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Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia
Publication No. 17 - 1983

METHODISM COMES TO THE HOLSTON
By Omer C. Addington

Methodism had its beginning in England at Oxford University in 1729. Forty-four years later it had reached the Holston Country. You must remember the Holston Country in the late 1700's and early 1800's was frontier country where hostile Indians still roamed, where there were no settlements only a cabin here and there - and wild animals were plentiful. Indian traces that they used in war and hunting were the only paths one could travel. One could travel by canoe but that was dangerous because of ambush by Indians from either shore. Treacherous waters, especially at the time of the spring floods, and many small falls and shoals were dangerous at any season of the year.

The American Revolution was to begin during the movement of Methodism westward, and the Allegheny Mountains were to be crossed into a frontier region where few white men had been - a region so distinctly frontier that people who came did not know the names for the rivers and mountains, and some of them had not been named by Indians or whites.

When the pioneers came they found a frontiersman who had built a cabin and settled at the head of one of its principal rivers by the name of Stephen Holston. He had settled there sometime previous to 1748. The land held by Stephen Holston and other earlier settlers at this portion of Virginia was under what was known at that time as "corn- rights;" that is, under the law as it then stood, each settler acquired title to a hundred acres of land for every acre planted by him in corn.

The Pioneers named the river and region for Stephen Holston because they did not know the Indian name for the river. The Indians called it Hogoheegee. The French named it the Cherokee. The French had been in the region earlier and had encountered Cherokee Indians in the region but had left because they feared the hostility of the Indians. They had just lost the French and Indian War, and this was to become a dark and bloody ground.

It was to this kind of an environment that the Circuit Riders came to the Holston to face the hardships along with the settlers. Knowing they would not get and not wanting any earthly reward but only to do the will of God. He rode the wilderness of the Holston in search of souls as a hunter would stalk his prey. They had no churches - their pulpits were the cabins of the settlers, brush arbors and the great out-of-doors. If the crack of the rifle and the sound of the ax were the first human sounds of the Whites in the Holston, the second was the greetings of the Circuit Riders. They were the advance guard of civilization and morality, the most self-sacrificing breed of men known to American history. They ate where and what they could; they slept in the woods when they could not find a cabin because some of the settlers were unfriendly. The weather was not always favorable to the Circuit Rider and no doubt hastened the death of many of them from exposure and respiratory diseases such as influenza and pneumonia. Nearly half died before they were thirty years old and many died within the first five years of service in their twenties.

When a settlement was made, a notice was sent out that they desired preaching. When the circuit rider received such notice, he went. No contracts were made, no stipulations were entered into other than a promise that some of the settlers would welcome him into their humble homes and to such as they had.

The circuit rider did more than preach. He held funerals, ministered to the sick and performed wedding ceremonies. When a person died the burial usually took place the next day as there was no embalming on the frontier. If the preacher could not be reached in time for the burial, a memorial service was held for the deceased when the preacher came back to the settlement.

There were no doctors on the frontier and people had to treat themselves, using herbs that grew in the hills and mountains. The circuit rider usually carried a book on herbs in his saddle bags along with his Bible and hymn book. The books carried were usually THE ENGLISH PHYSICIAN written by a Doctor Culpeper or John Wesley's PRIMITIVE PHYSIC.

Many of the medicinal plants of the old world were not to be found in the new world, so substitute plants had to be found. The pioneers got such medicinal plants from the Indians as may apple, blue cohosh, golden seal, Indian turnip, sassafras, bloodroot, squaw vine, boneset, joe-pye-weed, witch hazel, wild cherry, senega snakeroot, culvers root, lobelia and green hellebore. Many more were added as time went on through a trial and error method.

Using the herb books that had been brought over from England, they substituted the new world plants for the old world plants. This did not always work and sometimes caused grave illness or death.

Some of these plants were used by the Indians as a dye and to paint their bodies. Golden Seal and Bloodroot were used to dye the skins of animals. The settlers learned this from the Indians. They also learned to use many other native plants to dye their clothes - Alder Bark (Black), Birch and Sumach (Brown), Bloodroot and Madder (Red), Arbor Vita (Green), Oak bark was often used to set certain colors.

Many medicinal plants were brought from Europe as civilization began to move on to the frontier. Some of the plants were Catnip, Burdock, Feverfew, Comfrey, Coltafoot, Mugwort, Dandelion, Sorrel, Chickory, Tansy, St. John's Wort and Bouncing Set (the Soat Plant of colonial times) and other foreign folk medicinals.

