Autobiography of Peter Cartwright
In 1803, or fifty-three years since, next fall, I started to travel and preach the Gospel, being employed by a presiding elder, in my eighteenth year. I traveled five years as a single man. I then married, and have traveled forty-eight years as a married man. My wife has had nine children; seven daughters and two sons. We raised eight of those children; lost one lovely little daughter in her minority, but have lived to see all the rest married, though one has died since she married, but died in peace. We have now living thirty-eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. All our children are in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and, we hope, are trying to be religious; several of our grandchildren are also in the Church, and trying to serve God and get to heaven. Forty-eight years ago, I was appointed presiding elder by Bishop Asbury; and, with the exception of a few years, have been presiding elder up to this time, and am perhaps the oldest presiding elder in all the Western country. I have seen fifty-three sessions of annual conferences, and never missed but one. I have been elected to eleven General Conferences, from 1816 to 1856.
When I started as a traveling preacher, a single preacher was allowed to receive eighty dollars per annum, if his circuit would give it to him; but single preachers in those days seldom received over thirty or forty dollars, and often much less; and had it not been for a few presents made us by the benevolent friends of the Church, and a few dollars we made as marriage fees, we must have suffered much more than we did. But the Lord provided; and, strange as it may appear to the present generation, we got along without starving, or going naked.
I wish here to give a statement of my success, and loss and gain, as a Methodist traveling preacher, for fifty-three years, though I know it will be imperfect; but it shall be as perfect as my old musty and rusty account scraps will permit. And in the first place, I have lacked, in the fifty-three years, of my disciplinary allowance, about $5,000; loss in horses to travel with, $1,000; loss in the sale of religious books, $200; loss in money, of which I was robbed, $150; loss in clothing stolen from me, $50. Total loss, $6,400.
I sold about $10,000 worth of books: my percentage on these books would net me about $1,000; made in marriage fees, $500; presents in money, clothing, horses, etc., $500. Total, $2,000.
Given by me for the erection of churches and parsonages, $500; given to Missionary Society, Bible Society, Sunday-school Union, and other benevolent societies, $800; given to universities, colleges, etc., for education, $700; given to superannuated preachers, their widows and orphans, and other necessitous cases, $300; given unfortunate persons, burned out, $500. Total, $2,300.
I have traveled eleven circuits, and twelve districts; have received into the Methodist Episcopal Church, on probation and by letter, 10,000; have baptized, of children, 8,000; of adults, 4,000. I have preached the funerals of 500, and now, after all I have done or can do, and although I know well what a Methodist preacher's suffering life is, and have known what it is to suffer hunger and poverty, and also what it is, in some small sense, to abound, I feel that I have been a very unprofitable servant.
For fifty-three years, whenever appointed to a circuit or district, I formed a plan, and named every place where and when I preached; and also the text of Scripture from which I preached; the number of conversions, of baptisms, and the number that joined the Church. From these old plans, though there are some imperfections, yet I can come very near stating the number of times that I have tried to preach. For twenty years of my early ministry, I often preached twice a day, and sometimes three times. We seldom ever had, in those days, more than one rest day in a week; so that I feel very safe in saying that I preached four hundred times a year. This would make, in twenty years, eight thousand sermons. For the last thirty-three years, I think I am safe in saying I have averaged four sermons a week, or at least two hundred sermons a year, making, in thirty-three years, 6,600. Total, 14,600.
I was converted on a camp-ground, elsewhere described in this narrative; and for many years of my early ministry, after I was appointed presiding elder, lived in the tented grove from two to three months in the year.
I am sorry to say that the Methodist Episcopal Church of late years, since they have become numerous and wealthy, have almost let camp-meetings die out. I am very certain that the most successful part of my ministry has been on camp-ground. There the word of God has reached the hearts of thousands that otherwise, in all probability, never would have been reached by the ordinary means of grace. Their practicability and usefulness have, to some extent, been tested this year, 1856, in my district, Pleasant Plains, and I greatly desire to see a revival of camp-meetings in the Methodist Episcopal Church before I go hence and am no more, or before I leave the walls of Zion. Come, my Methodist brethren, you can well afford to spend one week in each year, in each circuit, or station, on the tented field. But there must be a general rally; it will be but a small burden if there is a general turn out, but if a few only tent, it will be burdensome, and will finally destroy camp-meetings altogether.
May the day be eternally distant, when camp-meetings, class-meetings, prayer-meetings and love-feasts shall be laid aside in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
And now I must draw this imperfect history of my life to a close. I am in the seventy-second year of my natural life. I have lived to see this vast Western wilderness rise and improve, and become wealthy without a parallel in the history of the world; I have outlived every member of my father's family; I have no father, no mother, no brother, no sister living; I have outlived every member of the class I joined in 1800; I have outlived every member of the Western Conference in 1804, save one or two; I have outlived every member of the first General Conference that I was elected to, in Baltimore, in 1816, save five or six; I have outlived all my early bishops; I have outlived every presiding elder that I ever had when on circuits; and I have outlived hundreds and thousands of my co-temporary ministers and members, as well as juniors, and still linger on the mortal shores. Though all these have died, they shall live again, and by the grace of God I shall live with them in heaven forever. Why I live, God only knows. I certainly have toiled and suffered enough to kill a thousand men, but I do not complain. Thank God for health, strength, and grace, that have borne me up, and borne me on; thank God that during my long and exposed life as a Methodist preacher, I have never been overtaken with any scandalous sin, though my shortcomings and imperfections have been without number.
now, I ask of all who may read this imperfect sketch of my eventful
life, while I linger on these mortal shores, to pray for me, that my
sun may set without a cloud, and that I may be counted worthy to obtain
a part in the first resurrection, and may, O may I meet you all in
heaven! Farewell, till we meet at the judgment!