A NARRATIVE OF THE EARLY LIFE, TRAVELS, AND GOSPEL LABORS OF JESSE KERSEY, LATE OF CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
Taken from Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1851.
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TESTIMONY CONCERNING JESSE KERSEY, AN APPROVED MINISTER IN THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS.
The undersigned, members of the Western Quarterly Meeting, being drawn together from a concern that some of the weighty expressions of our beloved friend, in his last sickness, together with a few of the important particulars of his eventful life, might be preserved, in connection with his writings, feel an engagement to give forth the following.
He was the son of William and Hannah Kersey, of "Yorktown," Pennsylvania. Was born on the 5th of 5th month, 1768. In his childhood and early youth, he was much exposed to the corrupting influence of vain and vicious company; but through the guardian care and religious concern of his parents, and the restraining influence of the Divine gift in himself, he was preserved in a great degree from the contamination of guilty compliance with the customs and manners of the time, by which he was surrounded. In a manuscript found among his papers, he says of himself: "I have frequently looked back with gratitude and wonder, that I should have wholly escaped the crime of using profane language, notwithstanding it was common among my play-fellows. This preservation, I am aware, was without any merit in me, still I cannot reflect on it without a real satisfaction; and I fully believe that those who have children under their care, cannot be too watchful in keeping them from that hardihood of mind and manners, which is always attendant, when an early habit of using wicked words, is allowed or acquired." It appears that among the first temptations that beset him to disobey his parents, was to accept the invitations of his youthful companions, to wander about with them on the first day of the week; and although he was at a loss to imagine why he should be restrained from this, yet he says, "in every instance, such indulgence rendered him very unhappy afterwards," It seems that on looking back upon the scene of his juvenile sports and pastimes, he was ready to believe that the regrets he had felt for having disobeyed his parents, might have been occasioned more by his affection for them, than from any clear conviction, at the time, of the evil of the practice.
Among the influences that operated to restrain him, he mentions, that "his mother's tears were not soon forgotten." About the fourteenth year of his age, he had frequent; convictions for his follies, which induced him often to think it was necessary to be more guarded. Yet he continued to join with his acquaintances in their diversions, until at length those feelings of conviction Seemed to be much worn off, and his taste for cheerful company to have left but little relish for serious things. "My parents," he continues, "carefully kept me to meetings, and the frequent reading of the Scriptures." "In meeting I would sometimes feel sensible that my folly and loose state of mind, were condemnable; but more frequently, after being among my giddy companions, condemnations would attend me, when my head was laid on my pillow. "--In his sixteenth year, he was placed as an apprentice in the city of Philadelphia; on leaving the paternal roof, he comforted himself with the thought, that being removed from his old acquaintances, and now likely to form new ones, he could seek such as were "more serious and circumspect," and in his moments of retirement, he became impressed with the belief, that "to be happy he must be more thoughtful and serious." In his new situation, however, he had his trials and temptations, but in the companionship of his fellow apprentices, who were "habitually profane," the first thing that he attempted, was to promote a reformation among them; and although his efforts seemed, at first, to make some impression, yet soon afterward, they subjected him to ridicule.
However, when it became apparent to them, that he "was serious and settled" in his course, his remarks with regard to their profanity, were received very differently by his shop-mates, and at length he had the "satisfaction to see this evil practice wholly broken up, and a gradual improvement in other respects." When about the age of seventeen, he appeared in public as a minister, having sometime previously received a clear impression, that his duty in life, was not to be confined to a private sphere; and having submitted to the call, "the serene and quiet state" that he experienced upon taking his seat, after his first appearance, was to his mind conclusive evidence" that he "had not mistaken" his duty. "In the exercise of his gift," he observes, "I felt many fears, arising from a consideration of the solemnity of the work; but as I kept humbly attentive to the Divine impressions, I found His grace was all-sufficient." And speaking from his after experience, he adds, "I have been convinced that much depends, upon wholly relying on the all-sufficiency of Him, who promised to be to his servants, mouth and wisdom, tongue and utterance."
