Enthusiasm and Religious Melancholy
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  • Enthusiasm and Religious Melancholy

    Politics, the soul, and distemper
    Comparing symptoms and religion
    naughty and sometimes blasphemous thoughts
    Treatment or Conviction?

    Mad Methodists

    Psychiatry, religion and politics in seventeenth century England

    Were the mad doctors right?

    John Marrant

    Politics, the soul, and distemper

    If we consider seventeenth and eighteenth century ideas of enthusiasm and religious melancholy in relation to the religious and political conflicts of the time, we find that labelling these states as distemper, instead of treating them as genuine experiences, was contentious. The medical idea of distemper was being applied to the religious experiences of Quakers and Baptists - experiences on which such sects based their demands for political and social reform.

    Enthusiasm is a term used to denote possession by a superior power. Maurice Causaubon published the first separate treatise on it in 1655:

    Causaubon divided enthusiasm into two kinds:

      supernatural or "true possession"

      natural, often mistaken for the real thing, but caused by insanity

    Causaubon's book was published in the period between the execution of the English King Charles 1st in 1649, and the restoration of Charles 2nd in 1660. At this time, religious sects were multiplying profusely and their conflicting demands for a restructuring of society were creating a threat to political stability in England.

    Enthusiasm is a state of religious excitement associated with many of these groups. Nowadays we remember particularly the behaviour of the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends), because this group survived and became an established denomination. The early "Friends" were noted for the paroxysms of violent shaking when the spirit of God was working in them. Hence the nick-name "Quakers". To suggest that these paroxysms might not be evidence of God's inspiration, but an effect of nature, was not only to question their religion, but the social and political demands that they based on these experiences.

    Comparing symptoms and religion


    Sir Richard Blackmore (1635-1729), in 1725 wrote in his Treatise of the Spleen and Vapours that:

      "diffidence, scruples and fears concerning the sincerity of faith and repentance and their everlasting state", are by "distemper increased, even sometimes to so deep a despondence and self-condemnation as borders on despair"

    John Moore, in 1692, in a sermon On Religious Melancholy said that a symtom of distemper was:

      "being plagued by dread of punishments which God has threatened to inflict on unrelenting sinners, despite that they have a 'sincere love of God'"


    The religious leaders, George Fox and John Bunyan, both report how for years they suffered from experiences that sound very like those described as symptoms by Blackmore and Moore - despite their earnest seeking after truth.

    Bunyan, for example, writes:

      "also would I pray wherever I was; whether at home or abroad; in house or field ... yet I knew not where I was. Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ but ... began to find my soul assaulted with fresh doubts."

    and Fox writes that:

      "frequently in the night I walked mournfully about by myself, for I was a man of sorrows in the times of the first workings of the Lord in me." (Fox's Journal 1647)

    The despondence and doubts were not milder than Blackmore would have called "distemper". Bunyan does not say that they "bordered on despair", but that "these things did sink me into a very deep despair." (my emphasis)

    naughty and sometimes blasphemous thoughts

    Bunyan's autobiography had been in circulation for some years before John Moore preached his sermon On Religious Melancholy in 1692. In this sermon, Moore spoke of people being overpowered by "naughty and sometimes Blasphemous Thoughts" which "start in their minds, while they are exercised of God".

    Such occurences are frequently referred to by Bunyan. For instance, he records how, when in company with other Christians:

    or again:

      "In those days, when I had heard others talk of what was the sin against the Holy Ghost, then would the tempter so provoke me to desire sin, that I was as if I could not, must not, neither should be quiet until I had committed it; now no sin would serve but that: If it were to be committed by speaking such word, then I have been as if my mouth would have spoken such word, whether I would or no: And in so string a measure was this temptation upon me, that often I have been ready to clap my hands under my chin, to hold my mouth from opening; and to that end also I have had thoughts at other time, to leap with my head downward, into some muckhill- hole or other, to keep my mouth from speaking."

    Treatment or Conviction?

    Such states of mind as Bunyan describes require some resolution. A physical treatment may remove them, or the resolution may be of the mind or soul. If there is no resolution, the sufferer still presses for one.

    Some doctors attempted to treat such states physically. The Rev. George Trosse was treated with "Physic, a low diet, and hard keeping", but others fared better. In 1700, David Irish considered a good diet to be most effective. He claimed to

      "cure all that are curable, whether they be afflicted with any sort of sickness, or Melancholy, Madness, or any strange Convulsion-Fits"


      he allows the Melancholy, Mad, and such whose Consciences are Opprest with the sense of Sin, good Meat every day etc."

    But, whatever treatment, and however effective it was, the outcome would be tragic in the eyes of people like Bunyan, Fox and (later) Wesley. As far as they are concerned, it is not distemper that causes this distress, but the hand of God. To be assured of one's salvation is the goal, and to be conscious of the need for that salvation is infinitely more desirable than being made oblivious of it.

    Bunyan writes:

    Mad Methodists

    Half a century later, Susannah Wesley wrote anxiously to her son, John, about a man who had been visited by "Monroe" (James Monro), the physician at Bedlam:

    "The reason for my writing so soon is I'm somewhat troubled at the case of poor Mr Mac-Cune. I think his wife was ill advised to send for that wretched fellow Monroe for by what I hear the man is not lunatick, but rather under strong conviction of sin; and hath much more need of a spiritual than bodily physician."

    However be it as 'twill, Monroe last night sent him to a mad-house at Chelsea, where he is to undergo their usual methods of cure in case of real madness; notwithstanding in their treatment of him he behaved with great calmness and meekness, nor ever once swore at them, for which he presently condemned himself and said, 'Lord, what a sin have I been guilty of', and cried to God for mercy and pardon. This probably may conform the doctor in the opinion of his madness, but to me 'tis a proof of his being in a right mind".

    I am sure that our blessed Lord is superior to all the powers of evil angels and men and that if he hath begun to awaken and call this poor sinner to himself, neither men nor devils can be able to stand before him!

    Dear son, I desire you and your brother would pray for this poor afflicted man.

