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Copied from Harbaugh's 1909 History


Miami County Ohio

Chapter 18


Charles Frederick Post, the Missionary
The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Catholics Early Represented Controversialism - Salary of the Backwoods Preacher
Hardships Endured - His Devotion
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.

                           Mrs. Hemans 

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 singer:

"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 in church.

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

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