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BISHOP FRANCIS ASBURY TRAVELS ON THE WILDERNESS ROAD

April 24, 1991

BISHOP FRANCIS ASBURY TRAVELS ON THE WILDERNESS ROAD

By: Jonesborough Genealogical Society    

     Bishop Francis Asbury’s journal started on Sunday 27th of April, 1788. He and his horse had crossed the Iron Mountain having had a rough, difficult climb. The heavy rains, thunder and lightning accompanied them. By the time he reached Edward Cox’s place he was ready to faint being wet, fatigued and hungry. (Mr. Cox was a Methodist from Maryland. He was perhaps the earliest Methodist in the region. . . born 1750 and died 1852).  Mr. Cox and the Bishop had known each other in Maryland. The Cox home was near the present Bluff City.

     Reuben Ellis was the presiding elder of the Holston district in 1786. Asbury noted in his journal his sudden death in 1796. He stated that Ellis had been in the ministry upward to twenty years.

     In 1796, Bishop Asbury spoke of Francis Acuff having died, the family was sorrowful and weeping. He had died in the work of the Lord in Kentucky. The Acuff Chapel in Sullivan County was named for Francis Acuff’s father, Timothy Acuff, soldier of the Revolution.

     Sometimes Bishop Asbury almost despaired because of the sinfulness of the pioneers, he said, “I am of the opinion it is harder for these people to gain religion than any other . . . they being unsettled, too many things to take their attention. They did not come here to get religion but to get plenty of land . . .”

     In one place he mentioned that he stopped at Hunts on the Kentucky Road. There was preaching there early. This was not far from old Tazewell. Mr. Hunt was sheriff of Claiborne County.

     Another stopping place was at the Nelson’s. A marker is now on this spot, placed by the late Samuel Cole Williams, author of many books.

     Richard Whatcoat accompanied Asbury on some of his journeys. Reverend Whatcoat was elected Bishop in 1800. He later was instrumental in religious activities in Middle Tennessee.

     Henry Hill, a young minister, traveled with Asbury. His father approved of his going with the bishop. Many times Asbury wrote of the Holston and Watauga Rivers, and the various people whom he enjoyed being with. He spoke of Barnabas McHenry, a young preacher. This young fellow married a daughter of Colonel Joseph Hardin of Revolutionary fame.

     In 1793, Bishop Asbury spoke of being with Henry and Felix Earnest, whose home was in the present Greene County. Both of these men were soldiers of the Revolution. In 1796, Bishop Asbury wrote of spending the night with Brother Whitaker. His remarks were, “I wish his wife would not love him to death.” (The bishop was a bachelor).

     So often in his extensive travels, he was sick with fever, exhausted and hungry, but onward went to his next place to deliver the Word, and to give comfort. Madam Russell of Abingdon, Virginia, seems to have been greatly admired by Asbury. She was, indeed, a true and upright Christian lady, and helped to lead many to Christ.

     On one occasion he stopped with Francis Alexander Ramsey at his fine stone home near Lebanon, The Forks Presbyterian Church. Ramsey was a great leader in his community. Most likely he had many people in to talk with the bishop concerning religion.

    In Middle Tennessee, or the Metro District, he told of the meeting at Richard Strother’s home in this manner, “great emotion of tenderness among the people,” . . . and on to Edward’s for preaching. Brother Whatcoat and William McGhee also preached. They lodged at James Douglass’ place, the next day Brother McKendree sermonized.

     Bishop Francis Asbury was the greatest of the itinerants, sharing hardships with other circuit riding preachers as he crossed and recrossed the uncharted Appalachians. Supported for three score and ten years by God’s grace and his own determination, Francis Asbury died by the side of the road he traveled, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Later the grieving 1816 General Conference entombed his body in Baltimore,  Equestrian statues in Washington, D.C., and at Drew university in Madison, New Jersey, commemorate the 250,000 miles he traveled on horseback to witness for God to the people. He was truly the Prophet of the Long Road.

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