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HISTORY
of the
METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
in the United States of America

By Abel Stevens
 

 Copyright Warning


VOLUME III, BOOK V, CHAPTER XII

METHODISM IN THE SOUTH: 1706 1804

 

Asbury and Coke Itinerating in the South Losses by Locations Slavery Asbury's Interest for Africans The Bishop and Black "Punch" Asbury's Dejection The Bishops in Charleston, S. C. Burning of the Second College and Light Street Church Death of Edgar Mills Hammett's Failure Asbury rests His Sufferings Death of Jarratt Lee in the South Asbury's Letter to him Methodist Unity Coke and Asbury Lee in Charleston His Birthday Refections Presentiments Lee and Slavery His Hard Fare His Humor Examples His Success An Extraordinary Quarterly Meeting Great Prosperity Camp-Meetings Coke's Visits

Asbury and Coke left the Conference together for the South on the 4th of November, 1795. They were soon among the scenes of the O'Kelly schism in Virginia. "I feel happy," wrote Asbury, "among the few old disciples who are left. My mind of late hath been in great peace. I am glad I have not contended with those violent men who were once with us. We ought to mind our work, and try to get souls to Christ; and the Lord can give us children, 'that we shall have after we have lost our former,' who shall say in our hearing, 'Give place that there may be room for us to dwell.' My dear aged friends told me their troubles and sorrow, which the divisions in the societies had caused." He adds, after seeing a spot memorable to us all, "I had solemn thoughts while I passed the house where Robert Williams lived and died, whose funeral rites I performed." Coke rejoiced, in the Virginia Conference, at "Mayberry's Chapel," not only for the prospect in that state, but in the whole country, for his vivid faith was prophetic of American Methodism. "About fifty preachers met us here," he says, "lodging at the plantations of our friends within a circle of three or four miles from the chapel. Nothing but love, peace, joy, unity, and concord, I may truly say, manifested themselves in this Conference. It was, in respect to love, the counterpart of our General Conference. O what great good does the Lord frequently bring out of evil! The siftings and schisms we have had have turned out to be the greatest blessings! Surely the Prince of Peace and lover of concord is about to accomplish great things on the continent of America by the means of the Methodists! After the necessary business was finished we spent about two days in band, each preacher in his turn relating the experience of his own soul, and the success of his ministry for the last year. It was a profitable season. I wish this useful method were pursued, as far as possible, in our European Conferences. We all parted on the Lord's day, after I had given the congregation, first, a comment on the 20th chapter of the Revelation, and then a sermon on Luke xiv, 26. Brother Asbury and I then separated for a time. We had before agreed to take different routes to Charleston. He took the seaside and I the upper country. A preacher went off a few days before me to make publications. I had now about eight or nine hundred miles to travel to Charleston, on the zig-zag line which I intended to pursue." [1]

Coke advanced rapidly southward. On reaching Camden, South Carolina, he remarks: "I lodged at the house of Brother Smith, formerly an eminent and successful traveling preacher. It is most lamentable to see so many of our able married preachers (or rather, I might say, almost all of them) become located merely for want of support for their families. I am conscious it is not the fault of the people; it is the fault of the preachers, who, through a false and most unfortunate delicacy, have not pressed the important subject as they ought upon the consciences of the people. I am truly astonished that the work has risen to its present height on this continent, when so much of the spirit of prophecy of the gifts of preaching yea, of the most precious gifts which God bestows on mortals, except the gifts of his only-begotten Son and his Spirit of grace, should thus miserably be thrown away. I could, methinks, enter into my closet and weep tears of blood upon the occasion." He arrived at Rembert Hall, and was hospitably entertained; but on meeting another located preacher, bitterly repeats his lamentation over this quite universal loss of the Church. "The location of so many scores of our most able and experienced preachers tears my very heart in pieces. Methinks almost the whole continent would have fallen before the power of God, had it not been for this enormous evil."

