Early Times in Middle Tennessee
Early Times in Middle Tennessee
Chapter 7

By John Carr, 1857

Retyped for the page by Diane Payne, 2001

Chapter 7

From the year 1787, we were blessed with regular preaching in this country. Messrs. Ogden, Haw, Massy, Williamson, Lee, McHenry, and O'Cull, were the preachers who first brought the gospel to us. From 1792 to 1795, we were favored with the preaching of Stephen Brooks, Henry Burchett, Jacob Lurtin, Aquilla Suggs, and John Ball. These were eminent men of God. In 1795, William Burke, and a young man by the name of Guthrie, I believe, came among us, and preached with great success. These were all itinerant preachers, who, taking their lives, as it were, in their own hands, passed through almost every danger of that day, and faithfully warned the people to flee from the wrath to come. The first two local preachers that were raised up in the country were Samuel Mason and Samuel Hollis. They commenced preaching, I think, about the year 1789, or, perhaps, 1790. They were excellent men, and God blessed their labors. I do not hesitate to say that the Methodists were the first to sow the gospel seed in Middle Tennessee. True it is, Parson Craighead had a Presbyterian congregation, to whom he preached regularly at Spring-Hill, Davidson county; and I recollect of his making one visit to Mansker's Station during the time I lived at that place. Mr. Craighead was a man of learning, and his address was beautiful; but his preaching was lifeless and without power-a dull, formal affair. There was also another congregation of Presbyterians at Shiloh, near Gallatin, Sumner county. William McGee, their pastor, was a good man, but he preached to a cold, dead people, with a few exceptions. The Presbyterians generally were bitter persecutors of the Methodists. They called them enthusiasts; and some went so far as to say they were the false prophets that were to arise in the last days.

From 1795 to 1800, the Methodist Episcopal Church was served in this country by such men as John Page, Thomas Wilkinson, John McGee, John Cobler, and others; and, as the war with the Indians had just closed, many new settlements were made, as the result of the vast tide of immigration flowing into the country; and to the people of these settlements the men of God whom I have named carried the gospel, which they preached with zeal and power. In 1796, or 1797, the Rev. Mr. McGrady, of the Presbyterian Church, an eminent minister of Christ, settled in Logan county, Kentucky. In 1798, or 1799, a great religious awakening occurred under his preaching, and many people were converted to God. In 1800, the revival commenced among us in Sumner county. The news of the wonderful excitement in Logan county, under the labors of Mr. McGrady, was heard by us; and a vast multitude of people assembled at a sacramental meeting held at Robert Shaw's, on the head waters of Red river, in the summer of 1800. Messrs. McGrady, McGee, and Rankin, were the Presbyterian preachers who labored at that meeting. Parson Craighead was also in attendance. Such displays of Divine power as were there seen, I had never before witnessed. Under the preaching of Messrs. McGrady and McGee, the people fell down like men slain in battle; and the number that professed religion then will never be known in time. The meeting lasted several days. Parson Craighead appeared to be friendly to the work. All prejudice and bad feeling seemed to cease between the Presbyterians and the Methodists; and it was no easy matter to tell which of them were the more noisy in shouting the praises of God.

In September of the same year, a sacramental meeting was appointed to be held at Shiloh; but, on account of the scarcity of water there, the appointment was changed to Blythe's Big Spring, on Desha's Creek. The news of the great, work at Shaw's having spread throughout Middle Tennessee, this meeting at Blythe's comprised the largest number of people ever known to be collected together in the country. Messrs. McGrady, McGee, and Rankin, Presbyterian preachers, and Messrs. John McGee, John Page, and John Sewell, Methodist preachers, labored at this meeting. Parson Craighead was also present. On the first day of the meeting, the people arriving in crowds, in wagons, on horseback, and on foot, presented a wonderful scene. The preachers united their hearts and hands like a band of brothers, and the great work commenced immediately, and progressed night and day without intermission, and with increasing interest to the end. It would be impossible to describe the scenes presented at that meeting, particularly when one saw many men, women, and children, from the aged father down to the youngest son, now stretched upon the ground and pleading for mercy; then rising, and with shouts giving glory to God. It was indeed a solemn time. One young man, I recollect, who, having been brought under conviction, hastened to his horse, with the view of going home; but, before mounting, he fell like a man shot in battle; and he continued upon the ground until the Lord blessed his soul when he arose and gave glory to God for his deliverance. Such occurrences were very frequent. The meeting lasted four days and nights, and scores of precious souls were brought from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. One family, named Sullivan, of three brothers and sisters, neighbors of mine on Goose Creek, though they had been raised Quakers, walked twelve or fourteen miles to that meeting, and all of them professed religion, and proved to be excellent members of the Church. The Presbyterians shared largely in the fruits of the revival; and a number of young men, as well as others somewhat advanced in life, soon became convinced that they were called to preach the gospel; and they went forth as flaming heralds, proclaiming life and salvation to a lost and dying world. From that great revival sprang the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; and from that meeting the work of God spread throughout Middle Tennessee.

