Riding the Circuit

The typical circuit riding preacher of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wasn’t someone who had been afforded formal seminary training. Rather, it was more likely a former common laborer like a blacksmith or carpenter who, following a dramatic religious conversion, answered the call to preach to the masses by riding from village to village spreading the Gospel.  It certainly wasn’t a well-paying job and many died at a young age.  In 1855 a man who signed his editorial “An Old Circuit Rider”1 knew all too well the pittances afforded the itinerant preacher. In 1827 missionaries received only fourteen cents a day on average and he had heard of ministers who hadn’t received one cent in a six-month period.  The itinerant minister might “pass the hat” and gather enough to send him down the road a bit further.  One minister receive a saddle girth for his services.  That would keep his saddle in place but not food in his belly. Yet another minister known by the “old circuit rider” made only one “cut bit” one year.  He went on to explain how in those days it was customary to make change by cutting larger pieces of silver into smaller ones.  A cut bit was an eighth of a dollar, also called a “sharpskin”.  The man was about to set upon a trip of 250 miles and what was he to do?  He started riding, making stops along a seventy-mile stretch.  Upon preaching the last service of the stretch the “cloud bursted” and his act of faith was rewarded. A friend had heard about his plight and informed the congregation ahead...

Christmas in Early America

The first colonists to introduce celebration and merriment to the holiday were the early settlers of Virginia.  The traditions they brought would likely have been reflected in a sixteenth century poem by Thomas Tusser: At Christmas play and make cheer For Christmas comes but once a year Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall; Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best; Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest; Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear, As then in the country is counted good cheer. One tradition brought by the English colonists of Virginia was noise-making with horns, drums and fireworks, which had been introduced in England in the fifteenth century.  In 1486 the first fireworks display took place in celebration of King Henry VII’s marriage.  This tradition continues in the South even today. In Williamsburg, the Yule log, the foundation of the traditional Christmas Eve fire, was lit and carols were sung.  The Yule log offered a respite of sorts for the colonists, since as long as it burned no one had to work.  One could imagine them going to great lengths to keep the fire going! On Christmas Day, everyone attended church services, followed by a feast, dances, games and fireworks — all of this merriment sometimes continuing until the new year.  Contrast that, however, with the Puritans of Massachusetts. Merriment was not much on the minds of the Puritans, going so far as to declare the  holiday celebration illegal.  Christmas, strictly considered a religious event only, was a holy day...

George, The Cross-Eyed Preacher and The First Great Awakening (Part Two)

One Christian history web site states that George Whitefield was America’s first celebrity.  After he arrived in Georgia in the late 1730’s and later began traveling throughout the colonies, historians believe that as many as eighty percent of all colonists heard him speak at least once. In 1738 Whitefield traveled to Savannah, Georgia, and seeing a need, established an orphanage which would become his life’s work.  After three months he returned to England to raise funds for the Bethesda Orphanage (as he named it) and began to preach to large congregations throughout England.  However, his sermon delivery methods were not well received so he decided to experiment with extemporaneous sermons delivered outdoors.  A sermon delivered to Kingswood miners in Bristol was his first open air meeting. His oratory skills (remember, his theater background mentioned in Part One) were mesmerizing.  Christianity Today described them like this: These were no ordinary sermons. He portrayed the lives of biblical characters with a realism no one had seen before. He cried, he danced, he screamed. Among the enthralled was David Garrick, then the most famous actor in Britain. “I would give a hundred guineas,” he said, “if I could say ‘Oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.” Once, when preaching on eternity, he suddenly stopped his message, looked around, and exclaimed, “Hark! Methinks I hear [the saints] chanting their everlasting hallelujahs, and spending an eternal day in echoing forth triumphant songs of joy. And do you not long, my brethren, to join this heavenly choir?” His return to America and his treks through the colonies in 1739-40 (he traveled over five thousand miles) were well-received –...

