretold the results of many of the important battles in Mexico, under Generals Taylor and Scott, before the battles were fought; and that he knew how the decision of that General Conference would go, before the trial ended. When the special pleadings in his case were over, and he was requested to retire, in order that the Conference should make up their verdict, I slipped out at the door after him, and said to him, "Now, Brother S., can you tell how this Conference will decide in your case beforehand?"
"Yes, I can," said he.
"Well," said I, "if you will tell me now, and they should decide as you say, you can very easily make a convert of me. Do tell me here, privately; I will say nothing about it till the verdict is rendered."
"Get away," said he; "I will not do it."
"No," said I, "because you cannot." The General Conference, with great unanimity, affirmed the decision of the court below, and he was expelled.
While I was on my way to the quarterly meeting in Mississippi Circuit, at Brother J. Pickett's, in what was then Madison County, south of the Macoupin Creek, there had fallen a tremendous rain, and the creek was out of its banks. There was a little, old, crazy horse-boat; and although within a few miles of the place where the quarterly meeting was to be held, there was no chance of getting there without risking life in this old, crazy boat across this rapid stream. When I rode up to the creek there sat a good old local preacher on the bank, holding his horse by the bridle. After the usual salutations, he said,
"How much does he charge?" said I.
He replied, "Twelve and a half cents."
"Very well, brother," said I, "go with me, and I will pay the ferriage."
So we crossed and got out safely. That night this old brother preached, and the power of the Lord was present to kill and make alive. Three souls were converted and six joined the Church, and we had an excellent meeting. I state this little circumstance to show the great good that can be done with a small sum of money. I do not think that I ever laid out twelve and a half cents to better advantage in all my little pilgrimage on earth.
From this quarterly meeting I crossed the Illinois River on to the military tract, aiming for the Atlas Circuit quarterly meeting. Late in the evening I rode up to a temporary building, a total stranger, and asked for quarters for the night, which was readily granted. I found that my landlord's family had
moved from some of the New-England states, and were a well-informed and clever family. The gentleman's name was Colonel Ross. Several families had moved out here; and had been living here three or four years, and, perhaps, had never heard a sermon since they had settled in this new country. I was invited to pray in the family night and morning. Our conversation chiefly turned on religious subjects. When I started on next morning, they would receive no compensation from me, and as they were kind, and would have nothing for my night's lodging, having in my saddle-bags a few religious books, I drew out "The letters and Poems of Caroline Matilda Thayer," and made a present of this little book to my landlady, and went on my way.
I was happy afterward to learn from this landlady's own mouth that God made this little book the means of her sound conversion. She led a happy Christian life, and died a peaceful, triumphant death. I name this little circumstance to show, in a small way, what good can be done by the distribution of religious books among the people. It has often been a question that I shall never be able to answer on earth, whether I have done the most good by preaching or distributing religious books. If we as a Church had been blessed with a flourishing Book Concern such as we now have, and our preachers had scattered books broad-cast over these Western wilds, or any other wilds, it would be impossible to tell the vast amount of good that would have been done. And, indeed, this is one of the grand secrets of the success of our early Methodist preachers.
Well do I remember of reading in early life, Russell's Seven Sermons, Nelson's Journals, and such books as those, which would make me weep,
and pray too. For more than fifty years I have firmly believed, that it was a part and parcel of a Methodist preacher's most sacred duty to circulate good books wherever they go among the people. And I claim to have come as nigh my duty in this as any other, and perhaps more so. I have spread thousands of dollars' worth among the people; sometimes a thousand dollars' worth a year. But I fear a change for the worse has come over our Methodist preachers on this subject; many of them, since the country has grown up into improved life, and wealth abounds, feel themselves degraded in peddling books, as they call it, and want to roll this whole duty on to the colporteurs. But I believe, with our most excellent Discipline, that we should "be ashamed of nothing but sin." The religious press is destined, in the order of Providence, to give moral freedom to the perishing millions of earth. "My people," saith the Lord, "perish for lack of knowledge." Think of this, ye ministers of Jesus Christ; lay aside your pride, and call to your aid in disseminating religious knowledge from the pulpit, religious books, and God will own the effort, and prosper the work of your hands everywhere.
I suppose I was the first preacher who ever held a camp-meeting in the military tract, in what is now called Pike, Adams, Schuyler, and Hancock Counties. We had a camp-meeting in Pike County in 1827. We had but one tent on the ground, and that was called the "Preachers' Tent." The people rolled on to the ground in their wagons; brought their victuals, and ate at the wagons. We held this meeting several days and rights in this way, and we had a prosperous meeting. We held one in Schuyler County the same season, and many souls were blessed.
