Methodist Episcopal Church
By Rev. James Leaton
The history of Methodismin Schuyler county begins with the history of the county. Its first settlerswere Methodists. Calvin Hobart and his wife had united with the MethodistEpiscopal Church in the State of Vermont; and, bringing their religionwith them in February, 1823, established the first Christian home in thisportion 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, deliveredthe 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 learnedto read and write, and though possessed of only three books, the Bible,Hymn-book, and Camp-meeting songs, his diligent study of these, added tohis 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 elderbefore coming to Illinois, and during the years of his residence here hewas faithful in preaching the gospel whenever opportunity was affordedhim. In 1832, he returned to Missouri. He was a great oddity. Utterly indifferentabout his personal appearance, he would frequently appear bare-legged andshoeless, wearing an old round crowned felt hat with the rim worn or tornoff, and the other half slouching down behind, and a coarse shirt stuckinto the waistband of an almost worn-out pair of deerskin breeches, reachingbut a little below the knee. But despite his uncouth appearance, his sermonswere 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 noone. To those who looked at his personal appearance, his sermons were thesubjects of admiration and astonishment, and one of the most competentjudges of good preaching who heard him frequently, John Scripps, was accustomedto style him the Lords prodigy.
Amongst the settlers whorapidly occupied the country were many who had been connected with theMethodist church in their former homes, and in August, 1826, Rev. Wm. See,who was then traveling the Peoria circuit, visited the neighborhood andorganized the first class in the cabin of Mr. Hobart. The class consistedof twenty three members, of whom Henry Green was appointed class leader,Wm. Skiles, assistant leader, and Calvin Hobart, steward. In the fall of1826, 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, andduring the following summer the first extensive revival of religion inthe county occurred under the labors of Levin Green. Nearly two hundredpersons were converted during this revival, and a wonderful impulse wasgiven by it to the cause of Christ. In 1828, Asa D. West was put in chargeof the circuit, which was divided at the next session of conference, thenorthern half, including Schuyler county, being styled the Spoon rivercircuit, to which Mr.West was again appointed preacher. During this conferenceyear the first society was formed in the town of Rushville. The class wasorganized in a log cabin, owned and occupied by a Mr. Black, which stoodnear the present residence of Dr. Leach. Most of the members, thirty-twoin number, had been previously connected with a class-meeting at SamuelLock’s, about a mile northwest of the town, and many of them were the fruitsof the revival under Levin Green.
In 1830, James Bankston wasappointed to the circuit. He traveled it only about four months. Whilstcrossing a stream on the ice, on his way to Mr. Hobart’s, his horse fellwith 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 himto know the Scriptures from his youth. When about fourteen, he embracedreligion, and it is said of him, that when he was converted, he sprangfrom the mourners bench, and at the top of his voice, shouted, Whoop-pa,hallelujah, Jesus, Jesus. Though his education advantages were but limitedin boyhood, he yet possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and fromthe time of his conversion applied himself to study with such diligencethat he became a respectable scholar, and before his death acquired a goodknowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, besides making considerableprogress in the sciences. It is related by one who was present when hemade his first attempt to preach, that soon after taking his text, hisembarrassment 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 apolished arrow in the gospel quiver, a burning and shining light in theMethodist church, and when he died he had few equals as a preacher in theIllinois conference.
After the accident to Mr.Bankston which resulted in his death, the presiding elder employed BartonRandle, then a young man, and just commencing his itinerant career, totravel the circuit for the remainder of the year. In the early part ofthe year, the place of preaching in Rushville had been removed from thecabin of Mr. Black to that of Mr. Bryant, near the southwest corner ofthe square, and during the summer of 1831 the church was greatly strengthenedby the accession of Rev. John Scripps and family, who removed from CapeGirardeau county, Missouri. Mr. Scripps had been for many years a travelingpreacher in connection with the Tennessee and Missouri conferences, andhad 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 superannuatedrelation to the conference, and embarked in the mercantile business. Unwilling,however, to bring up his children under the influence of slavery, he soughta home in a free State, and finally settled at Rushville. He was a manof vigorous and well cultivated intellect, and was possessed of a wideand 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 daysof Rushville more indebted than to him. In fact, the influence of his vigorousintellect, and his strong, manly, and harmoniously developed Christiancharacter may be seen till this day. The coming of such a man and Christianminister into the young society at Rushville was hailed as a providence;Gods hand was seen and recognized in it. His long experience in the itinerancy,his intimate acquaintance with the workings of Methodism, his personalacquaintance with the ministry, and his influence with the bishops, pre-eminentlyfitted him for a counselor and leader in the young society. How much heloved, how wisely he planned, and how well he built is attested by thepermanent and efficient character of the church to-day.
