The Two-Fisted Preacher

As the American frontier moved west, there were seldom enough families in the wilderness to support a local minister. So preachers known as circuit riders traveled from place to place visiting families and holding church services when they could gather a handful of people. Often it took them four to six weeks to "ride a circuit."

About once a year, families from adjoining circuits gathered for a camp meeting, an outdoor conference noted for great singing, bold preaching, and religious fervor.

One colorful and successful circuit rider was Peter Cartwright. At age fifteen he was dramatically converted from a life of gambling, fighting, and horse racing. Two years later, in 1802, the leaders of Peter’s Methodist Episcopal Church asked him to create a new circuit in the unchurched wilderness three counties west. This was the beginning of his riding the trail for fifty-three years over tens of thousands of miles. In so doing, he brought the Gospel to frontier families in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.

Peter Cartwright preached the Gospel boldly and wouldn’t tolerate any troublemakers disrupting his camp meetings. If he couldn’t outwit them, he would physically kick them out. And at a stocky two hundred pounds, he could do it.

One of his great sorrows was the increase in slavery among church families. When he began preaching, there was a church rule in Kentucky against ministers having slaves, but as time passed, there were more and more exceptions. Cartwright feared it would split the church, which it did some years later. When he felt that he could no longer fight effectively against this trend, he moved his family and ministry to the free state of Illinois. There he became friends with Abraham Lincoln.

He died at his farm in Pleasant Plains, Illinois, on September 25, 1872, just after his eighty-seventh birthday.

1997 Dave and Neta Jackson, Hero Tales, Vol. II