In the year 1789, having completed his apprenticeship, he left Philadelphia, and opened a school in Chester County, and the year following, was united in marriage with Elizabeth, the daughter of Moses Coates, a connection which he regarded as a great blessing to him. And having removed to the place of his nativity, he began the requisite preparations for carrying on his trade. With a mind deeply devoted to the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom among men, and in view of the dangers attending worldly pursuits, he says in his narrative, "I had many fears, lest after all I had known of the mercy and goodness of a Gracious Father and Almighty Friend, I might fall into weakness and entanglements." It seems he did not succeed in business at York, and upon deliberate consideration and consultation with his friends, he removed again, to East Caln in Chester County. He had many trials tending to discouragement, in reference to which, he remarks, that "under all circumstances, my confidence was maintained in the care of Divine Providence over me. I believed, in the promise, that they who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, shall have all things necessary added unto them, and at times in our religious meetings, I felt sensible that I was not forsaken. My mind was tendered under the assurances of Divine love to man, and in these seasons I could discover, that it was all in Wisdom that I was tried." Soon after his settlement at East Caln, he felt himself called on a religious visit from home. In the course of this journey he observes, "my confidence in the safety of submitting to the clear openings of duty, was in no degree lessened." The difficulties he had to encounter, in providing for his family, and being of a delicate constitution, inclined him to relinquish the business he followed, and he again commenced teaching school; while employed therein, he felt an engagement to pay a religious visit to several of the Southern states The prospect, he remarks, "was serious in every view that I could take of it; I had now two children to provide for, and still remained poor." In this visit he spent three months time and traveled about seventeen hundred miles.
Still labouring under difficulties and embarrassments, he was at times almost ready to sink under discouragement. But, to use his own words, "having been favoured to rise above these doubts and fears, which had almost destroyed my confidence in the particular Providence of the Almighty, my heart became enlarged as at other times, in love to all mankind, and melted into tenderness under a sense of the Love of God. Now prospects of journeys and engagements for the promotion of righteousness opened before me." About the year 1804, he visited England and Ireland; and was afterwards extensively engaged in the ministry within this and other Yearly Meetings; and in the year 1814, again visited the South, under a concern, in especial relation to the cruel and unrighteous system of American Slavery, and the mode of deliverance from its terrible consequences, having opportunities with the President of the United States, and other distinguished men, and holding meetings among the people of color and others. On his return, it appears, his mind was comforted in the belief, that way would yet be made safely to remove, what he describes as "one of the greatest evils that ever the Spirit of delusions has succeeded in imposing upon man kind.
As a Minister, he was remarkably qualified to enlist the attention of his hearers, to fix their minds upon the glorious and sublime truths of the Christian religion, and often was he followed and admired by crowds of gratified auditors not of his own persuasion. In the morning of his promises and the meridian of his day of usefulness, his society was courted by the wise and the learned,--his affability of manners,--his grave dignified deportment,--the soundness of his principles,--the beauty and simplicity of his style of address,--heightened in their effect by the depth of his by the depth of his devotional feelings, gave an interest and a charm which gained him many admirers. And it may be, that the caresses et an admiring multitude, are more potent for evil influence upon their object, than the heavy pressure of adverse fortune,--that the voice of flattery is more dangerous to the safety of its recipient than the coldness of neglect, or the stern language of rebuke;--certain it is, that,-"to err is human," and the subject of this memorial was not exempt from human frailty. But although the extremes of opposite causes, operating upon a peculiar temperament, may in their ultimate effects, have weakened his capacity for usefulness, and eclipsed the brightness of his renown;--though the history of a portion of his life, notwithstanding his extraordinary endowments, may afford melancholy evidence of the danger of the practice, which was generally prevalent in society at that time, of using intoxicating liquors as a beverage,(1) yet we doubt not, the arm of preservation was still underneath, and that by Divine aid, and the instrumentality of his friends he was favoured measurably to maintain the conflict in that state and condition of mind, in which he could have adopted the language. "His compassions fail not, they are new every morning."
