Sketches of the first settlements in North America; its discovery; Florida the first settlement made on the continent, Virginia next, in 1607; landing of the Pilgrims; New Hampshire, 1623; Maryland 1634; Rhode Island, 1636; Connecticut; New York, 1615; Delaware, 1631; New Jersey, 1664; North Carolina, 1660; South Carolina, 1670; Pennsylvania, first visited by Penn in 1682; Georgia, 1733; Vermont, 1744; general character of the colonists; motives by which they were actuated; and effect of their conduct; object of this sketch; general state of the colonies in the 17th century; efforts to convert the Indians; general state of religion and morals; tribute of respect to New England; pure religion rather low; Whitefield's labors, and their effects; state of religion in Virginia; in the middle provinces; in the southern; general state of things about the middle of the 18th century; favorable to missionary effort; Slavery in the colonies; historical sketch of slavery; its introduction into the colonies; object of these remarks; proper divisions of the history.
In presenting a history of this denomination of Christians to the reader, it seems proper to introduce it by a few historical sketches of the first settlements of the country, accompanied with an account of the civil and religious state of the people at the time Methodism was introduced.
The discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, awakened a spirit of bold and adventurous enterprise in Europe to which the minds of men heretofore had been strangers, and gave them an impulse in quite a new direction. The impetus thus given to European adventure received a fresh impulse by the discovery of the northern continent of the new world, by John and Sebastian Cabot, father and son, in 1497, only five years after the intrepid Columbus had solved the problem respecting the existence of a western hemisphere.
Within the boundaries of these United States the first permanent settlement was made by the Spaniards; for though the Cabots were the first to discover the continent, and Columbus the first European who set foot on the islands bordering upon the American coast, it is manifest that no permanent settlement was made on the continent until it was effected by Melendez, who took possession of Florida September 7, in 1565, in the name of his master, Philip II., king of Spain, and on the next day laid the foundation of the town of St. Augustine, deriving the name from the saint on whose day he came upon the coast.
After many ineffectual attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh, a statesman uniting in himself the qualities of a philosopher, a Christian, and a hero, to found a settlement in Virginia, at a place now within the bounds of North Carolina, May 13, 1607, forty-one years after the foundation for St. Augustine was laid, the colony was founded at Jamestown, on James River; the river and town being named in honor of the sovereign, James I. of England, under whose auspices the enterprise was planned and executed. In the charter granted to this colony, it was stipulated that religion should be established according to the doctrines and ritual of the Church of England; and so it continued until after the independence of the United States was achieved.
The next settlement was made by the |pilgrims,| who, after a tedious voyage, and many perilous escapes, landed on the Plymouth Rock, on Monday, December 11, 1620. This was the foundation of the colonies of New England; and it was made by a company of bold, independent, religious adventurers, who fled from persecution in the old, to seek an asylum of religious liberty in the new world.
From this small beginning the state of Massachusetts dates its origin. These pilgrims had imbibed the principles of Congregationalism, and hence this system became, in the growth of the colony, the established, and, in some respects, the intolerant religion of the land; and, with some mitigation in the eternal of its principles, which grew out of the improvements of the times and the progress of civil and religious liberty, remained so until some time after the revolution had effected the independence of these United States.
In 1623 settlements were established on the banks of the Piscataqua River, and Portsmouth and Dover are among the oldest towns in New England. These were included in the grant made to those who afterward were instrumental in rearing the state of New Hampshire, in which the same religious principles predominated that characterized Massachusetts.
In 1634 the colony of Maryland was settled by Mr. Calvert, a descendant of Lord Baltimore. May 27th of this year Mr. Calvert founded the village of St. Mary's, situated on the river of the same name. Though a Roman Catholic, yet, witnessing the intolerant spirit which reigned at home, and also pervaded to some extent the colonies in the new world, he was careful to provide for the free exercise of religion under his chartered rights: and thus a Roman Catholic, adhering to a system of religion justly considered the most intolerant of all the modifications of Christianity extant, had the honor of exhibiting to the savages and settlers of this western world the first example of religious freedom. And among all the colonies, none, except that of Rhode Island, were more strenuous asserters of civil and religious freedom, as exhibited in a truly republican government, than were the first settlers of Maryland.