Preaching almost daily on the route, witnessing the power of the word in his mongrel congregations, and enjoying the peculiar scenery of the South, he at last reached Charleston in the happiest mood of his habitually happy temperament. "The whole journey," he writes, "was very pleasing. The weather was continually mild, a few days only excepted. The lofty pine-trees through which we rode for a considerable part of the way, cast such a pleasing gloom over the country that I felt myself perfectly shut out from the busy world, at the same time that I was ranging through immeasurable forests. How many blessings of a temporal kind does our good God mix in our cup, besides that crowning blessing, the consciousness of his favor! How inexcusable, therefore, would it be to murmur when enjoying so many comforts, even in a state of probation! O what must the rivers of pleasure be which flow at his right hand for evermore!"

Meanwhile Asbury had pursued, with much illness, his sea-side route. He was greeted, especially by the old Methodists, for he and they were now become veterans; yet he mourned to find their ranks rapidly becoming thinned. "I every day," he writes, "see and feel the emptiness of all created good, and am taking my leave of all: what is worth living for but the work of God?" But he found the children of his old and departed friends rising up in the Church. "So it is," he writes, "when the dear, aged parents go off; they leave me their children." The changes he witnessed in his great continental journeys, and his own growing infirmities, began to impress him with a sadness which breaks out often in touching expressions. He was still more depressed at the influence of slavery on the prospect of Methodism in the South. In South Carolina he writes: "My spirit was grieved at the conduct of some Methodists that hire out slaves at public places to the highest bidder, to cut, skin, and starve them; I think such members ought to be dealt with: on the side of oppressors there are law and power, but where are justice and mercy to the poor slaves? What eye will pity, what hand will help, or ear listen to their distresses? I will try if words can be like drawn swords, to pierce the hearts of the owners." Again he writes: "My mind is much pained. O to be dependent on slave-holders is in part to be a slave, and I was free-born! I am brought to conclude that slavery will exist in Virginia perhaps for ages; there is not a sufficient sense of religion nor of liberty to destroy it; Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, in the highest flights of rapturous piety, still maintain and defend it. I judge in after ages it will be so that poor men and free men will not live among slave-holders, but will go to new lands: they only who are concerned in, and dependent on them will stay in old Virginia." In Virginia he drew up "an agreement for our officiary to sign against slavery: thus we may know the real sentiments of our local preachers. It appears to me that we can never fully reform the people until we reform the preachers; and that hitherto, except bringing the traveling connection, we have been working at the wrong end. But if it be lawful for local preachers to hold slaves, then it is lawful for traveling preachers also; and they may keep plantations and overseers upon their quarters; but this reproach of inconsistency must be rolled away." What absurdities will not men defend! He writes at another time: "If the Gospel will tolerate slavery, what will it not authorize!" He almost despaired of the permanent prosperity of the denomination among the southern whites, but had strong hope for it among the blacks. In South Carolina he writes: "Religion is reviving here among the Africans; these are the poor; these are the people we are more immediately called to preach to." He devoted special attention to them, and while in Charleston assembled them every morning between five and six o'clock for instruction and prayer. They loved him with their characteristic ardor, and wished to lavish upon him their humble gifts. While yet in Charleston he writes: "My mind has been greatly affected, so that my sleep has been much interrupted, yet there was a balm for this; a poor black, sixty years of age, who supports herself by picking oakum [Oxford Dict. oakum n. a loose fiber obtained by picking old rope to pieces and used esp. in caulking. DVM], and the charity of her friends, brought me a French crown, and said she had been distressed on my account, and I must have her money. But no! although I have not three dollars to travel two thousand miles, I will not take money from the poor."

