This Week's Story

Meet a pioneer circuit rider, Peter Cartwright.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Frontier Marathon

“So, you’re telling me these frontier preachers were crooks.”

“Yep, that’s what I’m telling you.  One would come to a town and start having meetings every night.  He’d get the people laughing. Then he’d terrify them with talk of hell, rip off the money they put into the collection plate, and no pretty girl was safe around him.  Yah, that’s what those frontier preachers were like.”

“You’re downright ignorant.  Of course there were crooks, but do you know anything about circuit riders like Peter Cartrwright?”

“Not really, but talk on.”

On the American frontiers there were huge wilderness areas and few towns.  Dedicated circuit riders, also called saddlebag preachers, came. From the late 1700’s until the Civil War, these preachers, would be assigned an area, called a circuit.     They preached almost every day in any possible place.

Most were young men in their twenties.  They had to be tough and

endure loneliness.  They travelled by horseback with their belongings in their saddlebags.  They were fortunate if they received $40.00 for a year. Theirs was a calling, not a career. They were determined to tell the nation about God.  The Bible was their book.  They rode through rivers with no bridges and wore wet clothing for hours in cold weather.  About half of these men died before they were thirty-three years old.

Peter Cartwright was perhaps the most famous of the riders.  For twenty years he rode the circuits of the unsettled west.

In Ohio, Peter, at age 23, had not been home for three years.  His horse had gone blind; his saddle and clothes were worn out. He had 75 cents left.  He went home for a few weeks.  His folks received him joyfully.  Before he left, his dad gave him a new bridle and saddle, new clothing, a good horse, and forty dollars.

Many stories are told of Peter’s courage and strength.  In one series of meetings a group of roughnecks caused trouble.  They were arrested and fined.  They made plans to get back at Cartwright, which he heard about.  After drinking whisky, they mounted and raced their horses to the camp. As the leader approached the entrance, Peter stepped in front of him.  The roughneck raised his club and demanded, “Move, Cartwright, or I’ll knock you down.”

Peter shouted, “Crack away.”

He struck, but Peter dodged and knocked the guy off his horse.  The guy’s foot caught in the stirrup and he was dragged several yards before getting free.   Peter helped the fellow, who was fined $50.00, and bothered camp meetings no more.

Peter was known for being outspoken.  He was asked to go to Nashville, Tennessee and preach at a city church.  As he started preaching, he noticed General Jackson enter the church.  There were no available seats, so the general leaned against a post.  Mr. Mac, the minister in charge saw him and whispered loudly, “General Jackson has come in.”

Peter was disgusted with the minister’s attitude of being a people-pleaser and said, “Who is General Jackson?  If he doesn’t get his soul converted, God will damn him as quick as he would a -----------.”  And I will leave that blank.  General Jackson and the people listening burst out laughing.

Later Peter saw the general, who smiled and shook his hand.  “Mr. Cartwright, you are a man after my own heart.  I am very much surprised at Mr. Mac, to think he would suppose that I would be offended at you.  No, sir; I told him that I highly approved of your independence; and that a minister of Jesus Christ ought to love everybody and fear no mortal man.”

Cartwright personally baptized 12,000 converts, was married, and elected twice to the Illinois state legislature.  He ran for the United States Congress and was defeated by Abraham Lincoln. He was powerful in speaking against slavery.  Who Peter was, shows the dedication of men who rode to bring God’s light to the frontiers.

This is Barbara Steiner with a story from American history.

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