During the progress of the revival, there were some strange and uncommon exercises, of which no one, as far as I have noticed, has written, except the Rev. Barton W. Stone, who had charge of two congregations, Cane Ridge and Concord, in Bourbon county, Kentucky. In his biography, page 39, he undertakes a description which I have no hesitation, after having been a witness of the various occurrences, in saying that he has given with correctness and fidelity. I will, therefore, transcribe his account:

"The bodily agitations or exercises attending the excitement in the beginning of this century were various, and called by various names, as the falling exercise, the jerks, the dancing exercise, the barking exercise, the laughing and singing exercises, and so on. The falling exercise was very common among all classes, the saints and sinners of every age and grade, from the philosopher to the clown. The subject of this exercise would generally, with a piercing scream, fall like a log on the floor or earth, and appear as dead. Of thousands of similar cases, I will mention one: At a meeting, two gay young ladies, sisters, were standing together, attending the exercises and preaching at the same time, when instantly they both fell with a shriek of distress, and lay for more than an hour apparently in a lifeless state. Their mother, a pious Baptist, was in great distress, fearing they would not revive. At length they began to exhibit signs of life, by crying fervently for mercy, and then relapsed into the same death-like state, with an awful gloom on their countenances; after a while, the gloom on the face of one was succeeded by a heavenly smile, and she cried out, 'Precious Jesus' and spoke of the glory of the gospel to the surrounding crowd in language almost super-human, and exhorted all to repentance. In a little while after, the other sister was similarly exercised. From that time they became remarkably pious members of the Church.

"I have seen very many pious persons fall in the same way, from a sense of the danger of their unconverted children, brothers, or sisters, or from a sense of the danger of their neighbors in a sinful world. I have heard them agonizing in tears, and strongly crying for mercy to be shown to sinners, and speaking like angels all around.

"The jerks cannot be so easily described. Sometimes the subject of the jerks would be affected in some one member of the body, and sometimes in the whole system. When the head alone was affected, it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished. When the whole system was affected, I have seen the person stand in one place, and jerk backward and forward in quick succession, the head nearly touching the floor behind and before. All classes, saints and sinners, the strong as well as the weak, were thus affected. I have inquired of those thus affected if they could not account for it, but some have told me that those were among the happiest seasons of their lives. I have seen some wicked persons thus affected, and all the time cursing the jerks, while they were thrown to the earth with violence. Though so awful to behold, I do not remember that anyone of the thousands I have seen thus affected ever sustained any injury in body. This was as strange as the exercise itself.

"The dancing exercise generally began with the jerks, and was peculiar to professors of religion. The subject, after jerking a while, began to dance, and then the jerks would cease. Such dancing was indeed heavenly to the spectators. There was nothing in it like levity, nor calculated to excite levity in the beholders. The smile of Heaven shone on the countenance of the subject, and assimilated to angels appeared the whole person. Sometimes the motion was quick, and sometimes slow. Thus they continued to move forward and backward in the same track or alley till nature seemed exhausted; and they would fall prostrate on the floor or earth, unless caught by those standing by. While thus exercised, I have heard their solemn praises and prayers ascend to God.

"The barking exercise, as opposers contemptuously called it, was nothing but the jerks. A person affected with the jerks, especially in his head, would often make a grunt or a bark, from the suddenness of the jerk. This name of barking seems to have had its origin from an old Presbyterian preacher of East Tennessee. He had gone into the woods for private devotion, and was seized with the jerks. Standing near a sapling, he caught hold of it to prevent his falling; and, as his head jerked back, he uttered a grunt, or a kind of a noise similar to a bark, his face being turned upwards. Some wag discovered him in this position, and reported that he had found the old, preacher barking up a tree.

"The laughing exercise was frequent--confined solely to the religious. It was a loud, hearty laughter, but it excited laughter in none that saw it. The subject appeared rapturously solemn, and his laughter excited solemnity in saints and sinners: it was truly indescribable!

"The running exercise was nothing more than that persons feeling something of these bodily agitations, through fear, attempted to run away and thus escape from them; but it commonly happened that they ran not far before they fell, where they became so agitated they could not proceed any farther.

"I knew a young physician, of a celebrated family, who came some distance to a big meeting to see the strange things he had heard of. He and a young lady had sportively agreed to watch over and take care of each other if either should fall. At length, the physician felt something very uncommon, and started from the congregation to run into the woods. He was discovered running as for life, but did not proceed far until he fell down, and there lay until he submitted to the Lord, and afterwards became a zealous member of the Church. Such cases were common.

"The singing exercise is more unaccountable than any thing else I ever saw. The subject, in a very happy state of mind, would sing most melodiously, not from the mouth or nose, but entirely in the breast, the sounds issuing thence. Such noise silenced every thing, and attracted the attention of all. It was most heavenly; none could ever be tired of hearing it.

"Thus have I," says Mr. Stone, "given a brief account of the wonderful things that appeared in the great excitement in the beginning of this century. That there were many eccentricities and much fanaticism in this excitement was acknowledged by its warmest advocates. Indeed, it would have been a wonder if such things had not appeared in the circumstances of that time. Yet the good effects were seen and acknowledged in every neighborhood, and among the different sects. It silenced contention and promoted unity for a while."

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