In 1831, David B. Carterwas appointed to the charge. The year was a very successful one, and thechurch under his faithful labors grew rapidly in numbers, wealth, and influence.The membership increased this year from two hundred and ninety-six to fourhundred and one. In the spring of 1832 the first Sabbath-school in Rushvillewas organized, being the second established in the county, the first havingbeen started in the Sparks neighborhood, with David Manlove as superintendent. This was held in a frame building, then standing near the northeast cornerof the square in Rushville. P. P. Newcomb was its first superintendentduring the summer. The place for public worship was again removed fromthe cabin of Mr. Bryant to this room, which, though it had no pulpit, buta chair, and no seats except some loose puncheons laid upon blocks, wasyet an advance on the places previously occupied both in comfort and capacity.Here the society continued to worship until the close of the conferenceyear, 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 greatlystrengthened the society. Amongst them were George Baker, and wife fromJackson, Missouri, and Josiah Parrott, and wife from Kentucky.
At the session of conferencein 1832, the Spoon river circuit was divided into the Canton and Rushvillecircuits–Schuyler county being included in the latter. The preacher wasHenry 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. Ralstonand Peter Borein. They were both men of more than ordinary ability, andboth became eminently useful in the church. An arrangement was enteredinto 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 membersof 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 thisthe residence of Mr. Scripps having become too small to accommodate thecongregation, the public services were removed to what had been a wareroomnear the northeast corner of the square, but which had been fitted up asa school-room. But this was soon found to be too small, and permissionwas 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, floorand roof, the members of the church fitted it up at an expense of one hundreddollars, and immediately commenced a protracted meeting. But as soon asthis began, some of the other denominations claimed the right to an equaloccupancy of the house as a public building, so that the Methodists wereagain compelled to remove. Mr. Scripps tendered them the use of a largeupper room over a new storehouse which he had built on the east side ofthe square. His offer was accepted, the fixtures from the court-house weretransferred to the new building, the protracted meeting was resumed, andcontinued for over two months, resulting in a powerful revival of religionin which nearly a hundred souls were converted. One of the firstconverts was Dr. Dunlap, who is still living in the neighborhood. Amongthe incidents of the revival was the following: There was living in Rushvilleat the time a Dr. Cossett, an eminent physician, past middle age, who,though an avowed skeptic as to Christianity, was yet a regular attendantat church. He had been in the habit for many years of indulging in hisdaily dreams, though he never drank so as to disqualify him for his professionalduties. His little daughter, perhaps eight or nine years old, professedconversion. She instantly rose from her seat–her countenance shining asdid that of Stephen–and rushed to the bosom of her father. When the invitationfor members was given she came forward among others to join the church.As soon as the singing ceased, the doctor arose and spoke substantiallyas follows: I have been a skeptic all of my life till now. I know butlittle about the Bible. My little daughter, since she has been attendingyour 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 daughteris no hyprocrite. I am resolved to change my life. I know not how to prayas these good brethren can pray. I ask you all to pray for me, andif you can receive such an old, wretched sinner, I wish to join the churchwith my little daughter. The audience was electrified. Saint andsinner alike wept. He was admitted and welcomed with universal acclamation. In about a month afterwards he was taken severely ill. His physician advisedhim 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 afterwardshe died in peaceful triumph. The revival spread over the circuit, and themembership was so largely increased that 544 members were reported to conference.At the session of 1834 the town of Rushville was separated from the circuitand made a station. Mr. Ralston was its first stationed preacher. But inthe 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 wereconverted, and the preacher reported at the close of the year a membershipof 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 educatedfor a lawyer, but had exchanged the law for the Gospel. During this yearthe 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 sessionin it, the only time it has ever been held in Rushville. The session, owingto several trials and appeals, was unusually protracted, continuing fromWednesday, October 5th, to Friday, the 14th. Forty-four new preachers werereceived into the conference by transfer, readmission and on trial. Amongstthe latter there were from Schuyler county the brothers Chauncey and NorrisHobart, the former of whom has long occupied some of the most prominentpositions in the church, and who has the honor of being regarded as thefather of Methodism in Minnesota. Warner Oliver, now a lawyer inCalifornia; Christopher J. Houts, who died recently in the Southern IllinoisConference; John P. Richmond, some time missionary to Oregon, and afterwardsa member of the State Senate; and William H. Taylor, who came to the countywith the family of Mr. Hobart, and who was the first person licensed topreach in Schuyler county, and who, after a long life of honor and usefulness,died at Mt. Vernon in 1872.
