Copied from Harbaugh's 1909 History
Miami County Ohio
THE PIONEER PREACHER
Charles Frederick Post, the Missionary
The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics Early Represented
Salary of the Backwoods Preacher
Hardships Endured -
Stories of the Itinerant Preachers
The Results They Accomplished
But when the Sabbath gatherings press
Like armies from the wilderness,
'Tis then the dim old woods afford
The sanctuary of the Lord;
The Holy Spirit breathes around-
The forest glade is sacred ground.
Of the pioneer preachers of Miami County a volume might be written.
They were the first to bring the word of truth into the wilderness, though
the Bible came with the first settlers who crossed the barrier of the Alleghenies,
or brought their little families from the plantations of the South. When
the first circuit rider lifted his voice in this region, exhorting all
to "flee from the wrath to come," this county was indeed a wilderness.
Along its streams roamed the predatory wolf and the restless redman parted
the waters with the prow of his birchen canoe. The sweet and sacred story
of the Cross was told and retold beneath the sturdy oaks of the Miami forests
and the four-footed denizens of the wild paused and listened to the first
hymns that so ared heavenward from the lips of the little bands of worshippers.
The scented groves of that day were truly "God's first temples."
One of the firsts if not the first, minister to enter the forest of
Ohio was Charles Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary, a calm, simple-hearted
and intrepid man. He was sent into Ohio after the defeat of Braddock to
preach the gospel, as well as to win the Indians over to the cause of the
English; and he zealously did both. At the close of the Pontiac War, in
1761, Post returned to the valley of the Muskingum and settled among the
Delawares. He was assisted in his labors by the celebrated Heekenwelder
and afterward by David Zeisberger, another devoted servant of God, and
the three founded the town of Gnadenhutten, which was afterward destroyed
by a lot of fanatical white settlers, and its Indian converts massacred.
It was not until after the close of the Revolutionary War that the tide
of pioneer preaching reached the real valley of the Ohio. It swept northward
from Kentucky, headed by the good old itinerant who rode from settlement
to settlement with Bible and saddlebags, preaching wlierever he could find
a congregation, however small. He did as much to civilize the wilderness
as those who wielded the axe, and built towns. where naught but the unbroken
forest had been.
Strong and powerful men were the backwoods preachers, and their mentality
was equal to their physical strength. They knew no fear. Imbued with the
Holy Spirit, they set up the altar of the Most High God in the most remote
localities udaunted by adverse circumstances, and surrounded by dangers,
seen and unseen. These heroic men of different denominations came from
dilfferent localities. The first Presbyterians emigrated from Kentucky,
the Baptists from Virginia, where they had suffered much persecution, and
John Haw and Benjamin Odgen were the first followers of John Wesley to
cross the Alleghanies. The Roman Catholics sought the new West from Maryland
and, loyal to their church, they grouped themselves in neighborhoods where
they could enjoy its first instruction and offices. And now after the lapse
of a century these classes are walking in the faith of their fathers. For
some time there was much antagonism, a sort of pugnacious rivalry or "free
fight" between Denominations in this region. They were great controversialists,
and there was an immense din about baptism and Pedo-Babtisim , Free Grace
and Predestination, Falling from Grace and the Peserverance of the Saints,
but at no time did the pioneer preachers forget the holiness of their mission.
The ministry of the church of the wilderness assumed the positition
and responsability of their calling under the confident belief that each
man of them was specially called and sent forth by the Holy Spirit of peace
and power as the ambassador of Christ. The office of the backwoods preacher
was no sinecure. His field of labor was the world. His salary rarely exceeded
seventy dollars and in later times he considered himself "Passing
rich at forty pounds a year."
Nothing more was allowed a man with a wife than without one, for it
was understood by the ministers of the old church that a preacher had no
business with a wife and that he was a great deal better without. Francis
Asbury, the pioneer Methodist, discountenanced matrimony, and Bishop McKendree,
after whom McKendree Chapel was named, remained a bachelor. It was Asbury
who said, upon hearing that one of his preachers had married: "I fear
the women and the devil will get all my preachers."
