(Taken in part from an article by Hon. David Sankey.)
"Methodism was planted, so to speak, in this section of country, as it has been in every rural district on this continent, by pioneer settlers. Its first appearance in the Erie Conference was in Mercer County, in the Leach settlement, in 1798. A class was formed there by two local preachers, Thomas McClelland and Jacob Gurwell, both natives of Ireland, of such persons as had come to that neighborhood and brought letters of membership with them. A settlement had been commenced there two years before by Robert R. Roberts (the father of Methodism in this part of Pennsylvania), and others. These local preachers labored in word and doctrine, in the rude log-cabins, in groves, and wherever a little group could be collected together. Soon after the formation of the class in the summer of 1798, a second class was formed, a little South of the first (of which R. R. Roberts was leader). Thomas McClelland was a member of the class first formed, and Jacob Gurwell of the second, which latter was joined by John Leach, Sr., and wife, who arrived in that settlement in 1802. The two local preachers named above took the entire watch-care of these classes and supplied them regularly with preaching for several years before the regular itinerant preachers reached them.
"In 1800 the Baltimore Conference appointed Rev. P. B. Davis to the Shenango circuit; he did not, however, embrace the classes in the Roberts neighborhood within his circuit, but left them still under the care of the two local preachers residing in the place. There were eight annual conferences held in the year 1800, but there were no fixed boundary lines between them, and each preacher being at liberty to do so, attached himself to the Conference most convenient to his work.
"In 1801 the Baltimore Conference appointed Thornton Fleming to the Pittsburg district, and Joseph Shaw to Shenango Circuit. Asa Shinn was appointed to the Shenango Circuit in 1802. He will be remembered as a leader in the secession movement from the M. E. Church, out of which grew the Protestant Methodist Church, in 1828. George Askin was appointed in 1803, Joseph Hall in 1804, and R. R. Roberts in 1805. The latter, by permission of his elder, exchanged circuits with David West, in charge of the Erie Circuit, for the reason that the appointments immediately around the old log cabin built by Mr. Roberts in 1796, and into which he had taken his family and goods, were connected with the Erie Conference. Mr. Roberts had made arrangements to erect a grist-mill the next year near his rustic log farm-house, and it was on this account that he was this year sent to the Shenango Circuit. In 1806 James Reed was on the Shenango Circuit. In 1807 James Watt and Thomas Church were in charge. In 1808 James Charles. In 1809 Jacob Dowell and Eli Towne. In 1810 James Watt was appointed, he being the first preacher who extended his labors thus far south on this circuit, where the first class was formed by him that year."
"This country, as far north as Lake Erie, was embraced in the Baltimore Conference. A district of country, bounded on the east by the Allegheny Mountains, on the south by the Greenbrier Mountains of Virginia, on the west by the limits of the white settlements in what is now the State of Ohio, and on the north by Lake Erie, constituted the Monongahela District."
In 1804 William Richards, a member and licensed exhorter of the M.E. Church, moved his family from Center County, Pennsylvania, and settled them on a farm near "King's Chapel," some three miles north of New Castle, and commenced holding religious meetings in his own house, where, soon after, a class was formed composed of William Richards and wife, Robert Simonton and wife, Arthur Chenowith and wife, Mary Ray, Rachel Fisher, John Burns and wife, Michael Carman and wife, William Underwood and wife, Robert Wallace and wife, Philip Painter and wife, and Rebecca Carroll. This is believed to have been the first Methodist class organized in the neighborhood of New Castle. William Richards was its first leader. At that time there were but two circuits in what is now the Erie Conference-Erie and Shenango -the former with a membership of 349, and the latter with 206-making a total of 555. The first class organized within the territory comprising the present Erie Conference was the one already mentioned at the Roberts or Leach settlement, in Mercer County, by Jacob Gurwell and Thomas McClelland, in 1798, of which Robert R. Roberts was the class-leader. The itinerant ministers were first introduced here in 1800.
