Methodist Episcopal Church
By Rev. James Leaton
The history of Methodism in Schuyler county begins with the history of the county. Its first settlers were Methodists. Calvin Hobart and his wife had united with the Methodist Episcopal Church in the State of Vermont; and, bringing their religion with them in February, 1823, established the first Christian home in this portion of the Military Tract. A few months after their arrival, Rev. Levin Green, a local preacher from Missouri, settled in their neighborhood, and in the month of November, 1823, in the cabin of Mr. Hobart, delivered the first sermon ever preached in the county.
Mr. Green was, in many respects, a remarkable man. A native of the mountainous region of North Carolina, and destitute of early educational advantages, he nevertheless learned to read and write, and though possessed of only three books, the Bible, Hymn-book, and Camp-meeting songs, his diligent study of these, added to his native talent and piety, made him a very acceptable and useful preacher. He had traveled a circuit in Missouri as a supply under the presiding elder before coming to Illinois, and during the years of his residence here he was faithful in preaching the gospel whenever opportunity was afforded him. In 1832, he returned to Missouri. He was a great oddity. Utterly indifferent about his personal appearance, he would frequently appear bare-legged and shoeless, wearing an old round crowned felt hat with the rim worn or torn off, and the other half slouching down behind, and a coarse shirt stuck into the waistband of an almost worn-out pair of deerskin breeches, reaching but a little below the knee. But despite his uncouth appearance, his sermons were clear, comprehensive, and appropriate, delivered in good language, yet mixed with a plentiful sprinkling of back-woods phrases and witticisms, giving an attractive raciness to his discourses, and rather adding to, than detracting from their merits. He was purely original, imitating no one. To those who looked at his personal appearance, his sermons were the subjects of admiration and astonishment, and one of the most competent judges of good preaching who heard him frequently, John Scripps, was accustomed to style him “the Lord’s prodigy.”
Amongst the settlers who rapidly occupied the country were many who had been connected with the Methodist church in their former homes, and in August, 1826, Rev. Wm. See, who was then traveling the Peoria circuit, visited the neighborhood and organized the first class in the cabin of Mr. Hobart. The class consisted of twenty three members, of whom Henry Green was appointed class leader, Wm. Skiles, assistant leader, and Calvin Hobart, steward. In the fall of 1826, the territory was transferred from the Peoria to the Atlas circuit, of which William Medford was preacher in charge, and Peter Cartwright, presiding elder. In 1827, Samuel Bogart was appointed to the circuit, and during the following summer the first extensive revival of religion in the county occurred under the labors of Levin Green. Nearly two hundred persons were converted during this revival, and a wonderful impulse was given by it to the cause of Christ. In 1828, Asa D. West was put in charge of the circuit, which was divided at the next session of conference, the northern half, including Schuyler county, being styled the Spoon river circuit, to which Mr.West was again appointed preacher. During this conference year the first society was formed in the town of Rushville. The class was organized in a log cabin, owned and occupied by a Mr. Black, which stood near the present residence of Dr. Leach. Most of the members, thirty-two in number, had been previously connected with a class-meeting at Samuel Lock's, about a mile northwest of the town, and many of them were the fruits of the revival under Levin Green.
In 1830, James Bankston was appointed to the circuit. He traveled it only about four months. Whilst crossing a stream on the ice, on his way to Mr. Hobart's, his horse fell with him, and inflicted on him an injury from which he did not recover. He was a native of Georgia, and the son of pious parents who taught him to know the Scriptures from his youth. When about fourteen, he embraced religion, and it is said of him, that when he was converted, he sprang from the mourner’s bench, and at the top of his voice, shouted, “Whoop-pa, hallelujah, Jesus, Jesus.” Though his education advantages were but limited in boyhood, he yet possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and from the time of his conversion applied himself to study with such diligence that he became a respectable scholar, and before his death acquired a good knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, besides making considerable progress in the sciences. It is related by one who was present when he made his first attempt to preach, that soon after taking his text, his embarrassment quite overcame him. He stopped short, sat down in the pulpit, and crossing his legs, shook as if he had the ague. There was, however, that in him that was not to be discouraged or broken down. He became a polished arrow in the gospel quiver, a burning and shining light in the Methodist church, and when he died he had few equals as a preacher in the Illinois conference.
