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 3: His removal to East Caln--Settlement at Yorktown--Return to Caln,--Journey to Catawissa and Muncy--Also to Carolina, &c.--Trials, in Relation to Special Providence--Journey to New Jersey--Removal to Downingtown--Reflections--Concern to go to Europe.
About the close of the summer of 1759, the period arrived when I was at liberty to leave the city. Apprehending it would not be best to think of going into business there, I concluded to spend the fall and winter in Chester county. Accordingly, I parted with my friends and the family with whom I had lived in the city, and went into the neighborhood of East Caln, where I commenced keeping school.
The satisfaction which I felt on being at liberty from the service of another, and to engage in plans of my own, was a considerable gratification to me. But I soon found that difficulties were to be met with; and that now ! was to engage for myself without means and without experience in the business of the world,--I had a very different state of concerns to manage from those of my apprenticeship. In my former situation, I had no contracts to make, no debts to pay, and no accounts to settle. The prospect of dangers from the exposure to the world, now made a deep impression upon me. I had noticed some who began well, and bid fair to be useful when they commenced business for themselves: but who soon lost their reputation by making engagements which they failed to comply with, and by running out into degrees of extravagance, which their means were not sufficient to support. Others again, who became so much taken up with their worldly concerns that they neglected their religious duties, and became cool in their love to the Divine Principle;--particularly when they were prosperous in business.
There is in the principle and the order of the Society of Friends, a limitation of expenses that seems naturally to open the way for worldly prosperity among the industrious. Some of the members who from proper motives have put on plain apparel, and who have begun poor in the world, being conscientiously concerned to keep within the bounds of their circumstances,--have, nevertheless, by a steady regard to correct principles and industrious habits, become prosperous: but at length, by giving way to a close disposition, in proportion to the increase of their temporal property, have acquired so much love of the world, and attachment to their interest, that they have become cool in their love of the Truth. And though some of these retain a fair and plain outside, and are punctual to their promises and exact in the payment of their debts,--yet through covetousness, they have lost the dew of their youth, and been but barren members of society. When we look into the families of some of these, we find among them and their children, that their conversation is very much confined to the world, and they feel but little interest in religious subjects. They are, in their own estimation, so moral and whole that it is exceedingly difficult to reach them, or convince them that they are lacking the inheritance of the pure life of Truth.
Under some of these views, and the dangers attending worldly pursuits, I had many fears lest, after all I had known of the mercy and goodness of a gracious Father and Almighty Friend, I might fait into weakness and entanglements. But from the pressure or difficulties which I experienced for several years, my mind was kept humble and dependent. And I now believe, it was much safer, and tended more to my preservation, to be poor in my beginning in the world, than if I had commenced in the midst of plenty, and with larger prospects before me.
In the course of the winter, I made up my mind to settle in Yorktown in the spring. Having contracted an acquaintance with Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Moses Coates, we were united in marriage in the early part of the year 1790. It was a connection entered into with the consent of all parties concerned, and has proved to be a great blessing to me.
After removing to my native place, I began the requisite preparations for carrying on my trade. But with all the exertions I could make, the principal part of the summer was past, before I could get in readiness. And having to borrow money on interest, to begin with, t felt this disappointment to be a great disadvantage to me la my first attempts to go into business. The propriety and necessity of fulfilling all the contracts I made, was what I fully admitted; but the delay experienced in getting into business, and the unavoidable expenses to which I was subject, landed me in great discouragement; so that I began to fear that my creditors would suffer by me. In the midst of my fears, and at a time when my concerns wore a doubtful appearance as to what might be their issue, a report was spread by a member of Society, that I was so much entangled in my circumstances, that I must fail. By this means, some who had given me credit, were induced to demand the payment of their money. I knew not the cause at the time. But having always made payments when they were demanded, I resorted to my usual practice of borrowing, under promise of returning the money again at a time mentioned to the lender. But to my surprise I found a kind of hesitation in persons who before had been free, and ready to oblige me. At length, the explanation came out, and there was no difficulty in learning who was the author of the report.
Under these trials, I was almost ready to despair of maintaining the standing which I believed was required by the principle of Truth, of which I had been making a public profession. My health also began to fail, from the close application that I paid to my business, and the pressure of concern under which I had been exercised. I saw too that the place I had chosen to commence business in, would not answer. In these circumstances, I called a number of my friends together, and opened to them my situation; at the same time letting them know, that I believed I could do better by returning to Chester county. After fully knowing how I was circumstanced, they advised me to try the place another year: and to this I submitted. But in the round of the year, I became fully convinced that a change was indispensable. I therefore had another opportunity with my friends, and let them know that if I remained among them, I must fail to fulfill my contracts, and thereby wound the profession I had been making. Some of them supposed that I was too easily discouraged; but others thought it would be best to leave me fully at liberty to look out for a different situation, if I should, on mature consideration, think proper to do so.
