Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Old-Fashioned Camp-Meetings

Page 125

In the early days of Menard County (then a part of Sangamon) there were no churches and the religious meetings were held in the little school houses or in private residences. Once a year camp-meetings would be held. The Cumberland Presbyterians appeared to lead. There were three large congregations of that denomination within the bounds of Menard County from 1830 to 1845. At Concord, north of Petersburg, where one of these camp-meetings was held annually, a large shed was built under which the preachers held forth. The Pantiers, the Rutledges and the Berrys were the prominent campers. My father would move to the grounds on a Thursday afternoon. Camps would be built around the shed, and by Sunday the grounds would present the appearance of a small village.

Back of the camps the women would do the cooking. Two big logs would be put close together with an upright forked pole at each end. Across these forks another pole would be laid, on which were hung the pots and kettles in which meats and vegetables would cook while the meeting was going on.

A great drawback and an endless source of annoyance was the great number of dogs around the camp. Each man had from one to a dozen, and it kept the women busy trying to prevent the hungry canines from getting into the dinner. I remember one camp-meeting when James Berry had a dozen hounds there and it looked as though they would break up the meeting. I appointed myself a committee on dogs. The grounds were covered with a growth of walnut trees. A green walnut, applied with sufficient force against the side of a hound, would make him yelp for several seconds and the sound would travel down the ravine the echo would reverberate back again.

The preachers got onto the dog racket and determined to stop it. I had been pelting the dogs one afternoon and was watching as well as praying. Just after I had taken a good lick at one, Guthrie White ran up behind me, turned me around and when he saw who I was, exclaimed in astonishment: "Why, it's one of Bro. Onstot's boys!" "Now," said I, "I'm trying to protect these women's cooking from these hounds, and if Jim Berry don't want 'em hurt, let him keep 'em at home." Guthrie saw the point and I continued in the discharge of my duties as dog pelter.

It was the custom at those meetings to feed everybody that came and this made very slavish work for the women.

There was good singing. The preacher would read the hymn in a loud voice and then would "line" it and everybody would sing. Music boxes hadn't been invented then. The preacher didn't ask any of the brethren to "pitch and carry the tune."

Old Sammy Berry and James Pantier were the oldest of the members. Berry must have been over seventy and could talk and shout. He was of a serious turn of mind and seldom laughed or even smiled. He was a brother of Rev. J. M. Berry, of Rock Creek. Pantier was very eccentric. He would sit in front of the preacher and repeat his sermon as fast as the preacher preached it. Sometimes he would get ahead and sometimes approve what the preacher said; again, he would shake a finger at the preacher and say in a low tone, "you are mistaken," or "that is not so, brother." He was a faith doctor and could cure the bite of a snake or of a mad dog. He would take the patient into a room and rub the wound and mumble some hocus-pocus and the patient would get well.

There was sound preaching in those days. The preachers preached hell and damnation more than they do now. They could hold a sinner over the pit of fire and brimstone till he could see himself hanging by a slender thread, and he would surrender and accept the gospel that was offered to him.

There was a good many rowdies around Concord at that time. They would get steam up on whisky and go to the camp meeting to raise a row. I have seen some of these sinners get under conviction and start to run, and fall down and lie for hours before they were converted. Nowadays a church will just vote a sinner into the kingdom, or just have him hold up his hand, then publish "a great revival."

At Lebanon the camp-meeting was similar to that at Concord. Old Robert White, and the Rayburns, the Kincaids, the Williamses and other were always in attendance. I believe this was the oldest camp-meeting ground in the county. Neal Johnson was a pioneer preacher in that section before I was born. He was a man of large stature and was accounted a great preacher. My father was converted under his ministry, before he moved to Salem, some time before the winter of the deep snow.

The Old Salem Chautauqua reminded me more of an old-fashioned camp-meeting than any gathering I have seen in late years, except that at the camp-meetings they had prayers at all the tents at sunrise. The voice of song arose from the tents and then some lust old brother with a voice like a foghorn would wake up the natives by giving God advice and directions how to run this world of ours.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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