After the accident to Mr. Bankston which resulted in his death, the presiding elder employed Barton Randle, then a young man, and just commencing his itinerant career, to travel the circuit for the remainder of the year. In the early part of the year, the place of preaching in Rushville had been removed from the cabin of Mr. Black to that of Mr. Bryant, near the southwest corner of the square, and during the summer of 1831 the church was greatly strengthened by the accession of Rev. John Scripps and family, who removed from Cape Girardeau county, Missouri. Mr. Scripps had been for many years a traveling preacher in connection with the Tennessee and Missouri conferences, and had been one of the gospel pioneers in a large portion of Southern Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. But his health having failed he had taken a superannuated relation to the conference, and embarked in the mercantile business. Unwilling, however, to bring up his children under the influence of slavery, he sought a home in a free State, and finally settled at Rushville. He was a man of vigorous and well cultivated intellect, and was possessed of a wide and varied knowledge of men and books. As Dr. Stevenson has truly said, "To no one person was society in all its departments in the early days of Rushville more indebted than to him. In fact, the influence of his vigorous intellect, and his strong, manly, and harmoniously developed Christian character may be seen till this day. The coming of such a man and Christian minister into the young society at Rushville was hailed as a providence; God’s hand was seen and recognized in it. His long experience in the itinerancy, his intimate acquaintance with the workings of Methodism, his personal acquaintance with the ministry, and his influence with the bishops, pre-eminently fitted him for a counselor and leader in the young society. How much he loved, how wisely he planned, and how well he built is attested by the permanent and efficient character of the church to-day.”
In 1831, David B. Carter was appointed to the charge. The year was a very successful one, and the church under his faithful labors grew rapidly in numbers, wealth, and influence. The membership increased this year from two hundred and ninety-six to four hundred and one. In the spring of 1832 the first Sabbath-school in Rushville was organized, being the second established in the county, the first having been started in the Sparks neighborhood, with David Manlove as superintendent. This was held in a frame building, then standing near the northeast corner of the square in Rushville. P. P. Newcomb was its first superintendent during the summer. The place for public worship was again removed from the cabin of Mr. Bryant to this room, which, though it had no pulpit, but a chair, and no seats except some loose puncheons laid upon blocks, was yet an advance on the places previously occupied both in comfort and capacity. Here the society continued to worship until the close of the conference year, 1832, then the room having become too small to accommodate the congregation, Mr. Scripps invited the society to worship in his own private residence, offering at his own expense to furnish good seats for the congregation. These were the first seats with backs used by any denomination in Rushville. Services were held there regularly three times a week, preaching, class-meeting, and prayer-meeting. When there was not preaching by the regular pastor, Mr. Scripps himself would occupy the pulpit. During the pastorate of Mr. Carter, there were added to the church by letter several persons who greatly strengthened the society. Amongst them were George Baker, and wife from Jackson, Missouri, and Josiah Parrott, and wife from Kentucky.