In the beginning of the year 1794, I went to the neighborhood of East Cain, in search of a place for myself and family. The kindness of my friends in assisting me to obtain the requisite accommodation, I still remember with gratitude. A tract of land and a dwelling house were purchased at a moderate price, and I removed to East Caln in the spring of 1794.
Before I conclude the account of my residence at Yorktown, I may remark, that it seemed in many respects a critical and dangerous time to me. On the side of the world I had my trials. In the Society, my way seemed shut up. I could find few or none of the kind of company that I wished for. But, 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.
When I had returned to East Caln, I had to erect the necessary buildings for a shop and fixtures in which to carry on my trade of a potter: and had my health been equal to the business, it appeared for a time to be likely to answer for a livelihood. But in a few months I found my health was failing, and that I must decline the business, otherwise I should be hastened out of the world by it. Upon serious reflection, I came to the conclusion to sell out the whole concern; which was accordingly effected without loss.
After having sold the property and being out of business, my situation was trying, and I sometimes felt much discouraged. I next rented a tenement and lot on which there was a building that answered for a school house, and in which I concluded to open a school. I commenced accordingly; but very soon after, I was impressed with a belief that it would be right for me to leave home, in order to make a religious visit to Friends of Roaring Creek, Catawissa, Fishing Creek, and Muncy. This being the first instance of my concern to travel on Truth's account, and having made a beginning in teaching the school, it was a close trial to leave my family and business at a time when I had as it were, just made a new beginning in the world, and when I knew the means I had were very small. But feeling the impression to be weighty, I resigned myself to the duty; and having the unity of Friends in the order of society, I set out on the journey, having William Mode as my companion.
In the course of this visit, my confidence in the safety of submitting to the clear openings of duty, was in no degree lessened. On attending one of the monthly meetings, I heard the report of a committee concerning two Friends, who were said to be at open variance, and that they saw no hope of their being reconciled. I afterward learned that both these Friends had huge families; and it was evident to me that if they continued at variance, it would not only destroy their own comfort, but be of great disadvantage to their families. As I felt much exercised on the occasion, at length it opened to me as a duty, to see the two families together at their meeting house. They accordingly came together; and after sitting silently with them for some time, my way opened to remark to the young people, that I was sorry to learn that their parents were not on friendly terms with each other;--and that I hoped (however their parents might unwisely remain at variance,) they would by no means suffer themselves to entertain such feelings in their hearts, but cherish a disposition of kindness and good will toward one another;--and this might render them instruments for restoring unity and friendly feelings between their parents. But, should the parents continue to cherish hard. thoughts, and unkindness toward each other, and even blindly go down to the graves in this state (which I sincerely hoped would not be the ease,) I earnestly advised and admonished the children to take warning by the awful circumstance.
Having thus opened my concern to them, as Truth led the way, I had cause to rejoice in that it took such hold of the Friends at variance, that they became friendly to each other, and mutually concluded to drop all former causes of uneasiness, and in future to live as Friends should do.
This was one of the cases that served to convince me, that it is not in man (by his own powers alone) to lead his brother out of a fault, and that this can only be done by the truly spiritual-minded, man, under the qualifying influence of the wisdom that cometh from above.
This visit was performed in four weeks: and on my return to my family, I felt a quietude of mind. which amounted to an ample reward.
While permitted to be at hi, me, I knew it was my duty carefully to attend to my temporal concerns. This I endeavored to do with ail the diligence of which I was capable: but my constitution being delicate, and in some measure injured by the business I followed, it became necessary to decline it. Hence I was induced to sell the property I had purchased, and as it were, begin the world anew. But there was some difficulty in deciding upon what business to follow. After many thoughts on the subject, I concluded to employ the time at keeping school, until something more adapted to my choice should offer. While engaged in this occupation, I felt my mind drawn to a concern of paying a religious visit to some parts of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. The prospect was serious in every view that I could take of it. I had now two children to provide for, and still remained poor.
But the concern rested with so much weight on my mind, that I was most easy to spread it before my Friends. They appointed a committee to confer with me upon it; and to this committee I opened my situation. After fully deliberating on the prospect, it was united with. In conformity therewith I made the best arrangement t could for the journey. My temporal concerns were now brought to a very limited state; and (except the articles of household furniture) what I had was in money,--the amount of which I divided, taking, one half to bear the expenses of the journey, and leaving the other half to accommodate my wife and children in my absence.
