Retyped for the page by Diane Payne, 2001
I believe it was in 1793 Aquila Sugg traveled and preached in this country. He was an excellent man, and his labors that year were followed by a fine revival of religion.
Jacob Lurton, during three months of that year, was the colleague of Aquila Sugg. He too was an excellent man. I knew a number of persons who were converted to God under the united ministry of these men. Jacob Lurton returned to Kentucky.
I think it was in 1794 Moses Spear was sent to us. He was a faithful preacher, and was well received by the people.
In 1795, William Burke, accompanied by a young man named Peter Guthrie, came among us; and during that year he saved the Church from the ruin threatened by the course of James Haw. In the beginning of 1796, he married Rachel Cooper, and immediately they removed from the country. I knew her well, as she and myself belonged to the same society in Cage's Bend, in Sumner county. She was a superior young woman. If my memory does not fail me, he returned and was with us again in 1798, and for the last time. His character is too well known and admired to justify me in attempting a description. I am told he is still living in Ohio.
Francis Poythress was the first presiding elder that ever came to this country. He had the bearing of one who had been well raised, his deportment being very gentlemanly; but he appeared to be somewhat melancholy in disposition. He was an acceptable preacher, though he did not possess the first order of talents. He was greatly gifted in prayer; and it seemed, when he prayed, that heaven and earth were coming together. I think he discharged his duty as a presiding elder as well as most men do in that office. He had passed the meridian of life.
At that day, our fare in this country was extremely rough, as already observed; but I never heard the old elder complain of anything set before him. One incident I must mention. Knowing our destitution, and being quite weakly, he had provided himself with a canister of tea, which he carried with him. One night, having stopped at the house of a brother, he gave the canister to the good sister, with a request that she would make some tea for him. She took it to the kitchen, and having poured the leaves into a vessel, she gave them a thorough boiling. Then, putting them into a pewter plate, she brought them and set them before her guest. This done, she began, in the kindness of her heart, to apologize to the old elder because she could not boil the tea down. He looked at it, and simply said, "Why, sister, you have spoiled all my tea-it was the broth I, wanted." You may think it strange a married woman should be so ignorant, but it was even the case. In fact, I assure you, when I was married, I do not believe I had drunk a half-dozen cups of coffee, and I know not that I had ever seen any specimen of imported tea.
Francis Poythress, I think, continued in the work till about the year 1800, when he became seriously deranged in intellect, and remained in that distressing situation for many years. At length he died at the house of his sister, Mrs. Susannah Pryor, in Jessamine County, Kentucky. I trust he has gone to heaven. I knew him intimately, and had the utmost confidence in him.
Having now given some account of a number of the early preachers, would remark we cannot but observe, with wonder and praise, how the providence of God guarded and preserved those bold, self-denying itinerants, while they took their lives in their hands, and went preaching the gospel from station to station, and from neighborhood to neighborhood, even where the people had settled away from the forts. In the midst of all the dangers of the day-the war with the Indians raging, and-blood flowing freely on every hand-not one of the preachers was killed; and I know not a single instance of a failure to fill an appointment; though frequently we had to guard them from place to place, and I have myself been thus employed for five or six days together; and this, too, at times when the Indians were in the habit of lying in ambush near the paths leading from fort to fort. Surely, those were seasons of peril; but the providence of God preserved those men of God.
The early preachers, for the most part, were not "encumbered" with families. Bishops Asbury, Whatcoat, and McKendree, it is well known, never married. Wilson Lee, Henry Burchett, and Peter Massie, lived and died single men. In fact, in those days the marriage of a traveling preacher was a rare occurrence. The worth of souls, and the care of the Churches, was the burden of their thoughts. Bishop Asbury was opposed to the traveling preachers becoming married men; and here I must relate an amusing saying attributed to him: In Virginia, there was a circuit where the preachers sent among the people almost always obtained wives during their service. The bishop, supposing the women should be blamed for this state of things, thought to forestall them by sending to the circuit two decrepit old men, in the belief that no one would try to allure them into the bonds of wedlock. But, to his surprise, both of them married during the year; and, upon hearing this result of his experiment, he remarked, "I am afraid the women and the devil will get all my preachers." So goes the story, as told to me.