George, The Cross-Eyed Preacher and The First Great Awakening (Part One)

Some historians believe that so-called heretic Anne Hutchinson may have begun paving the way for an evangelist who later was credited with playing a significant role in the First Great Awakening of the eighteenth century (1730-1755). Hutchinson was known for her boldness in challenging the Puritan “status quo” by teaching that salvation came by grace and not works.  Puritans believed that there were no guarantees of salvation, and because of Adam’s fall all men were condemned, with hell as their destiny.  The only way to avoid hell was to study one’s Bible and live as pious and devoted a life as possible.  Neither was it supposed to be an easy path – Puritans expected to wrestle their entire lives with the concept of salvation. Anne, a follower of John Cotton, himself a Puritan minister with a doctrine of “absolute grace”, believed that the Spirit of God spoke directly to her.  Her message drew her own followers away from the strict Puritan message, much to the consternation of Governor John Winthrop and Puritan ministers.  After a trial she recanted everything, but was still banished to Roger Williams’ colony (later Rhode Island). Still, someone had dared to challenge the Puritans and thus the Church of England.  In the next century, others would be further enlightened and again challenge the Puritan way of thinking, especially in colonial America. George Whitefield George Whitefield (sometimes spelled Whitfield, which is how it’s pronounced) was born in 1714 to parents Thomas and Elizabeth (Edwards) Whitefield, inn keepers in Gloucester.  Early in life he became interested in theater and became an accomplished actor, something that would no...

Quakers in Texas: Part Two

By 1895, Frank Jacob Brown and Thomas Hadley Lewis must have felt that Paris Cox (see Part One here) had steered them down the wrong path when he encouraged fellow Quakers to come and settle on the “staked plains” of West Texas (Llano Estacado) in the late 1870’s.  This especially after Cox died in 1888 of throat cancer and the disagreements with other non-Quaker settlers in the area – plus the harsh conditions they faced such as grasshoppers and drought. It’s little wonder then that Brown, a buffalo hunter, and Lewis, a college-educated man, felt they were directed by God to settle an area near the Texas coast in Galveston County.  Instead of the treeless plains of West Texas they found over fifteen hundred acres of prairie, supplied with plenty of water from nearby Clear, Coward, Mary and Chigger Creeks, and surrounded by dense woods.  They called it their “Promised Land”. After striking a deal with a Galveston bank on July 15, 1895, their colony’s name, Friendswood, was recorded in the Galveston County courthouse.  With the attraction of plenty of water and a more hospitable climate and environment, word soon spread to other Quaker colonies in the northern and midwestern parts of the United States.  Soon afterwards almost a dozen additional families had joined the Brown and Lewis families. In 1900 the coast of Texas was battered with a massive hurricane in September of 1900, and although there was massive destruction and loss of life along the coast, the Friendswood colony survived with no loss of life.  Perhaps in an attempt to make “lemonade out of lemons” they turned...

Quakers in Texas: Part One

Like yesterday’s Surname Saturday article, today’s article is inspired by my visit to historic Estacado Cemetery in Lubbock County, Texas.  Quaker colonists who arrived in late 1879 were some of the first settlers on the High Plains of Texas, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Paris Cox was born on October 17, 1846 in Asheboro, North Carolina to parents Gideon and Huldah (Mendenhall) Cox.  According to Quaker Meeting Minutes, Gideon and Hulda had married on September 6, 1843 at the Holly Spring Monthly Meeting.  Before her death in 1857 Huldah bore Gideon five children: Anson, Paris, Larkin, Esther and William.  On September 30, 1858, Gideon married Asenath Barker and to their marriage were born five more children: Huldah, Orlando, Manly, Oliver and Lydia. Most Quakers of that day were pacifists, so when Paris was drafted by the Confederate Army he purchased an exemption and moved to Indiana.  In 1870 he was living with the Mills family in Hamilton County, Indiana, employed as a sawyer.  After marrying school teacher Mary C. Ferguson, Paris worked at a sawmill with his father-in-law. When the timber supply began to dwindle, Paris headed West to seek other opportunities, joining a group of buffalo hunters who were headed to the Llano Estacado on the High Plains of Texas.  One night while camped above the Caprock, Cox was taken by the beautiful vista and reportedly proclaimed, “Here, by the will of God, will be my home.”  After heading home to Indiana and discussing the possibilities with his family, Paris returned to the land in Texas he had fallen in love with, securing land at twenty-five...