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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Chapter 2: A Review and Narrative of his Apprenticeship, and Account of his Appearance in the Ministry, With Remarks
In the preceding part of my history, I have given some account of the amusements and course of my early life, and of the fondness that I had for youthful pleasures. I shall now attempt to retrace the scenes through which I passed during an apprenticeship of five years and three months in the city of Philadelphia.
In the spring of the year 1784, being in the sixteenth year of my age, I left the care and protection of my parents, and went to live among strangers. The man I was placed with, was a potter by trade, and a member of the Society of Friends. On my introduction to him and his wife, I was favorably impressed toward them both. They appeared to take me into their family with a concern for my welfare. They informed me that the boys they had, did not behave as well as they could wish, and they hoped I would be careful not to follow any of their bad practices --they also expressed a hope that I would spend my leisure hours in the house with them. Those professions of kindness and concern, I considered as evidences of their interest in my welfare, and of their good will towards me.
But I soon found my -situation very different from that experienced in my father's house. There, I was on an equality with every member of the family; but here the family was divided into several classes. No unity or friendship appeared to prevail, but division, discord, and envy. The apprentice-boys had no apparent attachment to the family, or the heads of it; nor had they much (if any) for the boys.
Under such circumstances, it is easy to see that difficulties were to be met with. If I chose the society of the family, I was to be rejected by my shop-mates. If I made the latter my uniform company, I was liable to all the charges of misconduct that might fall upon them. In this critical and delicate situation, a circumstance occurred which soon settled the question. The next day after my entrance into the family, I found my station was different froth any condition I had ever been placed in before. The master, his wife and their children, were in the habit of sitting down to one table,--and the boys to another. The remains of the provision on which the master, his wife and children had dined, were placed on the boys' table; and the breakfast and supper were also taken in the same separate manner. In short, there were two tables kept morning, noon, and night. I concluded that if my station could not be with the heads of the family at meals--and that if, because I was their apprentice, I must be placed below their children. I was not fit to be a part of the parlor company.
From such considerations, I made up my mind to be as distant as the order of the house appeared to place me. There was a kind of resentment excited in by the degradation that I thought I was placed under. I considered my father's family as respectable as the family in which I now was; and why so great difference was made between me and the children of my master, I could not conceive. Had the separation been only when they had company, I could easily have apologized for it: but finding it uniform, on all days of the week alike, company or no company, it produced in my inexperienced mind, a settled aversion to the family.
My motive for being particular in relation to the foregoing system, is not with any view to implicate the family as being singular in their practice from many other Friends engaged in mechanical or mercantile pursuits; but to show how prejudicial it was to me and my fellow-apprentices, and the unfavorable impressions it made towards the family. Nor have I any doubt, that as a general rule, it would be much better for the master of every family to sit at the head of his table, and preserve proper order.
The discontent with the provisions, when they were good enough, and the disrespect and prejudice which may be generally expected where two tables are thus kept--can scarcely be conceived by any who have not had an opportunity fully to experience it.
Having now become the companion of the boys, the first thing, that I thought necessary, was to attempt promoting a reform among them. They were habitually profane; and I could not think of descending into this corrupt practice. I therefore informed them, that I was disappointed in finding them so addicted to the use of bad language,--and that I head expected in the work-shop of a Friend, no such practice had ever existed. At the moment, these remarks seemed to make some impression on my shopmates: but this soon subsided, and I was answered with ridicule.
I now recollected my prospect in favor of becoming more serious under the advantage of leaving my old acquaintances behind when I became an apprentice. It was evident, that if I abode by my resolution among my new companions,--the ridicule which I had dreaded, would be to be endured under circumstances still more trying. In the former ease, I could retire out of the way of company that was unpleasant: but in my present case, I was confined to the same room, and could not avoid my shop-mates. I could therefore see but little encouragement to attempt a change toward a more serious life. It seemed as though all things conspired to convince me, that unless I conformed to the manners and habits of my fellow-apprentices,--any difference in my conduct would subject me to their abuse. This I dreaded,--and apprehended I could not endure. I had many serious thoughts about what was best for me to do. Sometimes I would almost make up my mind to return to my parents, and state to them the reasons why I could not stay. At other times I would suppose it might be possible to steer a kind of middle course; that is, not to go into the extremes in which the boys indulged,--nor wholly to withdraw from them. On one point, however, I became fully settled, and that was that I would not embrace their profane language;--but in every other respect be their companions.