The blue flowering Chickory, the golden flowered Tansy and the St. John's Wort of the old world are familiar wayside weed over much of the United States. Pioneers living on the frontier had to rely on wild animals for survival. Fats and oils of raccoon, skunk, snake, deer and bear were medicinal substitutes for mutton, tallow, butter, lard, chicken fat and goose grease.

The oil of bear was especially highly regarded by settlers as well as Indians. It was often referred to as a soft oil. As Indian herb doctor said it is of great service in Phthisis, Quinsy and stiff joints.

Native trees proved a rich source for useful gums and resins. It was from the pines that the pioneers got turpentine.

A remedy used by the pioneers for rheumatism consisted of one pint of turpentine, one pint of skunk oil, one quart of Wintergreen boiled down to one-half pine, put in oil and boil until all water is removed, let cool, add turpentine. Shake well before using. Apply three times daily, rub vigorously for 20 to 30 minutes.

Previously to the year 1781, the marriage ceremony to be legal should have been performed by a minister of the Church of England. The circuit riders were not authorized by law to perform the rites of matrimony in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The General Assembly of Virginia at its October session in 1780 enacted a law declaring what should be considered a lawful marriage by the act in question. It was declared that it should be lawful for a minister of any congregation to celebrate the rites of matrimony according to the usage of the congregation to which the parties to be married respectively belonged, and declared such marriages, as well as these theretofore celebrated to be good and valid in law. But the act provided that no person should be married without lawful license first had or thrice publication of banns in the respective congregation in which the parties to be married resided.

Banns of marriage was a public announcement of the fact that a man and a woman intended to be married. This was an old English custom going back to medieval times.

The reason the banns were lawful was because it was a great distance to the nearest county seat from the lower Holston and Southwest Virginia through hostile Indian country without roads, bridges and, in some instances, not even a path to follow.

The fee for performing the wedding ceremony was also fixed by the General Assembly at twenty-five pounds of tobacco and no more. There was no tobacco on the frontier, so the preacher was paid with furs or anything he could turn into cash - sometimes only with promises.

The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony. At the day and time appointed for the solemnization of matrimony, the persons to be married (having been qualified according to law) standing together, the man on the right hand and the woman on the left, the minister shall say:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the presence of these witnesses, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is between Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee, and is commended of St. Paul to be honorable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, or taken in hand unadvisedly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, and in the fear of God.

Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore, if any can show any just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever held his peace.

And also speaking unto the persons that are to be married, he shall say:

I require and charge you both (as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed), that if either or you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it; for be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than as God's word doth allow, are not joined together by god, neither is their matrimony lawful.

If no impediment be alleged, then shall the minister say unto the man:

Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, as long as ye both shall live?

The man shall answer,

I will.

Then shall the minister say unto the woman:

Wilt thou have this man as thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The woman shall answer,

I will.

O, eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life, send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name; that as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant between them made, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Then shall the minister join their right hands together, and say:

Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as John and Mary have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have pledged their faith either to the other, and have declared the same by joining hands, I pronounce that they are man and wife together, in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And the minister shall add this blessing:

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

The Preacher was required to make a certificate of the fact of marriage and return it to the court, there to be recorded by the Clerk. The circuit rider usually waited until he had several to record - or he might record just one if he were passing through the county seat. Sometimes one would be lost and never recorded.

The certificate of marriage reads as follows:

I certify that I joined together in the Holy State of matrimony John Alley and Mary Porter this the 29th day of April, 1790. Signed: Rev. Richard Whatcoat.

The circuit rider, when he held religious services, may have had the only hymn book. There were no song books as we know them today. All the old hymns were sung by syllable or meter. At the beginning it gave the syllable or meter to use in signing the song. Any number before the letter S meant syllable such as 4s, 6s, 8s. L. M. meant Long Meter, C. H. Common meter and S. M. Short meter, and P. M. Peculiar Meter.

At the beginning of the service the minister would announce the song and line it as it was called. I give here one of the favorites that was sung perhaps more than any other. This son was sung in common meter:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound


That saved a wretch like me!


I once was lost, but now am found,


Was blind, but now I see.

This verse was sung by the congregation. This was done until all six verses had been lined and sung.

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton after his conversion. He at one time was a slave trader and captain of a slave ship.

If services were held and no one had a hymn book, the preacher would line and lead the singing - or if he did not sing, he would say to someone in the congregation, "brother, strike a tune," who would then line and lead the singing. The old hymns had been sung so much that most of them had been committed to memory.

If you were to ask how Methodism came to the Holston and you answered by "immigration and conversion," you would be right - but that would not tell the story or history of the people of Methodism an dhow it came to the Holston.