I cannot close without noticing several others of our useful preachers. John McGee, a native of North Carolina, was raised by Presbyterian parents of the strict sort, who had taught him from his youth the external duties of our holy religion. But, when he came to years, he knew nothing about a change of heart, and, as he has told me, he was a wild young man. Having left his widowed mother, and gone to the eastern shore of Maryland, or some other point on the seacoast, quite distant from his home, he met with the Methodists-people of whom he had not before enjoyed any personal knowledge. Among them he was convinced of the necessity of a change of heart; and, having sought that great blessing, he soon found it, and was enabled to rejoice over the pardon of his sins. He joined the Methodists, and, in three days after his conversion, as I have heard from his own lips, he was well assured that God had called him to preach the gospel. Immediately he began to travel with the circuit preacher, and nearly every day spoke in public meeting. In a short time, he was admitted into the traveling connection. He wrote home that the Lord had done great things for him, and that he had become a preacher among the Methodists; and upon receiving this news, his mother was almost distracted, and, at times, seriously thought of disowning him. It was, I think he told me, about two years before he returned home; and when he arrived, that night witnessed a grave consultation between his mother and his brother William, who was younger than himself, whether he should be invited to hold prayer with the family. The old lady was violently opposed to it; but William, who had been educated for the ministry, and had just finished his studies in divinity, but could not preach at all, reasoned with his mother, and told her it would be a shame not to ask a preacher to engage in prayer with them. At length she yielded her assent, and John, when bedtime approached, was invited "to take the books." He was a very gifted man in prayer; and they discovered such a change in him, they began to believe there must be reality in the religion professed by him; so that he was treated with greater respect. Soon the news spread abroad that john McGee had come home a Methodist preacher; and his old neighbors and the associates of his youth flocked to see him. For several days, he was among them, but was not invited to preach to them. He was expecting them, perhaps, to invite him to preach in the church, but he was disappointed. At length, however, a neighbor, with whom he had long been acquainted, invited him to preach, the next Sabbath, at his dwelling house. News that John McGee was going to preach to the people soon went through the neighborhood; and when the day came, many assembled to hear him, chiefly through curiosity. He preached on the subject of the new birth. There was a mighty shaking among the dry bones, and many were convinced of the necessity of a change of heart. William McGee, who had been educated for the ministry, was convinced that he did not have an experience of religion, and took no rest until God converted his soul, and made him a new creature in Christ Jesus. His mother also was brought under conviction, and did not rest until she obtained the pardon of her sins. A gracious revival commenced in the neighborhood, and John McGee labored in it for some weeks with abundant success; and, before he left his friends, the door of the church was opened to him, and from the pulpit he preached to the people. Man does not see as God sees: William McGee was chosen by the family to be a preacher; but God made a preacher first of John McGee; and he was God's instrument in the conversion of his brother, who soon afterward began really to preach the gospel. I have often listened to his preaching with a great deal of interest; and he preached most forcibly the scriptural doctrine of a change of heart. I know not how long John McGee continued in the traveling connection; though I believe it was for a good many years. He married a Miss Johnson in North Carolina, and in 1797 or 1798 he removed to Middle Tennessee, and settled in the vicinity of Dixon Spring, Smith county. He was a great instrument in the revival of 1800, when he, in company with his brother, attended the popular meetings among the Presbyterians, and together they stood, shoulder to shoulder, in waging war against the hosts of hell. He was well educated in the English branches, and had a fine address, and a keen, sharp voice. He was a bold defender of Methodism, and was one of the most energetic and useful preachers of his day. He raised a family of four daughters and one son. His eldest daughter married the Rev. Thomas Logan Douglass. Another married the Rev. Thomas Joyner, and another, Col. Burchett Douglass, who was named after that man of God, the Rev. Henry Burchett. The other daughter married Dr. Timothy Walton. I have forgotten whom his son married. John McGee excelled as a farmer as well as a preacher. He died-I do not recollect the date-from an ulcer on his arm, at his beautiful homestead in Smith county. So passed away a great and good man-one of the most successful preachers of his day.