The Pittsburg district of the Baltimore Conference then embraced the settled portions of West Virginia and what are now the Pittsburg and Erie Conferences; and the Erie and Shenango Circuits embraced all the country west of the Allegheny River and from the Ohio to Lake Erie.
There was but one quarterly meeting held on the Shenango Circuit in 1801, at which Robert R. Roberts was licensed as an exhorter, and the next year the Quarterly Conference gave him a license to preach, and he was received on trial by the Baltimore Conference, which convened in Baltimore April 1, 1802. From 1800 to 1816 the annual salary of a traveling preacher was $80 and traveling expenses, and the annual allowance of the wife $80; each child, until seventeen years of age, an annual allowance of $16; those from seven to fourteen years, $24; and no support from the Church in any other way. In 1802 the membership on the Shenango Circuit was sixty-five. No trace can be found of an organized Methodist society in New Castle prior to 1810. In that year Jacob Gruber was appointed presiding elder in the Monongahela District, and James Watt the preacher on the Shenango Circuit, who during that year formed the first class in New Castle, the members of which were Michael Carman and wife, John Bevins and wife, James Squier and wife, and Nancy Wallace, with Michael Carman as leader. At that time there was not a Methodist meeting-house in the territory embraced by the Erie Conference, except a small one built of round logs and covered with clap-boards, called "Bruch's Meeting-house," in West Springfield Township, Erie County.
The time when the first Methodist meeting-house was built cannot now be ascertained with certainty, but it is believed to have been in 1815 or 1816.
New Castle was made a preaching appointment on the Shenango circuit in 1810, by Rev. James Watt, the preacher on the circuit, and who organized the first class, as before mentioned.
In 1811, Abel Robison was appointed to Shenango circuit by the Baltimore Conference, at its session March 20, 1811. Jacob Gruber was presiding elder.
In 1812 the districts were changed, and this section of country was embraced in the Ohio District (named after the Ohio River), Jacob Young presiding elder, and William Knox appointed to Shenango Circuit, in which New Castle was an appointment.
The General Conference, which met in May of that year, transferred the Ohio District to the Ohio Conference with its incumbents.
In 1817 the Shenango Circuit was divided between the Erie and Beaver Circuits, and the name no more appears in the Minutes of the Conference. The Minutes do not show whether the New Castle appointment was on the Erie or Beaver Circuit from 1817 to 1821, in which latter year the New Castle Circuit was formed.
In May, 1824, the General Conference, which met at Baltimore, formed the Pittsburgh Conference out of portions of Baltimore, Ohio and Genesee Conferences.
In 1832 the Meadville District was formed, and Zerah H. Gaston appointed presiding elder and D. C. Richie and Ahab Keller to New Castle Circuit. In 1833 Alfred Brunson was elder in the Meadville District, and Thomas Thompson sent to New Castle. (At the session of 1833 of the Pittsburg Conference the Allegheny College was placed under the control of the Conference, and opened in September of that year).
In 1834 the Warren District was formed and Wilder B. Mack appointed elder, and R. B. Gardner, and one to be supplied, to New Castle. In 1835 the Ravenna District was formed, and William Stevens appointed presiding elder, and William Carroll and Thomas Thompson preachers on the New Castle Circuit.
The General Conference, at its session in Cincinnati, in 1836, formed the Erie Conference, which held its first session in Meadville, August 17, 1836. The session was composed of fifty-five members, of which Joseph S. Barris was appointed presiding elder on the Meadville District, and E. B. Hill and Thomas Graham to the New Castle Circuit.
In 1840 Warren District embraced New Castle Circuit, with Hiram Kinsley presiding elder, and T. Stubbs and D. W. Vorce on the New Castle Circuit.
We have been unable to obtain a complete historical sketch of the First M.E. Church. The society now has a fine edifice, at the corner of Jefferson and North Streets, and is one of the active religious organizations of the city. The present pastor is Rev. E. E. Higley.
Source: Twentieth Century History of New Castle and Lawrence County, 1908, pages 212-214