The next founder of a pure religious republic was Roger Williams. After suffering various persecutions from the magistrates of Massachusetts, for the bold, Scriptural, and rational manner in which he asserted and vindicated the principles of civil and religious liberty, he became a voluntary exile from the colony to which he had come to avoid religious persecution at home, and, in company with five companions, landed at a place in the wilderness which he called, as a pious memento of the goodness of God toward him and his fellow exiles, Providence, affirming in the fullness of his heart, |I desired it might be for shelter for persons distressed in conscience.| This happened in June, 1636, was the beginning of the colony of Rhode Island, As it was a love of religious freedom which led to the settlement of the colony, so it has ever continued to be distinguished by this excellent trait of the Christian character.
From the colony of Massachusetts, Connecticut received its first emigrants; and, in 1661, under the government of the estimable Winthrop, the new settlements of Hartford and New Haven, hitherto independent of each other, became united under one charter -- a charter which guarantied to them the rights of conscience and the blessings of civil liberty. As the settlers of this part of the country were the like hardy sons of the puritans with those who built up the Colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, so they established for themselves similar regulations in respect to religion and morals, distinguished by a rigid adherence to the Scriptures, as interpreted and applied by the Congregationalists. Though less severe toward other sectarists than their elder brethren, yet they were exclusive in their views of church order and discipline, and so remained even after the tree of liberty had succeeded the pillar of royalty.
As early as 1615, six years after Hudson entered the noble river which bears his name, a settlement was begun by the Dutch on Manhattan Island, (now New York,) and probably in the same year at Albany. The political and religious disputes with which the states of Holland were agitated at that time, very much retarded the progress of the infant settlement in this colony. These having in a measure subsided, soon after, through the agency of the Dutch West India Company, the work of colonization went forward more prosperously, and New York soon took its destined place among American colonies, as one of the stars which was to illuminate this Western hemisphere. As traffic, not religion, nor civil liberty, led to the first settlement of this portion of our country, it was not only slow in its progress, but indistinguishable for any other religious or civil character than that which pervaded the institutions of Holland. They were Protestants of the Calvinistic school, and aristocratic in their civil institutions. The progress of events, however, introduced various sects into the province, subject to those restrictions which the colonial legislature saw fit to impose.
In 1631 the state of Delaware received its first emigrants from Holland, under the guardianship of De Vries, who established themselves near the site of Lewistown. These were under the influence of the same principles with those who had taken possession of New York. It afterward, in the year 1638, received an accession of emigrants from Sweden, who formed a settlement near the mouth of Christiana Creek. Of the religious state of this colony little is known, only that, when they sailed, they were provided with a religious teacher. The Reformation, however, had already taken firm hold of Sweden, and hence we may presume that Protestantism was early interwoven in their civil compact.
In 1664 New Jersey received a separate and independent colonial existence. Before this period it had been claimed both by the Dutch, Swedes, and English, and the settlers were from each of these nations, most of whom were from the older colonies which had established on the continent. The charter by which the people held their rights contained the seeds civil and religious liberty, and all claimed the right of worshipping God according to the dictates of their consciences. What was called |West New Jersey,| was first settled by the Quakers, who established themselves on the east bank of the Delaware River, and founded the town of Burlington in 1677.
About the year 1660 North Carolina was colonized. It was first peopled by some adventurous emigrants from New England and Virginia, by whom, however, it was soon abandoned, on account of the rigorous measures adopted by the wealthy proprietors, to whom the country was granted by King Charles II. Unlike most of the other colonies, this appears to have been undertaken by its original proprietors for the sake of improving their fortune; but so widely had the seeds of civil and religious liberty been sown in the American soil, that it was extremely difficult, if indeed not impossible, to plant any colony here, with a prospect of success, without the nutriment of rational liberty. Accordingly, the proprietors were compelled to yield to the spirit of the times, and grant to the settlers of North Carolina the liberty of self-government; and, in the language of the historian of those times, |the shield of ecclesiastical oppression was swathed in independence.| Then were they enabled to take a stand among the sister colonies, as another star in the bright constellation which began to shed a luster in this western hemisphere.
