Methodist Circuit Rider at a Dance

Peter CartwrightPeter Cartwright was a big, tough man who loved God with all his heart.  He was a colorful circuit riding Methodist preacher.  Here is a story of one stop he made where he intended to spend the night.  Remember there were no Holiday Inns or other motels during that era.  There were large homes along the way that sometimes functioned as inns where travelers could rent a room for the night.  It was at one such home that the evangelist, weary from a long and tiresome horse ride stopped for the night.  You will enjoy the account as given in his own words.
By Rev. Peter Cartwright.
From Autobiography of Peter Cartwright. Chapter XVI. The Mountain Preacher Year -1820 .

Traveling home from the General Conference held in Baltimore, Maryland. Shortly after this Brother Walker left me to visit some of his old friends and relatives in West Tennessee, and I journeyed on toward my home in Christian County, Kentucky. Saturday night came on, and found me in a strange region of country, and in the hills, knobs, and spurs of the Cumberland Mountains. I greatly desired to stop on the approaching Sabbath, and spend it with a Christian people; but I was now in a region of country where there was no Gospel minister for many miles around, and where, as I learned, many of the scattered population had never heard a Gospel sermon in all their lives, and where the inhabitants know no Sabbath only to hunt and visit, drink and dance. Thus lonesome and pensive, late in the evening, I hailed at a tolerably decent house, and the landlord kept entertainment. I rode up and asked for quarters. The gentleman said I could stay, but he was afraid I would not enjoy myself very much as a traveler, inasmuch as they had a party meeting there that night to have a little dance. I inquired how far it was to a decent house of entertainment on the road; he said seven miles. I told him if he would treat me civilly and feed my horse well, by his leave I would stay. He assured me I should be treated civilly. I dismounted and went in. The people collected, a large company. I saw there was not much drinking going on.

I quietly took my seat in one corner of the house, and the dance commenced. I sat quietly musing, a total stranger, and greatly desired to preach to this people. Finally, I concluded to spend the next day (Sabbath Editor’s note: Sunday) there, and ask the privilege to preach to them. I had hardly settled this point in my mind, when a beautiful, ruddy young lady walked very gracefully up to me, dropped a handsome courtesy, and pleasantly, with winning smiles, invited me out to take a dance with her. I can hardly describe my thoughts or feelings on that occasion. However, in a moment, I resolved on a desperate experiment. I rose as gracefully as I could; I will not say with some emotion, but with many emotions. The young lady moved to my right side; I grasped her right hand with my right hand, while she leaned her left arm on mine. In this position we walked on the floor. The whole company seemed pleased at this act of politeness in the young lady, shown to a stranger. The colored man, who was the fiddler, began to put his fiddle in the best order. I then spoke to the fiddler to hold a moment, and added that for several years I had not undertaken any matter of importance without first asking the blessing of God upon it, and I desired now to ask the blessing of God upon this beautiful young lady and the whole company, that had shown such an act of politeness to a total stranger.

Here I grasped the young lady’s hand tightly, and said, “Let us all kneel down and pray,” and then instantly dropped on my knees, and commenced praying with all the power of soul and body that I could command. The young lady tried to get loose from me, but I held her tight. Presently she fell on her knees. Some of the company kneeled, some stood, some fled, some sat still, all looked curious. The fiddler ran off into the kitchen, saying, “Lord a marcy, what de matter? What is dat mean?” While I prayed some wept, and wept out aloud, and some cried for mercy. I rose from my knees and commenced an exhortation, after which I sang a hymn. The young lady who invited me on the floor lay prostrate, crying earnestly for mercy. I exhorted again, I sang and prayed nearly all night. About fifteen of that company professed religion, and our meeting lasted next day and next night, and as many more were powerfully converted. I organized a society, took thirty-two into the Church, and sent them a preacher. My landlord was appointed leader, which post he held for many years. This was the commencement of a great and glorious revival of religion in that region of the country.  Several of the young men converted at this Methodist preacher dance became useful ministers of Jesus Christ.

I recall this strange scene of my life with astonishment to this day, and do not permit myself to reason on it much.  In some conditions of society, I should have failed; in others I should have been mobbed; in others I should have been considered a lunatic. So far as I did permit myself to reason on it at the time, my conclusions were something like these: These are a people not Gospel taught or hardened. They, at this early hour, have not drunk to intoxication, and they will at least be as much alarmed at me and my operation, as I possibly can be at theirs. If I fail, it is no disgrace; if I succeed, it will be a fulfillment of a duty commanded, to be “instant in season and out of season.” Surely, in all human wisdom, it was out of season, but I had, from some cause or other, a strong impression on my mind, from the beginning to the end of this affair, (if it is ended,) that I should succeed by taking the devil at surprise, as he had often served me, and thereby be avenged of him for giving me so much trouble on my way to General Conference and back thus far.

The actions prompted by those sudden impressions to perform religious duty, often succeed beyond all human calculation, and thereby inspire a confident belief in an immediate superintending agency of the Divine Spirit of God. In this agency of the Holy Spirit of God I have been a firm believer of more that fifty-four years, and I do firmly believe that if the ministers of the present day had more of the unction or baptismal fire of the Holy Ghost prompting their ministerial efforts, we should succeed much better than we do, and be more successful in winning souls to Christ than we are. If those ministers, or young men that think they are called of God to minister in the word and doctrine of Jesus Christ, were to cultivate, by a holy life, a better knowledge of this supreme agency of the Divine Spirit, and depend less on the learned theological knowledge of Biblical institutes, it is my opinion they would do vastly more good than they are likely to do; and I would humbly ask, is not this the grand secret of the success of all early pioneer preachers, from John Wesley down to the present day?

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