At the session of conference in 1832, the Spoon river circuit was divided into the Canton and Rushville circuits--Schuyler county being included in the latter. The preacher was Henry Summers, who reported at the close of the year a membership of 316. The next year, 1833, two preachers were sent to the charge, Thomas N. Ralston and Peter Borein. They were both men of more than ordinary ability, and both became eminently useful in the church. An arrangement was entered into by which Mr. Ralston should preach most of the time in town, and Mr. Borein on the circuit. Early in February, 1834, some of the leading members of the church, with the preachers, determined to hold a two-weeks’ meeting, and invited Rev. W. C. Stribling, a located member of the Kentucky conference, and a man of wonderful pulpit power, and equally noted conversational eccentricities, to come over from Jacksonville and assist in the meeting. But before this the residence of Mr. Scripps having become too small to accommodate the congregation, the public services were removed to what had been a wareroom near the northeast corner of the square, but which had been fitted up as a school-room. But this was soon found to be too small, and permission was obtained of the sheriff to occupy the court-house as a place of worship. The house itself being not yet completed, there being only the walls, floor and roof, the members of the church fitted it up at an expense of one hundred dollars, and immediately commenced a protracted meeting. But as soon as this began, some of the other denominations claimed the right to an equal occupancy of the house as a public building, so that the Methodists were again compelled to remove. Mr. Scripps tendered them the use of a large upper room over a new storehouse which he had built on the east side of the square. His offer was accepted, the fixtures from the court-house were transferred to the new building, the protracted meeting was resumed, and continued for over two months, resulting in a powerful revival of religion in which nearly a hundred souls were converted. One of the first converts was Dr. Dunlap, who is still living in the neighborhood. Among the incidents of the revival was the following: There was living in Rushville at the time a Dr. Cossett, an eminent physician, past middle age, who, though an avowed skeptic as to Christianity, was yet a regular attendant at church. He had been in the habit for many years of indulging in his daily dreams, though he never drank so as to disqualify him for his professional duties. His little daughter, perhaps eight or nine years old, professed conversion. She instantly rose from her seat--her countenance shining as did that of Stephen--and rushed to the bosom of her father. When the invitation for members was given she came forward among others to join the church. As soon as the singing ceased, the doctor arose and spoke substantially as follows: “I have been a skeptic all of my life till now. I know but little about the Bible. My little daughter, since she has been attending your Sunday-school, has taught me more about it than I ever knew before. I am now convinced that your religion is a reality. I know that my daughter is no hyprocrite. I am resolved to change my life. I know not how to pray as these good brethren can pray. I ask you all to pray for me, and if you can receive such an old, wretched sinner, I wish to join the church with my little daughter.” The audience was electrified. Saint and sinner alike wept. He was admitted and welcomed with universal acclamation. In about a month afterwards he was taken severely ill. His physician advised him to take some wine, brandy or other stimulant, but he replied, “No; I promised God when I joined the church never to touch or taste it again. I am ready to die, but not to break my promise.” A few days afterwards he died in peaceful triumph. The revival spread over the circuit, and the membership was so largely increased that 544 members were reported to conference. At the session of 1834 the town of Rushville was separated from the circuit and made a station. Mr. Ralston was its first stationed preacher. But in the early summer the cholera broke out, some twenty dying in ten days, and Mr. Ralston, whose health was poor, thought it not best to remain, and removed to Kentucky, to which conference he was afterwards transferred. The presiding elder employed Richard Haney for the remainder of the year. A camp-meeting was held during the summer at which some fifty souls were converted, and the preacher reported at the close of the year a membership of 150. His successor was W. D. R. Trotter, a son-in-law of Peter Cartwright, and a man of fine natural ability and superior education. He had been educated for a lawyer, but had exchanged the law for the Gospel. During this year the new church was completed so that the upper room could be used for worship, and at the close of the year, the Illinois conference held its annual session in it, the only time it has ever been held in Rushville. The session, owing to several trials and appeals, was unusually protracted, continuing from Wednesday, October 5th, to Friday, the 14th. Forty-four new preachers were received into the conference by transfer, readmission and on trial. Amongst the latter there were from Schuyler county the brothers Chauncey and Norris Hobart, the former of whom has long occupied some of the most prominent positions in the church, and who has the honor of being regarded as the father of Methodism in Minnesota. Warner Oliver, now a lawyer in California; Christopher J. Houts, who died recently in the Southern Illinois Conference; John P. Richmond, some time missionary to Oregon, and afterwards a member of the State Senate; and William H. Taylor, who came to the county with the family of Mr. Hobart, and who was the first person licensed to preach in Schuyler county, and who, after a long life of honor and usefulness, died at Mt. Vernon in 1872.