The early ministers of Miami County had small encouragement, indeed,
in the way of pecuniary support to which they could look forward. They
came to the wilderness to face perils, want, weariness, unklindness, cold
and hunger. The bare earth in winter and summer was threefourths of the
time their bed, a saddle their pillow and the sky their coverlet. They
studied the hymbook nearly as devotedly and constantly as the Bible, and
with these two they had an arsenal front which they could bring forth weapons
adapted to every emergency. When some obstreperous sinner disturbed their
meetings they strode down from the backwoods pulpit an ejected the offender
by main force, after which the sermon was ressumed is if nothing had happened.
On one occasion a Spring Creek disturber was seized by the stalwart preacher
and carried to the nearest water, where he received an immersion not at
all to his liking.
What of the preaching of these, our pioneer men of God? They not only
knew the Bible, but they knew other books as well. Young and Milton were
intimate companions of these old wayfarers. Miltonic descriptions of perdition
abounded in their preaching, and the Judgment with all the solemn array
of the Last Assize was vividly delineated by them. Their rather topographical
descriptions of the good and bad worlds met with favor by their audiences.
The earnest lives of the settlers, filled with necessit ies and arduous
struggles to supply them, must have appropriate religious food; and these
simple-hearted, firmly believing crusaders of the wilderness were just
the men to give it to them. There was an immense deal of force and stamina
in the method of the first preachers of the country. They spoke loud and
with the whole body; their feet and hands were put in requisition as well
as their tongues and head. They had to make their sermons as they were
traveling along the way, and a hard, rugged way it was.
An interesting anecdote is told of one of our old itinerants who invaded
the Stillwater Valley in the early days. He had spent one night out in
the cold and there was a prospect of spending another in the same cheerless
manner. He thought of his lonely journey and of the perils that compassed
it. Then his faith lifted him to a better, brighter world, its rest and
reward for the wayfarer, and he thought of the good Father and of the angels
that are sent to succor and to minister, and his heart presently filled
with overflowing gladness, and he struck up a hymn, for he was a famous
"Peace, troubled soul; thou needst not fear,
Thy great Provider still is near;
Who fed thee last will feed thee still,
Be calm and sink into His will."
He went on with the song and looking bout him, saw that he was near
a house, for its woman and the children were crowding about him with tears
in their eyes. As he concluded, the old lady shouted; "Pete, put up
the gentleman's horse. Girls, have a good supper for the preacher."
And thus he was fed and lodged for a song.
Another story pertaining to the pioneer preachers who brought the gospel
into this locality may also be told here. The old gospel wayfarer, after
preaching in Indiana, came to try for the saving of souls among the growing
settlements along the Miami. Himself and family had barely enough to keep
body and soul together. The wolf was constantly at the door. They had borne
their poverty without a murmur. The preacher was much beloved, tall, slender,
graceful, with a winning countenance, a kindly eye where flashed the fire
of genius, a voice silvery and powerful in speech, sweet as a windharp
in song. As this country began to settle more a large land holder, much
attached to the preacher, knowing his poverty, wished to make an expression
of his grateful regard and affection. Therefore he presented him with a
title-deed to a quarter section of land. The man of God went his way with
a glad and humble heart, that there was provision made for his own advancing
age and the wants of his rising family. In three months he returned. Alighting
at the gate, he removed his saddle bags and began to fumble in their capacious
pockets. As he reached the door where stood his friendly host to welcome
him he drew out the parchment, saying:
"Here, sir, I want to give you back your title-deed." "What's
the matter?" asked his friend, "Any flaw in it?" "No."
"Isn't it good land?" "Good as any in the State." "Sickly
situation?" "Healthy as any other." "Do you think I
repent the gift?" "I haven't the slightest reason to doubt your
generosity." "Why don't you keep it, then?" "Well,
sir," said the preacher, "you know I am very fond of singing
and there's one hymn in the book, the singing of which is one of the greatest
comforts of my life. I haven't been able to sing it with my whole heart
since I was here. A part of it runs this way:"
No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in the wilderness;
A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below
And gladly wander to and fro
Till I my Canaan gain.
There is my home an portion fair!
My treasure and my heart are there,
And my abiding home."
"Take your title-deed," be added, "I had rather sing
that hymn with a clear conscience, than own America."
