THE PERSECUTION OF THE AMERICAN METHODISTS
     & FREEBORN GARRETTSON

     Edited from Freeborn Garrettson by Ezra S. Tipple
THE PERSECUTION OF THE AMERICAN METHODISTS &
FREEBORN GARRETTSON
Edited from Freeborn Garrettson by Ezra S. Tipple.
VOL. 3 NO. 7 MARCH 2001

Freeborn Garrettson was mightily converted and became a Methodist pastor in colonial America. He suffered persecution which is hard for our soft, current, "love of leisure" generation to comprehend. We certainly pray that should such a time return, that we might be found faithful to endure hardship for our Lord.

To a funeral which Freeborn Garrettson conducted, a woman came with the avowed intention of shooting him, but was thwarted of her design. At another service, as he was giving out a hymn, some twenty roughs (gang members) rushed at him, the ringleader seizing him and pressing a pistol against his chest; but Garrettson had seen God in a dream and was not perturbed. He began to exhort, and soon the entire congregation was in tears. One day while riding in Queen Anne County, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a man who had formerly been a judge intercepted him, and taking his horse by the bridle began to beat the preacher over the head and shoulders with a club, calling meanwhile for his servants to assist him. When Garrettson saw some of them coming with a rope he thought it time to beat a retreat, which fortunately he was able to do, only to be overtaken a little later and so cruelly beaten that he fell from his horse unconscious. One of his friends was shot, but not mortally, for entertaining him.

At Dover, Delaware, Garrettson had scarcely dismounted before he was surrounded by a mob, who cried lustily, "Hang him! hang him!" When he made an appointment to preach at the side of a river he was threatened with drowning, but one "dressed like a soldier" attended him on his journey, saying to him, "I heard you preach at such a time, and believe your doctrine to be true. I heard you were to be abused at the river today, and I equipped myself and have ridden twenty miles in your defense, and will go with you if it is a thousand miles and see who dares lay a hand upon you!"

Some of Garrettson's severest trials came during the American Revolution. He refused on conscientious grounds to take the "state oath" as it was called, that is, an oath of allegiance to the United States of America, as required of all citizens when the war with Great Britain was begun. He declared himself a loyal American and a friend to the cause of freedom, but when he refused to take the oath because he thought it was so worded as to bind him to take up arms when called upon and he felt no disposition to bear "carnal weapons" he was told that he must leave the State, or go to jail. The fact that he was a Methodist preacher augmented the feeling against him. All the Methodists were under suspicion throughout the war, and particularly during the early years; there were good reasons for it. John Wesley's "Calm Address to the American Colonies" would have created prejudice against them if nothing else had been said or done, but several of the preachers were indiscreet. Rankin spoke so freely and imprudently on public affairs as to cause fear that his influence would be dangerous to the American cause. Rodda was so unwise as to distribute copies of the king's proclamation, and left the country under circumstances unfavorable to his reputation and hurtful to the interests of religion. Two years after the Declaration of Independence not an English preacher remained in America except Asbury, who, at the risk of his life, deliberately resolved to continue to labor and to suffer with and for his American brethren. His sympathies were undoubtedly with his countrymen, but his unerring judgement, however, foresaw the inevitable outcome.


Asbury wrote a letter to Rankin in 1777 in which he expressed his belief that the American people would become a free and independent nation, and declared that he was too much knit in affection to many of them to leave them, and that Methodist preachers had a great work to do under God in America. The letter fell into the hands of the authorities in the Colonies and produced a change in their feelings toward him, but before this change took place there was much suffering. Caleb Pedicord was cruelly whipped, and carried his scars to the grave. Joseph Hartley was imprisoned, and during his confinement preached through the bars of his window to crowds of people.

Garrettson, because of his refusal to subscribe to the oath, was the object of more frequent attacks than any other preacher of the time. But he was without personal fear, and when friends at Salisbury, Maryland, knowing that a mob was lying in wait for him, urged him to escape, his reply was, "I have come to preach my Master's gospel, and I am not afraid to trust him with body and soul." On another occasion a company of twelve men made him a prisoner and started to take him to jail some distance away. While they were en route, suddenly the darkness of the night was shattered with "a very uncommon flash of lightning, and in less than a minute all my foes were dispersed." But finally, in 1780, he was taken before a magistrate in Dorchester County, Maryland, and put in jail at Cambridge, the keys being hidden to prevent his friends from ministering to him. "I had a dirty floor for my bed," he writes, "my saddlebags for my pillow, and two large windows open with a cold east wind blowing upon me, but I had great consolation in my dear Lord and could say, 'Thy will be done.'" Like Hartley, he too preached from behind the bars to whoever would listen. But he was by no means forsaken. Asbury wrote "to comfort him under his imprisonment," and sent him a volume of Rutherford's letters. He also interceded for him, visiting the governor of Maryland on his behalf, with the result that Garrettson was soon set at liberty. Like Chrysostom he could say, "I bless God that I am not afraid of the jail."

This is the spirit which fired early American Methodism and caused its spread throughout all the country. After reading episodes such as this, can we truly say, as some have, that Christians in America are being persecuted for their religious beliefs? Truly, we know nothing of persecution as the early American Methodist preachers suffered for the cause of Christ.


QUOTE UNQUOTE

John Wesley traveled 250,000 on horseback, averaging 20 miles a day for 40 years; preached 40,000 sermons, produced 400 books; knew 10 languages. At 83 he was annoyed that he could not write more than 15 hours a day without hurting his eyes, and at 86 he was ashamed that he could not preach more than twice a day. He complained in his diary that there was an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 in the morning. We need more Wesleys! --Anonymous


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.


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