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A History Of The Methodist Episcopal Church Volume I by Nathan Bangs, D.D.


The following history has been compiled from Wesley's Works, the British and American Minutes of Conferences, Moore's and Watson's Life of the Wesleys, Asbury's Journal, Lee's History of the Methodists, the Life of Dr. Coke, Lee's and Garrettson's Memoirs, Abbott's Life, from historical notices and anecdotes of Methodism found in the Arminian and Methodist Magazines, the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review, the Christian Advocate and Journal, together with such original anecdotes and historical sketches as I have been able to collect from the lips of living persons.

For the facts contained in the Introduction, I am indebted chiefly to Bancroft's |History of the Colonization of the United States| -- a work of rare merit and of incomparable worth to the student of American history -- collating it, however, with others who have written upon the same subject. It would have been no less gratifying to me than edifying to the reader, had it been in my power to give a more particular account of the religious state of the colonies from the beginning to about the middle of the eighteenth Century; but the space allowed in a short introduction to the history of one denomination of Christians would not admit of a more ample detail of general facts in relation to that period of our colonial history.

About sixteen years since I commenced writing a |History of the Methodist Episcopal Church,| and had actually brought it down to about the year 1810; but the whole manuscript was consumed by the disastrous fire which destroyed our Book Room and its valuable contents in the winter of 1836. Of this casualty I was not apprised until my return from the last General Conference, when, on searching my private desk at home, where I thought it had been deposited, my manuscript was not to be found; and hence the fact was disclosed that it must have been consumed, together with some other documents of a similar character, in the conflagration of our book depository.

It was under the impression that my manuscript was in existence that I asked and obtained liberty of the General Conference, in 1836, to have access to their journals and documents, to enable me to complete my design with the greater accuracy and more in detail. Of this privilege, however, I have not been able to make any use in the present volume, as I can find no journal of the proceedings of any General Conference of an earlier date than the year 1800. But should my life and health be spared to complete my work by adding a second volume, I trust I shall be enabled to enrich it with such extracts from those journals as will be found interesting to the general reader, and particularly to those to whom the affairs of the church may hereafter be committed.

This latter period of our history abounds in materials, while that embraced in the present volume is, in some respects, comparatively barren, as but few of those who were instrumental in planting Methodism in this country have left particular records of their labors and sufferings, with which the page of history might be enriched. The sources, however, whence my information is derived, are of the most authentic character; and I trust it will not be devoid of interest and instruction to those who take pleasure in surveying the stones of our temple, and of comparing its present with its past condition, and of anticipating its future prospects and success. But though the materials for furnishing a very particular history of the early days of Methodism in these United States are comparatively sparse, when viewed in their scattered and insulated condition; yet when carefully collected and put together in consecutive order, they cannot fail to form an interesting and instructive medium of information; and more especially to those whose spiritual welfare is identified with this humble branch of the church of Jesus Christ. This I have endeavored to do, according to the best of my ability, and hope that whatever errors may be detected by the candid and critical reader, they will be attributed to their proper source, and pointed out with that spirit of friendliness which will ensure their correction.

In speaking of the authorities on which I have relied for information in the compilation of this history, I feel it an act of justice to refer particularly to Lee's History of the Methodists, and to Bishop Asbury's Journal, principally because I think they have not been appreciated according to their worth.

Though, considered as a whole, the Journal of Bishop Asbury is somewhat dry and monotonous, on account of its diurnal details of incidents of a private character; yet the historian of Methodism will find it a rich depository of important facts, illustrative of the rise and progress of the work of God in this country; and he will be both delighted and astonished at the immense labors and no little sufferings which this man of God performed and endured in this holy cause. With a view to do justice to his character, I have made Bishop Asbury the principal hero of the narrative, borrowing freely from his journals whatever might tend to throw light upon the subject and to present fairly and fully the active part which he took in the erection of this spiritual building. He was the father of Methodism in this country, and, as such, deserves a conspicuous place in that temple which his own hands contributed so effectually to erect, that his sons in the gospel and successors in the ministry may look to him as an exemplar for their imitation, and be stimulated and strengthened in their work.

As to Lee's History, though it might have been more amplified in some particulars, and less minute in others, yet I consider it the most important narrative we have of early Methodism in these United States, and a most valuable textbook for the future historian. Next to Bishop Asbury, Mr. Lee traveled the most extensively through the country, and took an active and important part in the various transactions of the church, both in the Annual and General Conferences, as well as in the field of itinerancy, being a preacher of most indefatigable industry and steady perseverance. And, what enabled him to state the facts which he has recorded in his history with the greatest accuracy, he also kept a daily record of his travels, and marked with the eye of a keen and attentive observer whatever came within the circle of his observation. Hence many parts of his narrative are made up, particularly those which relate to Methodism in some of the southern states and in New England, from his own knowledge and experience. On him, therefore, I have freely drawn for whatever might tend to answer my main design, in presenting to the reader a faithful history of the rise and progress of the Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States.

In some instances, however, I have found, in collating them, that the printed Minutes and Mr. Lee, particularly in respect to numbers, disagree; and in such cases the preference has always been given to the public and authorized documents of the church.

These remarks have been made in reference to these two authors, not with a view to disparage in the least degree others who have written upon the same subject, but chiefly, as before said, because it is believed that their respective merits have not been duly appreciated. And though Mr. Lee might have been led from some cause to withhold somewhat of that mood of praise which was justly due to Bishop Asbury, on account of which the latter was not well pleased with his history, yet impartial posterity will do justice to them both; and while is awarded to the first historian of American Methodism the merit of collecting and recording facts with fidelity, to Bishop Asbury will be given the praise of having contributed more largely than any one else in this country, and in his day, to the planting, watering, and pruning this tree of righteousness, as well as of having left a faithful record of such events as furnish the historian with materials for his work. To only a small part of this record had Mr. Lee access, as but a small portion of the journals was published until some years after his history was written; and hence the present history has the advantage of its predecessor in being able to incorporate in its pages much valuable information unknown to Mr. Lee. It has also enriched its pages with matter which, though it might have been in existence, was either beyond the reach of the writer, or was not deemed of sufficient importance to demand his attention.

Having thus discharged what I consider an obligation to this greater and lesser light of Methodism, both of whom are now doubtlessly enjoying together the reward of their labors and sufferings in the cause of Christ, I proceed to say, that I hesitated for some time whether or not to refer in the margin to every authority I might quote, or on whom I might draw for the facts embodied in the history, or merely to make a general reference, as is done in the commencement of this preface. As such perpetual references would considerably swell the body of the work, without adding any thing to the stock of information, or to the authenticity of the facts detailed, it was thought most advisable to adopt the latter course. In most instances, however, when any important matter is introduced into the thread of the narrative, or the language of others has been used, due credit has been given by a reference to the proper authority. That the blessing of God may accompany this effort to trace his providence and grace in his watch-care over this branch of his church, and that it may continue to be showered abundantly upon his heritage, until his |dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth,| the author would unite his fervent prayers with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

N. Bangs. New York, July 14, 1838.

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