Our Pottawattomie Mission was located in Fox River. Jesse Walker was missionary, and I was appointed superintendent; and it belonged to the Illinois District. During the two years that I superintended this mission I received not one cent from the missionary funds. We had near one hundred miles of unbroken wilderness country to pass through to get to this mission. I had to pack provisions for myself and horse to and from the mission. There being no roads, I had to hire my pilot, and camp out.
Having made preparations for the journey, and an appointment to meet the chiefs of the nation at the mission, I started from the Peoria Quarterly Meeting with my pilot and several volunteers for the mission. We shaped our course from point to point of timber. Late in the evening we struck the timber of the Illinois Vermilion, and finding plenty of water, we camped, struck fire, cooked, and took supper and dinner all under one. We had prayer, fixed our blankets and overcoats, and laid us down, and slept soundly and sweetly till next morning. We rose early, took breakfast, fed our horses, and started on our way across the Illinois River, swimming our horses beside a canoe, and just at night reached the mission. We called the mission family together and preached to them. The next day the chiefs appeared; we smoked the pipe of friendship with them, and, through an interpreter, I made a speech to them, explaining our object in establishing a mission among them. All the chiefs now shook hands with us, as their custom is, and gave us a very sociable talk, and all bid us a cordial welcome save one, who was strongly opposed to our coming among them. He did not wish to change their religion and their customs, nor to educate their children. I replied to him, and met all his
objections. I tried to show them the benefits of civilization and the Christian religion. There was present a Chippewa chief, with his two daughters, at the mission. This chief made a flaming speech in favor of the mission, and in favor of our "Great Father," the President, and the American people. He had fought under the American colors in the last war with England, and had his diploma from the President as a brave captain, and showed it, with great exultation. His two daughters were dressed like the whites, and could read pretty well. When our "great talk" was over, I asked them the liberty to preach to them, which was granted. I tried to explain to them the original state of man, the fall of man, and the redemption through Christ; the condition of salvation, namely, faith in Christ, and obedience to all the precepts of the Gospel, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures; and urged them to repent, and forsake all their sins, and come to Christ.
It was an awkward and slow way to preach, through an interpreter, but I succeeded much better than I anticipated. One Indian woman, who had obtained religion, as we believed, desired baptism, and the ordinance was administered to her. Several couple, from the scattering white people that hung around the mission, applied to be married.
After directing matters, according to my instructions as superintendent, we started for home. After traveling near fifty miles, night came on at a point of timber called Crow Point, and there we camped. A dreadful storm of wind arose, which blew a severe gale, but Providence favored us in withholding the rain, and we considered this a great blessing. The next day we reached the settlement, in health and safety.
We expended several thousand, dollars of missionary money in improving these mission premises, and succeeded in civilizing and Christianizing a few of these Indians, but the whites kept constantly encroaching on them till they became restless, and, finally, the government bought them out. The mission premises, with a section of land, was reserved for one of the half breed, so that the Missionary Society lost all that they had expended. It is true, the chiefs of the nation gave Brother Walker a thousand dollars of their annuities, as a compensation for the improvements he had made with the missionary money; and this money properly belonged to the Missionary Society, but they never realized it; and the Indians moved, finally, west of the Mississippi. There is still a lingering, wasting remnant of that nation; they have a missionary among them, and a good many of them are pious Christians.
Before this mission was broken up there appeared another of those wandering stars, or visionary preachers, by the name of Paine. He visited a camp-meeting held near Springfield. He had no proper credentials to preach, and yet he professed to be commissioned from heaven to convert the world, whites, Indians, and all. He wanted to preach at my camp-meeting, but I would not permit him to occupy the stand. He called off the loose crowd some distance into the woods, gave us a terrible tongue-lashing, and then departed north to preach to the Indians. In the meantime the Black Hawk Indian war had broken out, and they were killing our people on the outskirts of the settlements fearfully. This Paine had gotten up somewhere this side of Chicago, and wanted to come down the country toward the old mission. He was admonished not to venture, and was
assured the Indians would kill him, but he was so visionary that he said he was not afraid to go alone, right in among them, for the Lord would protect him, and the Indians would not hurt a hair of his head. He, in despite of every warning, started alone, through a long prairie. The Indians were waylaying the trail, and as he drew near a point of timber they shot and killed him, and then cut off his head; after scalping it, they placed it on a pole, and stuck the pole erect in the ground. They then took his horse and riding apparatus, clothes, etc. The next day, as a company of men passed, they saw Paine's head sticking on a pole, and his body greatly mangled by the wolves; and this was an end of his commission to convert the world, Indians and all. "As the fool dieth, so died he."
In the fall of 1827, Sept. 20th, our conference was holden in Mount Carmel, and I was continued on the Illinois District, and the name of Mississippi Circuit changed to Apple Creek Circuit. At the Mount Carmel Conference we elected our delegates that sat in Pittsburgh, May 1st, 1828. This was our fifth delegated General Conference, and the first we ever had in the West, this side of the mountains.
