“O, what sweetness I feel”– New River, 1815

This is the first in a new Monday morning series I’m calling “In Their Own Words.” I hope you find these 1st-hand accounts of North Carolina’s coastal history a good way to start your week! 

* * *

Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in America, feels old and worn down tonight. He is sore from having ridden a gimpy nag all day through swamps and forests. His arthritic joints ache. His legs have swollen from tick and chigger bites. A chronic diarrhea has weakened him. “I die daily,” he mutters to himself.

Francis Asbury's journals from 1771 to 1815 were published in 3 volumes only a few years after his death in 1816. Courtesy, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

Francis Asbury’s journals from 1771 to 1815 were published in 3 volumes only a few years after his death in 1816. Courtesy, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

It is 1815. He is riding on a sandy path through a great forest. He is north of Wilmington, N.C., headed to a little settlement at New River in Onslow County.

Asbury has been an evangelist for more than 40 years. He preaches one day in a rude house or slave cabin, the next day in a barn, the next in a tavern, occasionally in a small church. He travels from one hamlet to the next almost daily.

Bad roads and nasty weather, infested beds and an empty stomach are the story of his life. He was born in England, but he has found joy and fulfillment spreading the Gospel in this far corner of the world.

His own soul has found peace here, too.

He had expected no other rewards. In 1771 Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, sent him to America: Asbury never thought it would be easy.

Nowadays, despite his pains and age, he feels most comfortable when he is traveling and preaching. He will never stop, never marry, never settle down.

As the old bishop approaches New River, he feels the Lord beside him on his path through the pines.

In his journal, he writes, “O, what sweetness I feel as I steal along through the solitary woods.”

 

Source: Grady L. E. Carroll, ed., Francis Asbury in North Carolina: The North Carolina Portions of the Journal of Francis Asbury (1965). You can find the full text of that work here.  Carroll also wrote a biographical entry on Bishop Asbury that you can find at NCpedia.

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