Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical,
Illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers:
Foote, William Henry, 1794-1869
“Important Letters communicated by the Rev. SAMUEL M’CORKLE, North Carolina, through the hands of Mr. John Langdon, of Salisbury, Rowan county.
Dated Westfield, December 16, 1801.
“SIR,–I had before received some imperfect accounts of the revival in Guilford, Caswell, and Orange counties; but have now received a more perfect account by the Rev. Mr. Flinn. A remarkable libertine, says he, has been lately struck down, and the stroke has silenced and confounded his companions. The preacher and people frequently remain all night on the ground in prayer, exhortation or praise. At a late meeting three young men were struck down in the act of cutting whips to correct some poor negroes who were crying for mercy. Our brethren from Orange have invited us to meet them at a sacrament in Randolph on the first day of the New Year. I design to attend. May the work come this way.”
“LETTER II, dated January 8, 1802.
“SIR,–I now sit down to give you a narrative of the transactions at Randolph, commencing on Friday, January 1, 1802, and continuing until the ensuing Tuesday.
“On Thursday, the last day of the last year, I set out from home for Randolph, and lodged in Lexington with some preachers, and a number of people, mostly from Iredell, going on to the same place. The evening was spent in prayer and exhortation, without any visible effect. Next day the preachers arrived at the Randolph meeting-house; but the Iredell company lodged five miles behind.
“On Saturday, in the interval of two sermons, the congregation (near 2,000) were informed that the Iredell company were religiously exercised, in a sudden and surprising matter, at evening prayer, in the family or house where they lodged. This struck with seriousness every reflecting mind, because the effect did not appear to arise from oratory or sympathy, the causes commonly assigned for this work. The second sermon was delivered and the benediction pronounced as usual; but the people paused, as if they wished not to part, nor go either to their homes or encampments.
“Just then rose a speaker to give a short parting exhortation: but wonderful to tell, as if by an electric shock, a large number in every direction, men, women, children, white and black, fell and cried for mercy; while others appeared, in every quarter, either praying for the fallen, or exhorting bystanders to repent and believe. This, to me perfectly new and sudden sight, I viewed with horror; and, in spite of all my previous reasoning on Revivals, with some degree of disgust. Is it possible, said I, that this scene of seeming confusion can come from the Spirit of God? or can be who called light from darkness, and order from confusion, educe light and order from such a dark mental, or moral chaos as this! Lord God, thou knowest. The first particular object that arrested my attention was a poor black man with his hands raised over the heads of the crowd, and shouting, ‘Glory, glory to God on high,’ I hasted towards him from the preaching-tent; but was stopt to see another black man prostrate on the ground, and his aged mother on her knees at his feet in all the agony of prayer for her son. Near him was a black woman, grasping her mistress’ hand, and crying, ‘O mistress, you prayed for me when I wanted a heart to pray for myself. Now thank God, he has given me a heart to pray for you and everybody else.’ I then passed to a little white girl, about seven years old. She was reclining with her eyes closed on the arms of a female friend. But oh! what a serene angelic smile was in her face! If ever heaven was enjoyed in any little creature’s heart it was enjoyed in her’s. Were I to form some notion of an angel, it would aid my conception to think of her. I took her by the hand, and asked how she felt, she raised her head, opened her eyes, closed them, and gently sunk into her former state. I met her next day with two or three of her little companions, I asked her how she felt yesterday. ‘O how happy,’ said the dear little creature, with an ineffable smile, ‘and I feel so happy now, I wish everybody was as happy as I am.’ I asked her several questions relative to her views of sin, a Saviour, happiness and heaven; and she answered with propriety, and as I thought rather from proper present feelings than from past doctrinal or educational information: for when I was afterwards called to examine her in order to communion, I found her defective in this kind of knowledge, and dissuaded her from communicating at that time, though she much desired it. This I have since regretted, for I do believe, on cool reflection, that she possessed that experimental knowledge of salvation, which is infinitely preferable to all the doctrinal or systematic knowledge in the world without it.