Mr. Trotter was succeeded by Wm. H. Windsor, who remained two years. Under his pastorate the membership increased to 178. His successor was John Van Cleve, who also remained two years, and during whose administration the society suffered heavy loss from emigration. He reported only 105 members. Under the labors of Norris Hobart, who was appointed pastor in 1840, the church was largely increased in membership, there being a gain of 90 in a single year. Many of them, however, were seekers of religion, a number of whom were converted the next year under the labors of Chauncey Hobart, the twin brother and successor of Norris in the pastorate; yet many of them were discontinued and several of the members removed by letter, so that there was on the whole during the year a slight decrease in numbers.
In 1842, George Rutledge was appointed pastor. He was a good preacher, a faithful pastor, and a devout Christian. For the two following years, N. P. Cunningham was in charge. It detracts nothing from the merit of others to say that Mr. Cunningham was one of the best preachers ever stationed at Rushville. He died at Paris in 1847. The next year the pulpit was filled by Wm. Cliffe, an Englishman--a good preacher and a superior pastor. In 1846 Geo. Rutledge was again appointed pastor; but, his health failing, he remained only about nine months, the remainder of the year the pulpit being supplied by John Scripps.
The next pastor was Robert E. Guthrie, who remained only a year. From the Conference of 1848 Wm. S. Crissey was appointed to the charge; but as his circumstances were such that he could not leave Decatur, where he resided, John Scripps, who was always ready to fill every gap, was again appointed as the supply, and during the whole year served the church with great acceptability.
In 1849 Wm. W. Mitchell became the pastor. He was a man of fine personal appearance, of genial disposition, very conscientious, yet of such decision of mind and character, that in the administration of discipline he sometimes seemed to be tyrannical. From the close of the conference year of 1841 there had been a steady decrease in the membership, so that at the beginning of Mr. Mitchell's term there were only 113 members and probationers. But about this time the tide seemed to turn; and though during his pastorate several of the leading members withdrew from the church, he reported an increase of twenty-three; and from this time until the present there has been a steady growth in numbers, and in all the elements of power.
James N. Dickens was pastor in 1850. He is now on the superannuated list, but when in his prime he was one of the most successful defenders of the faith in the conference. His year in Rushville was a year of trial, of controversy, but of success. The next year the charge was left to be supplied, and the presiding elder employed A. C. McDonald, then a young man, but who afterwards rose to prominence in the church, having become President of Shaw University in Mississippi. He was succeeded by Joseph Montgomery, who had just been transferred from the Pittsburg conference; and he in 1853 by Daniel H. Hatton.
The next year James I. Davidson was appointed pastor. He served two years. He was an Englishman by birth--a man of fine personal appearance, with brilliant imagination, and a wonderful command of language, attracting great crowds to his ministry. He died in Decatur in 1870. During his pastorate there were many important additions to the church, the membership increasing to 227. There had come to Rushville some years before a number of families who had in the east been members of the Methodist Protestant Church. Among them were the Wilsons, Clarkes, Greers, Beatties, Goodwins, Johnsons, Hoskinsons, and others. These had formed a society, built a neat church, and had been supplied with pastors by that church. But chiefly through the influence of Rev. John Clark, who had for many years been a leading minister amongst them, and had been president of one of their conferences,--who saw that the town was too small to support two churches so nearly alike in doctrine and discipline, they abandoned their own organization and united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which many of them continue to this day among its most excellent and useful members.
Mr. Davidson was succeeded in the pastorate by Vincent Ridgely, who served the church two years, and afterwards withdrew from the ministry and the church. His successor was W. N. N. Moore, who remained but one year. In 1859 W. D. Lemon was appointed pastor. He remained two years, during which there was an increase of eighty in the membership. Emmor Elliott was his successor, a good preacher and a devout Christian. He remained but one year, and was killed in 1866 whilst presiding elder of the Griggsville district, by being thrown from his buggy.