In the fulfillment of this religious duty, I was from home three months,. And traveled seventeen hundred miles. The journey was performed in the fall of the year 1795; and in the course of it, I attended the Yearly Meeting of Friends in North Carolina. It gave me an opportunity for much reflection, and was a time of instruction. I saw that some seemed to overact their part, and by taking hold of too much, they lost the weight and influence, which they otherwise might, have had. I saw too that where any meddled beyond their depth, such were not even credited with what they seemed to know. Upon the whole the Meeting was well conducted, and furnished occasion to believe that there were many valuable members belonging to it.
Of this journey I kept some account. After attending the Yearly Meeting, my stay was short in that part of the country. On my way home I had several meetings, and visited a man in prison who was under sentence of death for horse stealing. When I arrived at home, it was my happiness to find my dear wife and children in good health.
On my return home, the school was ready to engage my attention: but finding that the compensation was not sufficient for the support of my family, I was not satisfied to remain in it. On this occasion some of my friends were uneasy with me; charging me with a want of steadiness; and alleging that while I was unwilling to continue in a business for which (in their opinion) I was qualified, I could not expect they would be disposed to do any thing for me. In return, I remarked that the compensation was not sufficient; but if they would make it so, I would not quit the business. I let them know that unless they would pay me what I believed was right, I should look for other business. Accordingly, I declined teaching the school; and although I saw no way to get along, and was sensible of the prejudice which would attach to me by so doing, it yet seemed right for me to leave.
During the interval that, passed after this event, and before I became engaged in business again, to my mind, I was subject to many discouragements. During this period also, a visit was paid to my family by a company of Friends who were out on that service. They were Friends that I respected. My situation at that time was unusually gloomy; and the communications of those Friends were singularly calculated to increase my discouragements. On parting with them I felt much sunk, and ready to conclude that some unhappy mistake had been made on my part;--and therefore I should find no further way to open for my comfort or success in the world.
Under these impressions, and the pressure of my temporal difficulties, my faith in the special providence of the Almighty became in some measure weakened. Hence arose a general consideration of the doctrine of Divine revelation to man. I saw that with this doctrine was connected a belief in his particular providence: that is, that every revelation which had been claimed, either by Jews or Christians, must be associated with a belief in such a providence. From those reflections and considerations, my ideas became so mixed and perplexed, that I began to doubt whether there was any degree of certainty to be obtained. If, said I, there is no special or particular providence, then there can be no revelation;--and if no revelation, there can be no certainty;--and if no certainty, there can be no accountability: and therefore the whole state of man must be generally misunderstood. To talk about certainty, as resulting froth our natural powers only,--or to suppose they were capable or arriving at it, argues decided ignorance of our capacities. This was evident to me from a full conviction that the organs of intelligence to the natural man, were the five senses. I knew that each of these might be deceived: and therefore, that they could not be the instruments of correct intelligence to the understanding. I considered too, that unless revelation was believed in, all the ideas that were excited by the operation of the natural senses, could never prove the doctrine, either of eternal existence, or the immortality of man.
But all these perplexities of thought happily subsided, and my mind became settled in a full and satisfactory belief, that there could be no effect without a cause;--and that every effect must agree with its own particular cause. All ideas, therefore, that were excited, must agree with their exciting causes;--those that were natural, with natural causes;--and those that were spiritual, with spiritual causes. The idea, therefore, that "God is a Spirit,"--must have had a supernatural origin; and consequently that at some period there must have been a revelation of this idea. My faith in communications of a spiritual and supernatural kind, was now renewed; and I could find in myself particular impressions and feelings, which I was satisfied were not the result of natural causes. By these, I was much more powerfully convinced of the truth of revelation, than by any reasoning upon the subject.
Having been favored to rise above those 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. New prospects of journeys and engagements for the promotion of righteousness, were also opened before me.
My next journey after that to Carolina, was through parts of New Jersey. It was a little singular, that in many of the meetings I was at in this journey, I felt engaged to hold up such evidence as had served to satisfy me, of the truth of Divine revelation. But by the information that I afterward received, I was made easy on this subject. It appeared that many had been led into doubts, by the reading of a libertine work which had been published not long before.
On my return from this journey, my mind was much comforted in a persuasion that the time had been rightly devoted. This little tour was accomplished in about six weeks. After my return home, I felt less pressure upon my mind from worldly considerations, than had been usual with me for some time before. I believed that if I kept in the patience, and did what I found to do, both in temporal and spiritual concerns, there would be a way made for me. Under these ideas, it was possible to feel contented, without seeing far before me; and I was often instructed by reflections on the necessity and value of true faith.
