Circuit riding Methodist preacher, Peter Cartwright, was a significant figure not only from a religious standpoint, but also from the standpoint of early American history. Born on the Virginia frontier in 1785, at a young age migrating at great risk with his family even deeper into the savage wilderness. Converts to Christianity in his 16th year after hearing a Methodist preacher at a camp meeting and within three years becomes a minister himself.
Cartwright traveled many difficult circuits. Some as long as 400 miles in length. He was a key minister in the "Second Great Awakening" which influenced many in the United States toward God and the Scriptures. Being a backwoods preacher required an unconventional approach to ministering. In those days drunks, thieves, murderers, and general "ruffians" would often try to disrupt services so "religion" would not hinder their vile activities. Cartwright many times met their force with force to run the miscreants out of town. He was a fearless soldier for the Lord. He told General Andrew Jackson once that if he didn't repent, "God will damn him as quick as he would a Guinea negro!" Jackson was impressed with Cartwright's grit and complemented him.
Cartwright eventually became involved with politics when he moved to Illinois and even defeated Abraham Lincoln in a state race. Lincoln later defeated Cartwright in a race for a seat in congress.
This autobiography is a vivid, colorful, and easy to read snapshot of frontier life, the settling of a nation, and the spread of Christianity by devout and determined ministers of all stripes and convictions. It details the struggles many have endured to provide us the freedoms we now enjoy and much too often take for granted. Men like Cartwright changed the nation for the better. It is a shame there few of his stripe.
Read this revealing book. You will be the better for it.
A Personal Note
There is one event in Peter Cartwright's life that has left a lasting impression on your author. He first read of it many years ago in the book, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by Lawson, and it shows the dedication, determination, and discernment of a young preacher to fulfill his calling and ministry. Every time I read it I stand in awe of Cartwright's boldness, character, and godliness in the situation and am greatly blessed by what the Lord did in response.
I will present a brief introduction to the scene.
Before he was converted Cartwright loved to gamble and dance, but especially dance. Dances in those days were common and key social events in the sparsely populated frontier. They were usually held in homes. After he received the Lord Cartwright determined dancing was frivolous and worldly and forsook this once beloved passion.
One year while returning home from a long trip, Cartwright traveled through an isolated part of southeast Kentucky that did not have any churches or ministers to relay the gospel. He was a complete stranger to the people and area. On a Saturday, after a long day's travel, he came upon a modest home and inquired if he could spend the night. The landlord said he could but warned him a dance was planned for later that evening. Having no other reasonable options for boarding, Cartwright agreed to stay.
As evening came Peter took a seat in an out-of-the-way corner just to observe the party. Once it commenced, he noticed there was little drinking going on, the people were primarily just dancing to the fiddle music and having a "good time." While watching them, there were certainly many thoughts going through his mind.
While he was pondering his thoughts a "beautiful" and "ruddy" young lady came up to him and "dropped a handsome courtesy, and pleasantly, with winning smiles," invited him out to take a dance with her. The music stopped and the crowd became silent, waiting to see how this stranger would react to this favored young lady's kindness. Cartwright said about this encounter, "I can hardly describe my thoughts or feelings on that occasion," and one can easily see why.
Put yourself in his shoes, dear believer. Here you are far from home, a stranger to everyone. No one knows who you are or what you do. "Fate" has brought you face to face with something you used to dearly love to engage in. The situation is relatively "respectable." Not rowdy, wild, or controlled by alcohol. A prim, proper, and attractive young lady (or man if you are female) comes up to you and is very kind, polite, and gracious. She only wants to make you feel welcome and reaches for your hand to lead you to something part of you longs to engage in.... What do you do?
It is decisions made in circumstances like this that reveal one's true character. Part of you wants to take part of the old ways, even just a taste. "What will it hurt," Satan whispers in your ear. "No one back home will ever know." "Just one little bit...it's not really bad anyway." "Everyone else is doing it and see nothing wrong with it," etc., etc. Have you ever been there, pilgrim? Can the Lord trust you in these situations? Sometimes temptation can hit you in an instant. You will not have time to guard yourself in the moment. Preparation must be made ahead of time.
Peter Cartwright was no more immune to the powers of the flesh than we are, and most certainly some of the rush of "thoughts and feelings" he felt at that moment were generated by the flesh or induced by Satan. With these "many emotions" in his heart, he had to make a decision immediately...and that he did. He called it a "desperate experiment."
What did Peter do, you ask? Well, being nearly overwhelmed with emotion, he reached for the young lady's hand, rose gracefully from his corner chair, with the crowd parting a way for them, they both arm in arm walked to the center of the floor. Then....
To see how this cliffhanger plays out in Cartwright's own words,
READ THIS BOOK! (Chapter XVI)