In his common intercourse among men he was uniformly guarded in his expressions and some useful lesson of instruction was ordinarily blended in his discourse--it has been said of him that he was a man that never talked nonsense--if he was cheerful, it was without the accompaniment of lightness or levity,--there was a dignity and nobleness about him that commanded respect, and gave evidence of an exalted aim; and it was his consolation in the evening of life to believe, that amidst all his weakness and trials, and his afflictions, of which he had many, he had never been wholly forsaken by the beneficent author of his being, in whom he trusted.
On the conclusion of a religious visit of considerable extent, performed in the year 1835, reflecting upon the ability which had been furnished him beyond any former experience, and the sympathy and unity of Friends, of which he had never before known a greater manifestation, he felt, as he expresses it, cause to say, "return oh my soul to the place of thy rest, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee."
He was a member of Kennet Monthly Meeting for a short time previous to his death, during which period he made some visits abroad, though in declining health, and so late as the year 1845 obtained a minute to attend the Yearly Meeting of New York, where notwithstanding his great bodily infirmity, he was present at all its sittings. It has been observed that the power of Truth had accompanied his several communications, in so remarkable a degree, that the meeting, near its conclusion, contrary to its accustomed order, and the caution by him delivered, against a departure from its previous practice, directed an endorsement of his minute, expressive of unity with him, in his gospel labours: after which he appeared in supplication,--when under a solemn covering, the meeting closed.
In the fall of the same year he proceeded under a concern to visit the families of Friends throughout the several branches of the Monthly Meeting of which he was a member, the only visit of the kind he was ever engaged in. His strength failing him, before its completion he retired to his home, and on the 18th of the 10th month was taken to his bed. During his confinement no murmur or complaint was observed to escape his lips, but often was he heard to say he had "no pain" and that he believed "it was the will of his good Master to give him an easy passage." To a friend who had been speaking of the great change that had taken place within his time, in regard to the use of intoxicating drinks, he stated among other things, that he was rejoiced at the reformation that had been made in the society of Friends in that particular. A few days before his death he said there was nothing in his way, "not a cloud nor the shadow of a cloud" resting on his mind. At another time-"I feel that my course is nearly finished, and I am ready to be offered up." To a friend who called to see him, he said, "Thou canst witness with what composure and sweet contentment a servant of God can die." To another--"I am very poorly, and believe my end is near, give my love to my friends, tell them that I don't know that I ever felt more for them, but my bodily powers are fast declining." On the 24th two friends being introduced and inquiring how he felt, he answered, "I am here yet, but am wearing away--growing weaker every hour--I have not been able to converse much, my powers of speech are so wasted,--but I love the company of my friends,--and I love it in the spiritual life that needs no words." Then after a little pause, he spoke of his concern to serve his gracious Master through the course of a long life which was now near its close. Of his unshaken faith in the teachings of the heavenly principle of Light and Life in the soul, and of the prospect before him of a blessed immortality; saying, in humble confidence,--"I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith,--and now have the consoling evidence, that there is laid up for me a Crown, which God, the righteous Judge, will give in his own time." Then looking round on those in the room with a benignant smile upon his countenance, he expressed the hope that they would be encouraged "to walk by the same rule and to mind the same thing."
After which his strength failed fast, and on the morning of the 26th he passed quietly away, being in the 78th year of his age.
His remains were interred on the 28th at West Chester, in Friends' burying ground in the presence of a large assemblage of Friends and others.
Signed 3d Month l2th, 1850.
George Martin Solomon Pusey Thomas Jenkinson Richard M. Barhard Joseph Chandler Joseph F. Walton John Chandler Ezra Michener Benjamin Swayne Wm. E. Bailey David Walton Amos Barnard Amy Pennock Edith Jenkinson Ruth Pyle Maria Jane Chandler Sarah Bailey Abigail Walton Ann Chandler