The Pocahontas Times
April 30, 1925
In the city of Washington, a statue has been erected of Bishop Asbury, founder of the Methodist church in America. It is a likeness of the bishop on horseback, and they call it the fifteenth horseman to come to Washington. The other horsemen are all warriors of the highest type being thirteen generals and Joan of Arc. They are Washington, Sherman, Sheridan, Scott, Grant, Jackson, McClellan, Hancock, Greene, McPherson, Logan and Pulaski.
The Asbury statue is the work of Augustus Lukeman and stands where Mount Pleasant Street crosses Sixteenth Street in one of the finest sections of the city. The Bishop is depicted as a circuit rider. A lean, clean cut, Puritan type of a man. He has a clerical look. He sits the horse after the manner of a man at home in the saddle. He has his hat on, and is clothed in a cape. Bulging saddle bags are shown. In his hand he holds a Bible. He has the appearance of a rider that has come to the top of a hill and has paused to look upon the valley below. The bridle rein is loose on the horse's withers, and the horse is a sturdy animal that is fighting a fly on the left knee. It is a great work of art. It is probably the greatest of all the equestrarian statute in Washington, the others dividing too much of the glory with their bouncing war horses. It must be a hard proposition for a sculptor to keep the hero from being overshadowed by his horse.
The fame of Bishop Asbury gros and gros. In the erection of the monument all branches of the Methodist church contributed, all join in claiming him as the founder. In his old age, the bishop said that the reason that he never married was because he never had enough money to be married upon. There were times that he never had a cent.
He is probably the greatest exponent of all times of the ideal minister. The kind that W,. M. Punshon had in mind when he said:
One great want of the times is a commanding ministry-a ministry of a piety at once sober and earnest, and of the mightiest moral power. Give us those men, "full of faith and the Holy Ghost," who will proclaim old truths with new energy, not cumbering them with massive drapery nor hiding them beneath piles of rubbish. Give us these men! Men of sound speech, who will preach the truth as it is in Jesus, not with faltering tongue and averted eye, as if the mind blushed at its own credulity-not distilling into an essence so subtle and so speedily decomposed that a chemical analysis alone can detect a faint odor which tells it has been there-but who will preach it apostlewise, that is "first of all." at once a principle shrined in the heart and a motive mighty in the life-the source of all morals and the inspiration of all charity-the sanctifier of every relationship, and the sweetener of every toil. Give us these men! Men of zeal untiring-whose hearts of constancy quail not although dull men sneer, and proud men scorn, and timid men blush, and cautious men deprecate, and wicked men revile.
Bishop Asbury rode horseback all over a diocese that extended from Maine to Georgia and bounded on the east by the ocean and on the west by the Indians. He was the personal representative of John Wesley, picked by him to establish the Methodist church in America. Asbury arrived here in 1771, and it is not too much to say that he brought the Methodist church to America, for he had the authority and the ability to organize churches. In 1769, Robert Williams arrived in New York and commenced to preach as a Methodist preacher and came to Virginia, preaching his first sermon on the steps of the court house at Norfolk, Virginia. But his work does not seem to have been systematic and was confined to preaching the gospel, whereas in Asbury's case, organized churches sprang up where ever he traveled and continued to grow and flourish until it became the strongest church in America.
You will notice by the date, that Asbury arrived here as the representative of the Methodist church in England, at the period when the colonies were breaking away from the mother country. A number of such church representatives were in trouble in the colonies in their effort to remain loyal to England and at the same time preach the gospel on this side of the Atlantic. Asbury seems to have definitely thrown in his life with the fate of independence and his main difficulty was the reproaching letter he received from John Wesley, in which he, Asbury, is charged with independence of the mother church in England.
But that but adds to the fame of Bishop Asbury for it bears out his statement that the Methodist church was established in America without cost to the church in England.
The greatest item of expense that Asbury had to contend with was money for the ferries. In the long horseback rides of that time, the large rivers had to be crossed by means of ferries, and ferry tolls were cash and had to be in hand.