Accordingly, I set out on this plan. I wandered about with them at night; and on my return home, felt miserable. Sometimes the thought would occur to me, that if I respected my parents as I ought to do, I would not so soon depart from their restrictions and advice; but would stay at home after dark, now I was separated from them, as I did when living with them. But those compunctions would be silenced by considering that the case was now altered,--that I had not the same associates as formerly,--and that if I were to stay at home with the family, I should soon have the ill-will of the boys. Thus I reasoned and persuaded myself that my practice was not from disrespect to my parents, but rather the result of untoward circumstances. With such like reasonings, I endeavored to silence those convictions that frequently distressed me when out at nights. But alley all proved a vain refuge; and trouble succeeded trouble. In the house I had no comfort:--in the shop, all seemed disorder;--in the street, all was confusion. Friends (in the city) I seemed to have none.
Under these circumstances, day after day, I was unhappy; and that unhappiness was increased by occasionally joining with the boys in their mischievous acts toward the family. At length, I had so fully plunged with them into folly and wantonness, that I saw the attachment of my master and mistress was not towards me in the degree that appeared in the beginning of my apprenticeship.
When my feelings of distress were almost insupportable, I went with one of my shopmates to attend a sale of books. He told me the place was pleasant and entertaining. When we arrived at the bookstore, we found it shut. My companion said, the auctioneer was a play-actor, and that he must be gone to the play. i was now for turning back; but he urged me to go on, and said we should be home time enough. I consented, and we went on. But I had no sooner got in sight of the playhouse, than I was astonished at the terrible tumult which surrounded it. Those who were without, with clubs and stones were swearing and threatening to break their way into the house;--while those within were theater, in vengeance on them if they did not desist. During the few minutes that I stood looking on, I thought that if ever a spot upon the earth was sufficiently vicious and wicked for the ground to give away under it, and swallow up the company, this was so; and I felt afraid to trust myself near. But my shop-mate rushed into the throng, and I left him. After looking on the dreadful scene a few minutes, I went solitarily along the streets home.
This evening's ramble wound up my wanderings at night with my fellow apprentices. The powerful convictions and condemnation that I felt on my way from the play house home,--were not forgotten for many days. By this time I had also so entirely lost the friendship of the family, that I saw I had no place in their sympathy or affections. The degree of serious thoughtfulness which had taken place in my mind did not pass without being noticed by the boys: they also observed that I excused myself from going with them as at other times. A suspicion commenced with them that I was endeavoring to get into favor in the house. They grew jealous of me, and sometimes showed a degree of ill-nature toward me. My situation daily become more and more unpleasant, until I was brought to the necessity of plainly telling them, that for the future I should not join in any thing that tended to wound the peace of my own mind.
The effect of this testimony was soon felt. I was rejected by the boys and treated with ridicule. In the house I had no friends, and in the shop, all seemed sour and uncomfortable. Under these circumstances, my only comfort was in being alone. In this neglected and tried condition, I passed several months before any relief was provided for me. Under these solitary and discouraging feelings our religious meetings came very desirable to me: and in order to get to them, I would rise early on meeting day, and get my work so forward that no objection could be made to my going. And when at meetings, my concern was simply for preservation, and that I might have firmness and patience sufficient to endure without murmuring, all the trials that might come upon me;--fully believing that they were permitted in order for my refinement.
Sometimes in these solemn opportunities, when musing on the situation in which I was placed, my mind would be led back to the opposition I had often made to the Light within; and I would feel a degree of resignation to suffer, as an atonement for my many offenses.
The diligence that was manifest in my attendance of religious meetings, and the serious manner in which I sat in them, did not go unnoticed. Several young men of circumspect and exemplary conduct, had been turning their attention toward me; and after the close of one of our evening meetings, two of these, Charles Williams and Michael Monier, very kindly spoke to me, and said they were glad to sec my diligence in attending our meetings. These young men continued to be my kind and useful companions, during the remainder of my apprenticeship and residence in the city. Very soon after this first interview, Charles invited me to his father's house, and the whole family gave me a generous welcome the first time I visited them. I now had a Friend's house to retire to in the evenings, where I could spend the time profitably with a judicious and prudent companion, whom it was safe to inform of my difficulties, and consult when I thought necessary. Our attachment to each other increased from time to time, and continued without any interruption during the life of Charles Williams; and in his death I felt the loss of a firm and valuable friend.
This happy commencement of new and profitable acquaintances had a great tendency
to encourage me to maintain with firmness my integrity to the pointings of
Truth. I now saw that if my situation was unpleasant through the day, I could
in the evening have useful and agreeable company. I believed too, that it
was a mark of providential care over me, thus to open my way into such society.
Under these ideas, I began to hope that my past follies would be forgiven.
For, although I had felt much of the weight of condemnation, and had endeavored
to be on my guard against increasing the occasions of it,--yet I had no
satisfactory evidence that my transgressions were forgiven. When I heard
others speak of the consolations they enjoyed, and particularly of their
confidence that if they maintained their steadfastness for the time to come,--the
past would be forgiven them--it would impress me with desires that I might
have a like blessed assurance.