To learn how Methodism had its beginning and how it crossed the Atlantic, let us go back to John and Charles Wesley and the Holy Club at Oxford University of England, an dhow it came to the Holston. We must go back to Edward Cox, pioneer and Continental soldier of the American Revolution; Francis Asbury, itinerant and bishop of the long road; Dr. Thomas coke, one of the missionaries sent to America by John Wesley. Thomas Ware, the first circuit rider to come to the lower Holston; Elizabeth Russell, the first lady of Methodism on the Holston, and William McKendree, the first native American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

These people would do such a good job with their converts that they go about their work singing:

I'm a Methodist, Methodist, this is my belief.
I'm a Methodist til I die.
Til old grim death comes knocking at the door;
I'm a Methodist till I die.

John Wesley

John Wesley was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, June 17, 1703. He was graduated in 1724 from Christ Church Oxford University. In 1729, he went into residence at Oxford as a fellow of Lincoln College. There he joined the Holy Club, a group of students which included his brother Charles. These young men lived a very strict and orderly life. The other students called the members "Methodist." They said the members were too orderly or methodical in their study and beliefs. The members called themselves "The United Society."

In 1735, the Wesley brothers were invited by General Oglethorpe, Governor of the Georgia Colony, to come to America as missionaries to the Indians and settlers. John Wesley's work among the Indians was not very successful and he was unpopular with the colonists because of his strictness and his loyalty to the Church of England and the English Crown.

Upon his return to England in 1738, he experienced a religious awakening which profoundly convinced him that salvation was possible for every man through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Describing the experience in his Journal, he wrote:

I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation that he had taken away my sins, even mine.

On April 2, 1739, he preached an open air sermon. The enthusiastic reaction of his audience convinced him that open air preaching was the most effective way of reaching the masses. Few pulpits would be open to him in any case, for the Church of England frowned on revivalism.

Wesley and his followers were earnest and hard working. They preached a religious message that stimulated the people. They found ready audience wherever they taught and preached. Their success was also due in part to the fact that contemporary England was ready for a revivalist movement. Public morality was at a low ebb and the Church of England was unable to offer the kind of personal faith the people craved. Thus emphasis was placed upon the inner religion and his assurance that each person was a child of God and could be saved through he saving grace of Jesus Christ. This had tremendous popular appeal among the people.

The United Society under Wesley's leadership had grown beyond Oxford and the community in which it was founded, and branch societies were formed.

Wesley liked the name "Methodist," adopted it for his religious society and endeavored to make Methodism part of the Church of England. That church refused to accept Wesley's work and teaching and also refused to recognize his preachers and followers.

During all this time Wesley and the Methodist continued to remain in the Church of England. He had no intention of founding a new church. It was only after his death that the movement in England broke away from the established church and formed the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Wesley was an untiring preacher and organizer. He traveled about 5,000 miles a year mainly on horseback delivering as many as four or five sermons a day.

Once when he was refused a pulpit, he preached on a platform that marked his father's grave.

Susan Wesley, the mother of Methodism, died July 23, 1742. She was buried in the famous Bunhill Fields across the road from Wesley's Chapel. Standing beside his mother's open grave, John Wesley preached her funeral service in a great congregation that he described as one of the most solemn assemblies. I ever saw or expect to see on this side of eternity.

Wesley was not only a spiritual leader but a great humanitarian as well deeply concerned with the intellectual, economic and physical well being of the masses. He was also a prolific writer on a wide variety of historical and religious subjects. His books were sold cheaply so that even the poor could afford them. He donated profits from the sale of his writings to the needy and unemployed. He aided debtors and those trying to establish a business. He founded medical dispensaries. He said "doctors were too expensive." He wrote a medical book called PRIMITIVE PHYSIC which was later used in America by circuit riders.

In 1751, at the age of forty-eight, Wesley married Mary Vazille, a widow with four children. His wife made no attempt to share his life and the marriage was very unhappy. After twenty years, she left him. He said, "I did not send her away. I shall not bring her back." She died in 1781, but he was not informed until two days after her burial.

In the later years of his life, the hostility at the Church of England to Methodism had virtually disappeared and Wesley was greatly admired for his religious leadership.

John Wesley died in 1791 and was buried in the graveyard of City Road Chapel, London.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley was the youngest brother of John Wesley. He was born December 18, 1708, in Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, England. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church Oxford University. He was the first leader of the Holy Club at Oxford University, and some historians give him credit as the founder of Methodism.