    The brothers John and Charles Wesley were Church of England ministers whose emotional awakening (conversion or heart-warming) in 1738 was followed by by the preaching of sin and hell to convict of sin, and salvation and heaven as the alternative. John stirred people by his open-air sermons and Charles by his hymns. I reproduce below a hymn that Charles wrote about his conversion.

    Charles Wesley's conversion hymn

    On 23.5.1738, Charles Wesley, John's brother and, like John, a minister in the Church of England wrote "I began a hymn on my conversion". The "conversion" had taken place on 23.5.1738. This is the hymn:

    Where shall my wondering soul begin?
    How shall I all to heaven aspire?
    A slave redeemed from death and sin,
    A brand plucked from eternal fire,
    How shall I equal triumphs raise,
    Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?

    O how shall I the goodness tell,
    Father, which Thou to me hast showed?
    That I, a child of wrath and hell,
    I should be called a child of God,
    Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
    Blessed with this antepast of Heaven!

    And shall I slight my Father's love?
    Or basely fear His gifts to own?
    Unmindful of His favors prove?
    Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun,
    Refuse His righteousness to impart,
    By hiding it within my heart?

    No! though the ancient dragon rage,
    And call forth all his host to war,
    Though earth's self-righteous sons engage
    Them and their god alike I dare;
    Jesus, the sinner's friend, proclaim;
    Jesus, to sinners still the same.

    Outcasts of men, to you I call,
    Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
    He spreads His arms to embrace you all;
    Sinners alone His grace receives;
    No need of Him the righteous have;
    He came the lost to seek and save.

    Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
    Groaning beneath your load of sin,
    His bleeding heart shall make you room,
    His open side shall take you in;
    He calls you now, invites you home;
    Come, O my guilty brethren, come!

    For you the purple current flowed
    In pardons from His wounded side,
    Languished for you the eternal God,
    For you the Prince of glory died:
    Believe, and all your sin's forgiven;
    Only believe, and yours is Heaven!

    John Wesley's journal

    In the following year, John Wesley made these entries in his journal concerning the alternative stories of medical madness and religious experience:

    " Thursday 20.9.1739 Mrs. C--, being in deep heaviness, had desired . me to meet her this afternoon. She had long earnestly desired to:receive the holy communion, having an unaccountably strong persuasion, that God would manifest himself to her therein, and give rest to her soul. But her heaviness being now greatly increased, Mr. D--e gave her that fatal advice,- Not to communicate till she had living faith. This still added to her perplexity. Yet at length she resolved to obey God rather than man. And "he was made known unto" her "in breaking of bread". In that moment she felt her load removed, she knew she was accepted in the Beloved ; and all the time I was expounding at Mr. B--'s, was full of that peace which cannot be uttered.

    Friday 21.9.1739 Another of Dr. Monro's patients came to desire my advice. I found no reason to believe she had been any otherwise mad than every one is, who is deeply convinced of sin. And I cannot doubt, but if she will trust in the living God, he will give "medicine to heal her sickness".

    Sunday 23.9.1739 I declared to about ten thousand, in Moorfields, with great enlargement of spirit, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink ; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

    A few months before Susannah's letter, John made this entry in his journal:

    " Wednesday, 17.9.1740 - A poor woman gave me an account of what, I think, ought never to be forgotten. It was four years, she said, since her son, Peter Shaw, then nineteen or twenty years old, by hearing a sermon of Mr. Wh y's, fell into great uneasiness. She thought he was ill, and would have sent for a physician; but he said, " No, no. Send for Mr. Wh ." He was sent for, and came ; and after asking her a few questions, told her, "The boy is mad. Get a coach, and carry him to Dr. M . Use my name. I have sent several such to him." Accordingly, she got a coach, and went with him immediately to Dr. M 's house. When the doctor came in, the young man rose and said, "Sir, Mr. Wh has sent me to you." The doctor asked, "Is Mr. Wh your minister?" and bid him put out his tongue. Then, without asking any questions, he told his mother, "Choose your apothecary, and I will prescribe." According to his prescriptions they, the next day, blooded him largely, confined him to a dark room, and put a strong blister on each of his arms, with another over all his head. But still he was as "mad" as before, praying, or singing, or giving thanks continually: of which having laboured to cure him for six weeks in vain, though he was now so weak he could not stand alone, his mother dismissed the doctor and apothecary, and let him be " beside himself" in peace."

    Psychiatry, religion and politics in seventeenth century England

    Ernest Troeltsch, and many other sociologists have made a broad division in Christian forms between the church type and the " sect type.

    The former, typified by the Catholic Church, accepts the secular order, dominates the masses and desires in principle to cover the whole life of humanity. In doing so it rejects the primitive communion of believers that was the basis of primitive Christians and the direct experience of divinity that typified them. The divine power was instead mediated through the ecclesiastical structure of the church.

    The sects reasserted the directness of believers' communion with God, rejecting the ecclesiastical mediation of divine power, and organising their church as a communion of believers, excluding unbelievers from membership.

    "Their attitude towards the world, the State, and Society may be indifferent, tolerant, or hostile, since they have no desire to control and incorporate these forms of social life; on the contrary, they tend to avoid them; their aim is usually either to tolerate their presence alongside of their own body, or even to replace these social institutions by their own society."

    The latter tendency was a prominent feature of the period under review. The English sects that proliferated under the Commonwealth sought to transform the country and the consequent problem of social order largely accounts for the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

    In England, a simple three part typology will help us to explicate the relevant developments of 1660 to 1717.
    Christian Type Secular Government Religious Experience
    Anglican State Church Mediated
    Presbyterian (Moderates) Church State Direct, moderated by church
    Sects (Independents) Godly, secular state Direct: authority in Bible or Holy Spirit

    This typology is not supposed to correctly define the position of Anglicans, Presbyterians and Independents. These groups were products of the religious political conflicts of the seventeenth century, and nothing short of a book could do justice to the complexity of positions that developed. The typology serves only to indicate broad connections between church types, favoured forms of government and modes of religious experience.

