Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
THE BACKWOODS PREACHER--Birth of Cartright
It was my good fortune to be well acquainted with Peter Cartright, and this acquaintance dates as far back as I can recollect. He lived all his live about six miles southwest of Salem and used to often come to Salem to trade, as it was a great deal nearer to him than Springfield. He lived on the same farm and was well fixed, though in early days; his salary for preaching would now be considered very small for the work done. He was a man of great force of character and whether as a preacher or politician, generally carried his point; of medium height, but of gigantic build, with a forehead covered with a shaggy coat of hair, a broad chest, and small eyes deeply set, heavy eyebrows. He had great conversational powers, coupled with keen wit. He could interest a crowd as well as any man I ever knew.
He was born September, 1, 1786, in Amherst county, Virginia. His father was a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and moved from Virginia to Kentucky in an early day. Thousands of hostile Indians and thousands of emigrants were ruthlessly murdered while on their way to Kentucky. Many young men joined the emigrants hoping to better their condition in the "Dark and Bloody State." There were about two hundred families banded together for mutual protection, another hundred young men, well armed, who agreed to guard the families through, and as compensation were to be supported for their services. On the route they traveled they often saw where white people had been murdered and scalped by the Indians.
His conversion was as marvelous as St. Paul's, and we believe he had a great mission to fill in the world. We find young Cartright served the devil with all his might; when his face turned right about he commenced to serve the Lord as zealous as he did the devil. His mission was to spread the scripture holiness in the form of Methodism, which is christianity in earnest. The old style Methodist preachers rode large circuits, swam rivers, preached every day in the week, rode horse back and carried saddle bags with books for sale. The preached as if the devil had no rights that they were bound to respect, never apologized for their attacks on Satan's kingdom. They sang old Methodist songs like this:
A Methodist is my name
And I hope to live and die the same
Oh, whip the devil around the stump
And hit him a crack at every jump.
This was the sentiment if not just the words.
He was a wonderful man, just suited for his day and generation, thee never was but one Peter Cartright, there will never be another; the world needed a Cartright and there was not room for two.
In the early days of Methodism the preachers had to contend with the ignorance of the people. A few incidents will be to the point. Wilson Lee was one of the pioneer preachers. At one of his appointments at a private house they had a pet lamb - the boys had taught it to butt. They would make motions with their heads and the lamb would back and come at them with all its might, and they would jump out of the way so the lamb would miss them. A man came to the meeting who had been drinking and frolicking the night before. He came in late and took his seat near the door and began to nod. Presently the lamb came along and seeing the man nodding and bending back and forth, took it as a banter, spring forward and gave the sleeper a severe jolt on the head and tilted him over to the amusement of the congregation, who burst into laughter, and grave as was Bro. Lee, he almost lost his balance and laughed with the rest. He went on, however, with his sermon and urged them to take up their cross.
There was in the congregation a very wicked Dutchman and his wife, who were very ignorant. The woman was a common scold and made her husband very unhappy and his life miserable. After the meeting was over Bro. Lee started on his journey and saw a little ahead of him a man trudging along carrying a woman on his back. He naturally supposed the woman to be a cripple so she could not walk. The man was very small, while the woman was very large. When he came up, who should it be but the Dutchman, who was at this meeting. Mr. Lee rose up and inquired what had happened to his wife. The Dutchman replied, "Be sure, did not you tell us in your sermon dot we must take up der cross and follow Jesus or dot we could not get to Heaven, and I dose desire to get to Heaven as much as anybody, and dis wife is so pad she scold me all der dime and dis woman is der greatest cross I have in dis world, and so I takes her up and bears der cross."
In those exciting times a new exercise broke out among the people, it was unlike anything that had been, since it lasted about forty years and then disappeared. It was called the "jerks" and was overwhelming upon the minds and body of the people. No matter whether they were saints or sinners they would be taken under a warm song or sermon and seized with a convulsive jerking all over and the more they resisted the more they jerked. Cartright says that he has seen more than 500 persons jerking at one time in his large congregations. Usually, persons taken with the jerks, to get relief as the said, would rise up and dance, some would try to run away but could not, some would resist, and on such the jerks were very severe. To see those proud young gentlemen and young ladies dressed in their silks and jewelry and gew-gaws from top to toe take the jerks would often excite Cartright's risibilities. The first jerk or so you would see those fine bonnets, caps and combs fly and so sudden would be the jerking of the head that their long loose hair would crack almost as loud as waggoner's whip.
At one of Cartright's appointments in 1804 a very large congregation had turned out to hear the Kentucky Boy, as he was formally called, among the rest were two finely dressed and fashionable ladies attended by their two brothers with loaded horsewhips. Although the house was large it was crowded. The two ladies coming in late took their seats near Cartright and their brothers near the door. Cartright was not feeling well and had a vile of peppermint in his pocket. Before he commenced preaching he took out the vial and swallowed a little of peppermint, while he was preaching the congregation melted into tears, the two young men moved off to the yard fence and both of the young ladies took the jerks and were greatly mortified.
As Cartright dismissed the meeting a man stepped up to him and warned him to be on his guard for he had heard the two brothers say that they would horsewhip him for giving their sisters the jerks. "Well," said Cartright, "I'll see about that." He went out and said to the young men, "I understand you intend to horsewhip me for giving your sisters the jerks?" One replied they did. Peter undertook to expostulate with them on the absurdity of the charge against him, but they swore he need not deny it. For they had seen him take out of his pocket a vial in which he carried some truck that gave their sisters the jerks. Quick as a thought it came to his mind how he could get clear of the whipping, and jerking out the peppermint vial said: "Yes, if I gave your sisters the jerks I will give them to you." In a moment he saw they were scared. Cartright moved toward them and they backed, as Cartright advanced they wheeled and ran warning Cartright not to come near them or they would kill him. It raised the laugh on them and Cartright escaped the whipping.
Transcribed by: Brenda Hamilton Johnson