In 1735, after becoming a minister, he sailed with his brother John to Georgia to become Secretary to General Oglethorpe. However, ill health forced him to relinquish that post and he returned to England. He joined his brother John in the new movement and preached in various parts of the country.

The two Wesleys differed on certain doctrinal matters and he disapproved of his brother's ordination. He strongly opposed steps which might lead to separation from the Church of England.

Charles Wesley is often called the poet of the Methodist movement. He composed more than 6,000 hymns, many of which are still sung in Protestant churches. Among the best known, are "Jesus Lover of My Soul" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" which is sung during the Christmas season. It is said he could write a song for any occasion.

So intense was his devotion to the Church of England, and so strong was his antipathy in ordination and the Methodist trend away from Anglicanism, that he would not be buried in City Road Churchyard. He died March 29, 1788, and was interred at Marylebone Church in London.

There is a memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey inscribed as follows:

John Wesley, MA
Born June 17, 1703, Died March 2, 1791

Charles Wesley, MA

Born December 18, 1708, Died March 29, 1788
The best of all God is with us
I look upon all the world as my Parish.
God buries His workmen but carries on his work.

Edward Cox

The first Methodist who came to the Holston were laymen, and the first of these was Edward Cox who had been converted under the preaching of Bishop Asbury. He came from Baltimore, Maryland, and settled near Bluff City, Tennessee, in 1773, which was then part of the state of North Carolina. He stayed two years and made a claim for a land grant, which claim was granted in 1775. After his two years were up, he returned to Maryland to claim Sallie Merdeth as his bride. They established a Christian home on the frontier and became useful Methodists.

The first evening in which they pitched their tent in the forest upon their own homestead, they erected a family altar and consecrated themselves and all they had afresh to God. This was probably the first prayer by a Methodist family in the Holston Country. It was offered up on a little hill near Bluff City, Tennessee.

The Revolutionary War soon began, and Mr. Cox thought that the situation of himself and family (on the frontier, exposed to the vengeance and cruelty of hostile Indians) justified his decision to stay home for the protection of his wife and child. As the war increased in magnitude and fury, although a man of peace, he felt that every arm was needed for the establishment of American Independence. His wife said, 'Go Edward and fight for the Independence of your Country - if need be, die in the cause of liberty. God will take care of me and the child." He enlisted and continued in the service till the war ended - leaving his family in a country wild and exposed to serious danger with but here and there a white settlement. The people united in erecting a fort to which the few men that remained would gather the women and children at night for their safety. Indian depredations became so common on the Holston that General Washington sent a detachment of soldiers to defend the settlement. Among the soldiers thus sent was Edward Cox.

For several nights before the soldiers arrived, the Indians had roamed through the settlement without hindrance. Some of the people could not always get to the fort because of distance - or they had not been alerted that Indians were in the area. Several women and children had been murdered and scalped. Mrs. Cox escaped one night by taking her child and leaving her cabin after dark and spending the night in the stockyard between the stacks of hay and grain that stood close together. The next day the news spread throughout the settlement that soldiers had arrived at the fort for the protection of the inhabitants. Mrs. Cox heard it and set out with her child for the fort, partly for protection and partly in the hope of getting news from her husband of whom she had heard nothing for several months. As she approached the fort, imagine her surprise when she saw her own husband coming out from a group of soldiers to meet her. His joy was past expression. He had been told, after coming to the fort, that his wife and child had been murdered the night before.

The war over and the American Independence established, Mr. Cox returned to his home on the Holston. He soon opened his home to religious meetings and he was accustomed to conduct them himself. Many were converted and gave their names to Mr. Cox for membership int he Methodist Church. He had promised to use his best endeavors to procure a preacher to take charge of them and administer to their spiritual needs.

The preacher came at last and, among the first that came, was Bishop Asbury on his way to the first conference west of the Allegheny Moderator. He had found two of his spiritual children, Edward and Sallie Cox.

Mr. Cox gave liberally to the church and the support of the preachers. He especially liked to help young preachers when they first began their ministry by giving them a good horse, clothing and money. He did this as long as he was able to farm and , when too old and feeble to do this, he gave from his pension money.

In the same year that Edward Cox came to the Holston country, the first Methodist Church was built in what is now the Holston Conference. It was named Page's Meeting House.

Edward Cox died at his home on the Holston in 1852, age 102. His wife had preceded him in death by a few years. The Cox house has become an official shrine of Methodism, and is the last Asburian site left standing within the bounds of the Holston.

Francis Asbury

Francis Asbury was born in England in the Parish of Handsworth, near the foot of Hamstead Bridge about four miles from Birmingham in Staffordshire, on the 20th of August, 1745.

