- Peter Cartwright (exhorter)
Peter Cartwright, (
September 1, 1785– September 25, 1872), was an early American "hellfire and brimstone" preacher. Born in Amherst County, Virginia, Cartwright was a missionarywho helped start the Second Great Awakeningand personally baptized twelve thousand people. He was a minister who preached benevolence. He settled in Illinois. He lost against Abraham Lincolnfor a United States Congress seat in 1846. As a Methodistcircuit rider, Cartwright rode circuits in Tennesseeand Kentucky.
Soon after the birth of Peter Cartwright his family moved to Logan County, Kentucky. At the age of 16 Peter was converted at a camp meeting and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. He became a preacher in 1802 and was later ordained by Francis Asbury and William McKendree. In 1812 he was appointed a presiding elder (now District Superintendent), and he served in that office for the next fifty years.
In 1808, Cartwright married Frances Gaines. Together they had two sons and seven daughters, one of whom, Cynthia, died on the journey to Illinois.
Cartwright was a veteran of the
War of 1812.
Cartwright moved from Kentucky to Illinois in 1824. In his autobiography he gave several reasons for this decision. Among them were that in Illinois he "would get entirely clear of the evil of slavery, that he could improve his financial situation and procure lands for my children as they grew up. And... I could carry the Gospel to destitute souls that had, by their removal into some new country, been deprived of the means of grace."
Cartwright was a founding member of the Illinois Annual Conference in 1824, and remained in Illinois for the rest of his life. He was a towering figure of frontier Methodism and one of the most colorful and energetic preachers the church has produced. He was elected to 13 General Conferences and called himself "God's Plowman."
Despite (or perhaps because of) his own background, Cartwright tirelessly promoted Methodist education and helped found McKendree College (Lebanon), MacMurray College (Jacksonville), and Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington). He also was active in state affairs. Twice a member of the Illinois legislature, he ran for the United States Congress in 1846, but was defeated by the Springfield lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.
The present Cartwright Church began in 1824 as a class in the Cartwright home. In 1838, Cartwright donated land and $300 towards the construction of a log chapel where the congregation worshipped until 1853. By that time, the church had grown so much that it had to divide into two congregations. One moved two miles west and built the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church (which was torn down in 1953). The other moved into the new village of Pleasant Plains and the current building was constructed in 1857. Two additions have been made, but the sanctuary is nearly the same as it was during Cartwright's time.
Cartwright describes his conversion in his own words:
"In 1801, when I was in my sixteenth year, my father, my eldest half brother, and myself, attended a wedding about five miles from home, where there was great deal of drinking and dancing, which was very common at marriages those days. I drank little or nothing; my delight was in dancing. After a late hour in the night, we mounted our horses and started for home. I was riding my race-horse.
"A few minutes after we had put up the horses, and were sitting by the fire, I began to reflect on the manner in which I had spent the day and evening felt guilty and condemned. I rose and walked the floor. My mother was in bed. It seemed to me, all of a sudden, my blood rushed to my head, my heart palpitated, in a few minutes I turned blind; an awful impression rested on my mind that death had come and I was unprepared to die. I fell on my knees and began to ask God to have mercy on me.
"My mother sprang from her bed, and was soon on her knees by my side, praying for me, and exhorting me to look to Christ for mercy, and then and there I promised the Lord that if he would spare me, I would seek and serve him; and I never fully broke that promise. My mother prayed for me a long time. At length we lay down, but there was little sleep for me. Next morning I rose, feeling wretched beyond expression. I tried to read in the Testament, and retired many times to secret prayer through the day, but found no relief. I gave up my racehorse to my father, and requested him to sell him. I went and brought my pack of cards, and gave them to mother, who threw them into the fire, and they were consumed. I fasted, watched, and prayed, and engaged in regular reading of the Testament. I was so distressed and miserable, that I was incapable of any regular business.
"My father was greatly distressed on my account, thinking I must die, and he would lose his only son. He bade me retire altogether from business, and take care of myself. Soon it was noised abroad that I was distracted, and many of my associates in wickedness came to see me, to try and divert my mind from those gloomy thoughts of my wretchedness; but all in vain. I exhorted them to desist from the course of wickedness which we had been guilty of together. The class-leader and local preacher were sent for. They tried to point me to the bleeding Lamb, they prayed for me most fervently. Still I found no comfort, and although I had never believed in the doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation, I was sorely tempted to believe I was a reprobate, and doomed, and lost eternally, without any chance of salvation."
* [http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/navigate?/lib35/artfl1/databases/sources/IMAGE/.1348 Auto-biography from Illinois Historical Digitization Project]
* [http://www.cblibrary.org/biography/cartwright.htm "Autobiography of Peter Cartwright"]
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