    The Restoration was a victory for the Anglicans, and critical decisions were taken within the following two years as to who should be included within the orthodox church.

    Compromise with the groups I have denoted as Presbyterians was theoretically possible and some in fact conformed whilst others did not.

    Compromise with the sects was not possible for they rejected a priori any ecclesiastical mediation of divine power.

    Bunyan, for instance, was immediately imprisoned, whilst Richard Baxter - the leader of the Presbyterian party, who "consistently endeavoured to exert a moderating influence" was offered the see of Hereford, declined it, and was later persecuted by Judge Jeffreys.

    1662 to 1689 marked a period of penal sanctions against all dissenters, but in 1689 the Act of Toleration for dissenting Worship was passed.

    It is in this period following the Act of Toleration that the majority of texts on "Religious Melancholy" that Hunter and MacAlpine quote date from. They are not written predominantly by those who are furthest away from the "sects" in religious experiences and convictions. That is they are not written by those to whom the experiences of Quakers and Baptists might seem the most strange or unaccountable. Apart from the Sermon on Religious Melancholy, they are all, in fact, written by moderate dissenters, people who are themselves very close in religious belief and experience to the sects, and had themselves been persecuted for their religious practices prior to 1689. Timothy Rogers and George Tross, in fact, base their accounts on their own experiences.

    It seems to me that these facts need to be related to the political circumstances following on the revolution of 1688. Prior to the ascent of William and Mary to the English throne the legitimacy of the monarch was defended by the doctrine of the divine right of Kings.

    To dissent from the established church, and to claim recourse to religious knowledge that could contradict the authority of that church was necessarily a political act at the same time as being a religious act.

    Dissenter and traitor would appear to be synonymous terms, or at least dangerously close. Under such circumstances no group of dissenters would have any political motive for dissociating himself from any other. The act of dissent was the crime.

    By participating in a political change of sovereign, however, the Tory party conceded that the legitimacy of sovereigns did not rest on divine right, but that under certain circumstances the ruled could determine who ruled them. By this constitutional change the toleration of dissent was made politically possible and the Act of Toleration followed a year later.

    In the new circumstances the dissenters do have political motivation for differentiating themselves from one another, for the political situation is far more flexible. One can, for instance, lawfully continue to worship as a dissenter, but technically qualify for political office by the practice of "occasional conformity". To the groups susceptible to such compromise with the world, the representation of certain extremes of religious experiences as the product of distemper would thus:

      a) Enable them to deny the authority of such experiences in their own lives and so accommodate to "the world" with a good conscience

      b) Demonstrate their political reliability by dissociating them from the extreme enthusiasme of the sects which were the source of such politically dangerous doctrines as the Quakers refusal to fight for the King and their attitude to the civil magistrates.

    Were the mad doctors right?

    The experiences of many of the early dissenters seem so weird that it is difficult for us not to feel convinced that the mad doctors were on the right track when they suggested these experiences were exacerbated by distemper. Bunyan and Fox both had visions, heard voices, and acted out the most amazing convictions.

    For example:

    "I lifted up my head and saw three steeple house spires, and they struck at my life... the word of the Lord came to me, that I must go thither ... I was commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes ... it was winter, but the word of the Lord was like fire in me ... I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice: Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield. As I went down the town, there ran like a channel of blood down the streets, and the market-place was like a pool of blood." (Fox, writing about an experience he dates Winter 1651, shortly after his release from prison)

    Our beliefs and experiences of what is normal today should not be allowed to cloud our judgement with respect to the past.

    The credibility of Fox and Bunyan's accounts was not so low in their time that anyone tried to inter them as mad. Maybe if their social position had been weak enough, or there had been a family dispute over property, it would have been different.

    Cruden, who was interred in the eighteenth century proved difficult to keep in a mad-house because of his single-minded conviction of purpose. He escaped, and convincing the Lord Mayor of his sanity was "set at liberty".

    Neither was Wesley, in the same period, ever at risk himself, only his followers and those showing signs of being his followers.

    From accounts such as those that Wesley gives, it would appear that the "sufferer" needed to be ambiguous enough in his conviction to be willing, under pressure, to co-operate with the doctor, before his experience could be successfully invalidated as exacerbated by distemper.

    This situation is analogous to one described by Jock Young in his analysis of 1960s drug-takers. Two roles are open to the dissenter and the drug- taker, the normal one of his subculture or the sick role. The latter role tends to be adopted by isolated deviants, people under particularly intense social strains and in ambiguous positions that can be resolved by becoming tame deviants.

    A major difference is that the dissenters experiences were far more culturally acceptable as normal in their time than those of drug-users in ours.

    The orthodox (Anglican) church was, of course, a far more influential authority in the late seventeenth century than now. It taught and maintained belief in the literal truth of the Bible where such things as the dissenters experienced are described, and it taught belief in the active intervention of God and the devil in human affairs. Furthermore, its teachings established the importance of such issues for human affairs, for the unbeliever and the unregenerate were condemned to a life in Hell during the hereafter.

    The culture of the seventeenth century thus maintained the conditions in which Bunyan and Fox's testimony was likely to be believed, and accepted as evidence of the hand of God rather than a distempered imagination.

    Nor is this climate of opinion necessarily due to superstitious credulity on the part of the "masses" which led them to believe in the reality of hallucinations rather than their own senses. In other words the mad doctors were not simply urging an empirical scientific approach to the problem as against the simple credulity of the populace. Beliefs can determine perceptions to a large extent as Paul Feyerbend points out in a lengthy footnote to Problems of Empiricism. There is, he says, a

    "partial dependence of perception upon belief. What we receive from the outer world (and from the so-called 'inner' world are certain clues, which most of the time are pretty vague and indefinite. Perception is the result of the reaction of the total organism to these clues."

