Coming of the Pioneer Methodist

There were a number of these God fearing men, who should receive their full meed of praise and credit for the work they accomplished, but let us first consider Levin Green, the pioneer of them all. The history of Illinois Methodism affords no more picturesque or romantic figure than that of Rev. Green, who was on one occasion referred to by Rev. John Scripps as the "Lord's Prodigy."

The first settlement had been made in Schuyler County in 1823 and, in the fall of that year, Levin Green put in appearance. He was a tall, straight, gaunt man, attired in Kentucky jeans, with deer-skin moccasins and coonskin cap, and his coming brought joy to the Hobarts, who were loyal Methodists. As soon as they learned the stranger was a licensed preacher, they welcomed him to their home and assisted in moving his family from Dutchman Creek, sixteen miles above on the Illinois River, whither they had come from below St. Louis in a canoe. On the first Sabbath in November, 1823, Levin Green preached the first sermon in Schuyler County at the home of Calvin Hobart, and he had for his congregation the entire settlement, numbering thirty persons. Afterward services were held regularly every two weeks throughout the winter, and here in the wilderness the corner-stone of Methodism in the Military Tract was laid.

Levin Green was one of those queer products of pioneer times, that cannot be gauged in the standards of our present civilization. He could barely read intelligently, having had no scholastic opportunities, and yet he played a prominent part in the evangelist work of his day. He was licensed to preach by Jesse Walker, Presiding Elder of Illinois, in 1814, and the early years of his ministry were spent in Missouri. In his Book of Reminiscences, Rev. Chauncey Hobart says: "Levin Green belonged to that remarkable class of men, so well known on the frontier line of civilization. Born where the howl of the wolf and the war-whoop of the savage were well known sounds; accustomed to supply the larder from the chase, and to eating bread made of meal manufactured by the 'hominy mortar,' he was of a race of men whose perceptive faculties were keenly developed by the new and strange surroundings of their exposed lives, and whose resources, mental and physical, were, by the very exigencies pressing upon them, always equal to the demand. To him God, eternity, death, the resurrection, the judgment, Heaven and hell, were vivid and solemn realities. In many of his discourses he spoke as if these were actually present, being seen and felt by him."

At the Methodist campmeetings Levin Green, attired in his buckskin breeches and coon-skin cap, entranced the pioneers with his peculiar style of oratory and, in civil affairs, he was accorded honors becoming his station. The love for the romantic pioneer life, however, was ever present and, with the coming of the settlers and homemakers, he left to seek his home anew on the borderline of the western frontier, and Schuyler County knew him no more.

In every community there are men who are looked upon as leaders; men who take the initiative and plan and build for the future. Such a man was Rev. John Scripps in the religious life of Rushville, and a history of the times would not be complete without some reference to his life and its activities.

It was in the summer of 1831 that Mr. Scripps moved to Rushville, coming here from Cape Girardeau, Mo., where he had resided since 1809, and although his object in locating in the city was to engage in merchandising, he entered heartily into the work of up-building the Methodist Church, which had been established a few years before. No one in the village was more capable of assuming the leadership of the little congregation than he, for he was then a member of the Methodist Conference of Missouri and had done valiant work on the circuit in earlier years.

As early as 1812, while a resident of Cape Girardeau, Mo., he had been given a license to preach, and in the fall of 1814 he had been employed by the Presiding Elder of Illinois to travel the circuit while the ministers went to conference. Without his knowledge his name was presented to the conference, and he was assigned to the Indiana circuit. The following year he was transferred to Illinois, and one of his stations was Kaskaskia, afterwards the first capital of the State. In 1816 his circuit covered a portion of Missouri, and to him belongs the honor of holding the first Methodist service in the city of St. Louis. There was no church in the city and the meeting was held in an old dilapidated log building used as court house, legislative hall and theater. There, amid the rude scenery of the theater, he preached to a large audience comprising the entire American population. In later years be traveled a circuit in Arkansas, and in 1823 returned to the St. Louis circuit. In the years 1820 and 1824 he was a member of the General Conferences. The Methodist Conference in Illinois was not formed until 1824, and Rev. Scripps continued a member of the Missouri Conference until the division of the church in 1845. Refusing to go South with his conference, he was transferred to the Illinois Conference in 1846 and placed on the superannuated list.

Rev. Scripps had practically retired from the ministry when he located in Rushville, but his years of service had given him a knowledge of affairs that was invaluable to the struggling little church here. He entered heartily into the work and was often called upon to fill the pulpit in the absence of the regular pastor. Rev. James Leaton, in writing of Rev. Scripps in Rushville, says: "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 working 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 today."

Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen 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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