In 1670 South Carolina was founded, and the first settlement was made on the banks of Ashley River, of which, however, nothing now remains to mark the spot, except the line of a moat which served for a defense against the natives. This colony, resisting the attempts which were made by the proprietaries to establish a despotic government, was established on the basis of republican liberty, by which the rights of conscience were guarantied to the colonists. The first permanent settlement was made on a neck of land called Oyster Point, now the city of Charleston, in 1673. The principles of religion were early incorporated in the civil institutions of South Carolina, granting to all sects the liberty of worshipping God in the manner most agreeable to themselves, and the colony was enriched by many of those pious and persecuted Huguenots, who fled from the intolerance of the bigoted Louis XIV., whose troubled conscience played easily into the hands of his stern and more bigoted advisers.
The colony of Pennsylvania was first settled by Quakers, chiefly emigrants from West Jersey. But in 1682 William Penn himself arrived in the Delaware, and landed at Newcastle, on the western bank of that noble river, where he found a company of Swedes, Dutch, and English, to welcome his approach. In Chester he found a few of his honest followers. In the early part of the month of November he landed at the site of Philadelphia; and the next year he formed the grand treaty with the Indians beneath the shade of a lofty elm, by which they mutually bound themselves in a perpetual covenant of peace and friendship. As the emigrants who founded this colony were voluntary exiles from religious persecution in England, and were guided by an unconquerable love of liberty, they took care to guaranty to all the rights of conscience, and to guard, in the most sacred manner, the original interests of the aboriginals of the country. And it is due to historic truth to say, that William Penn surpassed all his competitors in his strict adherence to the terms of the treaty with the Indians, and in commanding their respect and confidence. The name which was given to the colony, Pennsylvania, (Penn's Woods,) indicated his own right in the soil, a right secured by a double purchase, first from his king, and secondly from the natives, while the name given to the city (Philadelphia, meaning brotherly love) served as a memento of the sacred principle which bound them together as a band of brothers. I need hardly add that this state has ever been distinguished for its stern adherence to those principles of liberty and equality by which it was first bound together.
The colony of Georgia was established in 1733, under the patronage of General Oglethorpe, chiefly by members of the Church of England. In 1736 the colony was visited by the Rev. Messrs. John and Charles Wesley, at the request of the trustees and governor of the colony, as missionaries to the Cherokee Indians. Here, also, the principles of civil and religious freedom were interwoven into their institutions, and have since guided their legislature in their civil enactments.
Settlements were made in Vermont between the years 1744 and 1749. The oldest town, Bennington, was chartered in the latter year. In 1777, a constitution, plain and simple in its provisions, and the most democratic of any of the states in the union in its principles, was formed and adopted. Under this instrument the rights of conscience are secured alike; to all the citizens of the state, though the original settlers were principally of the Congregational order, being emigrants from the older New England states. Here, therefore, religious freedom is enjoyed without any legal restraint, and all denominations sit quietly |under their own vines and fig-trees,| enjoying the fruits of their industry and the blessings of a gospel ministry.
This account of the first settlement of our country has been given for the purpose of showing the materials out of which our republic was gradually framed; and though they were somewhat heterogeneous in their character, coming from different states and kingdoms of Europe, speaking a variety of languages, habituated to divers laws and usages, and professing different forms of Christianity, they were all strongly imbued with the principles of civil and religious liberty; and though some of the original projectors of the schemes of American colonization were actuated by motives of avarice, and the proprietaries of the lands were possessed strongly with aristocratic and baronial feelings and views, they were resisted by the colonists themselves as adopting principles and pursuing measures incompatible with their rights as freemen: while most of those who embarked in this grand enterprise were led to it from a dread of the persecution to which they were exposed at home, and a desire to obtain that liberty of conscience in religious matters which God, the Holy Scriptures, and the fitness of things proclaim and sanction as the birthright of all rational beings. Hence the cheerfulness with which they submitted to the disfranchisement of their rights as subjects of their respective governments in their own countries, the patience and perseverance with which they bore their privations and hardships |as strangers and pilgrims| in the howling wilderness,| among savages, wolves, and tigers, as well as the facility and determination with which they resisted all encroachments upon their chartered rights as Christians and freemen, and finally succeeded in establishing their independence on a broad, and as we humbly hope, an enduring foundation.