In the month of April Brother Dew, Brother Thompson, and myself, met at St. Louis, to take passage on board a steamboat to the General Conference in Pittsburgh. We had never been on board a steamboat before, at least I never had. They were then a new thing among us, so we took passage on board the "Velocepede," Mr. Ray captain. Before we went aboard, Brothers Dew and Thompson, with the kindest feelings imaginable, thought it their duty to caution me to be very quiet, for these steamboat fellows, passengers and all, were desperadoes. They knew I
was outspoken, loved everybody and feared nobody. They were afraid I would get into some difficulty with somebody. I thanked them very kindly for their special care over me. "But," said I, "brethren, take care of yourselves; I think I know how to behave myself, and make others behave themselves, if need be."
When we got aboard we had a crowded cabin, a mixed multitude; some Deists, some Atheists, some Universalists, a great many profane swearers, drunkards, gamblers, fiddlers, and dancers. We dropped down to the barrack, below St. Louis, and there came aboard eight or ten United States officers, and we had a jolly set, I assure you. They drank, fiddled, danced, swore, played cards, men and women too. I walked about, said nothing, but plainly saw we were in a bad snap, but there was no way to help ourselves. Brother Thompson came to me and said, "Lord have mercy on me; what shall we do?"
"Go to your berth," said I, "and stay there quietly."
"No," said he; "I'll reprove them."
"Now, brother," said I, "do not cast your pearls before swine."
"Well," said he, "I won't stay in the cabin; I'll go on deck."
Up he started, and when he got there, behold, they were playing cards from one end of the deck to the other. Back he came and said, "What shall I do? I cannot stand it."
"Well," said I, "Brother Thompson, be quiet and behave yourself; you have no way to remedy your condition, unless you jump overboard and swim to shore." So things went on several days and nights. At the
mouth of the Ohio there came aboard a Captain Waters. He had a new fiddle and a pack of cards. He was a professed infidel. Card playing was renewed all over the cabin. The captain of the boat was as fond of drinking and card playing as any of them. There was a lieutenant of the regular army on board, and although he was very wicked, yet he had been raised by religious parents. His wife, as he told me, was a good Christian. In walking the guard this lieutenant, whose name was Barker, and myself fell into conversation, and, being by ourselves I took occasion to remonstrate with him on the subject of his profanity. He readily admitted it was wrong, and said, "I have been better taught. But O," said he, "the demoralizing life of a soldier!"
There was also a Major Biddle on board, a professed infidel, but gentlemanly in his manners; he afterward fell in a duel, in or near St. Louis. I got a chance to talk to him in private, and alone; I remonstrated against his profanity; he agreed with me in all I said. In this way, I got to talk to many of them, and they mostly ceased to swear profanely in my presence. Presently, they gathered around the table, and commenced playing cards; I walked carelessly up, and looked on. Lieutenant Barker and Captain Waters looked up at me; I knew they felt reproved. Said one of them to me: "We are not black-legs; we are not playing for money, but just to kill time." I affected to be profoundly ignorant of what, they were doing, and asked them what those little spotted things were. Mr. Barker said,
"No, no," said I, "my friends; I am afraid it is all wrong."
They insisted there was no harm in it at all.
"Well," said I, "gentlemen, if you are just playing for fun, or to kill time, would it not be much better to drop all such foolishness, and let us talk on some topic to inform each other? then we could all be edified. As it is, a few of you enjoy all the pleasure, if, indeed, there is any in it; while the rest of us, who have no taste for such amusements, are not at all benefited. Come, lay aside those little spotted papers, that are only calculated to please children of a larger size, and let us talk on History, Philosophy, or Astronomy; then we can all enjoy it, and be greatly benefited."
Captain Waters said: "Sir, if you will debate with me on the Christian religion, we will quit all our cards, fiddles, and dances."
"I will do it with pleasure, captain," said I. "I have only one objection to debate with you. You are in the habit, I see, of swearing profanely, and using oaths, and I can't swear back at you; and I fear, a debate, mixed up with profane oaths, would be unprofitable."
"Well, sir," said he, "if you will debate with me on that subject, I will pledge you my word and honor that I will not swear a single oath."
"Very well, sir," said I; "on that condition, I will debate with you." By this time there were gathered around us a large crowd.
"Well," said Lieutenant Barker, "take notice of the terms on which this debate is to be conducted." Said he, "Now, gentlemen, draw near, and take your seats, and listen to the arguments; and by the consent of the two belligerent gentlemen, I will keep order."