His journeys seem to have been south through the tidewater regions and when he turned to the north again to have traversed the valleys and mountains. His most fruitful field were the mountain people. He experienced great difficulty in the Virginias and in Pennsylvania among the Germans on account of not being able to preach to them in their own language. Before the days of Asbury, the creed of the English speaking mountain people so far as they had any creed at all was Presbyterian. There were a large number of Presbyterian preachers before the Revolutionary war, gloomy, earnest, having much to do with the education and morals of the communities. But the hardy pioneers were spreading everywhere in the rich woods west of the Allegheny, and religion depended upon the traditions kept alive by the good mothers who taught the children at the knee.
Roosevelt points out that the gloomy and self centered Calvinistic doctrine did not suit the pioneer leading the life of adventure and of bold defiance in the wilderness full of danger, especially from the Indian. Calvinism was too cold for the fiery borderers, and they were not stirred to the depth of their natures until the Methodist creed worked its way into the wilderness.
There were manifold temptations to backslide in those days of fierce contention, and it was literally a day when they existed by blood and sweat. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the Indians, and the pioneers turned on their foes and waged a terrible warfare in return.
Roosevelt says further that the pioneers were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, knowing neither truth nor pity; they were also upright, resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends and devoted to their country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.
It was in these wilderness communities that Asbury, a man who was more or less a lifelong invalid, brought his religion. He had the tireless energy and patience to cover a field that other creeds had neglected. He came among a people ripe for organized religion. In their homes were Bibles and dim traditions of churches.
Another thing that fully established the fame of Bishop Asbury was the systematic record that he kept of his daily work. That in itself shows the regular way in which he worked. In 1820, his diary made a three volume work when it was published in book form, and represented some forty-four years as the prophet of the long road of America.
As near as I can figure out, Asbury passed along the road I live on, three times. In 1788, 1792, and 1796, he rode up the Greenbrier valley, and of all the hard travelling, he seems to have dreaded the trail from Marlinton to Clarksburg, the most. His name for the Tygarts Valley was the Valley of Distress.
In 1788, he came into the West Virginia territory by the Sweet Springs and to Lewisburg. Two days travelling brought him to Clover Lick, a remote and exposed house. Here he found good lodgings for the place. A former tenant (Maj. Jacob Warwick) had made an estate by keeping cattle and horses on the range, which is fertile and extensive. The next day he pushed forward toward Tygarts Valley. He says that he had to cross the Allegheny Mountain again. In this he was mistaken, as it was the extension of the Back Alleghenies, as they are still called. He reached the Tygarts Valley at Mingo Flats. It was in the month of July.
Here is his account of that journey.
Our course lay over mountains and through valleys, and the mud and mire were such as might scarcely be expected in December. We came to an old forsaken habitation in Tygarts Valley. (This was the old Indian town at Mingo) Here our horses grazed about while we boiled our meat. Midnight brought us up at Jone's after riding forty or perhaps fifty miles. The old man, our host, was kind enough to wake us up at four in the morning. We journeyed on through devious lonely wilds, where no food might be found except what grew in the woods, or was carried with us. We met two women who were going to see their friends and to attend the quarterly meeting at Clarksburg. Near midnight we stopped at a house whose owner hissed his dogs at us; but the women were determined to get to the quarterly meeting so we went in. Our supper was tea. Brothers Phoebus and Cook took to the woods and the old man gave up his bed to the women. I lay along the floor on a few deer skins with the fleas. That night our poor horses got no corn, and the next morning they had to swim the Monongahela ( two miles below Philippi). After a ride of twenty miles we came to Clarksburg, and man and beast were so outdone that it took us ten hours to accomplish it. I lodged with Colonel Jackson. Our meeting was held in a long close room belonging to the Baptists. Our use of the house, it seems, gave offense. There attended about 700 people to whom I preached with freedom. After administering the sacrament, I was well satisfied to take my leave. We rode 30 miles to Father Haymond's (at Fairmont) after three o'clock Sunday afternoon and made it nearly eleven o'clock before we came in. About midnight, we went to rest and rose at five the next morning. My mind has been severely tried under the great fatigue endured both by myself and horse. O, how glad I should be of a plain, clean plank to lie on, as preferable to most of the beds; and where the beds are in a bad state the floors are worse. This country will require much work to make it tolerable. The people are, many of them, of the boldest class of adventurers, and with some the decencies of civilized society are scarcely regarded, two instances of which I myself witnessed. The great landlords who are industrious will soon show the effects of the aristocracy by wealth, by lording it over their poorer neighbors, and by securing to themselves all the offices of profit and honor. On the one hand, savage warfare teaches them to be cruel, and on the other, the preaching of the Antinomians poisons them with error in doctrine. Good moralists they are not, and good Christians they cannot be unless they are better taught.
