John Adam Grenade
John Adam Grenade

Source: Early Times in Middle Tennessee
by John Carr, 1857

At the beginning of the present century, there sprang up, and soon passed away, one of the most extraordinary men ever known in the country; and as I was intimately acquainted with him, it is proper I should give a brief sketch of his life. I allude to John Adam Grenade, the poet of the backwoods' settlement, and a preacher of strange power, though called by many people the wild man. No person, as far as I have seen, has given any written account of him, except Dr. Baker, who, in a communication addressed to the Rev. James B. Finley, has given a very correct description of his preaching, and the singular effects that followed it. Grenade was a native either of Virginia or North Carolina-of the latter State, I believe. He embraced religion and joined the Methodists in the county of his nativity. It was deeply impressed upon his mind that he was called to preach the gospel; but rejecting the call, he lost all religious enjoyment. In the fall of 1798 he removed with his brother-in-law to Tennessee, and settled a few miles from the place where I lived, on Goose Creek, in Sumner county, and there I became acquainted with him. He learned there was circuit-preaching in the neighborhood, and made his appearance at meeting shortly after his arrival in the country. At that time, he was the most pitiable human being upon whom I ever rested my eyes. His agony of soul was so intense that he scarcely took food enough to support nature, and the effects of his abstinence told plainly upon his health and physical condition in general. He was not deranged, but was in a state of desperation about his soul. He said that once he had enjoyed religion, but he feared mercy for him was clean gone for ever. Nevertheless, he constantly pleaded with God for mercy through Jesus Christ. Days, and weeks, and months together he spent in the wild woods, crying for mercy, mercy, MERCY! In his roamings the Bible was his companion always. His horse, which he sometimes rode to meeting, seemed almost to understand his situation. I have met him after he had started to meeting, when his horse was feeding by the roadside, while he sat with head upturned and hands raised towards heaven, praying God to have mercy upon him; and all the while he seemed unconscious that he was 'on horseback. Great pains were taken with him by preachers and people. Quite naturally, his case excited sympathy, which was much increased among those who perceived he had been well raised and educated, and that he was endowed with an uncommon poetical talent. In fact, he was a born poet, and during his dreadful depression, he composed pieces of poetry, the publication of which now would quite astonish the world.