His mother, before his birth, said she had received a vision from God foretelling that her child would be a boy and that he was destined to be a great religious leader who would spread the Gospel among the heathens. From the day of his birth, she began to prepare him for his divinely predestined ministry. As soon as he was old enough to understand, she read the Bible to him for an hour each day.

When he was about twelve years old, he inquired of his mother who, where and what were Methodists. She directed him to a person who took him to hear them.

I soon found out this was not the Church (of England) but it was better, the people were so devout. The preacher had no prayer book, yet he prayed wonderfully. What was yet more extraordinary, he took his text and had no sermon book. I thought this is wonderful indeed. It is a strange way, but the best way.

He took up Methodism at the age of thirteen and, at the age of eighteen, he became a local preacher and, three years later, was received by the Evangelist. John Wesley into the itinerant Methodist Ministry - was admitted into the British Conference in 1768.

He attended the Baptist Conference in 1771, when John Wesley in his address to the conference said, "Our brothers in America call aloud for help." He arose and said, "Here I am, send me." He and Richard Wright were chosen.

From the Bristol Conference, he went home to acquaint his parents with his great undertaking. He told them in a gentle manner as possible. They consented to let him go. This, said his mother, was to fulfill the vision she had before his birth. He said goodbye to his parents and friends and returned to Bristol where Richard Wright was waiting for him to sail for America. When he came to Bristol, he had not one penny of money, but the Lord soon opened the hearts of friends who supplied him with clothes and ten pounds. He said, "I found by experience that the Lord will provide for those who trust him."

Rev. Asbury preached his last sermon in England just before he sailed for America. His text was from Psalms, Chapter 61, Verse 2, which reads as follows: "From the ends of the earth will I cry unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me in the rock that is higher than I."

He sailed from Bristol, England, with Richard Wright, September 4, 1771. Richard Wright stayed in America about two years then returned to England. Asbury said he was a short candle and soon burned out. Wright later gave up the ministry, but Asbury never returned to England.

For three days after the ship left port, he says, "I was very ill with seasickness and no sickness I ever knew was equal to it." He preached five sermons to the crew of the ship on the voyage to America.

On October 27, 1771, at the age of twenty-six, Rev. Asbury landed in Philadelphia as a missionary. He preached his first sermon in America on October 28, 1771, in St. George Church - now the oldest Methodist place of worship in America. This was seven years after the first Methodist Church was built in America - a small meeting house of logs on Sam's Creek in Maryland.

There were between 300 and 600 Methodists in the colonies at that time and they were concentrated chiefly in Philadelphia and New York.

Rev. Asbury became a citizen of the colony of Delaware. During the American Revolution, he sympathized with the American cause. He was at one time imprisoned on suspicion of loyalty to England, was released and permitted to resume his labors - but kept under surveillance for about ten years.

In 1774, the several Wesleyan societies in the United States were organized into the Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Asbury and the English Missionary, Dr. Thomas Coke, were elected joint superintendents. The next year, Rev. Asbury assumed the title of "Bishop." Thereafter, his life was devoted to preaching and the supervision and extension of Methodism. He became the first circuit rider in America. He wrote in his Journal, November 20, 1771, "My brothers seem unwilling to leave the cities, but I think I will show them the way." After he showed them the way, many others were to follow to bring Methodism to the colonies and the frontier as the great western migration began.

John Wesley's intemperate attack on the American cause, in his calm address to the American Colonies, cost the great founder of Methodism his influence in the New World. He then gave Asbury authority to conduct church affairs in America as he saw suitable and proper. Under Asbury's leadership and guidance, the Methodist church began to grow. The circuit rider system was well adapted to a new and sparsely settled country.

On May 26, 1783, Bishop Asbury and Coke traveled to Mount Vernon to call on General Washington. They were well received by the General who responded favorably to the business they brought on this occasion - the abolition of slavery in Virginia. The two bishops paid a formal visit to the Capitol, New York City, a month after Washington's inauguration as President of the United States to submit a greeting and congratulations on his inauguration.

In 1788, Bishop Asbury crossed the mountains from Morganton, North Carolina, through the gap east of roan Mountain, near the present town of Elk Park, North Carolina, into what is now Tennessee on his way to conference. He stopped at the home of Edward and Sallie Cox near the present Bluff City, Tennessee, to rest and refresh himself.

He held the first conference west of the Alleghenies at Stephen Kewoods in Washington County, Virginia May 13- 15, 1788. Keywood lived in a two-story log house. The Conference met in an upper room and sat for three days organizing the Holston circuit, which embraced all the settlements on Watauga, Nolichucky and Holston rivers - including those in what is now Greene, Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan and Hawkins counties in Tennessee; Washington, Smyth, Russell, Scott and Lee counties in Virginia.

