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History of the Methodist Episcopal Church


Coke itinerating before the Christmas Conference — Sketch of "Black Harry" — Scenes on the Peninsula — Black Harry's preaching — Ware's Account of Coke — The Bishop meets his English Associates, with Asbury and Black, of Nova Scotia, at Abingdon — They are received at Perry Hall — Coke and Black's Account of the Place — Preparations for the Conference

The route which Asbury recommended to Coke, for the time that remained before the Christmas General Conference, was that which he himself had just gone over, taking in most of the numerous appointments of the Peninsula. "Black Harry," (Harry Hosier,) Asbury's traveling servant, who was now to accompany the doctor, was a notable character of that day. [1] Asbury first alludes to him, in 1780, as a suitable traveling companion to preach to the colored people. He was exceedingly popular in Philadelphia as a preacher. Dr. Rush, whose predilections for Methodist preaching are well known, did not disdain to hear him, and, making allowance for his illiteracy, (for he could not read,) pronounced him "the greatest orator in America." He was small in stature, and perfectly black, but had eyes of remarkable brilliancy and keenness, and singular readiness and aptness of speech. He traveled extensively with Asbury, Coke, and Whatcoat. We shall hereafter find him traversing New England with Garrettson. He acted as servant, or "driver," for these eminent itinerants, but excelled them all in popularity as a preacher, sharing with them in their public services, not only in black, but in white congregations. When they were disabled by sickness or any other cause, they could trust the pulpit to Harry without fear of unfavorably disappointing the people. Asbury acknowledges that the best way to obtain a large congregation was to announce that Harry would preach; the multitude preferring him to the bishop himself. [2] Though he withstood for years the temptations of extraordinary popularity, he fell, nevertheless, by the indulgent hospitalities which were lavished upon him. He became temporarily the victim of wine, but had moral strength enough to recover himself. Self-abased and contrite, he started one evening down the Neck, below Southwark, Philadelphia, determined to remain till his backslidings were healed. Under a tree he wrestled in prayer into the watches of the night. Before the morning God restored to him the joys of his salvation. Thenceforward he continued faithful. [3] He resumed his public labors, and about the year 1810 died in Philadelphia, "making a good end," and was borne to the grave by a great procession of both white and black admirers, who buried him as a hero, once overcome, but finally victorious.

Accompanied by Black Harry, Coke set out on his ministerial tour, holding one or two services daily. In two days, after the meeting at Barrett's Chapel, he was preaching in White's Chapel, Kent County, and rejoicing in the Christian hospitalities of Judge White. At Annamessex Chapel he preached in a forest. "It is romantic," he says, "to see such numbers of horses fastened to the trees. Being engaged in the most solemn exercises of religion, for three or four hours every day, I hardly know the day of the week; every one appears to me like the Lord's day." At Bolingbroke he says: "I preached at noon; our chapel is in a forest. Perhaps I have, in this tour, baptized more children and adults than I should in my whole life if stationed in an English parish." "I preached to a lively congregation at Tuckahoe Chapel in a forest; the best singers I have met with in America. In the afternoon, went to Colonel Hopper's; a man of excellent sense, a member of our Society, six years sheriff of Caroline County, and late a representative in the Assembly. In my way dined with the present representative, a dear brother, who has lately 'built us a synagogue.' Some time ago, during the war, when he was sheriff for the county, one of our preachers was apprehended because he would not take the oaths of allegiance. Mr. Downs, the sheriff; told the preacher that he was obliged to imprison him, but that he would turn his own house into his prison; and both the colonel and his lady were awakened by their prisoner." He becomes delighted with his African colleague, for such Harry really was. "I have now," he writes, on the 29th of November, "had the pleasure of hearing Harry preach several times. I sometimes give notice, immediately after preaching, that in a little time he will preach to the blacks; but the whites always stay to hear him. Sometimes I publish him to preach at candlelight, as the Negroes can better attend at that time. I really believe that he is one of the best preachers in the world — there is such an amazing power attends his word, though he cannot read, and he is one of the humblest creatures I ever saw."