I have been giving the foregoing paragraph from Bishop Asbury's writings so that the reader can form an estimate of the man. Comments are of no value compared to the actual words used by a historical character.
That word antinomian is a fearless criticism levelled against the older churches of that date and especially the Prebyterian doctrine of justification by faith and not by works, which must be admitted has led to abuses by those who sought excuses to break the ten commandments. There is probably more danger of antinomianism now than ever in these days of easy faith and loose morals. What the world needs is righteousness.
Of all the records that the Bishop left, the most severe stricture is on Morgantown, today the university city of West Virginia, the most strict temperance town, and the place where the Methodists reign supreme. Asbury said:
I had a lifeless, disorderly people to hear me at Morgantown to whom I preached. It is a matter of grief to behold the excesses, particularly in drinking, which abounds here.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Open rebuke. Perhaps the publication of this criticism over a hundred years ago has had something to do with the regeneration of that fair city.
In 1792, in May, the Bishop attended a conference at Lewisburg, and from there he went through Randolph and Barbour Counties, on to Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
In May, 1796, the Bishop made another trip from Lewisburg by the way of Marlinton, to Morgantown. On these two last trips he seems to have tried the trail over the Elk Mountain and down the Old Field Fork of Elk to the waters of the Monongahela. The same problem confronts the traveller today as he switches from the Elk route, to the Clover Creek gap, and to the road over Cheat, complaining about them all.
There is no question that the work on the frontier as begun by Asbury has never been neglected for an instant to this day. Doddridge, the historian, refers to them as evangelical preachers who never failed to visit each wilderness settlement to collect the pioneers into societies for the worship of God.
Among the first preachers of the Methodist church was the Rev. J.J. Jacob who married the widow of Col. Michael Cresap. Their son was governor of West Virginia.
Rev. John Cooper, Rev. Samuel Breeze, Rev. Peter Moriarty, Rev. John Robert Ayers, Rev. Stephen Deakin, and Rev. William Phoebus were among the Methodist ministers of the seventeen eighties, when civilization was getting such a strong foot hold in central West Virginia. Sixty dollars a year was considered a good salary for a minister then.
One of the early preachers was the Rev. Asa Shinn, of Marion County, who founded the Methodist Protestant church. In 1804, Rev. Asa Shinn rode the Guyandotte circuit, succeeding the Rev. William Steele.
Rev. Henry Smith in the year 1794 had a circuit that took in the country between Morgantown and the head of the West Fork and Hackers Valley. This minister left an autobiography in which his work in the mountains is described in detail. And by the way, one of the oldest settlers on this river was Edmund West and that probably accounts for the name of the river.
Mr. Smith relates that he preached at the house of Stortze's on the headwaters of the West Fork and that while the meeting was being held that a young man interrupted the services with the news that the body of a young woman who had been killed and scalped by the Indians had been found in the woods.
Checking up on that incident, I find that Withers says that at this place in July, 1794, that a party of six Indians came to the house of John Runyon and captured his daughter and took her twelve miles into the wilderness and there killed and scalped her. It was almost the last of the Indian tragedies in West Virginia.
Bishop Asbury builded better than he knew. He was not a happy man, but he was a busy and useful one, and people are just beginning to realize what a tremendous work he accomplished by his devotion and perseverence. He is probably the greatest evangelist of all times and places. And his statue looks down each day on an endless line of Antinomians.
Sources on Francis Asbury