From this time circumstances began to change, and prospects gradually to brighten before me. In the spring of the year 1797, I was accommodated with a farm in the neighborhood of Downingtown, upon terms which were peculiarly generous: and which I believed I might, with care and industry, in time be able to pay for. To it I removed and settled; and soon after became a member of Uwchlan monthly meeting. My attention was now drawn to the business of the world; and I thought I felt a degree of necessity to exert myself in order to make the new plan of business answer a good purpose. By perseverance in the management of the farm, I was soon convinced that it was possible. for the mind to become so very much engrossed, as even to loose sight of more important objects of thought. But notwithstanding this, it must be granted, that to a mind kept under the government of correct principles, there is perhaps no occupation which is better calculated to lead into a dependence on Divine Providence: for the husbandman practically learns, that though "Paul may plant and Apollos water, yet it is God who gives the increase."
Between the years, 1797, and 1804, I performed religious visits to several different places; and the gradual improvement of my farm opened the agreeable prospect, that the time would arrive when my situation in the world would be more favorable.
Upon a retrospect of the past, I have admired the wisdom of Divine Providence
in suffering me to feel so much pressure, and occasions for so many fears
and trials, in relation to my temporal concerns. Had my case been a more
independent one, I now have no doubt that the notice and attention which
I received among the respectable members of society would have raised in
me a spirit of self-importance, which is opposed to the humility necessary
for a Christian, and dangerous to a minister of the gospel.
Hence, I would have concluded that our condition in the world is not a mere case of accident: but that the blessed Author of our being comprehends the make of each mind, and appoints to every one the kind of station that is suited to hfs probationary state. I also see that it is possible for the hand of benevolence to be extended in cases where it would be better for the individual to be very much left in the station or condition, providentially allotted him. The very circumstances of those who have to apply themselves with diligence to business, are no doubt often the means of furnishing, in addition to the situation of humble dependence, a fund of practical knowledge, and a field of necessary discipline. So far as my observations have been made upon the most interesting and useful members of civil and religious society, I find them generally to be persons who have had but small beginnings in the world. And it has been evident to me, that their minds have become strong, vigorous, and well informed, by means of the steady application which their circumstances have called for. It is possible that young persons, under right discipline and a correct form of education, may be so enlightened as to be preserved from indolence, even though placed in the inheritance of ease and opulence. But where necessity for application is taken away, it requires more than a common mind to conquer the temptations to indulgences which are inimical to the acquirement of useful and experimental knowledge.
Under these considerations, a solicitude to place my children in circumstances of independence, has been very much removed; and I have preferred giving them a plain, practical education. Young people who are brought up in business, and who become attached to it, are much more likely to be kept from bad habits, than those who are indulged in idleness. And I esteem the condition of a young man who has but little wealth, and who is well acquainted with business,--much more promising than that of those who are left in the possession of wealth, and in habits of idleness.
As the terms on which I had purchased my farm, were particularly favorable, and the time for closing the contract so distant as to furnish a hope that I might succeed in making it my own,--I felt solicitous to devote my time to that object: and therefore was willing to suppose that no religious duty could occur which would interfere with my plans. But to my disappointment and trial, which seemed very great to me, a prospect presented that it was my duty to stand resigned to go on a religious visit to some parts of England, and to Ireland generally. When this prospect fastened seriously upon me, I took into consideration the probable consequences in relation to the purchase I had made, and I could see no other way (if I went the journey) than that it must defeat all hopes of success in my temporal prospects. The trial was great, not only as it related to my temporal affairs, but also in regard to parting with my wife and children; and it seemed impossible to bring my mind to a state of resignation.
But at length, finding that my peace of mind was involved, in the concern, and that nothing short of giving up to the prospect would leave it at rest, I communicated the subject to our monthly meeting. The concern was united with, and a certificate was granted on the occasion. The prospect was next opened to the Quarterly meeting, and on solid deliberation, it was also there united with, and the unity of the Quarter certified by an endorsement upon the certificate of the monthly meeting. It was then laid before the Yearly Meeting of ministers and elders, where it was not fully united with, and I was released from the concern, and permitted to remain at home.
The comfort felt on this occasion is not very readily described. I now began to have my hopes revived that I should be permitted to pursue my temporal business until I had laid a fair foundation for a comfortable living for my family. But although in the order of society I had been excused from going on the extensive journey that had opened to my view,--yet it was not long before the concern returned, and t was constrained to lay it before Friends again. It was now united with, and I was set at liberty to pursue the prospect before me, as Truth might open the way.
Accordingly, in the 7th month, 1804, I parted with my family and worldly
pursuits, with the entire unity of the society, and set out on my journey