Such were the men of God who preached Christ and him crucified in the
wilderness of the Miami.
The old circuit riders who journeyed from Stillwater to the Miami and
along the banks of Spring Creek, Honey Creek and Lost Creek were giants
in their day. As yet there were few places that might be dignified by the
name of houses of worship. The brick church was yet in the womb of time.
The backwoods minister was always outspoken. When he chided frivolity or
uncleanness it was in no uncertain language. He "struck out from the
shoulder," as it were. Very often "the fool who came to jibe
remained to pray." On one occasion one of these old preachers noticed
that one of his congregation, an influential member of the community and
a lover of tobacco, was expectorating freely on the floor. The Minister
had been discoursing very pointedly on uncleanliness in general, but at
last he broke out with: "Now I reckon you want to know who I mean?
I mean that dirty, filthy tobacco chewer sitting on the end of that front
seat. See what he has been about. Look at the puddles on the floor. A frog
wouldn't get into them. Think of the tails of the sister's dresses being
draged through that muck." The crestfallen user of the weed, who died
many years ago in the county, declared that he never chewed any more tobacco
There were many camp meetings in the dawn of church history in this
county. They were conducted by preachers like Peter Cartwright and others.
These were famous gatherings to which the whole neighborhood turned out
and they lasted for days. There were some wonderful conversions during
these meetings. The powerful convincing eloquence of the backwoods preacher
was the moving force. The "mourners bench," often erected in
the forest, always bad its complement of sinners seeking grace. Everybody
joined in singing the old-fashioned hymns, which now, alas! are seldom
beard. Under the inspiration of these hymns, frequently interspersed with
fervent "Amens," hundreds professed the new life and went on
their way rejoicing.
Oliver Goldsmith, in his matchless "Deserted Village," thus
beautifully describes the old preacher, one of the kind under whose benign
ministrations sat the pioneer fathers and mothers of our county:
"Remote from towns, he ran his goodly race,
Nor e'er had changed, nor wished to change his place,
Unskilled he to fawn or seek for power
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;
Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And e'en his failings leaned to Virtue's side,
But in his duty, prompt at every call,
He watched and wept, he prayed and felt for all.
He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds and led the way,
To them his heart, his love,, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven."
The true worth of the pioneer preacher cannot be computed. He did a
great work among the settlements along the Miami. Poverty had no terrors
for him. He builded up little congregations which in time became the foremost
ones of the county. His whole soul was in his mission. He visited the sick,
comforted the mourner, prayed with the dying and often read the burial
service to the howl of the sneaking wolf. He carried his saddle bags through
the snows of winter, forded the Miami amid the howlings of the tempest
and appeared an angel of light to the little family around the pioneer
hearth. And when his sacred work was ended he "folded the drapery
of his couch about him" and, secure in the great reward which was
to be his, bowed to the will of God and passed from the stage of action.
I have written this description of the backwoods evangels in order to
let the present generation know what sort of men carried the Cross through
our county in the days of its formation. They had the zeal of the Crusader
without his fanaticism, the per severance of Napoleon without his ambition.
They seemed to see the grandeur which was to come when they were gone,
the building of a populous commonwealth where their forest altars were
erected. They preached not for the present alone, but for the future. They
endured the pangs of hunger and slept on the flowerless couch of poverty
that coming generations, seeing their good work, might take it up and carry
it to full fruition. From the tireless efforts of these earnest ministers
of God arose t he present state of religion which the county enjoys.
There is nothing so interesting in our history as the labors of the
little band of men who carried the Word up and down the Miami. The rains
and snows of a century have blotted out their footsteps, their graves are
hidden in out-of-the-way places, the modest tombstones erected over them
have crumbled away and their very names are in many instances, forgotten,
but the work they did is written on the imperishable tablets of the Most
High. Miami County owes to her first "sowers of the seed of righteousness"
a debt of gratitude beyond her power to fully pay. There are no living
duplicates of these men, for the times have changed and the wilderness
has disappeared. They were the men for the times, they came forth when
they were needed, did their work nobly and, passing, left the infant church
to the care of the earnest believers who were to come after them. Peace
to their ashes!
End chapter 18
1909 History of Miami County Ohio