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What Books Circuit Riders Carried

In public squares and on college campuses, images of circuit riders are a tribute to the traveling preachers in the late 17 and 1800's who spread Methodism into the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Circuit riders are often depicted with a book in hand. Religious tracts and books carried on horseback were the vital seeds of church planting.


From the late 17 to the late 1800's, a long-haul preacher's horse was his home, carrying the bare minimum in personal property to make room for treasured texts.

The Rev. Alfred T. Day, General Commission on Archives and History: "If you think about people living on the edges and the margins of the developing country, the circuit riders carrying books to the ends of the earth, that represented the public dialog or the religious dialog, really as a means to how to find out what the rest of the world was thinking, was really very important thing."

Early evangelists carried hymnals, prayer books and sermon texts, says church historian the Rev. Alfred Day.

The Rev. Alfred T. Day "In his saddlebag he would have carried copies of the Methodist Discipline for sale."

Dale Patterson, General Commission on Archives and History: "That might seem strange to us, like, 'Wow who is gonna' sit down and read the Discipline?' You would get comments on how to go visiting a friend and then you could read one of Wesley's sermons on grace. It was useful. It was actually interesting."

Also popular was John Wesley's "Primitive Physic," a practical book of home remedies compiled by Methodism's founder. And "Graces Before Meat" which included prayers before meals written by John Wesley.

Books were designed to fit in a coat pocket or purse to be used in church meetings and taken home for daily devotions. Church archivist Dale Patterson holds an 1813 Methodist hymnal.

Dale Patterson: "It's just the words. There's no music. We were encouraged to know a certain number of tunes and most of the hymns would go with those tunes. It's also very small print. I pity the poor person who had to typeset this."


The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting from the history of the denomination.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.
Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on March 1, 2018.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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