For though these people came from a land where monarchy reigned, and aristocracy triumphed over the liberties of the many, and some of them from countries where high-toned episcopacy, priding itself in its hereditary exclusive powers and privileges, had asserted the divinity of its origin; yet neither the monarchy nor the aristocracy, nor yet the episcopacy emigrated; neither a monarch, bishop, nor archbishop ever trod the North American soil! Enjoying their emoluments at home, and living in luxurious indolence on their own ample patrimonies in the bosom of their friends, protecting and being protected by each other, these hereditary lords of the soil and of the church were content to let the people seek an asylum from their oppression where alone they could enjoy those blessings for which they in vain sighed, and sought, and prayed in their own country. They were the people, therefore, and not their oppressive rulers, aided, indeed, in some instances, by a few high-minded and philanthropic spirits, who could claim kindred with |high blood| who emigrated to these shores. Galled and oppressed at home, they fled for refuge to this savage wilderness. And having thus fled, and established themselves in little independent communities, where they could enjoy the sweets of liberty, they were not to be deprived of this, their second life, without a struggle. And though in a few instances some of them transcended their original rights by an attempt to exclude others from participating in the privileges which they justly claimed for themselves, and thus exhibited an inconsistency to which human nature is remarkably prone, yet all these things were so overruled by a benignant Providence, that they eventuated, in conjunction with other causes which were at work simultaneously with these, and which lay deeply imbedded in the human heart, in the total overthrow of civil and religious despotism in this country, and the final establishment of a Scriptural and rational liberty, with which generations of men have been blessed, and which shall continue to pour its blessings upon generations yet unborn. Yes -- the undying truths which were elicited from mind by the settlement of America are destined to that immortality which shall live and flourish until time shall be no more. For though the fabric which they have contributed to raise should, by the folly and wickedness of men, be crumbled to the dust, these truths shall never die -- shall never be forgotten; but shall live in the page of history, in the song of the poet, and shall flash and blazon from the eloquent tongue of the statesman, the jurist, and the advocate of Christianity, so long as mind remains free to act. And more than all -- that Christianity which is destined to |cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep,| shall diffuse these sacred truths over the wide earth, and transmit them, in all their freshness and luster, from generation to generation, until time shall resign its records to eternity!
It cannot be accepted, nor even allowed, that I should attempt any thing like a history of the progress of the settlements of our continent in this brief introduction. Nothing more, therefore, is intended than such a cursory glance at things as is necessary to show the state of the country at the time Methodism was planted on these shores. A few general remarks, therefore, on the progress of the settlements and the general state of society only can be expected.
It seems from the history of these times that, about the year 1686, attempts were made by the governor of New York to reduce all the colonies under his sway, and thus to introduce a despotism into the new, as hateful to its free-born inhabitants as was the tyranny from which they had fled in the old world; but the happy revolution which was effected in England in 1688, by the crowning of William, prince of Orange, king of Great Britain, was soon felt throughout the American colonies; and acting under the influence of this general pulsation of liberty, they resisted the tyranny of Andros and his party, proclaimed William and Mary, their Protestant sovereigns, and ceased not their efforts until they fully regained their chartered rights. Thus the spirit of liberty, which emigrated with the pilgrims and their compatriots, rose victorious over all opposition, and prepared for itself a habitation in these western wilds. At this memorable era, Providence had so ordered matters that the colonies hitherto claimed by several European powers were all united under the jurisdiction of Great Britain. At this time, the number of inhabitants in the several provinces is computed to be about 200,000, all imbued with the spirit of liberty and many of them actuated by the purest principles of Christianity. It is true, that as the number of inhabitants increased, and the means of enjoyment were multiplied, vicious indulgence corrupted the minds a morals of many; and the spirit of avarice, mingling in their councils, led to those infringements upon the rights of the aboriginal tribes which tended to provoke and irritate them, until acts of barbarous retaliation produced mutual hatred and sanguinary conflicts, often to the destruction of whole villages of white people, and the extermination of Indian tribes. These bloody wars, while they tended to an alienation of affection between the colonists and the savages, had a deleterious influence upon the interests of pure religion, as they must have awakened an animosity toward each other incompatible with that benign religion which breathes naught but good will toward mankind.
