Among the pumpkin eaters

Peter CartwrightIn the Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Methodist preacher tells the story of his first appointment as a deacon and circuit rider. (Deacon until not long ago was the first step of ordination toward elder rather than a separate order.)

Cartwright reports traveling 500 miles to conference where he was assigned to the Marietta circuit.

It was a poor and hard circuit at that time. Marietta and the country round were settled at an early day by a colony of Yankees. At the time of my appointment, I had never seen a Yankee, and I had heard dismal stories about them. It was said they lived almost entirely on pumpkins, molasses, fat meat, and bohea tea; moreover, that they could not bear loud and zealous sermons, and they had brought on their learned preachers with them, and they read their sermons, and were always criticizing us poor backwoods preachers. When my appointment was read out, it distressed me greatly. I went to Bishop Asbury and begged him to supply my place, and let me go home. The old father took me in his arms, and said, “O no, my son; go in the name of the Lord. It will make a man of you.” Ah, thought I, if this is the way to make men, I do not want to be a man.

Cartwright describes his turn through the circuit as a time of trial. The few Methodists he found were universalists and deists. His debates with them, he said, were the best school he ever had as they forced him to read and study his Bible. The scattered Marietta Methodists did not have so much as a meeting house or society.

The Congregationalists in the circuit tolerated him while he was doing battle with a charlatan preacher who claimed visions and divine inspirations. Once the charlatan had been dispatched, the Congregationalists informed Cartwright that he was no longer welcome to preach at their meeting place. So he begged one more opportunity to preach there.

The place was packed and, as Cartwright tells it, he “leveled my whole Arminian artillery” on the Calvinists and challenged their preacher to public debates. This stirred up quite a controversy and gathered up a few souls for a Methodist society.

At the end of his time in the circuit, Cartwright was nearly penniless, his saddle was worn out, and his clothing was a mass of patches. He got back on his horse and started riding the hundreds of miles for home, depending on the kindness of the road for food and beds.

Times they have changed.

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2 thoughts on “Among the pumpkin eaters

  1. Penniless and hundreds of miles from home. Wow. I’m convicted (again) over how much I worry about “stuff.” Cartwright was pretty awesome in his zeal for following his call and his passion for his theology. Mad props for making a stand and giving his all to his appointment even if he was not overly joyed about getting that appointment.

    The part about taking people from the Congregationalists instead of finding people who weren’t already a part of a community of faith was a little concerning though. Debating Calvinists just doesn’t seem to be as high a priority for me as trying to reach out to those who don’t have any kind of faith at all.

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