The Circuit Rider Preacher: True Stories

Between 1766 and the late 1800s the circuit rider preacher was a fixture of the American frontier. Because of the sparse population, there were very few churches. In order to minister to the faithful and to reach the unsaved, several religious denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterians) sent preachers out to the frontier. In 1844, there were over 4,000 circuit rider preachers. These preachers traveled by horseback covering a circuit of 200 -500 miles that might take 4-6 weeks to complete preaching in barns, homes and even saloons. They would preach nearly every day. Often they would participate in camp meetings.

Life as a circuit-riding preacher was challenging. There was freezing weather, mountains, rivers, wild animals, robbers and even Indians to contend with. There were also ruffians who didn’t want the preacher to succeed. The preacher depended upon the kindness of the people they encountered for food and lodging. Life was tough as a circuit-riding preacher. Prior to 1847, nearly half of Methodist circuit riding preachers died before the age of 30. The illustration to the right is one of many that depicts the life of the circuit rider.

There were some humorous events that occurred along the way. In this presentation, the life and work of the circuit riding preacher will be examined along with true (typically humorous but not always) stories taken from the journals kept by these preachers.