It is but justice, however, to remark, that our pilgrim fathers were by no means unmindful of the moral and spiritual interests of the aborigines of the country. As early as the year 1646 measures were adopted by the general court of Massachusetts for the conversion of the natives; and the Rev John Eliot, justly styled the apostle to the Indians, undertook to carry the benevolent object into execution. Such was the success attending his labors, and those who aided and followed him, that in the several towns of New England there were, in 1696, no less than thirty Indian churches. In later times, namely, in 1744, the Indian settlement at the forks of the Delaware was visited by the pious and indefatigable Brainerd, whose evangelical labors were blessed to the conversion of numbers of these children of the desert. About the same time, the Moravians established missions among several of the North American Indians; and they have continued them with various degrees of success until this day. But though some vestiges of these primitive labors remain to the present time, the wars with the natives, particularly those with the famous chief King Philip, in 1675 and 1676, nearly extinguished the flame of missionary ardor which began to enlighten and warm the wigwams of the Indians, and spread a dark gloom over those bright prospects which had appeared in this western hemisphere; and as these children of the forests gradually receded from the sun of civilization into the trackless wilderness, they forgot the instructions of the Christian missionary, and plunged deeper and deeper into the mire of heathenism. Recent efforts, however, for their conversion give the Christian philanthropist hopes of their future reclamation to the blessings of Christianity and civilization.
In respect to the general state of religion and morals in the colonies from the memorable revolution alluded to in 1688, it is not possible to enter into details, even were authentic documents at hand, in the limits allotted to this introduction. In the New England colonies, however, the institutions of the gospel were amply provided for by law; for those pious pilgrims who first peopled that part of the country, secured, by legal enactments, the ministry and ordinances of the gospel for every parish in the country; and though, in some instances, at particular times, they betrayed an intolerant spirit, particularly in Massachusetts, toward the Quakers and other sectarists, they generally exemplified a strong attachment to the interests of Christianity, preaching and enforcing its truths among the people. While, therefore, we may shed a tear over those weaknesses which led to the persecution of the Quakers, and those superstitions which dictated the sanguinary measures for the extirpation of witchcraft, by the people of Massachusetts, we must at the same time admire that inflexibility of purpose with which they maintained the institutions of the gospel, and the wisdom and zeal they displayed in the Christian education of their youth. Churches, school houses, ministers, and teachers were generally provided in every town and parish throughout the country. New England, therefore, may be considered, in some sense, as the nursery of religion and morals in these United States.
Notwithstanding, however, those provisions in favor of the ordinances of Christianity, I believe it may be said, without any unjust disparagement of their character, that, at the time Methodism was introduced, experimental and practical religion was at a low ebb even in the New England provinces. Some portions of the country had, to be sure, been visited from time to time with revivals of religion; but it is an evidence of the low state of religion and morals to know that these had provoked powerful opposition, even from the very congregations among whom they commenced. What pious and enlightened mind does not feel emotions of sorrow at the recollection of the melancholy fact that the Rev. Jonathan Edwards was compelled to leave his ministerial charge at Northampton, because he so zealously enforced the doctrines and morality of the gospel upon the youth of his congregation! He, however, and those who acted with him in his gospel labors, were instrumental in reviving experimental godliness to a considerable extent in the congregational churches of New England.
About the same time that these men of God were striving to revive the spirit of primitive Christianity in the hearts and lives of the people, the country was blessed with the labors of the pious and gifted Whitefield. His powerful voice was heard, in accents of evangelical warning, instruction, and entreaty, from Georgia, all along the coast, in the cities and villages through the New England provinces, to the extreme settlements of our northern and eastern frontiers. Nor did he speak in vain. The fire of evangelical love was kindled in many hearts in the several places which he visited. But he was like a blazing comet. Though he burned and blazed as he went, and left a trail of gospel light behind him, it did not long continue to shoot forth its scintillations. He organized no societies whose influence might be felt and diffused on the surrounding population. And though he excited some individuals, called in derision by their enemies |New Lights,| to follow his track, they were |few and far between;| and having no concert of action, their lights soon became absorbed in the darkness which environed them.