My shop-mates finding that I had gained an introduction to other company, and that I had the advantage of spending my leisure time in respectable society, now began to see that the change which had taken place in me, was serious and settled; and they gradually became more respectful toward me. When I perceived this change in them, it opened the way again to mention to them their use of profane language. My remarks on that subject were now received very differently from what they had been before: and at length I had the satisfaction to see this evil habit wholly broken up. They, however, continued to wander about the streets of evenings, as before. In order to remove this habit, and to promote my own improvement, I adopted the practice of reading, writing, and attending to other branches of useful learning in the evenings. I perceived that this had an influence on them, and they became gradually drawn off from former habits into more regularity.
Our situation in the family was not so agreeable as among ourselves. We continued all days in the week to be accommodated in the kitchen; and as our dinner always came after the other parts of the family had dined, it was generally late. On first days it frequently interfered with or came close on the time of our afternoon meetings. My care to be at meeting now began to be noticed by my master, and he would sometimes invite me to take dinner with him, that I might be at meeting in time. To this I always objected, unless my shop-mates came with me--and gave him as a reason, that if we all dined together it would keep up the harmony among us.
At length I had the satisfaction to see the family ail dine together on first days. No person who had never seen the consequences of a different practice, could conceive the advantage which followed this change. The happiness and convenience of the whole family were promoted by it; and the respect was increased between the master and }lis apprentices. There was a greater pleasure in attending to all his orders; and I could plainly discover that he enjoyed the time he spent in the shop, much more than formerly.
This agreeable change in my situation frequently excited my gratitude, and led to a hope that the days of trouble had come to an end;--and that if I continued to walk by the same rule and mind the same thing, I should now have some satisfaction. But although the scene was changed as to the outward, and a foundation laid for improvement, it was not long before I became convinced that the days of my spiritual warfare were not yet accomplished. A controversy with outward difficulties had no sooner been removed, than other occasions for watchful attention, presented. My natural love of amusement being restrained by the power of the Divine principle, so far as to separate me from the common pastimes of youth,--now took a different direction. I became fond of cheerful conversation; and supposed to myself (provided the subjects were well chosen)that there could be no harm in occasionally enjoying company in this way. For a time I did not discover that this disposition was precisely the same that had been restrained from other amusements. My fears began to be excited by this discovery: but I had opened a door to weakness, and renewed the work of repentance, I now saw that I must not indulge my natural fondness for amusement even when that amusement was free from every moral objection:--because it was necessary, to the end that those natural dispositions should be made subject, that I should cease to act in the natural will, and know a perfect concurrence with the Divine will. In which case, all that I could be free to do, I must know I was at liberty to do. But my selection of subjects for cheerful conversation, being done in the natural will, had not as a ground and principle, the love of virtue, and was therefore condemnable by that pure Principle of Divine light which had begun in me the work of perfect redemption.
On further reflection upon the cause of uneasiness, produced by this indulgence in cheerfulness, I have believed that my mind was at that time but little acquainted with the deceitfulness of human nature, or the natural man;--and that, had I been permitted to run out into a love of much conversation, in this ignorant and weak state,--it is most probable that a fondness would have grown up in favor of external enjoyments which would have very much interrupted that inward watchful state in which the heart of man is laid open, and all the secret motives to action are fully comprehended. I therefore believe that at that day it was a merciful interference of Divine Providence purposely intended to guard me from loss and danger, and to open my ear to discipline.
In the course of my experience, I have observed others who have begun well, and made many sacrifices; but who for want of keeping under the discipline of the cross, have been drawn out from a steady abiding with the gift; and although they have retained a fair outside, yet they have never deepened in the knowledge of themselves,, nor become clear in their acquaintance with that pure light by which a knowledge of their duty could be made manifest.
When a greater degree of reserve was submitted to, and more seasons of recollection and silent introversion experienced, my mind was furnished with fresh openings into the knowledge of human nature, and its tendency to submit to temptations both of an outward and a secret nature, I now discovered how I had been deceiving myself, and how others were deceived. I had also in those quiet moments of reflection and silent waiting upon God, many new conceptions of the meaning and harmony of particular passages of the scriptures; and some appeared full of instruction that before seemed to contain but little that I could understand.
I likewise saw more clearly into the importance of that pure and spiritual worship, for which the soul of man is qualified, when inward quietude is gained; and which proves more fully to those who experience it, the immortality of man, than all the arguments which can be advanced by the ablest talents.