"O," he elsewhere exclaims, "it was by going down into the Egypt of South Carolina after those poor souls of Africans that I have lost my health, if not my life in the end! The will of the Lord be done." This he remarks after conversing with a slave "at a stone wall. Poor creature," he adds, "he seemed struck at my counsel, and gave me thanks." We are surprised, throughout his journals, with examples of interest for individual Africans; though conducting the sublime schemes of a more than national Church, his great soul was never too much absorbed by them to appreciate the value of individual men, even of the lowliest, for whom "no man cared." An affecting instance of not only his sympathy, but his usefulness in this respect is related by a southern itinerant; a fact which is historic in its character, as having given origin to a society of hundreds of members. As he was journeying on the highway, in South Carolina, he saw a slave, called "Punch," fishing on the bank of a stream. The bishop stopped his horse, and asked, "Do you ever pray?" "No, sir," replied the Negro respectfully. Asbury alighted, sat down by his side, and instructed and exhorted him. The poor man wept; the bishop sung a hymn, knelt with the astonished slave in prayer, and left him. Twenty years passed, when the bishop was surprised by a visit from the Negro, who had come over sixty miles to see him and thank him, for his well-directed instructions had been successful in his conversion. Forty-eight years after the first interview the Methodist itinerant who relates the story was appointed to a plantation mission, where, it had been reported, there were many colored but unrecognized Methodists. He found there "between two and three hundred members in society." "I met a herdsman," he writes, "and asked him if there was any preacher on the plantation. 'O yes, massa, de old bishop lib here!' 'Is he a good preacher?' 'O yes,' was the reply; 'he word burn we heart!' He showed me the house. I knocked at the door, and I saw before me, leaning on a staff; a hoary-headed black man, with palsied limbs, but a smiling face. He looked at me a moment in silence; then, raising his hands and eyes to heaven, he said, 'Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation!' He asked me to take a seat. 'I have,' he said, 'many children in this place. I have felt for some time past that my end was nigh. I have looked around to see who might take my place when I am gone. I could find none. I felt unwilling to die and leave them so, and have been praying to God to send some one to take care of them. The Lord has sent you, my child; I am ready to go.' Tears coursed freely down his time-shriveled face."

It was "Punch;" the bishop's passing word had raised up an apostle, who had, through all these years, been ministering to his neglected people. "The little leaven worked," says the narrator. "One and another, praying to God for light and mercy, was brought to know Christ in the manifestation of the Spirit; the circle widened, until crowds would gather around the cabin doors of Punch for religious conversation and prayers. All this, of course, could not pass without the notice of the overseer, who felt himself called on to oppose 'this way.' Being thus restricted, Punch could only speak privately, and in his own house, to a few friends who were awakened to the interest of their souls. One night he heard the overseer call him. As a few had met in his house for prayer, he went out anticipating rough consequences; but, to his astonishment, he found the overseer prostrate on the ground, crying to God for mercy on his soul. 'Punch,' he said, 'will you pray for me?' " The grateful slave knelt by his side till the overseer threw his arms, a regenerated man, around his black neck, and wept for thankfulness. "This overseer afterward joined the Church, became an exhorter, and, after some time, a preacher." [2]

Asbury's allusions to his illness and dejection are increasingly frequent. He was suffering under a violent attack of intermittent fever, his old foe, which perhaps was unavoidable while he exposed himself to all climates and weather of the continent, exhausted most of the time by travel, and much of it by scarcity of food. "My depression of spirits," he says, "at times is awful, especially when affected; that which is deeply constitutional will never die but with my body. I am solemnly given up to God, and have been for many months willing to live or die in, for, and with Jesus." He was, in short, unconsciously guilty of overworking himself, and all who were immediately associated with him, and had been doing so for years. Even his horse had to share in his sufferings. "My horse," he writes, "trots stiff; and no wonder, as I have ridden him, upon an average, five thousand miles a year for the last five years successively."

At Charlestown he and Coke held the South Carolina Conference for a week, with preaching every day, and great congregations. The news of the burning of the new academy, (substituted for Cokesbury,) and the adjacent Light Street Church, with the parsonage and several other buildings, in Baltimore, spread gloom over the session. It occurred on Sunday, the fourth of December, 1796, while the preacher was conducting divine service, "just twelve months to a day," says Lee, "from the time that Cokesbury College was burned." "The loss," wrote Asbury at the time, "we sustain in the college, academy, and church, I estimate from fifteen to twenty thousand pounds. It affected my mind; but I concluded God loveth the people of Baltimore, and he will keep them poor, to make them pure; and it will be for the humiliation of the society."

