Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia
Publication No. 17 - 1983
METHODISM COMES TO THE HOLSTON
By Omer C.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
proved a rich source for useful gums and resins. It was from the pines
that the pioneers got turpentine.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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.
speaking unto the persons that are to be married, he shall say:
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.
impediment be alleged, then shall the minister say unto the man:
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 minister say unto the woman:
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?
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.
the minister join their right hands together, and say:
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.
minister shall add this blessing:
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.
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.
certificate of marriage reads as follows:
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
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.
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:
grace! How sweet the sound
saved a wretch like me!
once was lost, but now am found,
blind, but now I see.
was sung by the congregation. This was done until all six verses had
been lined and sung.
Grace was written by John Newton after his conversion. He at one time
was a slave trader and captain of a slave ship.
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.
would do such a good job with their converts that they go about their
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.
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.
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.
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.
Society under Wesley's leadership had grown beyond Oxford and the
community in which it was founded, and branch societies were formed.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
died in 1791 and was buried in the graveyard of City Road Chapel,
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
Born June 17, 1703, Died March 2, 1791
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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
between 300 and 600 Methodists in the colonies at that time and they
were concentrated chiefly in Philadelphia and New York.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Asbury held the Conference at Stephen Keywood's, he began to travel east
to Pennsylvania to hold Conference in July 1788.
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:
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
He was a man
of learning and intellectual force, a great power in the pulpit as well
as in fireside conversations.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
visit to the Nollichucky River country, he returned to new Jersey, where
he died March 11, 1842, at the age of 84 years.
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.
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
Of an ever growing band;
For there's faith, hope and courage
In a brother's friendly hand.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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
was preached by Rev. Isaac Lewis.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
General Conference of 1824, held in the home of Hugh Lawson White on
East Main Street, Knoxville, Tennessee, Bishop Robert R. Roberts
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.