Peter Cartwright, 1785-1872, Circuit Preacher
Written by: Unknown Posted on: 03/17/2003
American Methodist circuit rider. Peter Cartwright was born
in Amherst County, Virginia. His father was a colonial sol-
dier in the War of Independence. Shortly after the War, the
family moved to Kentucky, which was then a wilderness filled
with thousands of hostile Indians. There, in those frontier
surroundings, Peter Cartwright was reared. And, like many of
the young men in that primitive area, became wild and wicked,
engaging in many sinful practices. His mother was a devout
Christian woman, who opened their cabin home for preaching by
the Methodist circuit preachers.
As a young man of 16, Peter was convicted of his sins
as a result of these meetings. And, after several weeks of
deep agony and contrition, he was soundly converted at an
outdoor revival meeting. His new faith completely changed his
life, and he immediately began to witness for Christ.
One year later, he was licensed as an "exhorter" and
began riding a circuit of his own. His appointments were few
and far between, and he preached wherever people would open
their homes, because meeting houses were few. At the end of
three months, he had taken 25 people into the Methodist
Church, and had received a salary of $6.00. This was the be-
ginning of his long career as a circuit-riding Methodist
Cartwright was a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher af-
ter the style of Wesley, and his character and personality
often matched his sermons. Often, he personally thrashed the
rowdies who disturbed his camp meetings--after which he saw
many of them "get religion."
His fearlessness is described in an incident which
took place in Nashville. As he was preaching, General Andrew
Jackson entered the service. The local preacher whispered the
news to Cartwright, which prompted him to thunder, "And who
is General Jackson? If General Jackson doesn't get his soul
converted, God will damn him as quickly as anyone else!"
Jackson smiled and later told Cartwright that he was "a man
after my own heart."
In over 50 years of traveling circuits in Kentucky,
Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, Cartwright received
10,000 members into the Methodist Church, personally baptized
12,000, conducted over 500 funerals, and preached more than
15,000 sermons. He was strongly opposed to comfort in reli-
gion, education, and culture in the ministry; his equipment
consisted of a black broadcloth suit and a horse with
saddlebags, while his library was composed of his Bible,
hymnbook, and Methodist discipline. He was the epitome of the
Methodist circuit riders who preached, traveled, suffered,
and firmly planted the old-time religion in the frontier of
the infant United States of America.
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