He sustained another heavy affliction about this time in the death of his old friend Wells, the merchant, who first received him in Charleston, and who had been the chief pillar of the Church there. "It was twelve long years," he writes, "next March since he first received Henry Willis, Jesse Lee, and myself; into his house. In a few days he was brought under heart distress for sin, and soon after professed faith in Christ; since that he hath been a diligent member in society. About fourteen months ago, when there was a revival of religion in the society, and in his own family, it came home to his own soul; he was quickened, and remarkably blessed, and continued so to be until his death. His affliction was long and very severe. The last words he was heard to say that could be understood were, that 'he knew where he was, that his wife was with him, and that God was with him.' He was one much for the feeling part of religion, a gentleman of spirit and sentiment and fine feelings, a faithful friend to the poor, and warmly attached to the ministers of the gospel. This was a solitary day, and I labored under uncommon dejection. I preached in the evening, and was in great heaviness." [3] Asbury preached his funeral sermon, Coke performed the rites at his grave, and "delivered an oration," followed by an address from Asbury. Coke remarks that "poor William Hammett is now come to nothing. When he began his schism his popularity was such that he soon erected a church nearly, if not quite, as large as our new chapel in London, which was crowded on the Lord's day; but, alas! he has now, upon Sunday evenings, only about thirty white people, with their dependent blacks. He has indeed gained a sufficiency of money to procure a plantation, and to stock it with slaves, though no one was more strenuous against slavery than he while destitute of the power of enslaving. During his popularity we lost almost all our congregation and society; but, blessed be God, we have now a crowded church, and a society, inclusive of the blacks, amounting to treble the number which we had when the division took place, and our people intend immediately to erect a second church. Our society of blacks in this city are in general very much alive to God. They now amount to about five hundred. The Lord has raised up a zealous man in Mr. McFarland, a merchant, and partner with the late Mr. Wells. He amply supplies the place of his valuable deceased partner. His weekly exhortations to the blacks are rendered very profitable. It is common for the proprietor of slaves to name their blacks after the heathen gods and goddesses. The most lively leader among our Negroes in this place has no other name than Jupiter. He has a blessed gift in prayer; but it appears to me extremely odd to hear the preacher cry out, 'Jupiter, will you pray?' "

Pontavice was with them, and preached twice, in French, to about two hundred of his countrymen. On the sixth of February, 1797, Coke and he embarked for Europe. Asbury wended his way southward, sick, but preaching. He again passes over the Western mountains, and returns in April, after traveling six hundred miles, with an inflammatory fever, and "a fixed pain in his breast." "I must be made perfect," he says, "through sufferings." He has hitherto traveled on horseback, but now procures a "sulky," [Oxford Dict. sulky = a light two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle for one, esp. used in trotting-races. DVM] and takes temporary refuge at Perry Hall. "God hath not left this house," he writes; "I felt great love for the family." He passes northward through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, but cannot go to New England, for his "fever rises every night." In October we find him again in the South, but he is so feeble that the Virginia Conference advises him to rest until their next session, some four months. He spends the time in that state, entertained at the house of Dromgoole, and other Methodist families, revising his journals, writing a hundred letters, reviewing the interests of the Church, but restless as a caged eagle. Comparing the trials of European and American itinerants, he remarks there that "no minister could have suffered in those countries as in America, the most ancient parts of which have not been settled two hundred years, some parts not forty, others not thirty, twenty, nor ten, and some not five years. I have frequently skimmed along the frontiers, for four and five hundred miles, from Kentucky to Greenbrier, on the very edge of the wilderness, and thence along Tygart's Valley to Clarksburgh on the Ohio. These places, if not the haunts of savage men, yet abound with wild beasts. I make no doubt the Methodists are and will be a numerous and wealthy people, and their preachers who follow us will not know our struggles but by comparing the present improved state of the country with what it was in our days, as exhibited in my journal and other records of that day."