We both agreed to his proposition. The captain
opened the discussion by a great flourish of trumpets, expressing his great happiness at having one more opportunity of vindicating the religion of reason and nature, in opposition to the religion of a bastard. To all of these flourishes, I simply replied, that the Christian religion was of age, and could speak for itself; and that I felt proud of an opportunity to show that infidelity was born out of holy wedlock; and, therefore, in the strictest sense, was a bastard, and that I thought it ill became the advocate of a notorious illegitimate to heap any reproaches on Christ. These exordiums had one good effect; they fixed and riveted the attention of almost all the passengers, the captain of the boat, ladies and all. My opponent then proceeded to lay down his premises, and draw his conclusions. When his twenty minutes expired, I replied; and in my reply, quoted a passage of Scripture.
"Hold, sir," said my opponent, "I don't allow a book of fables and lies to be brought in; nothing shall be admitted here but honorable testimony."
"Very well, sir," said I; "the Bible shall be dispensed with altogether as evidence; and then I feel confident I can overturn your system on testimony drawn from the book of nature;" and proceeded in the argument.
In this second replication, he quoted Tom Paine as evidence.
"Hold, sir," said I; "such a degraded witness as Tom Paine can't be admitted as testimony in this debate."
My opponent flew into a violent passion, and swore profanely, that God Almighty never made a purer and more honorable man than Tom Paine. As he belched forth these horrid oaths, I took him by the
chin with my hand, and moved his jaws together, and made his teeth rattle together at a mighty rate. He rose to his feet, so did I. He drew his fist, and swore he would smite me to the floor. Lieutenant Barker sprang in between us, saying,
Well, I had then to fly in between them, to prevent a bloody fight, for they both drew deadly weapons. Finally, this ended the argument. My valorous captain made concessions, and all became pacified. From this out, Barker was my fast friend, and would have fought for me at any time; and my infidel, Captain Waters, became very friendly to me; and when we landed in the night at Louisville, he insisted that I should go home with him and partake of his very best hospitalities.
But, to return a little to my narrative, the whole company that witnessed the encounter with my infidel captain were interested in my favor. Our boat was old and crazy, and we made but little speed; consequently, we were detained on the river over Sunday. Early on Sabbath morning, the passengers formed themselves into a kind of committee of the whole, and appointed a special committee to wait on me, and invite me to preach to them that day on the boat. Lieutenant Barker was the committee. He came to me, and presented the request. I said, "Lieutenant, I never traveled on a steamboat before, and it will be a very awkward affair for me to preach
on the boat; and, besides, I don't know that the captain would like such an arrangement: and the passengers will drink, and perhaps gamble, and he disorderly; and every man on a steamboat is a free man, and will do pretty much as he pleases, and will not be reproved."
Said the lieutenant, "I have consulted the captain of the boat, and he is willing, and pledges himself to keep good order. And now, sir," said he, "we have annoyed you and your fellow-clergymen all the week, and I pledge you my word, all shall he orderly, and you shall enjoy your religious privileges on Sunday undisturbed, and you must preach to us. We need it, and the company will not he satisfied if you don't comply."
I gave my consent, and we fixed on the following times for three sermons: One immediately after the table was cleared off after breakfast, one after dinner, and one after supper. I led the way, taking the morning hour. The cabin was seated in good order, the deck passengers were invited down. We had a very orderly, well-behaved congregation. Brother Dew preached in the afternoon, and Brother Thompson at night, and I rarely ever spent a more orderly Sabbath anywhere within the walls of a church From this out we had no more drunkenness, profane swearing, or card playing. What good was done, if any, the judgment day will alone declare. I cannot close this sketch and do justice to my feelings without saying a few things more.
After the adjournment of the General Conference, on our return trip home, the river had fallen very much. We could not pass over the falls, and the canal was not finished around them. Of course we had to land and reship at the foot of the falls. The
Maryland, a good steamboat, lay here waiting for passengers. When I entered this boat, almost the first man I met was Lieutenant Barker, who, when he recognized me, sprang forward and seized me by the hand, and said, "O, is this Mr. Cartwright?" and really seemed as glad to see me as if I had been his own brother. He had been on East, and was returning with his wife to some of the Western military posts.
"Now, sir," said he, "I told you I had a good little Christian woman for my wife. She is in the ladies' cabin. I have talked to her of you a thousand times. Come, you must go right in with me, and I will introduce her to you. I know she will be glad to see and form an acquaintance with you."
I went, and was introduced to this, as I believe, Christian lady. We had a number of preachers on board, returning delegates from the General Conference, and we had preaching almost every day and night from that to St. Louis, for we had almost entire command of the boat.
Cartwright, Peter. Autobiography of Peter Cartwright . New York: Nelson and Phillips, 1856. [format: book], [genre: autobiography]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=cartwright.html