    "In this reaction, the knowledge acquired, the beliefs held, the emotional condition of the receiver, his fears and his expectations, play a most important role. It is these that are (partly) responsible for the formation of well-defined wholes out of indefinite patterns of stimuli ... the tendency to perceive a well-defined objective situation may make the observer see things that are not really there .. The very same process is responsible for the existence of genuine observational reports (emphasis given by Feyerbend) concerning devils and gods. We are all aware of thoughts, impulses, feelings that run counter to our conscious intentions. Usually we disregard them, for they do not occur in a very coherent fashion. It is quite different with a person believing in the existence of demons. He would perceive a meaningful pattern in such occurrences." (Feyerbend, P. 1965, note 8, p.220)

    The sensual experiences that Bunyan and Fox had, of supernatural direction are perhaps the most incredible aspect to our minds of their reports. But these may well have been fairly commonplace to their contemporaries. Indeed, contemporary doctors emphasise the persistent melancholy rather than the visions. They laid emphasis on the period of conviction of sin which was the part of the religious experience where the sufferer was actually suffering and was most likely to be willing to accept help from a mad-doctor. Furthermore, the argument for considering this the product of distemper rather than the hand of God appears to have been theological in origin not medical or an empirical observation of incidence.

    "We must very much take heed lest we ascribe Melancholy Phantasms and Passions to God's Spirit .. I advise all ... to take heed of placing Religion too much in Fears and Tears and Scruples."7

    An attempt has been made by Murphy, Wittkower, Fried and Ellenberger (1965) to identify those of the accepted symptoms of schizophrenia which are most likely to vary with culture. They found, in their cross-cultural study, that delusions of destruction and religious delusions were frequently reported from Christian and Mohammedan cultures and quite infrequently from Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto and other East Asian religious cultures. They say that these types of disturbance cannot therefore be considered an intrinsic part of the schizophrenia process.

    This finding would appear to indicate that techniques of cultural analysis rather than medical analysis are the correct ones to the religious experiences of the sects in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    John Marrant (1755-1791) - 18th century echoes of George Fox

    An American black writer of the second half of the eighteenth century called John Marrant wrote an account of his life retrospectively to explain how he became a Methodist preacher (in England and America). George Fox's account of his part in the creation of Quakerism in England a hundred years before is also retrospective. Both give spiritual explanations of their experiences, but mention that some thought they were mad or crazy. Both had experiences detached from their normal experience of reality when they were in a state of hunger. Fox deliberately resorted to fasting to bring about this detachment. Marrant records his going without food and entering a spiritual state and may have, afterwards, fasted with the intent of repeating the experience.

    John Marrant writes that he was born in New York on 15.6.1755. He does not say anything to suggest his family were slaves. New York had a population of "half slaves" with their own homes but an obligation to do work at certain times. His father died four years later [1759?] and his mother moved with her family to St Augustine, then in Spanish Florida. He began his schooling there, being taught to read and write. After about eighteen months in Florida [1761?], and at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, his mother took her family to the British colony of Georgia and then to Charles Town. Charles Town and New York were cities with large slave populations.

    When he was eleven years old they moved to Charles Town, (Charleston. South Carolina). There he was apprenticed to a carpenter and learned to play the French horn and violin. He says he was was thirteen when he had a dramatic spiritual experience in a Methodist meeting he intended to disrupt, followed by some kind of spiritual rebirth.

    Marrant says the preacher was George Whitefield, but the ages he mentions do not fit with the dates of George Whitefield's visits to the United States - See 1763. Perhaps the ages are correct and it was a follower of George Whitefield that Marrant heard preach?

    After friction with his family, and in a mental state induced by hunger, Marrant went into the wilderness, trusting God to sustain him. Befriended by a Cherokee Indian he was then sentenced death by the Indian chief, but reprieved after strange experiences involving curing the chief's daughter of an illness divinely brought on by the sentence.


    I John Marrant, born June 15th, 1755, in New York, in North-America, wish these gracious dealings of the Lord with me to be published, in hopes they may be useful to others, to encourage the fearful, to confirm the wavering, and to refresh the hearts of true believers. My father died when I was little more than four years of age, and before I was five my mother removed from New-York to St. Augustine, about seven hundred miles from that city. Here I was sent to school, and taught to read and spell; after we had resided here about eighteen months, it was found necessary to remove to Georgia, where we remained; and I was kept to school until I had attained my eleventh year. The Lord spoke to me in my early days, by these removes, if I could have understood him, and said, "Here we have no continuing city."

    Charles Town

    We left Georgia, and went to Charles Town, where it was intended I should be put apprentice to some trade. Sometime after I had been in Charles Town, as I was walking one day, I passed by a school, and heard music and dancing, which took my fancy very much, and I felt a strong inclination to learn the music. I went home, and informed my sister, that I had rather learn to play upon music than go to a trade. She told me she could do nothing in it, until she had acquainted my mother with my desire. Accordingly she wrote a letter concerning it to my mother with my desire. Accordingly she wrote a letter concerning it to my mother, which, when she read, the contents were disapproved of by her, and she came to CharlesTown to prevent it. She persuaded me much against it, but her persuasions were fruitless. Disobedience either to god or man, being one of the fruits of sin, grew out from me in early buds. Finding I was set upon it, and resolved to learn nothing else, she agreed to it, and went with me to speak to the man, and to settle upon the best terms with him she could. He insisted upon twenty pounds down, which was paid, and I was engaged to stay with him eighteen months, and my mother to find me every thing during that term. The first day I went to him he put the violin into my hand, which pleased me much, and, applying close, I learned very fast, not only to play, but to dance also; so that in six months I was able to play for the whole school.