In April, 1798, he resumed his travels, though still unwell. He passed to the interior of Maine, but in the early part of October again entered the South, accompanied by Lee, who greatly relieved his labors. In the remainder of the present period he traveled this section no less than six times, besides occasional excursions through Virginia to the West. He was accompanied now by a traveling companion, Lee, Whatcoat, Snethen, Hutchinson, or McCaine, who did most of the preaching, the bishop following the sermons usually with exhortations, and preaching occasionally, as he had strength. His health evidently improved with this relief; notwithstanding his advancing age. He becomes more cheerful, and toward the end of the period increases the rapidity of his movements. He still writes pensively of the effect of time on his old friends in the South. The people multiply fast, but die fast. In many places in South Carolina he finds that he is preaching to the third generation; and, as he draws toward the close of the period, on his way through Virginia to the General Conference of 1804, he says, "I am taking leave of the people every visit. In old Virginia I have administered the word thirty years. There is a great mortality among the aged; our old members drop off surprisingly; but they all, by account, die in the Lord, and, in general, triumphantly. Now I have finished my awful tour of duty for the past month. To ride twenty and thirty miles a day; to preach, baptize, and administer the Lord's Supper; to write and answer letters, and plan for myself and four hundred preachers; O Lord, I have not desired this awful day, thou knowest! I refused to travel as long as I could, and I lived long before I took upon me the superintendency of the Methodist Church in America, and now I bear it as a heavy load. I hardly bear it, and yet dare not cast it down, for fear God and my brethren should cast me down for such an abandonment of duty. True it is, my wages are great precious souls here, and glory hereafter."

While in Virginia, in 1801, he heard of the death of his early friend, Jarratt, the Methodistic clergyman of Dinwiddie County, whose labors have been largely narrated in our pages. "The old prophet, I hear, is dead," he writes. "He was a man of genius, possessed a great deal of natural oratory, was an excellent reader, and a good writer. I have reason to presume that he was instrumentally successful in awakening hundreds of souls to some sense of religion in that dark day and time. How he died I shall probably hear and record hereafter." On arriving at Petersburgh he says, "There had been put forth a printed appointment for me to preach the funeral sermon of the late Rev. Devereaux Jarratt, who has lately returned to his rest. My subject was Matt. xxv, 21: 'His Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.' Devereux Jarratt was settled in Bath parish, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, in the year 1763, and continued until February, 1801. He was a faithful and successful preacher. He had witnessed four or five periodical revivals of religion in his parish. When he began his labors there was no other evangelical minister that he knew of in all the province. He traveled into several counties, and there were very few parish churches within fifty miles of his own in which he had not preached; to which labors of love and zeal were added preaching the word of life on solitary plantations, and in meeting-houses. He was the first who received our despised preachers; when strangers and unfriended, he took them to his house, and had societies formed in his parish. Some of his people became traveling preachers among us. I have already observed that the ministry of Mr. Jarratt was successful. I verily believe that hundreds were awakened by his labors. They are dispersed. Some are gone to the Carolinas, to Georgia, to the Western country; some perhaps are in heaven, and some, it may be, in hell."

