Freeborn Garrettson: Methodism’s Paul Revere
Freeborn Garrettson was one of the first American born preachers to serve the Methodist Church. His ministry began in 1775 and his 50 years of service was an unusually long tenure for a Methodist preacher of his day. Historian the Rev. Alfred Day says that Freeborn Garrettson is a name all United Methodists should know.
(YouTube clip from "Clayride") “Freeborn Garrettson rode for weeks…”
He was called the Paul Revere of American Methodism.
Rev. Alfred T. Day: “He is literally second only to Francis Asbury in significance in early American Methodism and establishing it."
In 1784, Freeborn Garrettson rode 1200 miles in six weeks, explains historian John Strawbridge.
John Strawbridge, Historian, Lovely Lane United Methodist Church: “...the man who was sent from Barratt’s Chapel in Delaware to gather all the preachers in America for the Christmas Conference. Imagine one guy being sent to gather all the preachers in America.”
At the conference that established the Methodist Episcopal Church, Garrettson was ordained an elder. He rode a circuit in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. His passion for Methodism was born at 23 after hearing Robert Strawbridge preach.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “Freeborn Garrettson said of his spiritual awakening: ‘The enmity of my heart was slain; salvation was open to me. I felt the power of faith and love I had been a stranger to my whole life.’ Isn’t that wonderful? It also stands in powerful connection to, you know, John Wesley. ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed.’”
Garrettson was born in 1752 into a wealthy family in Maryland and he inherited his parents' plantation and a large number of slaves. But Garrettson said he heard God’s voice say, "Let the oppressed go free.”
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “He freed his slaves. He got himself in some trouble preaching against slavery in a slave state like Maryland was, where slavery was very, very prominent, and was thrown in jail in Cambridge, Maryland.”
Undeterred, he continued to be an outspoken abolitionist and his influence led to the emancipation of Richard Allen who founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination.
Garrettson went on to serve as a missionary to Novia Scotia and to ride a circuit in New York. Garrettson married Catherine Livingston and their home was known to itinerant Methodist preachers as the Travelers Rest.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “Because of her own spiritual depth and engagement, it wasn’t just a place where you met a friendly face and had a nice meal, but engaged in deep spiritual conversation."
Garretson’s papers from 50 years of ministry mention his fellow preachers and traveling companions including Francis Asbury, Richard Allen and Harry Hosier. Garrettson passed away in New York in 1827 at the age of 76.
Learn more about Freeborn Garrettson and early circuit riders.
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting highlights from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos here.
This video was first posted on February 5, 2018.