This letter was written by 34 year-old, Rev. George Stevenson (1810-1893) — a native of Scotland and a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church who was first admitted on trial in the Baltimore Conference in 1841. He was assigned to the Allegany Circuit in the Huntingdon District of the Conference in 1844 and the event described in this letter occurred during the late summer Camp Meeting held on that circuit in 1844. Despite his troubles on the Allegany Circuit, Rev. Stevenson continued as a Methodist preacher, serving various appointments in Pennsylvania until he retired in 1864. Rev. Stevenson was married to Tarresse G. ____ (18xx-1849).
Rev. Stevenson wrote the letter to his Presiding Elder, Rev. Henry Furlong (1797-1874) who began his career as a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1817. From 1842-1846, Rev. Furlong was the Superintendent of the Huntingdon District of the Baltimore Conference.
Addressed to Rev’d H. Furlong, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
August 23d 1844
Rev’d Henry Furlong
I sit down to write a few lines to you & after my kindest & warmest respects to you, Mrs. Furlong, & dear family — who I hope are all well — I would just say the object which I have in view is to inform you of some unpleasant things which have transpired at our Camp Meeting, which I am inauspiciously connected with, & in my humble opinion, calls four your immediate interposition as I have reason to believe that you, Sir, will consult my safety &c. The circumstance is as follows.
We commenced according to our arrangements & were getting along very pleasantly (& in fact it was a pleasant & profitable Camp Meeting with a few exceptions) but some fellows of the baser sort were determined to have a time of gratification. We appointed a guard ¹ privately to act in concert in order to sustain decorum &c., and upon the 2nd night of our meeting the guard found a young man of very bad character in company with one of an opposite sex, consonant in character, acting out of place. The [guard] reproved him but he bid them defiance. The Capt. of the guard came to me & related the circumstance/ We went & without violence dispersed them. A little after this, I saw this man conversing with one of his associates apparently excited, then left him, walked a short distance outside the tents & gave a loud yell. I supposed [this] to be a signal & I then told the guard that they had better take him into custody, which they did, but not getting the magistrate to act immediately (God pity such men), the guards were indignant & let him go.
I walked to his father’s tent (for he is the son of one of the officials of the Circuit, told his father on his account that we would forgive him on the condition that he would not annoy us anymore. His father said it was only making him worse to let him go but I told him that we would keep our eyes upon him & that if he acted out of character again, he might expect no mercy but what the law would allow him. He went home afterwards & stayed some time there. His father also went home & found him in bed asleep & a pistol (or pistols) lying on a table by his bedside. The father awake him & he told the father he was coming to the Camp Meeting again & there were one _______ would suffer. The father conveyed the intelligence to me & I felt something alarmed — especially when I saw him on the ground.
I went to his father [and] conversed with him on the subject. He told me he could do nothing with him for he was a desperate young man. I consulted a number of the friends who thought it necessary to have him arrested. Then the difficulty commenced. Brother Shur, who is magistrate, told me that he would not be forced to act & altho’ he acted at last, I believe it was in view of his responsibility to the Commonwealth. Then, strange as it may appear, many whom I have looked upon as my warmest friends have given a demonstration of that friendship by forsaking me in the time of trouble, & not only so but by throwing their influence in the opposite scale & pasting some vile epithets upon my character. These are the men that I loved & would have trusted my character or even life in their hands.
Now Sir, here I am exposed to infuriated ruffians, forsaken. Forsaken by all in the places where those vile fellows live. Yet there are many on the Circuit that just view the matter as I do & they & I have wept together while we have lamented the miserable treatment I have received. We were getting along harmoniously on the Circuit up to this period & I anticipated a very pleasant & prosperous year. Alas, how ignorant I was of futurity & how ignorant still. I hope that you sir will commiserate my unenviable position & that you can make some arrangements to remove me from this place as I believe my life is in eminent danger. I have consulted some of the Friends who saw the matter in this very light. You will know more about this matter when you visit our Quarterly Meeting (& I shall not be disappointed if may represent my proceedings as entirely out of place. You Sir, will ascertain the facts in the case by hearing both sides of the question). I do not desire a change in order to have a better Camp Meeting. Send me anywhere in the district — to the poorest & roughest circuit if you see right to do so — but I hope you will not leave me here unsupported to the fury of the malignant villains.
I think, Sir, I can appeal to yourself as having some knowledge of my character. You Sir, have never known me to have the least difficulty where I have labored either with preacher in charge or people; nor had I here. All was peace & harmony. But the scene is completely changed. And now, Sir, suffer me to say that painful necessity drives me to respectfully desire you to remove me from a place where I believe if not, my life may be sacrificed to the malignity of a host of outlaws for here many of them dwell after the manner of the Didonians (Judges 18.7). Such a people I deprecate. No more but remain yours in Christ, — Geo. Stevenson
N. B. Excise my many blunders in this letter for assure you I have wept much while striving to write & thinking the matter over. I scarce could hold the pen. — G. S.
¹ Tales of rowdyism at Methodist Camp Meetings such as the one described in this letter abound in the literature. It was not uncommon for groups of ruffians to go to the campgrounds, not to save their souls but to cause trouble. The camp meeting organizers responded by naming special constables and establishing a little jail to take care of the infiltrators.