It is inferable from these allusions that the friendship of Asbury and Jarratt continued to the end, though the latter stood aloof from the Methodists after the episcopal organization of the Church in 1784. He questioned the validity of its episcopacy, disapproved its stringent laws on slavery, and his private correspondence, indiscreetly published, detracts, if genuine, from the cordiality and catholicity of his Christian character as exhibited in his early intercourse with the denomination. [4]

We have but slight intimations of Lee's labors in the South while relieving Asbury, but enough to prove that he was adequate to the responsible task. Asbury had hoped to meet him at the Wilbraham, Mass., Conference in 1797, but broke down before he could reach the New England boundary, and sent Joshua Wells to represent him, with a letter to Lee, in which he remarked: "I have sent brother Wells, who, next to Jonathan, his seen much of my continual labors and afflictions for many days and miles. The burden lieth on thee. I hope it will force the Connection to do something, and turn their attention for one to assist or substitute me. I cannot express the distress I have had in all my afflictions for the state of the Connection. You and every man that thinks properly will find it will never do to divide the North from the South. Methodism is union all over: union in exchange of preachers, union in exchange of sentiments, union in exchange of interest. We must draw resources from the center to the circumference. Your brethren in Virginia wish you to come forth. I think the most general and impartial election may take place in the yearly Conferences. Every one may vote; and, in General Conference, perhaps one fifth or one sixth part would be absent. I wish you to come and keep as close to me and my directions as you can. I wish you to go, after the Conference, to Georgia, Holston, and Kentucky, and perhaps come to Baltimore in June, if the ordination [5] should take place, and so come on to the Eastern Conference. You will have to follow my advice for your health, steel as you are."

It is obvious from this letter that Asbury favored the elevation of Lee to the episcopate; it was in this sense that his "brethren in Virginia wished" Lee "to come forth." No man in the Connection was better fitted to be the colleague of Asbury, and we shall hereafter see that he barely escaped that onerous distinction.

The New England preachers yielded to the bishop's call, and Lee met him at New Rochelle and commenced with him the Southern tour. They were soon in the heart of Virginia, where they were surprised to see Coke riding up, "on a borrowed horse," says Asbury, with a large white boy riding behind him on the same horse." Coke was a small man, and his contrast with his juvenile fellow-rider struck even the grave bishop as ludicrous. The doctor was supposed to be far away, pursuing his erratic course in Europe, if not in Africa. He brought now an Address to the General Conference, from the British Conference, praying that his late engagement to that body, which bound him to remain in America, might be canceled. No authority, save that of the next General Conference, could grant the petition; but Asbury, with the advice of the Virginia Conference, wrote, that "in our own persons and order we consent to his return, and partial continuance with you, and earnestly pray that you may have much peace, union, and happiness together. By a probable guess we have, perhaps, from 1,000 to 2,200 traveling and local preachers. Local preachers are daily rising up and coming forward with proper recommendations from their respective societies to receive ordination, besides the ordinations of the yearly conferences. From Charleston, South Carolina, where the Conference was held, to the province of Maine, where another Conference is to be held, there is a space of about thirteen hundred miles; and we have only one worn-out superintendent, who was this day advised by the yearly conference to desist from preaching till next spring, on account of his debilitated state of body." [6]

Lee left him, in repose, in Virginia, and passed rapidly over his Southern route, having about five hundred miles to travel and twenty-five appointments to meet in thirty days. [7] He reached Charleston by the beginning of 1798. He had been in the city, with Asbury and Willis, about thirteen years before, and preached the first sermon on that occasion; he now met there an Annual Conference, beheld two chapels, with seventy-seven white, and four hundred and twenty-one black Methodists, while, in the state, were four thousand six hundred members.

