Memoir of the Life and Labors of Edmund Wesley Kirby of the East Baltimore Conference, M.E. Church

Covering the years 1831–1852

By his own hand, commenced in Phillipsburg, Centre Co., PA. April 1, 1858

(Digital transcription dated 23 February 2009)


Editor’s Foreword

The personal life story of Rev./Dr. Edmund Wesley Kirby (1831–1902) has been of deep interest to me for a number of years. My especial interest in Rev. Kirby was kindled researching the Kirby family genealogy.

Miraculously, a memoir handwritten by Rev. Kirby (dated 1858 with one paragraph addition in 1884) was recently gifted to me by Carolyn Bloodworth of Texas. She and her husband were going through some crates of books and documents which once belonged to her husband’s great grandfather, Rev. Lloyd P. Bloodworth, a Methodist Episcopal minister in Texas, wherein she found Rev. Kirby’s memoir.

Rev. Kirby’s memoir covers his early life, from his birth in April 1831 until he became a Methodist Episcopal preacher in December 1851, plus an account of a newsworthy accident which happened to him in 1852.

Exactly how Rev. Kirby’s 1858 private memoir made it from Washington D.C. (where Rev. Kirby lived the last decade of his life) to Texas is a mystery. However, from a hand-edited business card found sandwiched in the yellowed pages of the memoir, it appears that Rev. Kirby’s widow, for some unknown reason, moved to Texas after her husband’s death – all the more interesting in that she and her parents were born in Pennsylvania with no obvious ties to Texas (nor did Rev. Kirby have any family ties to Texas.) How and why she moved to Texas sometime after 1902, particularly considering her old age (64 when Rev. Kirby died), is an active area of research.

Since Rev. Kirby’s handwriting is difficult to follow, I decided to carefully and laboriously transcribe his memoir to make it easier to read and study.

But I had a decision to make. Should I simply transcribe the memoir manuscript “as is” and leave in the numerous spelling, grammar, paragraph break, omitted word, punctuation and other errors, or should I attempt to edit it, to “clean it up”? Since this is an unpublished, quite rough manuscript, and since I plan sometime in the future to scan the original pages and submit the page scan images to the Internet Archive for digital preservation, I decided to play the role of editor/publisher rather than a faithful transcriber – to clean up the text as best as I could with the goal to make it more understandable and readable for 21st century readers.

Nevertheless, the edits to Rev. Kirby’s memoir have been kept to an absolute minimum so as not to alter the intended meaning nor the flavor of his writing style. Thus, there will be a few portions of the text which are awkward (even grammatically incorrect) to contemporary readers, but the text should still be understandable. And despite the poor handwriting, it was possible to completely reconstruct the entire text except for two surnames and a missing word which cannot be determined – these indecipherable/missing words are not important in understanding the memoir content and are flagged in the text along with explanatory notes.

I believe you will enjoy Rev. Kirby’s memoir as much as I have. His memoir provides an interesting perspective into pre-Civil War American life, the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the areas of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania where Rev. Kirby lived and ministered. For my research into Rev. Kirby’s genealogy, the clues it provides within are invaluable and have opened up new avenues of inquiry.

In closing, I’d like to thank Carolyn Bloodworth for her effort in locating a good home for the memoir, and for giving it to me.

I’d also like to thank Lea Valencia for her assistance in “divining” some of the difficult-to-understand handwriting.

Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Milton W. Loyer, archivist for the United Methodist Archives at Lycoming College, for his assistance in clarifying two surnames and an abbreviation in the text. Dr. Loyer has been of great help to me the last few years in researching and reconstructing Rev. Kirby’s Methodist ministry, detailed in the journal article: Noring, Jon, “Rev. Edmund Wesley Kirby: A Participant in Methodist History,” The Chronicle (Journal of the Historical Society of the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church), vol. XIX, p. 38-45 (2008).

Jon E. Noring, 23 February 2009

Preface by Edmund Wesley Kirby

This memoir is not intended for the press or the eyes of the public, even if it was fit for either, but solely for my own gratification.

There are undoubtedly many things here which might seem childish, and doubtless would be insipid to another, but they form part of a history; which to me is deeply interesting. And it is not to be wondered at – if I should look upon them with delight – for to me they are as treasures or jewels snatched from the past, and it must be remembered that they bring up reminiscences that would otherwise be forgotten and associations that are sacred to my mind.

Should these pages meet another’s eye, let them not indulge in merciless criticism for they have not been measured by rule nor prepared with regard to this ordeal. And especially let there not be cold derision and merry satire – remember that “by” their own history “there hangs a tale.”

This may be the only legacy which I leave to those who follow me, and possibly it may be the best that could be left. For if I continue unto the end as I have up to this present time, I shall leave a character as unsullied as the falling snow flake. In this I rejoice, and who would not? “For a good name is better than Great Riches.”