Mr. Trotter was succeededby Wm. H. Windsor, who remained two years. Under his pastorate the membershipincreased to 178. His successor was John Van Cleve, who also remainedtwo years, and during whose administration the society suffered heavy lossfrom emigration. He reported only 105 members. Under the labors of NorrisHobart, who was appointed pastor in 1840, the church was largely increasedin 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 thenext year under the labors of Chauncey Hobart, the twin brother and successorof Norris in the pastorate; yet many of them were discontinued and severalof the members removed by letter, so that there was on the whole duringthe year a slight decrease in numbers.
In 1842, George Rutledgewas appointed pastor. He was a good preacher, a faithful pastor, and adevout Christian. For the two following years, N. P. Cunningham was incharge. It detracts nothing from the merit of others to say that Mr. Cunninghamwas one of the best preachers ever stationed at Rushville. He died at Parisin 1847. The next year the pulpit was filled by Wm. Cliffe, an Englishman–agood preacher and a superior pastor. In 1846 Geo. Rutledge was again appointedpastor; but, his health failing, he remained only about nine months, theremainder of the year the pulpit being supplied by John Scripps.
The next pastor was RobertE. Guthrie, who remained only a year. From the Conference of 1848 Wm. S.Crissey was appointed to the charge; but as his circumstances were suchthat he could not leave Decatur, where he resided, John Scripps, who wasalways ready to fill every gap, was again appointed as the supply, andduring the whole year served the church with great acceptability.
In 1849 Wm. W. Mitchell becamethe pastor. He was a man of fine personal appearance, of genial disposition,very conscientious, yet of such decision of mind and character, that inthe administration of discipline he sometimes seemed to be tyrannical.From the close of the conference year of 1841 there had been a steady decreasein the membership, so that at the beginning of Mr. Mitchell’s term therewere only 113 members and probationers. But about this time the tide seemedto turn; and though during his pastorate several of the leading memberswithdrew from the church, he reported an increase of twenty-three; andfrom this time until the present there has been a steady growth in numbers,and in all the elements of power.
James N. Dickens was pastorin 1850. He is now on the superannuated list, but when in his prime hewas 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 elderemployed A. C. McDonald, then a young man, but who afterwards rose to prominencein the church, having become President of Shaw University in Mississippi.He was succeeded by Joseph Montgomery, who had just been transferred fromthe Pittsburg conference; and he in 1853 by Daniel H. Hatton.
The next year James I. Davidsonwas appointed pastor. He served two years. He was an Englishman by birth–aman of fine personal appearance, with brilliant imagination, and a wonderfulcommand of language, attracting great crowds to his ministry. He died inDecatur in 1870. During his pastorate there were many important additionsto the church, the membership increasing to 227. There had come to Rushvillesome years before a number of families who had in the east been membersof the Methodist Protestant Church. Among them were the Wilsons, Clarkes,Greers, Beatties, Goodwins, Johnsons, Hoskinsons, and others. These hadformed a society, built a neat church, and had been supplied with pastorsby that church. But chiefly through the influence of Rev. John Clark,who had for many years been a leading minister amongst them, and had beenpresident of one of their conferences,–who saw that the town was too smallto support two churches so nearly alike in doctrine and discipline, theyabandoned their own organization and united with the Methodist EpiscopalChurch, of which many of them continue to this day among its most excellentand useful members.