Jeremiah Lambert has the honor of being the first Methodist preacher regularly appointed to charge west of the Alleghenies. This was before the Holston Circuit was organized. In 1783, he reported sixty members and, on year later, he reported seventy-six members - a gain of sixteen. In five years, the membership had grown into three hundred and sixty.

After Bishop Asbury held the Conference at Stephen Keywood's, he began to travel east to Pennsylvania to hold Conference in July 1788.

In 1790 Bishop Asbury held the Conference on the Holston and then passed through Moccasin Gap to visit the settlements on the Clinch River and in Powell Valley - going into the western edge of Kentucky - visiting as many different settlements as he could - preaching, holding prayer meetings, class meetings; talking to and praying with families as he spent a night or took a meal with them.

He made his trip into Kentucky over the Wilderness Road to organize a Kentucky Conference - ever interested in the spiritual welfare of the frontier people. He wrote in his Journal:

The people it must be confessed are amongst the kindest in the world, but kindness will not make a crowded log cabin twelve feet by ten agreeable for six adults and as many children no room to retire to and much loved solitude is not to be found, unless you choose to run out into the woods.

I found amongst my other trials I have taken the itch; and considering the filthy houses and filthy beds I have met with coming from the Kentucky Conference it is perhaps strange that I have not caught it twenty times. I do not see that there is any security against it but by sleeping in a brimstone shirt.

In 1796, Bishop Asbury visited the frontier settlements again going to the northern part of Russell County and head waters of the Clinch River preaching from time to time to such as could be found and gathered together.

The Holston district had formed the Clinch Circuit, which at this time included Scott, Russell and part of Lee County in Virginia, and part of Tennessee lying north of the Holston River. Bishop Asbury, in his Journal, makes the following entries concerning his visit to Fort Blackmore:

Wednesday, April 28, we have had cold weather and severe frost for two nights past we had a dreary ride down to the ford of Clinch through a solitary plain; many attended at L-S. We rode down to Blackmore's Station, here the people have been forted on the north side of the Clinch. Poor Blackmore had a son and daughter killed by the Indians. They are of opinion here that the Cherokees were the authors of this mischief. I also received an account of two families having been killed and of one female that was taken prisoner, and afterward retaken by the neighbors and brought back.

Thursday, April 29, called at James Osborne. Here I preached to an attentive congregation, and Richard Whatcoat performed a wedding ceremony for John Alley and Mary Porter after which they rode to Joseph Blackmore. Lord pity the people in these backwoods though living in jeopardy every day yet the greatest part of them seem to have no more religion than savage tribes.

Friday, April 30, Crossed the Clinch River about two miles below the fort. In passing along I saw the precipice from which Blackmore's unhappy son leaped into the river after receiving the stroke of the tomahawk in his head; I suppose by the measure of my eye it must between fifty and sixty feet high; his companion was shot dead upon the spot; this happened on the 6th of April 1789.

We came on a dreary road over rocks, ridges, hills, stones and streams along a blind and tortuous path to Mocheson Gap and Creek, thence to Smith's Ferry across the North branch of Holstein. Here I found some lies had been told about me. I was not moved.

Sometime in 1814, Bishop Asbury preached a memorial sermon of Dr. Thomas Coke. He was born at Brecon, South Wales October 9, 1747. He graduated at Jessus College Oxford in 1780. He was Wesley's assistant at the London Conference September 18, 1784. He sailed for the United States for the first time. He crossed the Atlantic eighteen times. In 1800, he was president of the American General Conference in Baltimore. He served as joint superintendent with Bishop Asbury. Later this title was changed to that of Bishop. He made his last visit to the United States in 1803.

Dr. Coke died on his way to Ceylon may 3, 1814. His servant knocked at his cabin door to awake him at the usual time, but heard no response. Opening the door, he beheld the lifeless body extended on the floor. A funeral service was held and his body was buried in the Indian Ocean.

