History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
(continued from last month)
This encounter with General Jackson would lean one to believe that Preacher Cartwright and General Jackson did not know each other, however in 1814 Cartwright was reportedly a Chaplin in the War of 1812, and present at the Battle of New Orleans. Before entering the battle, General Jackson called his Chaplin’s together and exhorted them “to preach to the soldiers of the cause and assure them, if they die in battle, they would go straight to heaven.” Cartwright replied, “General, I can’t quite go that far, but I can say I believe our cause is of God, and that any of them should be killed, God in that last account would give any of them credit for their sacrifices.” Apparently in the 1818 church encounter, Jackson and Cartwright already knew one another, and imposing their little joke on the “city preacher” and his credulous congregation.
Rowdies often interrupted Peter’s meetings. When one thug promised to whip him, Peter invited the man to step into the woods with him. The two started for trees. Leaping over a fence at the edge of the campground, Peter landed painfully and clutched his side. The bully shouted that the preacher was going for a dagger and ran away. Once, on a ferry boat, Cartwright overheard someone denounced him as a “Methodist horse thief” by a man who promised him a good liking should they ever meet. “Come” said the preacher, making himself known, “I am the man you propose to trash. Either whip me as you threaten, or quit cursing me, or else I will put you in the river and baptize you in the name of the devil.” The sinner quailed, and became converted to Methodism under the grip of the compelling Cartwright.
Such events gave him a name. A story spread that he even confronted legendary river boatman Mike Fink. Cartwright claims this encounter never happened, but stories kept cropping up in newspapers and books from Georgia, to New York, to Illinois State Journal. According to the article, Fink appears with his gang and attempts to disrupt one of Cartwright’s meetings in Alton, Illinois. Cartwright soon grows tired of the rowdies and descends the pulpit in order to “make the devil pray.” He quickly fells the riverman with a “prodigious punch of his herculean fist,” then pins him by the windpipe until Fink agrees to repeat the Lord’s Prayer after Cartwright, line by line. Thereafter, the rowdies behave with “exemplary decorum” throughout the remainder of the meeting. The story was repeated by James B. Finley, another gifted and famous Methodist circuit rider.
Peter Cartwright tells the story of two fashionably dressed sisters that attended one of his meetings in 1804. Their brothers, who didn’t attend the meeting, but stayed outside, saw their sisters get the jerks. This greatly disturbed them, and they determined to horse whip Cartwright outside the church. They said they had seen him take something out of his pocket and give to their sisters and that’s why they got the jerks. What they didn’t know was Peter Cartwright often carried a tin of peppermints in his pocket and would put one in his mouth before he spoke. Peter, trying to diffuse the situation, answered them directly. “I need not deny it,” he said, “Yes, I gave them the jerks and I can give them to you.” Fear struck the brothers and they ran away yelling at him not to follow them or they would kill him.
Cartwright also demonstrates his humor when he relates a story of a woman in one of his parishes who often annoyed him by going off on a high key. One day in class meeting, with her soul in ecstatic emotions, she rapturously cried out, “If I had one more feather in the wing of my soul, I would fly away and be with my savior.” “Stick in the other feather, Lord” interjected Cartwright, “and let her go!”
(To be continued next month)
Sources: Dan Graves, MSL “Colorful Peter Cartwright, Circuit Rider”
Robert Bray, Illinois Wesleyan University “Beating the Devil: Life and Art in Peter Cartwright’s Autobiography”
Leewin Williams and Kenneth Alley: “The Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor and Wisdom”