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Autobiography: The Revival in Missouri PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   


The baptism of the twelve being postponed because there was no ordained minister present, a messenger was sent to Elder Stephen Stilley, requesting him to come up and baptize the candidates at our next meeting. There was no other ordained minister that we knew of living in all that country. Elder Stilley was the pastor of the Bethel Church, and had served them as such for years before I moved there, and was well received. I was only a licentiate and could not administer the ordinances of the church. He came at our next church meeting, but seemed distant and gruff, and was unwilling to baptize the people. His reasons were that he had been afflicted sometime before with the ague, and going into the water might bring on a relapse, and that he felt too weak to perform the labor. These, and many other poor excuses, he made—such as perhaps no Baptist ever had been known to make before.

The church reasoned with him, stating that there were now twelve received for baptism, and many more were expected, as a very powerful work was going on around us and in our midst, and he was the only ordained minister in the neighborhood that could baptize. As for the coldness of the water, or the danger of his health, they never had heard of any one’s being hurt by baptizing or being baptized, at any season of the year. As to his physical strength, if he thought there was any danger of that, I would go in and out with him, and do all the labor of raising the candidates from the water, and conducting them out and in. If any doubts were on his mind as to the experience of any of the candidates, he could have full opportunity of hearing them, either publicly or privately. After much persuasion he reluctantly agreed to perform the ordinance, if I would lead them out and in, and raise them from the water. This I willingly agreed to do; and so it was done.

This was the first time in my life that I had ever seen or even thought of the possibility of ministers becoming jealous of each other when the labors of one were blessed more than another; but I have suffered so much, since that time, on this account, that I have been made to tremble for the peace of the church and the cause of God. I have suffered far more heartfelt trouble and discouragement from the jealousy of ministers and their evil influences, than from almost all other causes since I have been in the ministry. Some preachers cannot bear to have others even thought well of, and if any should show special respect for another, speak well of his talents, influence, knowledge in discipline, or in the Scriptures, this root of jealousy will spring up as if they felt they were undervalued or slighted, and some way is sought to prostrate the one who they suppose stands in their way. This is all of the flesh, and is a very hateful enemy to the social comfort of Christians, and especially among ministers. They all have their proper gifts and places in the church, and in their place and gift they are of great use in the body. But when they begin to envy and seek to rise higher at the expense of some other’s downfall, then they begin to destroy themselves, maim and afflict the body, and, perhaps, injure the usefulness of him they envy. Most of the divisions among the churches originate, directly or indirectly, from this destroyer of the mutual comfort of the ministers, and of their influence among the members.

The Church at Bethel at once perceived that this monster was at work with the old man, and well knew there was no just cause for it. Such crowds of people, such warmth of feeling, and such ingathering of converts had never been under his ministry there, and the tempter had seized upon all this to poison his mind against me and the church. He stated, while there, that the earthquake had been very severe in the Big Prairie, below New Madrid, and had bursted the earth to pieces, and that an old Baptist minister by the name of John Tanner, formerly of Virginia, was now so old and infirm, and unable to travel that the church could not get him to come. The Red River Association, to which we belonged, had resolved that fewer than two ordained ministers could not constitute a presbytery to ordain a minister, and Elder Stilley was the only one we knew of in all our territory. The church felt very desirous to have me ordained while there was an opportunity, and they requested Elder Stilley to go with me and some of the members sent by the church, to Elder Tanner’s, and they, by the act of church, could ordain me. By hard persuading the elder agreed to go. As Elder Stilley lived about thirty miles on our way, he said he could easily send on the appointment. The church then called on me to go. I considered the conditions of things, finally consented, and sent on my appointments by Elder Stilley. The first appointment was in Elder Stilley’s neighborhood, the next at Elder Tanner’s. Brother Thomas Bull, the clerk of the church, was to go with me.

The time came, and Brother Bull and I went to Elder Stilley’s. He had sent on the appointment, but began to frame many excuses about going. Brother Bull urged upon him to go, and said that if he would not, then none of us need go, as far as the ordination was concerned, for there would be but one minister. The elder seemed crusty and distant, and in the morning he said his horse had got out and he could not find him, and therefore, could not go. A good riding horse was offered him, but he would not take it. Every means of persuasion was used by several of his friends, but to no effect. The friends inquired of me, what I should do. I replied: “My rule is to fill all my appointments, unless providentially prevented; therefore, I shall go on.” Brother Cotterall, a licentiate, and Brother Bull said they would go with me; but Elder Stilley would not go. We started, and I filled all my appointments: the first at a friend’s in Robinson’s Prairie, then next at Matthews’s Prairie, and from there we went to Elder Tanner’s, near New Madrid, arriving on Sunday. Soon after our arrival, a heavy rain began to fall, and finally it turned to snowing. The wind blew strong from the north, and the earth was quickly covered with a sheet of ice.