It was while my mind was held in this state of reserve, a clear impression was made upon it, that my duty in life was not to be confined to a private sphere; but that if I stood passive and faithful to the light of Truth, I should at some period be called to the work of the ministry. In my then infant state, I was willing to suppose this prospect embraced a service that was it a considerable distance. But ever after it opened before me, my mind was clothed with much awfulness, particularly in our religious meetings, I believed it was of great importance to myself and to the cause of righteousness, that I should make no mistake in relation to this serious subject. I felt a great care lest some deceptive principle might obtain an advantage over me, and that under its influence I might engage in a service that did not belong to the gifts I had received. I esteem it among the blessings of kind Providence to have had those cautionary considerations; and particularly so, that the prospect of this path of duty was opened a considerable time before I found any clear call to enter upon it.
At length, when the impression came, it was felt with much clearness. The subject was short, and in the eye of human wisdom, very simple. It was, to communicate to the assembly, That all the first-born throughout the land of Egypt died, before the king of Egypt would let the promised seed go out of bondage. But while I was trembling under the impression and deliberating upon the subject of rising to express it, the meeting closed. As the omission was not in consequence of any opposition to the call,--I felt no condemnation, and my mind was calm and easy. The next instance of a like impression was submitted to; and the serene and quiet state that I experienced after I sat down, amounted to full and conclusive evidence that I had not mistaken my duty.
In the exercise of the gift, 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. There are, no doubt, diversities of gifts, as well as differences of administrations, and operations: but in my case, I always found that the communications which I was called to make, although they were preceded by a solemnity of feeling without distinct images or ideas of things,--yet when the moment for utterance arrived, the subject or burden of the Word, was clearly presented to my natural understanding: and the more calm and deliberate I was, the clearer the way opened before me. I could see with greater certainty the direction of the Light in its divisions and variations of the course of the subject before me,--and was also better qualified to determine when and where to close.
But when at any time, or from whatever cause, that deliberation and correctness of the understanding, were interrupted,--whether from fear of man, or from too much zeal,--the gift would be in the same proportion obscured, and the exercise in testimony, neither relieving nor satisfactory.
In all the experience I have had in the ministry, I have been convinced that much depends upon wholly relying on the all-sufficiency of Him who promised to be to his servants, both mouth and wisdom, tongue and utterance. But as, in every instance of the blessings of heaven, our wise Creator has left something for us to do, in order to come at the full enjoyment of them,--so I believe it to be in regard to the ministry of the gospel. The gift may be bestowed; but by the indolence or inattention of the servant, the materials for it to act upon may be wanting,--the means of improvement may be unoccupied: and, like the seed in a neglected soil, it may not be permitted either to flourish, or become distinctly known to others, in consequence of the obstructions to its growth, or the mixture of other things.
I have often thought that those who are called to the ministry in the Society of Friends, would be much more clear and satisfactory in their testimonies, if they were more attentive to the subjects which are opened to the mind in their silent moments. In that case the same Divine Light which brought them into view, would open a clear understanding of them: and subjects thus opened and explained to the mind, when delivered in testimony, would be clear and satisfactory; and being clothed with the energies and authority of the Spirit, they would be communicated to the assembly with that weight and baptizing influence which ever attends true gospel ministry.
Another consideration had much place in my mind, in relation to the important office of the ministry,--and that was the manner. I had observed among ministers in our Society, generally, a change from a natural tone of the voice to a manner of speaking that seemed unnatural. In this however there was much variety. Some spoke very loud and rapid. Others, though less rapid, used greater or less degrees of tone. Those tones or tunes were generally soft, and in some measure calculated to affect the passions,--especially when connected with mournful subjects. These variations from the natural tone of the voice became settled habits. Froth the powerful ascendency of these habits over many in their ministry, and from a consideration of the injury to their services in consequence of these habits, I was afraid of falling into any particular habit or manner of delivery. But with all the care I have taken to avoid the habits of others, my own manner has never been fully satisfactory; because I have not adhered to the natural tone of voice, nor obtained the degree of deliberation that I could approve.
In the Society of Friends, there are persons in the station of Elders, who are .particularly charge with the care of the ministry; and whose duty it is to point out where improvement is needed in the exercise of the gift. But is there not too much backwardness among Elders in mentioning to ministers what occurs for their improvement in this respect? Hence habits become formed for want of care in the Elders, and tones and gestures are used that hurt the service of ministers.
After my first appearing in the ministry, I remained an apprentice in the city about four years. In the course of this time, my situation outwardly was so similar that I have few remarks to make. But it is due to my numerous friends there to say, that they watched over me for good, and from them I received many excellent cautions, and much good counsel. It was to me a season of improvement; and I derived much benefit from the society I was favored to enjoy. In the situation in which I was placed with the family where I lived, I was furnished with many opportunities of viewing human nature from which I also derived lessons of instruction: and from scenes which I witnessed there, impressions were made concerning the state of man when unsubjected to the Divine will, which I believe will be useful to me while I remain in mutability.