    In the evenings after the scholars were dismissed, I used to resort to the bottom of our garden; where it was customary for some musicians to assemble to blow the French-horn. Here my improvement was so rapid, that in a twelve month's time I became master both of the violin and of the French-horn, and was much respected by the Gentlemen and Ladies whose children attended the school, as also by my master: This opened to me a large door of vanity and vice, for I was invited to all the balls and assemblies that were held in the town, and met with the general applause of the inhabitants. I was a stranger to want, being supplied with as much money as I had any occasion for; which my sister observing, said "You have now no need of a trade." I was now in my thirteenth year, devoted to pleasure and drinking in iniquity like water; a slave to every vice suited to my nature and to my years. The time I had engaged to serve my master being expired, he persuaded me to stay with him, and offered me anything, or any money, not to leave him. His entreaties proving ineffectual, I quitted his service, and visited my mother in the country; with her I stayed two months, living without God or hope in the world, fishing and hunting on the Sabbath-day. Unstable as water I returned to town, and wished to go to some trade. My sister's husband being informed of my inclination provided me with a master, on condition that I should serve him one year and a half on trial, and afterwards be bound, if he approved of me.

    a crazy man [George Whitefield] was hallooing there

    Accordingly I went, but every evening I was sent for to play on music, somewhere or another; and I often continued out very late, sometimes all night, so as to render me incapable of attending my master's business the next day; yet in this manner I served him a year and four months, and was much approved of by him. He wrote a letter to my mother to came and have me bound , and whilst my mother was weighing the matter in her own mind, the gracious purposes of God, respecting a perishing sinner, were now to be disclosed. One evening I was sent for in a very particular manner to go and play for some Gentlemen, which I agreed to do, and was on my way to fulfill my promise; and passing by a large meeting house I saw many lights in it, and crowds of people going in. I enquired what it meant, and was answered by my companion, that a crazy man was hallooing there; this raised my curiosity to go in, that I might hear what he was hallooing about. He persuaded me not to go in, but in vain. He then said, "If you will do one thing I will go in with you." I asked him what that was? He replied, "Blow the French horn among them." I liked the proposal well enough, but expressed my fears of being beaten for disturbing them; but upon his promising to stand by and defend me, I agreed.

    So we went and with much difficulty got within the doors. I was pushing the people to make room, to get the horn off my shoulder to blow it, just as Mr. Whitefield was naming his text, and looking round, and , as I thought directly upon me, and pointing with his finger, he uttered these words, "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." The Lord accompanied the word with such power, that I was struck to the ground, and lay both speechless and senseless near half an hour. When I was come a little too, I found two men attending me, and a woman throwing water in my face and holding a smelling-bottle to my nose; and when something more recovered, every word I heard from the minister was like a parcel of swords thrust into me, and what added to my distress, I thought I saw the devil on every side of me. I was constrained in the bitterness of my spirit to halloo out in the midst of the congregation, which disturbing them, they could neither walk or stand, they carried me as far as the vestry, and there I remained till the service was over. When the people were dismissed Mr. Whitefield came into the vestry, and being told of my condition he came immediately, and the first word he said to me was, "JESUS CHRIST Has got thee at last." He asked where I lived, intending to come and see me the next day; but recollecting he was to leave the town the next morning, he said he could not come himself, but would send another minister; he desired them to get me home, and then taking his leave of me, I saw him no more. When I reached my sister's house, being carried by two men, she was very uneasy to see me in so distressed a condition.

    She got me to bed, and sent for a doctor, who came immediately, and after looking at me, he went home, and sent me a bottle of mixture, and desired her to give me a spoonful every two hours; but I could not take any thing the doctor sent, nor indeed keep in bed; this distressed my sister very much, and she cried out, "The lad will surely die." She sent for two other doctors, but no medicine they prescribed could I take. No, no; it may be asked, a wounded spirit who can cure? as well as who can bear? In this distress of soul I continued for three days without any food, only a little water now and then. On the fourth day, the minister Mr. Whitefield had desired to visit me came to see me, an being directed upstairs, when he entered the room, I thought he made my distress much worse. He wanted to take hold of my hand, but I durst not give it to him. He insisted upon taking hold of it, and I then got away from him on the other side of the bed; but being very weak I fell down, and before I could recover he came to me and took me by the hand, and after a few words desired to go to prayer.

    So he fell upon his knees, and pulled me down also; after he had spent some time in prayer he rose up, and asked me now how I did, I answered, much worse; he then said, "Come, we will have the old thing over again," and we kneeled down a second time, and after he had prayed earnestly we got up, and he aid again, "How do you do now;" I replied worse and worse, and asked him if he intended to kill me? "No, No, said he, you are worth a thousand "dead men, let us try the old thing over again," and so falling upon our knees, he continued in prayer a considerable time, and near the close of his prayer, the Lord was pleased to set my soul at perfect liberty, and being filled with joy I began to praise the Lord immediately; my sorrows were turned into peace, and joy, and love. The minister said, "How is it now?" I answered, all is well, all happy. He then took his leave of me; but called every day for several days afterwards, and the last time he said, "Hold fast that "thou hast already obtained, till Jesus Christ come." I now read the Scriptures very much. My master sent often to know how I did, and at last came himself, and finding me well, asked me if I would not come to work again? I answered no. He asked me the reason, but receiving no answer he went away.

    then she said I was crazy and mad

    I continued with my sister about three weeks, during which time she often asked me to play upon the violin for her, which I refused; then she said I was crazy and mad, and so reported it among the neighbors, which opened the mouths of all around against me.

    I was tempted so far as to threaten my life

    I then resolved to go to my mother, which was eighty-four miles from CharlesTown. I was two days on my journey home, and enjoyed much communion with God on the road, and had occasion to mark the gracious interposition's of his kind providence as I passed along. The third day I arrived at my mother's house, and was well received. At supper they sat down to eat without asking the Lord's blessing, which caused me to burst out into tears. My mother asked me what was the matter? I answered, I wept because they sat down to supper without asking the Lord's blessing. She bid me, with much surprise, to ask a blessing. I remained with her fourteen days without interruption; the Lord pitied me, being a young soldier. Soon, however, Satan began to stir up my two sisters and brother, who were then at home with my mother, they called me every name but that which was good. The more they persecuted me, the stronger I grew in grace. At length my mother turned against me also, and the neighbors joined her, and there was not a friend to assist me, or that I could speak to; this made me earnest with God. In these circumstances, being the youngest but one of our family, and young in Christian experience, I was tempted so far as to threaten my life; but reading my Bible one day, and finding that if I did destroy myself I could not come where God was, I betook myself to the fields, and some days stayed out from morning to night to avoid the persecutors.