In Virginia, the oldest colony among the twelve original provinces, the English Church had a legal existence, and the clergy were under the jurisdiction of the bishop of London; and though other sects were tolerated, they were abridged of many of their rights, and were obliged to succumb in some respects to the privileged order. It appears, however, from the history of these days, that, at the time of which we are speaking, pure religion exerted but little influence on the great mass of the people, though doubtless there were here and there those who sighed in secret for the liberty of God's children, and looked forward to better days. A few Presbyterians, and a more numerous company of Baptists, were scattered among the people of Virginia, among whom we may presume that experimental and practical godliness was more generally exemplified than among the members of the established order; for, as to the clergy of the latter, it is acknowledged on all hands, that, with a very few exceptions, they were far gone from the spirit and practice of their original righteousness, as taught in the formularies of their church.
In the middle provinces, comprehending New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, there was a mixture of Churchmen, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and some minor sects, exercising their peculiarities, and exerting various degrees of influence in favor of the general principles of Christianity. Among these, particularly the Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed, were to be found men of profound learning and fervent piety; but their influence was chiefly limited to the bounds of their respective congregations, and could not, therefore, extend to the great mass of the population. We may hope, however, that among the followers of Penn, the descendants of the Huguenots, the insulated societies of the Baptists, as well as the others we have enumerated, there were found those |who worshipped God in the Spirit, and had no confidence in the flesh.| Still it must be said, in truth, that experimental and practical piety was confined to comparatively few, and that the great mass of the people were given up to their sports and plays, living without God in the world.
In respect to the more southern colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia, though all sects were tolerated in the free exercise of their religious rites and ceremonies, the first settlers being chiefly of the established Church of England, their descendants generally cleaved to this form of Christianity, and were, like those in Virginia, generally immersed in the pleasures of the world. The persecutions endured by Messrs. John and Charles Wesley in Georgia, in 1736, are no slight proofs of the low state of religion in the colony of Georgia at that time. Nor have we any reason to believe that it was in higher repute in the Carolinas. And though the subsequent visits of Whitefield had awakened a spirit of religious inquiry in many minds in those, as well as in other parts of the country, as before stated, it had but an isolated influence; and for the want of coadjutors and successors to carry forward the work he was instrumental in beginning, by a regular organization and concentrated action, its effects had gradually disappeared, except in a few individual cases. His name, however, will ever be revered by the pious, as the founder of the Orphan House of Savannah, the Academy in Philadelphia, and as the instrument of the conversion of thousands of souls on this western continent. Had he followed in the track of Wesley, and adopted his enlarged views of the Divine goodness in the work of redemption by Jesus Christ, instead of the narrow views of Calvin respecting unconditional election and reprobation -- a doctrine which distinguished the Congregational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and most of the Baptist churches in this country -- he had achieved a victory in the name of his divine Master much more enduring and beneficial in its effects upon the interests of true religion. Let the history of the two men, and the results of their labors, decide the truth of this remark. Whitefield was |a burning and shining light,| but |the people rejoiced in his light| for a short season only; while Wesley blazed in the symbolical heavens as a star of the first magnitude, collecting around him a cluster of inferior luminaries, forming a nebulae around which others have gathered, and still continue to gather, emitting various degrees of light and heat in the world around them. Whitefield followed Wesley to Savannah; and though neither of them continued his labors so as to produce much permanent effect, yet while the Orphan House has crumbled to ruins, and its decaying vestiges remain as a sorrowful memento of the benevolence of its founder, Methodism, as it was framed and fashioned by Wesley, has taken deep root in Savannah, and is thriving, under the nursing care of his sons in the gospel, throughout the surrounding country.