In 1815, Bishop Asbury visited South Carolina. About Christmas time, he started to make his way toward Baltimore to attend the General Conference which was to meet in May. He became very ill with influenza which resulted in pulmonary consumption. He reached Richmond, VA, and preached his last sermon in that city March 24. He was carried from his carriage to the pulpit and placed on a table. He spoke from Romans Chapter 9, Verse 28, which reads as follows:

For he will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness; because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

In a few days, he reached the home of an old friend, George Arnold, in Spottsylvania County. He overheard the family talking of having a preaching appointment for him. He observed that they not be in any hurry - a remark so unusual that it gave Rev. John Bond uneasiness. After a bad night, a doctor was sent for but none could be found. As his condition grew worse he asked Rev. Bond to read the 21st chapter of Revelations, sing some old hymns and pray. He died March 31, 1816, at the age of 71. The prophet of the long road had died as he had lived by the side of the road he had traveled. He never had a home, a boarding place. He never owned any property. He had no address save America and the Methodist Church which he loved so much.

He was buried in the family burial ground of Mr. Arnold and, afterwards by order of the General Conference, his body was taken up and transferred to Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland. The gray granite slab which once served as a covering to his grave has been filled into the rear wall of the Eutah Street Church and it hears his epitaph.

Bishop Asbury crossed the Allegheny Mountains 60 times, preached 1600 sermons, ordained over 4000 ministers and presided at 224 conferences. It is estimated that, during his ministry, he traveled more than 270,000 miles.

Rev. Thomas Ware

Rev. Thomas Ware received letters from persons living down on the lower Holston informing him of their destitute conditions and imploring him to give aid. He left his home in New Jersey in 1787 and remained there until 1789.

He was a man of learning and intellectual force, a great power in the pulpit as well as in fireside conversations.

Rev. Ware was exposed to hostile Indians as he rode from one settlement to another on the Holston frontier. He was saved one time after his horse gave an alarm and turned and ran in the opposite direction.

One time, while preaching at a private residence, the congregation was alarmed by the cry of "Indians." Instantly every man seized his rifle and sallied forth to ascertain the cause of the alarm. On coming out of the cabin, they saw two lads running and screaming, "The Indians have killed mother." They followed and found a Mrs. Carter had been tomahawked. She had been making sugar. She had decided against going to hear Rev. Ware because she was much troubled about her spiritual condition and confused.

Antinomian preachers came to this section at an early date and succeeded in prejudicing the people against the Methodists and finally against all religion. They preached that God is not loving to every man and that mercy is not over all his works; that Christ did not die for all but only a select number of mankind.

These confusions cost Mrs. Carter her life. If she had gone to Church, her life would have been saved. Her funeral was held the next day at her home.

After holding the funeral of Mrs. Carter, Rev. Ware went to the lowest settlement on the Holston and found the people at various places in a state of alarm and devising means of defense against the Indians, from whom they expected no mercy. Many were astonished that the preacher would hazard his life to visit them at such a crisis. They showed great kindness toward him, heard his sermons and conversations with close and respectful attention - and guarded him from place to place.

Once, while traveling alone through the forest on the Holston, he became very ill and had to lie down beside the path. It began to rain. With great effort, he succeeded in mounting his horse. He did not reach a settlement until night fall. He called at the first house he came to and solicited lodging, but was abruptly refused. He had heard of a Quaker living in the settlement, and requested the man to direct him to his home. The man complied with a significant shrug of his shoulders. When Rev. Ware reached the Quaker's home, he found a sarcastic deist instead of a warm friend. The Quaker said that the intended visit and character of Mr. Ware were well known and that neither he nor his neighbors had any use for a priest of any kind; he thought therefore that he had as well pass them by. Mr. Ware then said that, whatever the difference of their religious views might be, there was a debt of humanity owned to each other and, if there be any flesh in his heart, he would not deny a fellow man shelter from the storm during the night. He replied, "Young man, if thou wouldst follow some honest calling, honest men would make thee welcome. There is a neighbor Hodge whose wife is old and ugly and he may give thee lodging." They gave him shelter but treated him badly. They would give him no supper and he had to sleep on a dirt floor without cover.

After a visit to the Nollichucky River country, he returned to new Jersey, where he died March 11, 1842, at the age of 84 years.

Perhaps a poem by George B. Staff, titled "A Brother's Hand," best sums up the feeling of the circuit riders in the Holston Country when people on the frontier made them welcome.

When you're feeling all downhearted
and life's hard to understand,
Say! It's fine to feel the Pressure
Of a Brother's friendly hand.
Just to know he sympathizes,
Though he doesn't say a word;
How it starts your courage climbing,
As your heart is touched and stirred.

With an arm across your shoulder,
And a grip you Love to find;
How it makes you feel the bounding
Of the hearts of humankind.

It is just a little token
Of an ever growing band;
For there's faith, hope and courage
In a brother's friendly hand.

Elizabeth Russell

Elizabeth Russell could well be called the First Lady of Methodism in the Holston Country. Born in Hanover County, Virginia, July 10, 1749, she was a sister of Patrick Henry - the great orator and patriot of the American Revolution.