Mr. Davidson was succeededin the pastorate by Vincent Ridgely, who served the church two years, andafterwards withdrew from the ministry and the church. His successor wasW. N. N. Moore, who remained but one year. In 1859 W. D. Lemon was appointedpastor. He remained two years, during which there was an increase of eightyin the membership. Emmor Elliott was his successor, a good preacher anda devout Christian. He remained but one year, and was killed in 1866 whilstpresiding elder of the Griggsville district, by being thrown from his buggy.
The subsequent preachershave been James Shaw, who remained two years; G. R. S. McElfresh, who servedthe church three years, and under whose administration the parsonage wasbuilt, 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 Schuylercounty was celebrated with appropriate and interesting exercises; Dr. G.W. Gray, who served one year, and under whose labors an extensive revivalof religion occurred and many young people were brought into the church;and the present pastor, James Leaton, who received his appointment at theconference of 1881. The membership now is 279; and it is safe to say ofthem, that for intelligence, fidelity in attendance on the means of grace,liberality, and genuine Methodism, they are equaled by few churches inthe conference and surpassed by fewer still.
An important adjunct of thechurch is the Sunday-school. During the fifty years of its existence, JohnScripps was superintendent seventeen years; and G. W. Scripps, his nephew,thirty-twoyears–a fact almost unparalleled in Sunday-school history. Its presentefficient superintendent is Owen Jackson, and the average attendance ofteachers and scholars over two hundred.
Rushville Circuit.–Atthe time the town was set off as a station, the Rushville circuit embracedall of Schuyler and Brown counties, the south part of Fulton, and a cornerof Hancock. But in 1835 the appointments in Hancock and Brown countieswere cut off and formed into Pulaski circuit. In 1841 the north part ofthe circuit was cut off and attached to the Marietta charge. In 1853 thecircuit itself was abolished, the appointments being divided between Littleton,Astoria, and Ripley; but in 1858 the Rushville circuit again appears, butwith greatly diminished territory, being confined mostly to the south-easternportion of the county, which, with slight changes, has composed the circuitto the present time. Its appointments now are:–Ebenezer, Parrotts S.H., Oakland, Sugar Grove, Pleasant View, Frederic, and Lungss S. H. Theparsonage is in Rushville. There are four churches, and a membership of235. The present pastor is Rev. D. P. Lyon.
Littleton Circuit.–Thiscircuit was formed in 1853, and has continued to the present time. It embracesthe northwest portion of the county, with five appointments, three churchesand 234 members and probationers. The head of the circuit is Littleton,where there is a fair parsonage, and a respectable brick church, beingthe second built by the society. In 1852 a brick church was erected ata cost of $1250, and dedicated by Rev. W. C. Stribling. Three years afterwardsit was entirely destroyed by a tornado. But the next year (1857), the societyerected 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. Loweis the present preacher in charge.
Camden Circuit.–Thischarge covers the southwest corner of the country, including the townsof Camden, Huntsville and Brooklyn, and some country appointments. Thecircuit was constituted in 1869, with Greenbury Garner as preacher. LikeLittleton, it has suffered from the effects of a tornado. In the fall of1881 the church in Camden was entirely destroyed and the parsonage greatlyinjured. But by the energy of the society and the help of the rest of thecounty, 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 and261 members.
Astoria Circuit.–Thevillage of Ray and some appointments in the northeast part of the countyare connected with the Astoria circuit, the most of which is in Fultoncounty.
The present (1882) statisticsof 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 Historyof Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois, 1882
Transcribed by Carol LongwellMiller for Schuyler County ILGenWeb.
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