These remarks, I trust, will be duly appreciated by the reader, while he reflects that at the time of which we are now speaking, notwithstanding those pious efforts, pure religion, holiness of heart and life, exerted but a feeble and limited influence upon those colonies; and that therefore a reformation was loudly called for to bring the people under the hallowing influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It will be seen by the foregoing sketch that the general state of things in this country about the middle of the eighteenth century, the time when the Wesleyan missionaries commenced their evangelical labors, was highly favorable to Christian effort. In some of the provinces the institutions of religion were established by law; and in all, Christianity was received as a revelation from God, and its ministers and ordinances were protected by the governments, and many a free toleration was allowed to all sects and denominations. And though infidelity in various shapes secretly pervaded the minds of many, insensibly shaking their faith in the authority of the sacred Scriptures, and thereby corrupted their minds and morals; yet Christianity, in some form, was the religion of the country -- the sacred Scriptures were circulated in the vernacular language of the people -- the Sabbath was considered as a holy day, consecrated to sacred purposes -- churches had been erected -- schools and colleges established -- the ministers of the gospel were settled in most of the parishes in the eastern and northern provinces, and in many of the middle and southern -- and the great mass of the people, though speaking divers languages, professed religion under some of its external forms and usages. Under these circumstances, it may be truly said, that this was a favorable soil for evangelical missionaries to enter upon the culture of, in the hope of returning with |joy, bringing their sheaves with them.| The general bias was in favor of Christianity, so far at least as its external form was concerned; its doctrines were generally believed, its ministers honored, and in many places its ordinances respected.
Those missionaries, therefore, who came here, were not in like circumstances with those who visit pagan nations. These have to begin every thing anew; they must fell the trees of pagan superstition, and break up the fallow ground of infidelity, and sow the seeds of Christianity often |in stony ground;| and if they are so favored as to deposit them |in good ground,| it is after a long and laborious preparation. But here were a |people prepared for the Lord.| |They were ripe for the harvest.| The missionaries addressed themselves to a people generally who already believed their message, or at least believed in the authority of the Holy Scriptures, to which they appealed for the truth of what they delivered. If they demurred at all, it was at those peculiarities by which their conduct, their mode of life, their manner of preaching, and some of their doctrines were distinguished. What these were, we shall see hereafter. All these things were favorable, and promised the happiest results as the fruit of their toil.
Another favorable state of things was, that the colonies were no longer, as they had been at some preceding times, subject to different European governments, though existing and acting under their separate colonial legislatures and local governors; they were all under the supreme jurisdiction of Great Britain, and its legislature possessed the ultimate control of their affairs, limited only by their respective charters. And, in this state of things, as the Wesleyan missionaries came from England, they came to their own brethren, preaching |Jesus and the resurrection| to their fellow subjects. And, moreover, as the principles of liberty had been diffused through these several communities, and were guarantied to them in their chartered rights, the gospel might |have free course run and be glorified.| The missionaries, therefore had not to contend either with foreigners, |a people of a strange language,| who might look upon them as intruders upon their soil, or with legal restraints imposed upon the rights of conscience; though in some of the provinces they were not allowed, in consequence of legal enactments, the full exercise of all their functions as ministers of the gospel, yet in others they were, and they could not be legally prevented in any from proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ. This was a state of things hardly to be found at that time in any other part of the globe. Thus had God prepared the way for the spread of his gospel on this newly discovered continent.
It must not be supposed, however, that all the people in the country were professedly religious. Though the above is an accurate account of the state of things in general, yet, as before remarked, infidelity had insinuated itself into the minds of some, while many others, perhaps the great majority, had their religion yet to choose. As experimental and practical godliness was not generally enforced upon the congregations where the ministry and ordinances of Christianity were established, a dry morality, and a lifeless attention to external rites and ceremonies among professors of religion, were substituted for that fervor of piety and joy in the Holy Ghost by which holy Christians are distinguished. This state of things accounts for the general opposition which was manifested to the pure doctrines of Christ, particularly to justification by faith in Christ, and the witness and fruits of the Spirit, when they were proclaimed by the first Methodist preachers.
