By Peter Cartwright
By Peter Cartwright

Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) was a Methodist circuit rider, primarily in the Midwest. His autobiography, from which the following is taken, is still available and at a reasonable price. I highly recommend it.

We had a little Book Concern then in its infancy, struggling hard for existence. We had no Missionary Society; no Sunday-school Society; no Church papers; no Bible or Tract Societies; no colleges, seminaries, academies, or universities; all the efforts to get up colleges under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States and Territories, were signal failures. We had no pewed churches, no choirs, no organs; in a word, we had no instrumental music in our churches anywhere. The Methodists in that day dressed plain; attended their meetings faithfully, especially preaching, prayer and class meetings; they wore no jewelry, no ruffles; they would frequently walk three or four miles to class-meetings and home again, on Sunday; they would go thirty or forty miles to their quarterly meetings, and think it a glorious privilege to meet their presiding elder, and the rest of the preachers. They could, nearly every soul of them, sing our hymns and spiritual songs. They religiously kept the Sabbath day: many of them abstained from dram-drinking, not because the temperance reformation was ever heard of in that day, but because it was interdicted in the General Rules of our Discipline. The Methodists of that day stood up and faced their preacher when they sung; they kneeled down in the public congregation as well as elsewhere, when the preacher said, Let us pray." There was no standing among the members in times of prayer, especial the abominable practice of sitting down during that exercise was unknown among the early Methodists. Parents did not allow their children to go to balls or plays; they did not send them to dancing schools; the generally fasted once a week, and almost universally on the Friday before each quarterly meeting.

We had at this early day no course of study prescribed, as at present; but William M'Kendree, afterward bishop, but then my presiding elder, directed me to a proper course of reading and study. He selected books for me, both literary and theological; and every quarterly visit he made, he examined into my progress, and corrected my errors, if I had fallen into any. He delighted to instruct me in English grammar. My business was to preach, meet the classes, visit the society and the sick, and then to my books and study; and I say that I am more indebted to Bishop M'Kendree for my little attainments in literature and divinity, then to any man on earth. And I believe, that if presiding elders would do their duty by young men in this way, it would be more advantageous than all the colleges and Biblical institutes in the land; for they then could learn and practice every day.

Suppose now, Mr. Wesley had been in the Wesleyan connection to-day? Suppose the Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States had been under the necessity of waiting for men thus qualified, what would her condition have been at this time? In despite of all John Wesley's prejudices, he providentially saw that to accomplish the glorious work for which God had raised him up, he must yield to the superior wisdom of Jehovah, and send out his "lay preachers" to wake up a slumbering world.

I awfully fear for our beloved Methodism. Multiply colleges, universities, seminaries, and academies; multiply our agencies, and editorships, and fill them all with our best and most efficient preachers, and you localize the ministry and secularize them too; then farewell to itinerancy; and when this fails we plunge right down into Congregationalism, and stop precisely where all other denominations started.

I greatly desire to see all the interests of the Methodist Church promoted, and when all our presidents, professors, editors, and agents shall be laymen, and our ministers follow their appropriate calling, namely, preach the Gospel to a dying world; and if they will not fall in to the traveling ranks and be men of one work, let them locate, for it is certain as long as they fill these offices and agencies, it is like a man undertaking to ride a race with the reins of his horses's bridle tied to a stump. Every man who fills these offices and agencies, and retains a membership in the traveling connections, is a clog to the itinerant wheels, and must, ere long, stop the traveling car; and when that takes place farewell to Methodism.

Editor's Note: Spelling has been left unchanged in this article. Itinerancy refers to the Methodist practice of having preachers travel over a circuit (circuit riders) and preach and meet with the congregations at various set places along the route. Cartwright was a strong proponent of this system of evangelization.


Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world: I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; and such alone will overthrow the kingdom of Satan and build up the kingdom of God on earth. ---John Wesley (1703-1791)

Had I twenty sons I should rejoice were they all so employed, though I never saw them more. ---Susanna Wesley (1670-1742), upon gladly consenting for her sons, John and Charles, to take the long, dangerous voyage to America to preach the gospel.

The editor, while agreeing with the content presented in this newsletter, does not necessarily endorse all of a writer's works, doctrines, etc. The editor is solely responsible for all mistakes.