Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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CARTWRIGHT, Peter, clergyman, born in Amherst County, Virginia, 1 September, 1785 ; died near Pleasant Plains, Sangamon County, Illinois, 25 September, 1872. His father was a soldier in the revolutionary war, and about 1790 removed with his family to Logan County, Kentucky At that time, according to his own account, there was not a newspaper printed south of Green river, no schools worth the name, and no mills within forty miles. Clothing was home-made from the cotton and flax, and imported tea, coffee, and sugar were unknown. Methodist preachers had just begun to ride "circuits" in that section, and the Rev. John Lurton obtained permission to hold public services in Mr. cart-wright's cabin when in the neighborhood. After a few years a conference was formed, known as the western conference, the seventh then in the United States. In 1801 a camp-meeting was held at Cane Ridge, at which nearly 2,000 persons were converted. Peter was then a wild boy of sixteen, fond of horse-racing, card-playing, and dancing. He was soon awakened to a sense of his sinfulness, but fought against his convictions for some time, plunging more recklessly than ever into his dissipations, until, after a night's dance and debauch at a wedding some miles from his father's house, he fell under conviction of sin, and began to pray. He sold a favorite race-horse, burned his cards, gave up gambling, to which he was greatly addicted, and, after three months' earnest seeking was converted. He immediately began to preach as a "local," but in 1803 was received into the regular ministry, and ordained an elder in 1806 by Bishop Asbury. In 1823 Mr. Cartwright removed from the Cumberland district and sought a home in Illinois, settling the year following in Sangamon County, then peopled only by a few hardy and enterprising pioneers. After a few years he was elected to the legislature, wherein his rough-and-ready wit and his unflinching courage made him the victor in many debates. He attended annual conferences with almost unfailing regularity for a series of years, and was always a conspicuous member. Year after year he attended camp-meetings, finding his greatest happiness in them. He was a delegate to numerous general conferences, and retained his interest in religion to the last. From a very early period he was a zealous opponent of slavery, and was rejoiced when the Methodist Episcopal church was rid of all complicity with it by the division in 1844. Nevertheless, he retained his allegiance to the Democratic Party, and was its candidate for congress in 1846, in opposition to Abraham Lincoln, who defeated him by a majority of 1,500. For more than fifty years he was presiding elder in the church, which he saw rise, from 72,874 members when he joined it, to about 1,750,000 when he was called away. He was a powerful preacher and a tireless worker. His quaint and eccentric habits, and his exhaustless fund of stories, drawn largely from personal experience, gained favor and popularity wherever he went. Numerous stories are told of his personal prowess in dealing with the rough characters of the frontier, who often sought to interrupt his meetings, and whom, if report be true, he invariably vanquished by moral suasion if possible, or, failing that, by the arm of flesh. In conference meetings he was loved, revered, and dreaded, for he hesitated not to arraign the house of bishops to their face ; but his influence was powerful, and his strong good sense often shaped the policy of the whole denomination. He published several pamphlets, of which his "Controversy with the Devil" (1853) was perhaps the most famous. "The Autobiography of the Rev. Peter Cartwright" (New York, 1856) was edited by William P. Strick-land. See also Dr. Abel Stevens' "Observations on Dr. Cartwright," and his many books treating of the history of Methodism, and "The Backwoods Preacher" (London, 1869).
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