    two days without food - clearer views into the spiritual things

    I stayed one time two days without any food, but seemed to have clearer views into the spiritual things of God. Not long after this I was sharply tried, and reasoned the matter within myself, whether I should turn to my old courses of sin and vice, or serve and cleave to the Lord; after prayer to God, I was fully persuaded in my mind, that if I turned to my old ways I should perish eternally. Upon this I went home, and finding them all as hardened, or worse than before, and everybody saying I was crazy; but a little sister I had, about nine years of age, used to cry when she saw them persecute me, and continuing so about five weeks and three days, I thought it was better for me to die than to live among such people. I rose one morning very early, to get a little quietness and retirement, I went into the woods, and stayed till eighty o'clock in the morning; upon my return I found them all at breakfast; I passed by them, and went upstairs without any interruption; I went upon my knees to the lord and returned him thanks; then I took up a small pocket Bible and one of Dr. Watt's hymn books, and passing by them went out without one word spoken by any of us.

    I was persuaded to go from home altogether

    After spending some time in the fields I was persuaded to go from home altogether. Accordingly I went over the fence, about half a mile from our house, which divided the inhabited and cultivated parts of the country from the wilderness. I continued traveling in the desert all day without the least inclination of returning back. About eight o'clock next morning I descended from the tree, and returned God thanks for the mercies of the night. I went on all this day, taking my Bible out of my pocket, I read and walked for some time, and then being wearied and almost spent I sat down, and after resting awhile I rose to go forward; but had not gone above a hundred yards when something tripped me up, and I fell down; I prayed to the Lord upon the ground that he would command the wild beasts to devour me, that I might be with him in glory I made this request to God the third and part of the fourth day. The fourth day in the morning, descending from my usual lodging, a tree, and having nothing all this time to eat, and but a little water to drink, I was so feeble that I tumbled half way down the tree, not being able to support myself, and lay upon my back on the ground an hour and a half, praying and crying; after which, getting a little strength, and trying to stand upright to walk, I found myself not able; then I went upon my hands and knees, and so crawled till I reached a tree that was tumbled down, in order to get across it, and there I prayed with my body leaning upon it above an hour, that the Lord would take me to himself.

    Such nearness to God I then enjoyed, that I willingly resigned myself into his hands. After some time I thought I was strengthened, so I got across the tree without my feet or hands touching the ground; but struggling I fell over on the other side, and then thought the Lord will now answer my prayer, and take me home: But the time was not come. After laying there a little, I rose, and looking about, saw at some distance bunches of grass, called deer-grass; I felt a strong desire to get at it; though I rose, yet it was only on my hands and knees, being so feeble, and in this manner I reached the grass. I was three-quarters of an hour going in this form twenty yards. When I reached it I was unable to pull it up, so I bit it off like a horse, and prayed the Lord to bless it to me . and I thought it the best meal I ever had in my life, and I think so still, it was so sweet. I returned my God hearty thanks for it, and then lay down about an hour. Feeling myself very thirsty, I prayed the Lord to provide me with some water. Finding I was something strengthened I got up, and stood on my feet, and staggered from one tree to another, if they were near each other, otherwise the journey was too long for me.

    I continued moving so for some time, and at length passing between two trees, I happened to fall upon some bushes; among which were few large hollow leaves, which had caught and contained the dews of the night, and lying low among the bushes, were not exhaled by the solar rays; this water in the leaves fell upon me as I tumbled down and was lost, I was now tempted to think the Lord had given me water from Heaven, and I had wasted it. I then prayed the lord to forgive me. What poor unbelieving creatures we are! though we are assured the Lord will supply all out needs. I was presently directed to a puddle of water very muddy, which some wild pigs had just left; I kneeled down, and asked the Lord to bless it to me, so I drank both mud and water mixed together, and being satisfied I returned the lord thanks, and went on my way rejoicing. This day was much chequered with wants and supplies, with dangers and deliverance's. I continued traveling on for nine days, feeding upon grass, and not knowing whither I was going; but the Lord Jesus Christ was very present, and that comforted me through all. The next morning, having quitted my customary lodging, and returned thanks to the Lord for my preservation through the night, reading and traveling on, I passed between two bears, about twenty yards distance from each other. Both sat and looked at me, but I felt no fear; and after I had passed them, they both went the same way from without growling, or the least apparent uneasiness. I went and returned God thanks for my escape, who had tamed the wild beast of the forest, and made them friendly to me: I rose from my knees and walked on, singing hymns of praise to God, about five o'clock in the afternoon, and about 55 miles from home, right through the wilderness.

    an Indian hunter enquired who I was talking to?

    As I was going on, and musing upon the goodness of the Lord, an Indian hunter, who stood at some distance, saw me; he hid himself behind a tree, but as I passed along he bolted out, and put his hands on my breast, which surprised me a few a moments. He then asked me where I was going? I answered I did not know, but where the Lord was pleased to guide me. Having heard me praising God before I came up to him, he enquired who I was talking to? I told him I was talking to my Lord Jesus; he seemed surprised, and asked me where he was? for he did not see him there. I told him he could not be seen with bodily eyes. After a little more talk, he insisted upon taking me home; but I refused, and added that I would die rather than return home. He then asked me if I knew how far I was from home? I answered, I did not know; you are 55 miles and a half, says he, from home. He farther asked me how I did to live? I said I was supported by the Lord. He asked me how I slept? I answered, the Lord provided me with a bed every night; he further enquired what preserved me from being devoured by the wild beasts? I replied, the Lord Jesus Christ kept me from them.