Chapter I

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on the 11th of April 1831. My father’s Christian name was John Henry – he was born and raised in Easton, Talbot Co., MD. He was left, as I understand, a considerable fortune by my Grandfather, who died while my father was yet young, but like most young men reared in high-life when he became the possessor of it, spent it rapidly and consequently was much reduced when he married. He continued trying, however, to maintain his family in an honest way.

My mother’s maiden name was Mary Ann Mansfield. She was born in England and started for this country when quite a child, but on the way the vessel was wrecked, and my Grandfather and Grandmother perished and all the rest of the ship’s company except two or three sailors escaped with my mother and her only sister in a boat. They were picked up by some vessel and brought to the city of Baltimore where she was taken in charge – with her sister – by the city authorities and cared for with proper places found for them. My mother became the adopted daughter of a lady and gentleman by the name of Wright. This is all the account I have of the history of my mother except that she lived with her adopted parents until her adopted father died, and then she went to live with her adopted cousin, where my father married her in July 1830 soon after which they moved to Norfolk where my father went into the book and shoe business – where I was born.

Remaining a few years my father moved to Cape Charles, and from there to the city of Baltimore again. And after remaining in that city some years he moved to Harford Co., MD, where he died in the Fifty Second year of his life after which my mother moved to Baltimore.

My health up to this time was very delicate. I had been attacked with almost every disease mentionable even the small pox in a light form. I have often heard my mother say that she never thought during my early years that I would arrive to adult age for on several occasions when the Physician was sent for he has said five minutes later would have put me beyond his power and skill.

My early training was to fear God and keep His commandments. I was taught the Lord’s Prayer as soon as I could speak it. I was taken into the secret place of Prayer by her who taught me “Our Father.” I also was taken to class meeting by the same one. She delighted in giving me lessons from the Bible. This begot in me a desire to read about God so I soon commenced to learn taking the Bible for my alphabet spelling book and reading book all at the same time. So I learned to read without passing formally through the spelling book.

I was taught also to love and respect the ministers of Christ. I remember in my childish way I looked upon them as men sent from God, and wondered how they could open the Bible and preach as from it. And my childish heart longed to be gifted in like manner. On one occasion I heard him who used to called “Old Blind Summers” preach. This was a moral to me and I thought if he could preach without eyes to see surely if I lived and was a good man when I grew up, I could preach also. I formed a resolution to that effect. But oh, what changes comes over the spirit of our childish dreams.

While we lived in Harford Co. I was sent to a subscription school. Here I got the rudiments of mathematics and English grammar. In Baltimore, I was placed at a high school under the superintendence of a Mr. Hoy who was a bright scholar and well educated to train the young. Here I advanced considerably and contracted a taste for the languages, so in connection with two others I commenced to the study of Latin, Greek, French and German. I got so far in each of them as to be able to translate all tolerably well.

I entered the Sabbath school in Old Bond Station soon when we first came to Baltimore between the age of five and six years. From this I went to Jefferson Station. From here to Old Caroline Station. I continued in these S.S. until I was twenty years of age, excepting the time we lived in Harford Co. which was some two or three years. I am thankful for this blessed institution. More good accrued from it than time can unfold. It kept my youthful feet from the reckless paths of vice, and was instrumental in making me a child of God.

While I was in Jefferson Station S.S. I was led to seek religion during a gracious revival at Old Caroline Station Church in the Fall of 1843 and under a sermon preached by the Rev. J.P. Cook (Prince of Local Preachers) of Baltimore City. I went as a seeker to the altar several times. Joined the church as a seeker. Attended faithfully to my Christian duties and on the evening of the 28th day February 1844 while in class the Lord spoke, my sins forgiven. It is a day to be remembered in the History of all but especially in mine. I had risen to my feet to give in my experience, and told my brethren that I knew I had met the witness of the Spirit at the same moment I invoked the blessing of peace – it came abundant free and full. I sunk to the floor and remained there some two hours. My brethren came around, I was apparently unconscious but knew what was going on, but my soul was so full I could not move or speak, a bright light to my eyes filled one corner of the chapel. When I recovered my strength, I shouted aloud with streaming eyes my Savior’s praise, every object seen anew. It was a beautiful moonlight night, the very moon seemed to dance for joy and the trees and houses all appeared happy. When I entered my home my mother soon discovered what my soul had received and she too rejoiced in this peace which now possessed the heart of one she had long prayed for.