Her first husband was Col. William Campbell of King's Mountain fame. He died August 22, 1781. She then married General William Russell of Revolutionary War fame, for whom Russell County, Virginia, was named. He removed from Aspenvale to the "Salt Lick" (as it was then called - afterwards known as "Preston's Salt Works") in Smyth County, Virginia. General Russell died January 14, 1793.

Mrs. Russell was converted to Methodism in 1788, one week before the first Holston Conference was held. The preachers had met at the home of Stephen Keywood to prepare for the conference. John Tunnell and Thomas Ware were two of the outstanding preachers. It was under their preaching that she was converted.

It is said by the people who knew her, this good and great woman became a flame of Christian zeal not surpassed in ancient or modern times. Her home as appointed as a regular preaching place for the circuit riders and laymen. She had a movable pulpit in her spacious living room, which could be moved to suit the needs of the congregation. No minister ever went any empty handed. She always gave something - a new suit, shoes, money and extra food to carry with him when he went on the frontier.

In those days people kept slaves - bought and sold them as they did any other property - and the Russell family was no exception. But, after her conversion, this business of buying and selling slaves began to bother her conscience. She wrote the following to emancipate her slaves:

Whereas by the wrong doing of men it hath been the unfortunate lot of the following Negores to be slaves for life to- wit: (Here she names all her slaves) and where as believing the same have come into my possession by the direction of Providence and concerning from the clearest conviction of my conscience aided by the Power of a good and Just God, that it is both sinful and unjust, as they are by nature equally free with myself, to continue them in slavery. I do, therefore by these presents, under the influence of a duty I not only owe my conscience, but the Just God who made us all, make free the said Negroes hoping while they are free of man they will faithfully serve their maker through the merits of Christ. Signed Elizabeth Russell, 21st day of July, 1795.

A few weeks subsequent to her death, her funeral was preached to a large concourse of people assembled at the grave where she is buried. The sermon was from Mark, Chapter 14, Verse 9, which reads as follows:

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

The sermon was preached by Rev. Isaac Lewis.

William McKendree

William McKendree, the first American born bishop, was born in King William County, Virginia, July 5, 1757. He had little formal education, but over the years by reading and study, he became self-educated. He learned to speak his mother tongue with precision and force.

He enlisted in the Continental Army, rose to the rank of Adjutant, and was present in that capacity when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. The experience thus acquired in dealing with men proved of great value to him in coming years - when he rode as captain with his itinerant host on to the frontier.

He was converted to Methodism in 1787 and the next year was sent as assistant preacher to Mecklenburg Circuit. He had not been licensed to preach - nor had he been consulted on the subject. The presiding elder said to him, "While you were standing before the Conference, I believe that God showed me he had work for you to do." He was a circuit riding preacher for eight years and had shown great results in his work.

At the session of the Virginia Conference which met at Salem Chapel, Mecklenburg County, November 24, 1795, Bishop Asbury appointed McKendree to a district that stretched form the Chesapeake Bay northward and westward over the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny mountains to include the Holston Country. On May 18, 1808, McKendree was ordained by Bishop Asbury as bishop. After Asbury's death, McKendree became senior bishop.

Bishop McKendree died March 5, 1835, and was buried beside his father. Forty years later, his remains were taken up and reinterred on the campus of Vanderbilt University.

The year 1800 was the start of the Great Revival which swept the western territory. In two years membership increased in the western Conference from one thousand to nearly three thousand. Homes, schools and churches were inadequate to accommodate the throngs that came to hear the circuit riders. This was the beginning of the camp meetings.

William McKendree had sent his circuit riders into this new country west of the Allegheny Mountains to preach the word of God from homes, schools, camp meetings, churches, or any place people could be brought together.

In twelve years the membership had grown so large and the territory was so large that one bishop could not oversee the business of the church. So a new conference was created out of the Western Conference to include the Holston District which covered Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, much of Western North Carolina, and the northern tip of Georgia.

At the General Conference of 1824, held in the home of Hugh Lawson White on East Main Street, Knoxville, Tennessee, Bishop Robert R. Roberts presided.

Provisions were made for the organization of the Holston Conference within the following limits: to include all that part of the state of Tennessee lying east of the Cumberland Mountains, that part of Virginia and North Carolina embraced in the Holston District; also the Black Mountains and French Broad circuits formerly belonging to the South Carolina Conference. At this time there were 42 preachers and 14,934 members. At present (1981) the Holston Conference has 1050 churches and 600+ preachers, three colleges and one children's home.

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