On Monday morning, we started for home and got to Robinson’s Prairie, where we stopped for the night. Tuesday morning was extremely cold, and we had about ten miles in the open prairie to ride, facing the wind. We pursued our way until we reached a large bayou, about half a mile wide; the road crossed it, but was now frozen over with a slick hard ice, strong enough to bear a horse. On each side of the road was a thick growth of flags as high as a horse’s back. We tried to lead our horses on the ice, but mine was barefooted, and the other two were smooth-shod. They fell, and could not get up until we slid them to the shore. After trying every plan to no purpose, I told the old men, if they would stay on the shore I would mount my little horse and try to find a way through the tall flags, and if I were successful, I would return and help them over, for the flags were so thick, and the ice was so rough the horses would not fall. I mounted into my saddle, and proceeded, perhaps, about twenty or thirty rods, when suddenly my horse broke through the ice. I sprang from my saddle, and lit into the water about waist deep, by the side of my horse, which was plunging, and could get no foothold that would bear him up. My feet seemed to be on a mat of the flag roots. The water being put in motion by the plunging of my horse showed that the ice continued no farther. All around shook like a quagmire and seemed as if it were soft mud that was under the mat of flag roots. I was afraid to move my feet lest I should loose my sod, or tuft of roots. These roots seemed as if they could half hold up my little horse. His feet would break through, and he would plunge sometimes nearly under the water, and then he would rise again. I still held the rein in my hand, and kept him back to the thick ice where he first broke through. I finally got him in a favorable position, and then I placed both arms under his breast. I made one mighty effort to lift him, just as he plunged forward, and succeeded in throwing him backward on the ice, with his head toward the shore. The ice bore him up, and he lay sprawling upon it. I sprang on the ice again, and caught the bridle just as my horse was rising to his feet. Thankful for an opportunity to escape, I got back to the shore.

I told my friends the adventure in a few words. We had no means of making a fire, and there was no house for ten miles back, and that through the open prairie. I told them I should freeze before I could get half-way there for I was as wet as I could be, my boots were full of water, and I was covered with ice. I left my friends, and took my horse by the bridle, and walking on the edge of the flags, along the smooth ice in the road where my horse could keep his foothold, I succeeded in getting over. I then left my horse, ran back and finally got both the others over. We then traveled on about a mile, when we came to another such lake. I went across on foot, and examined the sides, but found no chance of leading the horses over. I found a large handspike, with which I broke the ice from one side to the other, and we led our horses over. It was four miles to the first house, and two of these were through a swamp. The rain had filled every low place, and the road was mostly covered with smooth ice, and on each side was a thick underbrush, matted with raspberry briers so we were compelled to follow in the road.

The horses would frequently fall on the ice, and we would be obliged to slide them to some rough place before they could get up. We finally succeeded in getting through, but it was now about dark, and we had two miles to travel before we could get to a house. I was now literally shielded over with ice, and I thought I should freeze before I could get to a fire. I told the old brethren, that I should now ride fast, and would stop at the first house. I then mounted my horse, and started, in a gallop, through the dark, thick forest, and soon came up to a gate in front of a cabin, where a bright light was shining. I got off my horse but could not stand alone. I held to my horse and the fence and exercised my limbs until I could walk. I then started to the house. When I reached the door I knocked, but did not wait for a reply, but rushed in. I saw at a glance that I had intruded too abruptly, for there were a number of ladies collected to assist the lady of the house, who was at that time in the act of parturition. I paused for a moment and observed: “Ladies, my unpleasant situation is my apology for this abrupt intrusion. Is it not sufficient?” They then invited me to be seated and thaw my clothing. As soon as my boots, pants, and socks were all thawed apart, I took off my boots and socks, and emptied the water out of my boots and wrung my socks and drew them on again, bid the ladies good evening, and went to my horse, just as my fellow-travelers came up.

We then went on two miles farther and stopped for the night. My clothes were full of water, and it had run down until my boots were again filled. I sat by the fire, in this situation, for an hour or two, and then asked for a bed to be made down before the fire. My request was granted, and I lay down. In the morning, we were all surprised to find that my feet were only a little blistered, not enough to prevent me from wearing my boots. The water in my boots kept the air from my feet until they were warm, and thus drew the frost all out of the blood. A proper circulation was restored. Thus, through the special providence of God, I was safely conducted through this dangerous and severe trial. We proceeded on our journey, but with much difficulty. We were often compelled to leave the road on account of the ice, (which, in many places, blocked up our trace for several rods), and wind our way through the forest as best we could, until we gained the road again. We reached Baldwin’s, in Tiawapity Bottom, that evening, and Brother Cotterall was at home.

In the morning Thomas Bull and I started early. Leaving the bank of the Mississippi, we had three or four miles to travel before we got to the hill. This was on the 8th of January. When about half-way, a severe shock of an earthquake came on. We sought as open a place as possible in the timber and dismounted from our staggering horses, who could scarcely stand up, and we ourselves found it difficult to stand. We could hear the screams of the people near the river, and the falling of houses. Large trees were snapped off, and the boughs of others were lashing each other with fury, and old mossy logs were rolled out of their beds. All this was from the great agitation of the earth, for not a breeze of wind could be perceived. These heavy shocks were often introduced by a sound like distant thunder, and then a roaring, like heavy wind, would come through the air, and with this sound would come the shaking and convulsive surges of the earth. After the earthquake had ceased we traveled on; the temperature was a little moderated, but still it was very cold. We had much trouble in picking our way through the ice, but at last, cold and fatigued, we reached our homes that evening, and found our families well.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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