He penetrated into Georgia, where he preached twenty-one sermons in twenty-seven days. Returning northward he hastened along, preaching continually with an ardor and eloquence that stirred the Churches. On the 12th of March, 1798, he notes his birthday. "I am now," he says, "forty years old. I have enjoyed religion twenty-five years, have been in the Methodist Society twenty-four years and four days, and a traveling preacher about fifteen years. I feel, as much as ever, determined to spend my days for the Lord. My soul is still panting after God. I wish to be more than ever devoted to his service; and if I live to the Lord, I expect to be in heaven before I see forty years more; however strange it may appear, so it is, that I have often thought I should live till I was about fifty-six years old. I do not pretend to say that the Lord has revealed this to me. It may be from an evil spirit, or it may be vain thoughts. Time will show; but if I were called to die tomorrow, I do not know that I should have any objections. I do feel a pleasing hope of leaving all my troubles when I leave the world; but if my life is prolonged, I hope to be the instrument of bringing a few more souls to God before I rest from my labors." The primitive Methodists were too much given to "presentiments;" Lee survived, full of vigor, to beyond his fifty-ninth year. He met Asbury again at the Virginia Conference, in Salem, where he preached the opening sermon, and says "we had a most powerful, weeping, shouting time; the house seemed to be filled with the presence Of God; and I could truly say, it was a time of love to my soul. Bishop Asbury exhorted for some time, and the people were much melted under the word. Several new preachers engaged in the work, and we had a very good supply for all the circuits." Lee now turned aside to his paternal home a few days, to persuade his father, one of the earliest Methodists of Virginia, to provide in his will for the emancipation of his slaves; for though the son was opposed to the policy of the Church in legislating against the evil, he shared the opinions of his ministerial brethren generally against it. He afterward went to Richmond, and preached in the Court-house; the Society there was small, but was now erecting a temple which was dedicated in a few months. He again met Asbury at the Baltimore Conference, where he dedicated a new church, and then hastened to his hard, but favorite field of the East. But before the close of the year he was again abroad in the South. After traveling over the vast See [Oxford Dict. See = the area under the authority of a bishop or archbishop DVM] of Asbury, in 1799, he says: "Our borders were greatly enlarged this year, and the way was opening for us to spread further, and to send forth more laborers into the vineyard of the Lord. We had an addition to the Society of 1,182 members. Great peace and harmony prevailed throughout the Connection, both among preachers and people, and the prospect of a great revival of religion was more pleasing than it had been at any time for some years. In some places there was a good stir of religion, and many souls were brought into the liberty of the children of God."

In 1800 Asbury accompanied him, but Lee did most of the preaching. From three to six thousand people heard them weekly. Lee endured their hard fare as sturdily as the bishop; they often "had kitchen, house, and chamber all in one, and no closet but the woods;" or "found shelter in a log-cabin without doors, and with thirty or forty hogs sleeping under it." Their chief affliction, however, was the demoralization of the rustic population. There were "people grown to men's estate, and some that had families, who never heard a sermon till last summer," when the Methodist itinerants had reached them.

Down to the General Conference of 1804 Lee confined his labors to Virginia, where he was universally popular for not only his rare eloquence, but his unsparing devotion to his work. Withal, his characteristic and irrepressible humor gave him a species of power not without value. It attracted a class of minds which might not otherwise have come within his reach. It also enabled him to give effective rebukes, which rendered him a terror to evil-doers. "On one occasion," says his biographer, "when he was engaged in the opening services of public worship, he perceived the gentlemen intermixed with the ladies, and occupying seats appropriated to the latter. Supposing them to be unaware of the violation of our order, he respectfully stated the rule upon the subject, and requested them to take their seats on their own side of the house. All but a few immediately complied with the request. It was again repeated, and all but one left. He stood his ground as if determined not to yield. Again the rule was repeated, and the request followed it. But no disposition to retire was indicated. Leaning down upon the desk, and fixing his penetrating eye upon the offender for a moment, and then raising himself erect, and looking with an arch smile over the congregation, he drawled out, 'Well, brethren, I asked the gentlemen to retire from those seats, and they did so. But it seems that man is determined not to move. We must, therefore, serve him as the little boys say when a marble slips from their fingers let him 'go for slippance.' " To say he slipped out of the house, is only to describe the fact in language borrowed from the figure by which the rebuke was conveyed. At another time, while engaged in preaching, he was not a little mortified to discover many of the congregation taking rest in sleep, and not a little annoyed by the loud talking of the people in the yard. Pausing long enough for the absence of the sound to startle the sleepers, he raised his voice, and cried out, 'I'll thank the people in the yard not to talk so loud; they'll wake up the people in the house!' This was 'killing two birds with one stone' in a most adroit and effectual manner." Anecdotes of the wit of Lee are still current all through the denomination. It was usually very genial, but could be sufficiently arrowy to make opponents and wags keep at a due distance or approach him with deference.

