Peter Cartwright: Memorable Methodist Circuit Rider
Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) was a Methodist circuit rider known for his colorful appearance and direct manner. Cartwright became a preacher in 1802 and was later ordained by Francis Asbury and William McKendree. In 1812 he was appointed a presiding elder (now District Superintendent), and he served in that office for the next fifty years. The Rev. Alfred Day with the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History shares an 1855 National Magazine article written about this colorful preacher.
(Voice of the Rev. Alfred Day reading) “He was war-torn and weather beaten. His face wrinkled and tough. His eyes small and twinkling. And his hair looks as if he had poked it into a bag of Kilkenny cats and had not had time to comb it since.”
Peter Cartwright was a Methodist circuit rider known for his appearance and his direct manner, recounts the Rev. Alfred Day, who heads the church’s Archives and History agency.
Cartwright even told future U.S. president, General Andrew Jackson, that he would be damned to hell if he did not repent. The frontier was a rough place for early circuit riders, says Day, but Cartwright had a reputation for holding his own. He spent nearly 50 years taking the gospel to “places where only crows and Methodist preachers” would venture.
(Voice of Rev. Alfred Day, reading) “I had been from my father’s house about three years with 500 miles from home. My horse had gone blind. My saddle worn out. My bridle reins had been eaten up and replaced at least a dozen times. My clothes had been patched ‘til it was difficult to detect the original any longer. I had just 75 cents in my pocket. By the time I reached the Ohio River opposite Maysville, the money was gone. My parents received me joyfully. I tarried with them several weeks. My father gave me a fresh horse, a bridle, a saddle, some new clothes and 40 dollars cash. Thus equipped I was ready for another three-year absence.”
The Rev. Alfred Day: “There was such a passion to communicate that message that somebody would endure their clothes basically falling off their back, just to be able to share that message.”
Cartwright was known as a talented preacher, orator and influential leader. He challenged and beat Abraham Lincoln for a seat on the Illinois legislature, then lost to the future president a decade later in an 1846 bid for Congress.
Credited with 8,000 baptisms and 10,000 new church members, at retirement, Cartwright said these words:
(Voice of the Rev. Alfred Day, reading) “That with all the losses and crosses, labors and sufferings peculiar to the life of a Methodist traveling preacher, I would take the same track over and over and over again with the same religion to bear me up rather than be president of the United States. I ask your prayers that you will remember an old man who has spent his long life in the service of the church. And I would do it again.”
The Peter Cartwright Church in Pleasant Plains, Illinois is a Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church. The church is an active United Methodist congregation and Cartwright’s pulpit is still used.
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 May 31, 2017.