Grenade continued in this melancholy situation until the fall of 1800, when he attended the great meeting, already noticed, held by the Presbyterians, on Desha's Creek; and at that meeting he obtained deliverance from bondage. I was present at the time. The scene was awful and solemn beyond description. It drew the attention of the hundreds of people assembled on the ground, and the clergy as well as the laity were struck with wonder, while they witnessed a change the like of which had never before come under their notice. Heaven was pictured upon the face of the happy man, and his language, as though learned in a new world, was apparently superhuman. He spoke of angels and arch angels, cherubim and seraphim, and dwelt with rapture upon the fulness and freeness of the gospel of Christ for the salvation of a lost world. From that meeting immediately he went forth and began to speak in public, and soon afterwards he was licensed to preach the gospel. He had the most singular exercises in preaching-his hands and feet, as well as his tongue, being constantly in motion. I have frequently seen him at private houses, when, if he commenced preaching on one side of the room, he would end his sermon on the opposite side. He had much knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, was a man of great imagination and commanding appearance, and his preaching was very successful. The preachers sought to induce him to take a circuit; but, if he tried it, he would, before making one round, be perhaps forty or fifty miles distant from the place of his regular appointment, at some point out of the way. Preaching thus irregularly, he drew the attention of the people, and multitudes crowded to hear him. He went on thus, preaching any where and everywhere, at his own will, until the spring of 1801, when, wishing to convince preachers and people that God had called him to labor in that way, he undertook to prophesy one Sabbath, in the midst of a long spell of very dry weather-he was preaching to a large congregation-and he told the people that, if it did not rain the next Sabbath, God had not called him to labor as he was doing. Thus his great zeal proved a snare to him. The next Sabbath was a beautiful, clear, bright day, without the shadow of a cloud even, to keep the prophet in countenance. Grenade saw his error, and, going immediately to one of the preachers, john Page, he gave himself into his hands for disposal. About three months afterwards, Quarterly-meeting Conference came on, of which I was a member at that time. Bishop McKendree was then presiding elder. The case of prophesying by John A. Grenade was brought forward for hearing, and, though it has been more than fifty years ago, I remember well the proceedings of that day. John Page, though a great stickler for discipline, arose and told the Conference that Brother Grenade had been with him for three weeks, and that he was the most prayerful and devoted man with whom he had ever traveled, and, for that reason, he hoped the Conference would deal as mercifully with him as they could consistently do under the circumstances. It was decided that he should be deprived of his license as a preacher for three months, though during that time he might hold meetings as an exhorter; and that, if he conducted himself well, his license should be restored to him at the end of three months. After this decision, Grenade, who had retired, was called into the house and, upon his return, he exhorted the members of the Conference, and urged them to pray to God. The secretary read to him the decision in his case, and upon hearing it he exclaimed, "What, not preach for three months." He then told the Conference that if they could stop the devil for three months, he would submit to the decision; but as long as the devil went about as a roaring lion, he was bound to wage war against him. When it was explained to him that he might exhort the people, it seemed not to satisfy him; so that he did not surrender his license to the Conference, and it was feared he would not yield it to them. The brethren, supposing perhaps that I had greater influence with him than any other man, laid it upon me to try and get his license away from him. So that evening I induced him to take a walk with me; and while we were in a retired place, I told him that the Conference had dealt mercifully with him, in allowing him even to exhort the people, in which work for three months he might do as much good as he had ever done in that length of time; and that, with this view of the matter, he ought to submit to the decision in his case. He yielded the point, and gave his license to me. I remember well the appropriate remarks of the presiding elder on the occasion, when, among other things, said he, "Brother Grenade, had I given latitude to my religious feelings when I was young, I should have gone astray. Our zeal should be founded on the word of God and according to knowledge." Grenade went forth from that Conference, and I suppose he never, for three months, did more good than he did during this time of his suspension as a preacher. He seemed to have a peculiar enmity against the devil, and would call him by singular names, that would create levity in these days of refinement; though he did it in a way that no one then was amused at. He would describe the devil as a man of war, with a gun in hand, trying to shoot the righteous. Then he would undertake to show how the gun might be put out of order, so that the devil should miss his aim. By prayer and faith, he would bend the barrel, or knock off the hindsight, and thus the devil would shoot and be disappointed in his expectation. His meetings were attended by immense crowds of people, and his labors resulted in turning many to righteousness.

At the end of three months, Grenade was again licensed as a preacher, and in the fall of 1801, he was admitted into the traveling connection, and was sent to East Tennessee, where he labored with great success. The people in vast numbers congregated at his appointments, and followed him as they used to do Lorenzo Dow, from neighborhood to neighborhood. They erected stands in' the woods from which he preached to them; and often he broke down the stands by stamping with his feet and smiting with his hands. A gentleman told me that he went to hear him in East Tennessee at a private house, and a large building too, though the congregation was so great that not near all were accommodated. After preaching, the members of the Church retired up stairs for class meeting, and they crowded in until the room above was filled, and the one below was still nearly full. Grenade was in one of his big ways, and spoke aloud, so as to be heard below as well as above. In a loud voice, he said he felt like breaking the trigger of hell, and, giving a tremendous stamp with his foot, he actually broke one of the joists, which made a report almost like the firing of a gun. The people below screamed and ran to the door, some thinking hell had overtaken them. But the accident did not at all dampen the preacher's ardent zeal. These things I mention as evidence of the man's eccentricity.

But with all these wild and curious movements, Grenade was one of the most devoted and useful men. Well versed in the Scriptures, particularly the prophecies, into which he could go deeper than anyone I have ever heard, and gifted in language and voice, he was one of the most extraordinary preachers of his day. He could paint the sublime glories of heaven so vividly, that it seemed almost as though one were gazing upon the reality; and he could so represent the horrors of hell, and the punishment of the wicked, that the scene almost made one's hair rise on his head. He traveled and preached for three years, I believe, in East Tennessee and Virginia, and then returned to Middle Tennessee completely broken down, so that he could speak only in a low tone of voice. Soon after his return, I saw him at a camp meeting, where I heard him talk a sermon in a feeble way, as to manner, though in matter it was a stream of divinity. He was entirely cured of his wild ways: his hands and feet were motionless, and indeed his sermon was unattended by the slightest bodily agitation. Not long afterwards, he married a Miss Babb, of Wilson county, where, having settled, he entered upon the practice of medicine, but died in a few years. I believe he viewed me as one of his best friends, and I have written thus of him because such a man should not be forgotten by the Church.

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