    He stood astonished, and said, you say the Lord Jesus Christ do this, and do that, and do every thing for you, he must be a very fine man, where is he? I replied, he is here present. To this he made me no answer, only said, I know you, and your mother and sister, and upon a little further conversation I found he did know them, having been used in winter to sell skins in our town. This alarmed me, and I wept for fear he would take me home by force; but when he saw me so affected, he said he would not take me home if I would go with him. I objected against that, for fear he would rob me of my comfort and communion with God: But as last, being much pressed, I consented to go. Our employment for ten weeks and three days, was killing deer, and taking off their skins by day, which we afterwards hung on the trees to dry till they were sent for ; the means of defense and security against our nocturnal enemies, always took up the evenings: We collected a number of large bushes, and placed them nearly in a circular form, which uniting at the extremity, afforded us both a verdant covering, and a sufficient shelter from the night dews. What moss we could gather was strewed upon the ground, and this composed our bed. A fire was kindled in the front of our temporary lodging room, and fed with fresh fuel all night, as we slept and watched by turns; and this was our defense from the dreadful animals, whose shining eyes and tremendous roar we often saw and discard during the by constant conversation with the hunter, I acquired a fuller knowledge of the Indian tongue: This, together with a sweet communion I enjoyed with God, I have considered as a preparation for the great trial I was soon after to pass through. The hunting season being now at an end, we left the woods, and directed our course towards a large Indian town, belonging to the Cherokee nation; and having reached it, I said to the hunter, they will not suffer me to enter in. He replied, as I was with him, nobody would interrupt me. There was an Indian fortification all round the town, and a guard placed at each entrance. The hunter passed one of these without molestation, but I was stopped by the guard and examined. They asked me where I came from, and what was my business there? My companion of the woods attempted to speak for me, but was not permitted; he was taken away, and I saw him no more. I was now surrounded by about 50 men, and carried to one of their chiefs to be examined by him. When I came before him, he asked me what was my business there? I told him I came there with a hunter, whom I met with in the woods. He replied, "Did I not know that whoever came there "without giving a better account of themselves "than I did, was to be put to death?" I said I did not know it. Observing that I answered him so readily in his own language, he asked me where I learnt it? To this I returned no answer, but burst out into a flood of tears; and calling upon my Lord Jesus. At this he stood astonished, and expressed a concern for me, and said I was young. He asked me who my Lord Jesus was? To this I gave him no answer, but continued praying and weeping. Addressing himself to the officer who stood by him, he said he was sorry; but it was the law, and it must not be broken. I was then ordered to be taken away, and put into a place of confinement. They led me from their court into a low dark place, and thrust me into it, very dreary and dismal; they made fast the door, and set a watch. The judge sent for the executioner, and gave him his warrant for my execution in the afternoon of the next day. The executioner came, and gave me notice of it, which made me very happy, as the near prospect of death made me hope for a speedy deliverance from the body: And truly this dungeon became my chapel, for the Lord Jesus did not leave me in this great trouble, but was very present, so that I continued blessing him, and singing his praises all night without ceasing: The watch hearing the noise, informed the executioner that somebody had been in the dungeon with me all night; upon which he came in to see and to examine, with a great torch lighted in his hand, who it was I had with me; but finding nobody, he turned round, and asked me who it was? I told him it was the Lord Jesus Christ; but he made no answer, turned away, went out, and locked my door. At the hour appointed for my execution I was taken out, and led to the destined spot, amidst a vast number of people. I praised the lord all the way we went, and when we arrived at the place I understood the kind of death I was to suffer, yet, blessed be God, none of those things moved me. The executioner shewed me a basket of turpentine wood, stuck full of small pieces, like skewed; he told me I was to be stripped naked, and laid down in the basket, and these sharp pegs were to be stuck into me, and then set on fire, and when they had burnt to my body, I was to be turned on the other side, and served in the same manner, and then to be taken by four men and thrown into the flame, which was to finish the execution. I burst into tears, and asked what I had done to deserve so cruel a death! To this he gave me no answer. I cried out, Lord, if it be thy will that it should be so, thy will be done: I then asked the executioner to let me go to prayer; he asked me to whom? I answered, to the Lord my God; he seemed surprised, and asked me where he was? I told him he was present; upon which he gave me leave. I desired them all to do as I did, so I fell down upon my knees, and mentioned to the Lord his delivering of the three children in the fiery furnace, and of Daniel in the lion's den, and had close communion with God. I prayed in English a considerable time, and about the middle of my prayer, the Lord impressed a strong desire upon my mind to turn into their language, and pray in their tongue. I did so, and with remarkable liberty, which wonderfully affected the people. One circumstance was very singular, and strikingly displays the power and grace of God. I believe the executioner was savingly converted to God. He rose from his knees, and embraced me round the middle, and was unable to speak for about five minutes; the first words he expressed, when he had utterance, were, "No man shall hurt thee till thou hast been "to the king." I was taken away immediately, and as we passed along, and I was reflecting upon the deliverance which the Lord had wrought out for me, and hearing the praises which the executioner was singing to the Lord, I must own I was utterly at a loss to find words to praise him. I broke out in these words, what can't the Lord Jesus do! and what power is like unto his! I will thank thee for what is passed, and trust thee for what is to come. I will sing thy praise with my feeble tongue whilst life and breath shall last, and when I fail to found thy praises here, I hope to sing them round thy throne above: And thus, with unspeakable joy, I sung two verses of Dr. Watts's hymns:

    "My God, the spring of all my joys,
    The life of my delights;
    The glory of my brightest days,
    And comfort of my nights.
    In darkest shades, if thou appear,
    My dawning is begun;
    Thou art my soul's bright morning star,
    And thou my rising sun."

    Passing by the judge's door, he stopped us, and asked the executioner why he brought me back? The man fell upon his knees, and begged he would permit me to be carried before the king, which being granted, I went on, guarded by two hundred soldiers with bows and arrows. After many windings I entered the king's outward chamber, and after waiting some time he came to the door, and his first question was, how came I there? I answered, I came with a hunter whom I met with in the woods, and who persuaded me to come there. He then asked me how old I was? I told him not fifteen. He asked me how I was supported before I met with this man? I answered, by the Lord Jesus Christ, which seemed to confound him. He turned round, and asked me if he lived where I came from? I answered, yes, and here also. He looked about the room, and said he did not see him; but I told him I felt him. The executioner fell upon his knees, and entreated the king, and told him what he had felt f the same Lord. At this instant the king's eldest daughter came into the chamber, a person about 19 years of age, and stood at my right-hand. I had a Bible in my hand, which she took out of it, and having opened it, she kissed it, and seemed much delighted with it.

