Ohio History Journal

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Romance Rides the Circuit

Romance Rides the Circuit






Romantic love--unpredictable, capricious, and mercurial at its

best--survived precariously for the mounted Methodist parson on

the American frontier. His salary, when paid, provided scarcely a

living wage for one person, limiting his bride's prospective dowry

to little more than a horse, saddle bags, and blanket. His eccle-

siastical superior often cast an unfriendly, even malignant eye to-

ward his romantic endeavors. His parish often embraced a vast un-

charted forest with a congregation of backwoodsmen scattered over

half a state, and unless his wife was willing to ride the circuit too,

they might share common quarters only a few days each month.

Freighted thus with marital encumbrances, this twice-born pioneer

preacher furnished a poor target for amorous darts from the god

of love. Indeed, so great were the hazards of romance for the

Methodist itinerant that the first four bishops and most of the early

circuit riders experienced the hilarity of a frontier wedding only in

their performance of the ceremony. More intimate involvement in

the rite usually stripped the victim of his status as a traveling parson.

These celibate horsemen, however, did not despise the estate.

An eminent Ohio divine solemnly warned the males in his congre-

gation "that no old bachelors would get to heaven except those that

were in the ministry."1 Some of his colleagues excepted neither the

layman nor the priest, hoping thereby to enjoy earthly as well as

eternal bliss. Like George Callahan, the first circuit rider to preach

in Ohio,2 they "felt the marriage fever," and "caught by the charm"

* Paul H. Boase is an associate professor of speech at Oberlin College. A pre-

vious article of his, "Slavery and the Ohio Circuit Rider," was published in the

April 1955 Quarterly, pages 195-205.

1 James Mitchell to Samuel W. Williams, June 5, 1850. Williams Manuscript

Collection, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio.

2 Samuel W. Williams, Pictures of Early Methodism in Ohio (Cincinnati, 1909),