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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Early Preachers Received Little Pay For Their Services

Dallas Bogan on 14 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

In the early period of our country the professions of lawyers, physicians and clergymen were quite prevalent over other types of education. Of these three mentioned vocations the clergyman had more graduates from our young colleges than any other.
This week we shall attempt to highlight the salary of the early Methodist circuit riders and the early Baptists.
The General Conference in the original Thirteen States systematically fixed the rates of pay for the Methodist circuit riders. In 1774 the pay of these traveling preachers was set at sixteen pounds, about $64.00 per year in addition to traveling expenses. An increase to $80.00 was later authorized.
The early part of the 19th century found the pay of the circuit rider increased to $100 per year if unmarried, and $200 if married. If a married preacher's wife died, his pay would then be decreased to that of a single person.
The cost of living in that period of time was much less than that of today. The preacher was generally given quarters and his horse was kept free of charge during services.
When Bishop Matthew Simpson entered the traveling ministry in eastern Ohio in 1833, his salary was given at $100 per year. He says: "This viewed in the light of the present, was no compensation at all and yet I had no expenses. Traveling with my own horse, finding entertainment among my friends on the circuit, riding every day, I was kindly received and freely supported, I had no anxieties, no cares."
Francis Asbury had been for many years the only Methodist Bishop in America. He found men objecting to the office of Bishop as one with too much power. His message to the objectors was that he regarded himself as "a poor, worn-out man of sixty years, riding five thousand miles a year on horseback at a salary of eighty dollars."
The Baptists of Virginia provided very little support for their ministers. The people of the early Virginia colony were forced to pay a tax for the support of the preachers of the Episcopal Church.
The Baptists were strictly against this tax and freely supported a move to repeal it. They lent their assistance and eventually the tax was removed. Everything was fine except for one thing: they omitted their own ministers for any form of regular pay. A quote from an early Virginia Baptist minister is as such: "The support of preachers in Virginia is extremely precarious. By most it is viewed as a matter of alms and afforded to the needy only. I doubt whether there is one who averages $300 per annum and perhaps not ten who receive $150 regularly. Some of the most popular and laborious preachers in the state often pass more than twelve months without a cent. No man dare preach about it for fear of being defamed as a money-hunter."
A history of the Lebanon Baptist Church, printed in 1871, declares that the early pastors had no stated earnings. Their principal compensation came from the soil, not from the pockets of the members.
In 1827 mention is made concerning Elder Wilson Thompson's salary. It was fixed at $500 per annum. After the split of the church in 1835, the pastors salary of the East Baptist Church was increased from time to time, but previous to 1871 it never exceeded $1200.
In 1871 the church agreed to pay Rev. F.A. Douglas $2,000, but in doing this, the church overstepped its bounds financially and after two years was forced to reduce his salary to $1200.

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This page created 14 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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