    When she had put it into my hand again, the king asked me what it was? and I told him, the name of my God was recorded there; and, after several questions, he bid me read it, which I did, particularly the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, in the most solemn manner I was able; and also the 26th chapter of Matthew's Gospel; and when I pronounced the name of Jesus, the particular effect it had upon me was observed by the king. When I had finished reading, he asked me why I read those names with so much reverence? I told him, because the Being to whom those names belonged made heaven and earth, and I and he this he-denied. I then pointed to the sun, and asked him who made the sun, and moon, and stars, and preserved them in their regular order? He said there was a man in their town that did it. I labored as much as I could to convince him to the contrary. His daughter took the book out of my hand a second time; she opened it, and kissed it again; her father bid her give it to me, which she did; but said, with much sorrow, the book would not speak to her. The executioner then fell upon his knees, and begged the king to let me go to prayer, which being granted, we all went upon our knees, and now the Lord displayed his glorious power. In the midst of the prayer some of them cried out, particularly the king's daughter, and the man who ordered me to be executed, and several others seemed under deep conviction of sin: This made the king very angry; he called me a witch, and commanded me to be thrust into the prison, and to be executed the next morning. This was a enough to make me think, as old Jacob once did, "All these things are against me;" for I was dragged away, and thrust into the dungeon with much indignation; but God, who never forsakes his people, was with me. Though I was weak in body, yet was I strong in the spirit: The Lord works, and who shall let it? The executioner went to the king, and assured him, that if he put me to death, his daughter would never be well. They used the skill of all their doctors that afternoon and night; but physical prescriptions were useless. In the morning the executioner came to me, and, without opening the prison door, called to me, and hearing me answer, said, "Fear not, "thy God who delivered thee yesterday, will "deliver thee today." This comforted me very much, especially to find he cold trust the Lord. Soon after I was fetched out, I thought it was to be executed; but they led me away to the king's chamber with much bodily weakness, having been without food two days. When I came into the king's presence, he said to me, with much anger, if I did not make his daughter and that man well, I should be laid down and chopped into pieces before him. I was not afraid, but the Lord tried my faith sharply. The king's daughter and the other person were brought out into the outer chamber, and we went to prayer; but the heavens were locked up to my petitions. I befought the Lord again, but received no answer: I cried again, and he was entreated. He said, "Be it to thee as "thou wilt;" the Lord appeared most lovely and glorious; the king himself was awakened, and the others set at liberty. A great change took place among the people; the king's house because God's house; the soldiers were ordered away, and the poor condemned prisoner had perfect liberty, and was treated like a prince. Now the Lord made all my enemies to become my great friends. I remained nine weeks in the king's palace, praising God day and night: I was never out but three days all the time. I had assumed the habit of the country, and was dressed much like the king, and nothing was too good for me. The king would take off his golden ornaments, his chain and bracelets, like a child, if I objected to them, and lay them aside. Here I learnt to speak their tongue in the highest stile.

    I began now to feel an inclination growing upon me to go farther on, but none to return home. The king being acquainted with this, expressed his fears of my being used ill by the next Indian nation, and, to prevent it, sent 50 men, and a recommendation to the king, with me. The next nation was called the Creek Indians, at 60 miles distance. Here I was received with kindness, owing to the king's influence, from whom I had parted; here I stayed five weeks. I next visited the Catawar Indians, at about 55 miles distance from the others: Lastly, I went among the Housaw Indians, 80 miles distant from the last mentioned; here I stayed seven weeks. These nations were then at peace with each other, and I passed among them without danger, being recommended from one to the other. When they recollect, that the white people drove them from the American shores, the three first nations have often united, and murdered all the white people in the back settlements which they could lay hold of, man, woman, and child. I had not much reason to believe any of these three nations were savingly wrought upon, and therefore I returned to the Cherokee nation, which took me up eight weeks. I continued with my old friends seven weeks and two days.

    I now and then found, that my affections to my family and country were not dead; they were sometimes very sensibly felt, and at last strengthened into an invincible desire of returning home. The king was much against it; but feeling the same strong bias towards my country, after we had asked Divine direction, the king consented, and accompanied me 60 miles with 140 men. I went to prayer three times before we could part, and then he sent 40 men with me a hundred miles farther; I went to prayer, and then took my leave of them and passed on my way. I had 70 mils now to go to the back settlements of the white people. I was surrounded very soon with wolves again, which made my old lodging both necessary and welcome. However it was not long, for in two days I reached the settlements, and on the third I found a house: It was about dinnertime, and as I came up to the door the family saw me, were frightened, and ran away. I sat down to dinner alone, and eat very heartily, and, after returning God thanks, I went to see what was become of the family. I found means to lay hold of a girl that stood peeping at me from behind a barn. She fainted away, and it was upwards of an hour before she recovered; it was nine o'clock before I could get them all to venture in, they were so terrified

    My dress was purely in the Indian stile; the skins of wild beasts composed my garments, my head was set out in the savage manner, with a long pendant down my back, a sash round my middle without breeches, and a tomahawk by my side. In about two days they became sociable. Having visited three or four other families, at the distance of 16 or 20 miles, I got them altogether to prayer on the Sabbath days, to the number of 17 persons. I stayed with them six weeks, and they expressed much sorrow when I left them. I was now one hundred and twelve miles from home. On the road I sometimes met with a house, then I was hospitably entertained; and when I met with none, a tree lent me the use of its friendly shelter and protection from the prowling beasts of the woods during the night. The God of mercy and grace supported me thus for eight days, and on the ninth I reached my uncle's house.

    This web page is based on Psychiatry and Social Conflict. A Study in the History of Psychiatry in England during the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries an essay by Andrew Roberts, 1973. Typescript.

    © Andrew Roberts 1973-

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