Lee's labors in Virginia gave a general impulse to Methodism in that state. He was eminently a "revivalist," and expected appreciable results from every public meeting. He records a quarterly meeting at Jones' chapel, Sussex, at which every unconverted attendant was converted, black and white. The service lasted all day; when all the congregation within the house had been gathered into the fold, search was made outside for a single unreclaimed soul, but all had been rescued. "One of the preachers shouted aloud, and praised God that the Christians had taken the field, and kept the ground, for there was no sinner left. So they praised God together and returned home. Most of those who were converted were the children of Methodist parents, though some of their parents had been dead for many years." This was a period (1803) of great religious interest throughout Virginia; a thousand souls were added to its Churches. The sensation extended through the denomination, and more than seventeen thousand (17,336) were added to its membership. Lee speaks of it as the most prosperous year the Church had known since its origin in America. He attributes much of its success to camp-meetings, which were now introduced from the West into Virginia. Of one of the earliest, on Brunswick Circuit, the old and most famous battleground of Methodism in the state he says: "Every discourse, and every. exhortation given during the meeting, was attended by displays of divine power. Almost every hour and every minute was employed in the worship of God. A little time was spent in seeking refreshment and in necessary repose, but each endeavored to improve his time to the best advantage, and seemed satisfied only with the hidden manna of God's love and the living streams of his grace. More than a hundred living witnesses for Jesus were raised up at this meeting.' These grove meetings had their justification in the dispersed condition of the population, the insufficiency of the chapels, and the great hosts which could be assembled after the ingathering of the harvests.

Coke, after his sudden appearance in Virginia, continued in the country for about six months, but has left no record of his labors. [8] In 1799 he was again in America, but his journal is lost. In the autumn of 1803 he made his ninth voyage hither, and spent the interval, between his arrival and the General Conference of 1804, in traversing the country and strengthening the Churches. After the Conference he left America to see it no more; we shall meet him at the sessions of 1800 and 1804. [9] Meanwhile, let us turn to other laborers and events in the Southern field.

ENDNOTES

1 Meth. Mag., London, 1798.

2 Wakeley's "Heroes of Methodism," p. 29.

3 See vol. ii, 299.

4 His life, published in 1806, contained epistolary passages so exceptionable as to be unaccountable to Methodists who knew him. The book was prepared by the Rev. John Coleman, who had been a Methodist preacher. Bishop Meade, of Virginia, published an abridgment in 1840, omitting the questionable passages, but invidiously speaking of "the zealous exhorters of Mr. Wesley," and "their meetings for prayer and exhortation:" phraseology which has a special sense when used by such writers.

5 This has reference to a communication which Bishop Asbury made to the Conference at Wilbraham, which proposed the election of Whatcoat, Poythress, and Lee, as Assistant Bishops in the United States. It was rejected, being thought contrary to the form of Discipline." (Thrift; Memoir of Lee.) It must be remembered that the General Conference was not yet a delegated body, but included all the preachers. Asbury supposed, therefore, that ordinations of bishops, by order of all the Annual Conferences, might be legal without the order of a General Conference.

6 Drew's Life of Coke, New York, 1837, p. 280.

7 Dr. Lee's Life of Lee, p. 339.

8 Etheridge's Coke, p. 292.

9 Drew says, (Life of Coke, p. 308, note,) "It appears, from an inspection of his private papers, that in going and returning, he crossed the Atlantic no less than eighteen times. Of his first five voyages an account is published in his journals, and the particulars of another are inserted in the Methodist Magazine for the year 1798. Among his private papers some memorials are preserved, in his own handwriting, of his seventh and eighth voyages, with their dates respectively fixed. His ninth and last voyage is ascertained from his own letters now in the author's possession, and from the date of others addressed to Dr. Coke while in America in the year 1803."

 


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