Coke continued to preach to great throngs, on the Peninsula, till near the date of the Conference. His congregations were sometimes so large that he was compelled to address them from the chapel doors. Methodist families flocked from all directions to receive the sacraments from his hands. Thomas Ware, who was in this region, says "he passed through our circuit. I met him at Colonel Hopper's, in Queen Anne County, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. At first I was not pleased with his appearance. His stature, complexion, and voice resembled those of a woman rather than those of a man; and his manners were too courtly for me. So unlike was he to the grave and, as I conceived, apostolic Asbury, that his appearance did not prepossess me favorably. He had several appointments on the circuit, to which I conducted him; and, before we parted, I saw so many things to admire in him that I no longer marveled at his being selected by Wesley to serve us in the capacity of a superintendent. In public he was generally admired, and in private he was very communicative and edifying. At one time, in a large circle, he expressed himself in substance as follows: 'I am charmed by the spirit of my American brethren. Their love to Mr. Wesley is not surpassed by that of their brethren in Europe. It is founded on the excellence — the divinity — of the religion which he has been the instrument of reviving, and which has shed its benign influence on this land of freedom. I see in both preachers and people a resolution to venture on any bold act of duty, when called to practice piety before the ungodly, and to refuse compliance with favorable vice. I see,' he continued, with a countenance glowing with delight, 'a great and effectual door opened for the promulgation of Methodism in America, whose institutions I greatly admire, and whose prosperity I no less wish than I do that of the land which gave me birth. In the presence of Mr. Asbury I feel myself a child. He is, in my estimation, the most apostolic man I ever saw, except Mr. Wesley.' These remarks of Dr. Coke made an impression on my mind not soon to be forgotten. He was the best speaker, in a private circle or on the conference floor, I ever heard. But his voice was too weak to command with ease a very large audience. Yet this he could sometimes do; and, when he succeeded in it, his preaching was very impressive. Some of the first scholars in the country have been heard to say that he spoke the purest English they ever heard. His fine classical taste did not raise him, in his own estimation, above the weakest of his brethren. To them he paid the kindest attentions; and the most diffident and retiring among them, after being a short time in his company, were not only perfectly at ease, but happy at finding themselves associated with a brother who had learned to esteem others better than himself." He subsequently returned to this section of the country, when, says Ware, the "administration of the ordinances at our Quarterly Meetings was singularly owned of God. Vast multitudes attended, and the power of the Lord was present to wound and to heal. The whole Peninsula seemed moved; and the people, in multitudes, flocked to hear the doctor, who spent some time on this favored shore. Never did I see any person who seemed to enjoy himself better than he did, while thousands pressed to him to have their children dedicated to the Lord by baptism, and to receive themselves the holy supper at his hands. Daily accessions were made to the Church."

Meanwhile, Whatcoat and Vasey had accompanied Asbury from Barrett's Chapel over the Western Shore of Maryland. The 26th of November Asbury observed "as a day of fasting and prayer, that I might," he says, "know the will of God in the matter that is shortly to come before our Conference; the preachers and people seem to be much pleased with the projected plan; I myself am led to think it is of the Lord. I am not tickled with the honor to be gained; I see danger in the way. My soul waits upon God. O that he may lead us in the way we should go!" At Abingdon they met Coke, on his way to Perry Hall; the next day the doctor preached a "great sermon" on "he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." At Abingdon joined them also William Black, an English preacher, who had been founding Methodism in Nova Scotia, and had wended his way through Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, seeking ministerial reinforcements for that distant province. On the 17th of December all the travelers, except Whatcoat, arrived under the roof of Gough at Perry Hall, "the most elegant house," says Coke, "in this state." "Here," he adds, "I have a noble room to myself, where Mr. Asbury and I may, in the course of a week, mature everything for the Conference." Black alludes to Perry Hall as "the most spacious and elegant building" he had seen in America. "It is," he says, "about fifteen miles from Baltimore; Mr. Gough, its owner, is a Methodist, and supposed to be worth one hundred thousand pounds. He is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. He has built a neat stone meeting-house, entertains the Circuit Preachers, and at times preaches himself; and thus he continued to do during the late war, at the risk of his immense estate." [4] Whatcoat, who had delayed, in order to preach on the route, arrived on the 19th. The next day they began the revision of "the Rules and Minutes," and made other provisions for the approaching session. Four days were spent in this task, relieved by frequent religious exercises in Gough's numerous family, and by the social hospitalities of the neighborhood.



1 He must not, however, be confounded with, "Black Harry" of St. Eustatius, who occupies so romantic a place in Coke's subsequent history. Hist. of the Relig. Movement, etc., vol. ii, p. 358.

2 "It has been said that on one occasion, in Willmington, Del., where Methodism was long unpopular, a number of the citizens, who did not ordinarily attend Methodist preaching, came together to hear Bishop Asbury. Old Asbury chapel was, at that time, so full that they could not get in. They stood outside to hear the bishop, as they supposed, but in reality they heard Harry. Before they left the place, they complimented the speaker by saying: 'If all Methodist preachers could preach like the bishop we should like to be constant hearers.' Some one present replied, 'That was not the bishop but the bishop's servant.' This only raised the bishop higher in their estimation; as their conclusion was, 'if such be the servant, what must the master be?' The truth was, that Harry was a more popular speaker than Asbury, or almost any one else in his day." — Lednum, p. 282.

3 Lednum, p. 282.

4 Dr. Richey's Life of Black, p. 185. Halifax, N. S. 1839.

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