The subsequent preachers have been James Shaw, who remained two years; G. R. S. McElfresh, who served the church three years, and under whose administration the parsonage was built, and the present commodious and beautiful church erected; A. S. McCoy, two years; W. J. Rutledge, two years; J. C. Rucker, H. O. Hoffman, one year each; T. A. Parker, two years; J. B. Wolfe, three years; Wm. Stevenson, two years, in whose pastorate the semi-centennial of Methodism in Schuyler county was celebrated with appropriate and interesting exercises; Dr. G. W. Gray, who served one year, and under whose labors an extensive revival of religion occurred and many young people were brought into the church; and the present pastor, James Leaton, who received his appointment at the conference of 1881. The membership now is 279; and it is safe to say of them, that for intelligence, fidelity in attendance on the means of grace, liberality, and genuine Methodism, they are equaled by few churches in the conference and surpassed by fewer still.
An important adjunct of the church is the Sunday-school. During the fifty years of its existence, John Scripps was superintendent seventeen years; and G. W. Scripps, his nephew, thirty-two years--a fact almost unparalleled in Sunday-school history. Its present efficient superintendent is Owen Jackson, and the average attendance of teachers and scholars over two hundred.
Rushville Circuit.--At the time the town was set off as a station, the Rushville circuit embraced all of Schuyler and Brown counties, the south part of Fulton, and a corner of Hancock. But in 1835 the appointments in Hancock and Brown counties were cut off and formed into Pulaski circuit. In 1841 the north part of the circuit was cut off and attached to the Marietta charge. In 1853 the circuit itself was abolished, the appointments being divided between Littleton, Astoria, and Ripley; but in 1858 the Rushville circuit again appears, but with greatly diminished territory, being confined mostly to the south-eastern portion of the county, which, with slight changes, has composed the circuit to the present time. Its appointments now are:--Ebenezer, Parrott’s S. H., Oakland, Sugar Grove, Pleasant View, Frederic, and Lungs’s S. H. The parsonage is in Rushville. There are four churches, and a membership of 235. The present pastor is Rev. D. P. Lyon.
Littleton Circuit.--This circuit was formed in 1853, and has continued to the present time. It embraces the northwest portion of the county, with five appointments, three churches and 234 members and probationers. The head of the circuit is Littleton, where there is a fair parsonage, and a respectable brick church, being the second built by the society. In 1852 a brick church was erected at a cost of $1250, and dedicated by Rev. W. C. Stribling. Three years afterwards it was entirely destroyed by a tornado. But the next year (1857), the society erected a better one, at a cost of $2500, in which they still worship, and where many souls have been brought to the Saviour. Rev. W. F. Lowe is the present preacher in charge.
Camden Circuit.--This charge covers the southwest corner of the country, including the towns of Camden, Huntsville and Brooklyn, and some country appointments. The circuit was constituted in 1869, with Greenbury Garner as preacher. Like Littleton, it has suffered from the effects of a tornado. In the fall of 1881 the church in Camden was entirely destroyed and the parsonage greatly injured. But by the energy of the society and the help of the rest of the county, the church has been rebuilt, and was dedicated by the pastor, Rev. N. H. Kane, in June, 1882. There are in this circuit four churches and 261 members.
Astoria Circuit.--The village of Ray and some appointments in the northeast part of the county are connected with the Astoria circuit, the most of which is in Fulton county.
The present (1882) statistics of Methodism in Schuyler count are as follows: 1050 members and probationers, 8 local preachers, 13 churches, the estimated value of which is $30,300; 4 parsonages, worth $3700, with about 1050 scholars in the Sunday-schools.
Source: The Combined History of Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois, 1882
Transcribed by Carol Longwell Miller for Schuyler County ILGenWeb.
Copyright 1999, 2000 Robin L. W. Petersen; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.
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