But in giving a true and full state of the country, there is another thing which must not be forgotten -- I allude to slavery. It is well known to all, that, at an early period of our colonial history, the slave trade made its way, in all its detestable character, to our shores; and at the time of which we are now speaking, notwithstanding the resistance made to it, in its first appearance by the colonial legislatures, it had become interwoven in nearly every civil compact in the country. This had introduced an exotic, uncongenial population into our country, not only differing in color from the mass of the people, but bowing in servitude to the masters of the soil. It will be found in the sequel that the Wesleyan missionaries were among the first, if indeed not the very first, who turned their attention especially and directly to the spiritual and moral improvement of these people; and it is on this account chiefly that this subject is introduced in this place. And that it may be clearly understood, it is necessary that we should glance at the manner in which slavery was introduced, and entailed as a fatal legacy upon many of the inhabitants of these United States.
That slavery existed among all ancient nations, the Jews, the Grecians, the Romans, the Africans, and all the barbarous tribes of men, is a fact too well known to need proof. Indeed, it is said by one of our late historians, that |slavery and the slave trade are older than the records of human society.| |They are,| says he, |found to have existed wherever the savage hunter began to assume the habits of pastoral and agricultural life; and, with the exception of Australasia, they have extended to every portion of the globe.
The same historian remarks, and quotes Herodotus as authority, -- |Negro slavery is not an invention of the white man. As Greeks enslaved Greeks, as the Hebrew often consented to make the Hebrew his absolute lord, as Anglo-Saxons trafficked in Anglo-Saxons, so the Negro race enslaved its own brethren. The oldest accounts of the land of the Negroes, like the glimmering traditions of Egypt and Phoenicia, of Greece and of Rome, bear witness to the existence of domestic slavery, and the caravans of dealers in Negro slaves. The oldest Greek historian commemorates the traffic. Negro slaves were seen in classic Greece, and were known at Rome and in the Roman empire.|
Is it strange, then, that it should find its way to America? But how came it here? In modern times the Portuguese, about the year 1441, having visited the western coast of Africa, commenced the nefarious practice of decoying away the inhabitants for slaves. The practice once begun, the cupidity of avarice found means to continue and increase it. To make the trade as lucrative as possible, the slavers visited every port to which they could have access to make merchandise of the souls and bodies of men. This brought them to America. And though at first strongly resisted by the colonists, it was sanctioned by the supreme authority; and even Elizabeth descended from her royalty to become a partner in the traffic, for the sake of sharing the profits. It was in 1645 that the first cargo of Negro slaves was brought into Boston; and though the voice of the Puritans was loudly raised against it as an evil to be dreaded and denounced, and ordered them to be |restored at the public charge,| yet it was afterward permitted, and gradually assumed the shape of a regular traffic. It finally spread through all the colonies, more particularly the southern, though in Virginia it was strenuously resisted, and at first only admitted conditionally, the servant standing to his master in the relation of debtor, bound to work until he had discharged the obligation he was under to him for the price at which he had been purchased. But Negro slavery was ultimately riveted on the colonies with all the rigor the laws could enforce. Thus did the profits arising from the traffic and the labors of the slave combine with the policy of the royal government at home, to sanction a practice which has entailed upon our country an evil of such tremendous magnitude, as perhaps centuries of the most wise and cautious measures may not wholly remove.
These remarks have been made for the purpose of showing, 1. That slavery was not at first the fault of the colonists, but of the governments of the old world, though it is manifest that having been once introduced, its familiarity and its gains at last rendered it desirable, and, as they finally came to believe, necessary, its necessity being inferred from its utility in a pecuniary point of view.
2. That considering the circumstances under which it originated, it was at first more the misfortune than the fault of the American people that slavery became interwoven into their civil institutions.
3. For the purpose of showing the actual state of things at the time when Methodism set up its banners on these western shores, that the evils with which it had to contend, as well as its advantages, may be fully known and properly considered.
Having given this introductory sketch of the first settlements of the provinces, and their subsequent progress in civil and religious matters, together with a short view of the general state of things until about the middle of the 18th century, we will now proceed to the main object of this history, which is, to trace the rise and progress of Methodism in this country. In doing this, we shall divide the subject into the following periods:
i. From its introduction into the city of New York, in 1766, to the first conference in 1773.
ii. From this period to the organization of the societies into a Church in 1784.
iii. From this time to the first regular general conference in 1792.
iv. From this to the first delegated general conference in 1812.
v. From that period until the present time.