Early Illinois Women

Peter Cartwright and Frances Cartwright, United Methodist Church

Autograph of Peter Cartwright, May 24, 1853
in"Newton On Prophecies" 1838

Picture of Homestead of Peter and Frances Cartwright, 1872

Peter Cartwright, UMC, Pg.2 Frances Cartwright, photo of family, church, 1876

Peter Cartwright, UMC, p. 3, Graves of Peter and Frances Cartwright, Bethel Church

Peter Cartwright, Directions to present Peter Cartwright UMC Church


Peter Cartwright, "the Lord's breaking-plow", was born September 1, 1785, in Amhurst County, Virginia, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran. His family moved to Logan County, Kentucky, where at the age of sixteen Peter was converted at a camp meeting and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1802 the unlettered young man was licensed as an exhorter by Jesse Walker, four years later he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Asbury and in 1808 Bishop McKendree ordained him an elder. He remained an active itinerant until his death on September 25, 1872. In 1812 he was appointed a presiding elder and served in that office for fifty years, longer than any other minister in the Methodist Church.

Unwilling to see his children grow up in a slave state, Cartwright obtained a transfer and became one of the original members of the Illinois Conference when it was organized in 1824. The previous year he had purchased land on Richland Creek in Sangamon County, here he lived for the remainder of his life. Cartwright was elected a representative to the state legislature in 1828, only four years after he had established residence in Illinois. In his reelection campaign in 1832 he defeated Abraham Lincoln. In 1846 he ran unsuccessfully against Lincoln for Congress.

Politics, however was a side issue with Cartwright; his main business was to preach the gospel, which he did from Galena to St. Louis and eastward as far as the prairies extended. He was a delegate to twelve General Conferences, once helping to found McKendree College, the Illinois Female Academy (now MacMurray College) and Illinois Wesleyan University. In 1856 he published his autobiography, a book full of dramatic incident and impassioned spirit. When his fellow ministers paid tribute to him in a grave jublilee celebration at Lincoln in 1870 he looked back on sixty-five years as a traveling preacher and said simply, "I would take...the same track over again, and the same religion, rather than be president of the United States.


Early Methodist preachers such as Francis Asbury and William McKinley regarded marriage as a handicap to their work, but Peter Cartwright fell in love with the right girl when he was 23. On her 19th birthday he married Frances Gaines of Barren County, Kentucky. Her place of domicile was not an ill omen; she bore Peter two sons and seven daughters. Their third daughter, Cynthia, was tragically killed by a falling tree on their journey to Illinois, but the remaining children grew to adulthood. Three of the daughters married ministers and, as Peter himself said, "all our children are in the Methodist Episcopal Church."

Frances died on February 7, 1876. At the time of her death site had fifty-three grandchildren, sixty-two great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. Carl Sandburg tells the dramatic story of her last day in his poem "Waiting for the Chariot."

Can bare fact make the cloth of a shining poem?
In Sangamon County, Illinois, they remembered how
The aged widow walked a mile from home to Bethel Chapel
Where she heard the services and was called on
"To give her testimony," rising to speak freely, ending
"The past three weeks have been the happiest of all my
life, I am waiting for the chariot."
The pastor spoke the benediction, the members rose and moved
Into the aisles toward the door, and looking back
They saw the widow of the famous circuit rider
Sitting quiet and pale in an unviolable dignity
And they heard the pastor, "The chariot has arrived."

material taken from the Peter Cartwright UMC celebration bulletin, 1997

Peter's Bible--inscription with description and first page, pg. 1

Peter's Bible--with article of grandson donating Bible to Peter Cartwright UMC

Letter written by Peter Cartwright, January 1, 1833, pg. 2

Bethel Methodist Church, telling about Frances Cartwright, Peter's wife, dying in the church, see attachment

Personal Estate Inventory, pg. 2

Personal Estate Inventory, pg. 3

Personal Estate Inventory, pg. 4

Letter about Peter Cartwright's parents, Feb. 14, 1956

October 29, 1997
Patty L. Schaller

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Contributing Library:

Ashland Public Library District, Ashland, Illinois

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