“But to return. I pressed through the congregation in a circuitous direction, to the preaching tent, viewing one in the agony of prayer; another motionless, speechless, and apparently breathless; another rising in triumph, in prayer and exhortation. Among these was a woman five hours motionless, and a little boy under twelve years of age who arose, prayed and exhorted in a wonderful manner. After themselves I observed that their next concern was their nearest relations. After this, I went to the nearest encampment, where seven or eight were prostrate on the earth; while viewing this scene, a stout young man fell on his knees behind me, and cried for mercy. I turned about. He asked me to pray for him. I attempted it. He arose with some assistance, called for a brother, and gave him and the bystanders a most pressing dissuasive against delaying repentance; ‘this,’ said he, ‘has been my own case until I saw the Iredell company passing by. They left me restless and wretched. I was forced to follow. I have just come; and have been running from camp to camp, until I was able to go no farther. I now cry for mercy, and feel determined to cry until I find it.’
“After I had gone round the encampments I went into the wood to see a large number, some of them my own charge, at a distance from the camps. Two or three had retired for prayer and conversation, and were struck; others were led to them by their cries, some of whom were also struck, until there was a large company of spectators, and persons exercised. I had now viewed the whole as a spectator. My mind seemed to be made up of a strange mass of sensations, and I retired for a moment to make some serious reflections. Still did the notion of disorder perplex me. What is disorder, said I, and wherein consists its criminality? There is an external disorder, which disturbs formal organized worship. This disorder may arise from the fainting of the speaker, or of any of the hearers, or from any sudden alarm, as Hervey has stated in the story of a press-gang in a seaport in England. Has organized worship been disturbed in Randolph? No. Would the disturbance be criminal if it were involuntary? Certainly not. If so, Peter might have been disturbed with the cry of his hearers, and Paul with the fall of Eutychus from the third loft. Yet there was no crime. Where then is that disorder which involves guilt? It is in a multitude of improper, incoherent, and wandering thoughts. Do such thoughts pass through the minds of the exercised, or of serious spectators? No. An awful sense of the majesty of God–a painful sense of sin–an earnest desire to be delivered from it, &c., &c., surely there is no disorder here. I see criminal disorder through roving eyes, and vacant features. I see it in the conversation of an intoxicated youth. I see it in the giddy crowd running from camp to camp, without a fixed object, and I see it in the conduct of those profane persons who have overturned the sacramental tables, and trampled them under their unhallowed feet. This is disorder voluntary, and awfully criminal. But who will dare to say this of the poor sinners constrained to cry, even in the great assembly, ‘Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?’ But who constrains? I answer, the impression is God’s, the expression ours, and will ever be as the suddenness of conviction, the weakness or energy of the mind, and the sense or aggravation of its guilt. I had often viewed the unity and variety of God’s works, and thought I began to see these traits here. What a sameness in the exercises of all, and yet what a wonderful variety in time, place, means, and degrees of exercises! What a sameness and variety in the persons, faces, and voices of men; and also in the natural powers and dispositions of the mind. Surely the God of nature is the God of grace. Natural affections begin with self, and then spread around; so do the affections that show themselves in this work. First, what shall I do to be saved? Then, O my child, my brother, or sister, ‘Repent and believe.’ Surely this must be the work of God, and marvellous in our eyes! After all, it seems an astonishing way to reform mankind. It is not the way I would take to do it. But what is conducted as I would conduct it?–peace or war, plenty or famine, pestilence or health, life or death? No. I can but say, O God, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are thy thoughts above our thoughts, and thy ways above our ways.
“On the last evening of the solemnities were my difficulties completely removed by the ardent exercise of a man near three score, a man far, very far from enthusiasm, and its constituents, melancholy and irrational devotion; a man whose mind was enlightened, long enlightened with the rays of science and religion. This man felt no pain nor anxiety for himself. The ardency of his desire, or prayer, was first excited for a particular person who was impressed; but his ardency seemed to rise as high as the heavens, and to extend wide as the earth. It seemed as if God then vouchsafed to answer his prayer, to rend the heavens, and come down; to shine into his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, and the joy unspeakable, even raptures, that arise from such a view. Never was prayer offered with more ardor for the extending of this work, nor with more firm and unbounded confidence that it would be extended. He seemed to see the glory of all the divine attributes at one view, and to see them all displayed in the progress of this glorious work. He has never since suspected that it was delusion, but has mostly since enjoyed.
‘The soul’s calm sunshine, and the heart-felt joy,
Which earth can’t give, and which earth can’t destroy.’
And he has ever since expressed an ardent zeal to promote this work.”