I became exceedingly fond of religious books from this time. Such as the Life of Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher. Hester Ann Rodgers. Doddridge’s Rise and Progress. Baxter’s Saint’s Rest. And the lives of Wesley and Watson. Wesley Fernley. In fact I read everything of a religious character that I could get my hands on, but one little book which my youthful mind seemed to rise above any other was Thomas à Kempis’ Christian’s Pattern translated by John Wesley. I thought then and think now that it is one of the best books for a young Christian that I ever saw. In company with this I carried a little Testament for which I paid ten cents, this I read any spare moment and once through on my knees I read it through. At one time when nothing else presented itself I took to it and read it through three times in the short space of ten weeks. I thank the Lord that my mind took this turn. For from this course I learned what, I never could have gotten in any other way.

As regards temptation I had them in a variety of ways. On one occasion I had my ball playing it up against the side of a house when it rolled off into the gutter. When I uttered a word which I knew was sinful, it struck me like a clap of thunder from a clear sky. I dropped my ball, ran into the house and became nervous, thinking I had forfeited the favor of God. I went into my secret place of prayer and felt easier after it, but still did not know what to do. I felt disposed through temptation to throw off all restraint. What happened to be my class-night (thank the Lord for this means of Grace) I went and told my sin and my temptation. My leader understood my case and pointed me to the Advocate. My faith took hold and that trial did me good.

I was not willing that my widowed mother should bear all the burden of my support and two children beside without some effort on my part to being part of it, so I set out to hunt a place. I soon found an employer, who gave me so much weeks to attend his hat store after staying with him some time. I found another place which suited me better in a grocery store. I started this business while endeavoring to improve my mind by studying hard any spare moment while I went to learn a trade.

During this part of history I was called on, on almost every occasion, to officiate in public – to close and open Sabbath Schools and Prayer meetings, to declaim at exhibitions and celebrations. On one occasion while Rev. John L****1 was preaching in Jefferson Chapel, he referred to a matter – an incident – he had related some time previous, before the S.S. and asked if anyone there remembered it. From some sudden impulse I answered “yes sir” and repeated the whole matter to the astonishment of the preacher and congregation. When I discovered what I had done, I was very much mortified, but he commended me for it, and this relieved me. Why I did it I cannot tell, but, one thing I know I was deeply interested in the sermon. I had to declaim at a 4th July celebration on a piece furnished by Rev. S.A. Rozel, but when I rose to speak, I failed about half way through. This did not do me much harm though I felt very much ashamed, for I formed a resolution that I would never make another such blunder. I was called on shortly after to deliver a Temperance address. This I did to the satisfaction of all concerned and the daily papers gave me a great puff. This elated me a little too much for my own good and caused me some sorrow, for more was expected of me than I was able to perform.

I came very near losing my life several times, in the early part of my existence. I have been told by my parents that when I was a babe I was let fall into a large dutch oven which was heating over some coals for baking bread by a sleepy Negro girl who was employed as my nurse. Fortunately it was not very hot, and I escaped with a few bruises and burns. Also when I first commenced to walk I was very fat. My father, liking to see my tottering, would get a broom straw, and come after me pretending to whip me, on one occasion while thus playing with me I fell with my forehead against the corner of a large olden time cupboard, cut my head very much and showed no signs of life for a long time. My parents thought it had killed me. The scar I will carry to my grave. Some time after this my father bought me a hatchet. I was out at the wood pile one day chopping with it, one of the neighbor’s children came over to play with me. After cutting and play awhile he put his hand down on the chopping stick and told me to cut his hand off. I struck away and cut through to the bone about his wrist. This has always been a source of regret to me. I was very fond of looking at the image reflected in water in a well into which a hogshead had been sunk at its mouth. On one occasion while bending over to look at the “little boy” in the well I lost my balance, swung over by my hands, calling for help. My father heard me, ran and caught me just in the act of falling into a well twenty five feet deep with seven feet of water in it.

Shortly after we moved from Virginia to Baltimore. My father sent me on an errand to the lower part of the city known as Fells Point, falling in with some boys. I wandered with them to the basin where a number of rafts were moored to the shore. Starting out upon them I stepped upon a log much washed and decayed. My feet flew from under me and I fell backward into ten feet of water between two rafts. I sunk and arose for the third time. As drowning persons will catch at straws so I threw out my hands. Fortunately they struck the log, which I clung to, to finally draw myself out after much strangling and struggling. I started for home. My father thought I ought to be chastised for this. My affectionate mother plead for me and I was spared.

During the convention which nominated Van Buren to run against Harrison, my father gave me permission to go and see the procession of delegates to the seat of the convention. It was a very windy day whilst running down the street in a cloud of dust which fairly blinded me. A gentleman on horseback rode over me, his horse’s fore-foot struck me just above the right2 nearly breaking my leg, knocked me down and bounded over me at one leap. Leaving me quite a cripple, I managed to get home but was not able to walk much for a long time.

I fell from an apple tree, after we went to Harford Co., on my head. I thought for some time after I got up that my neck was broke. Indeed it was some time before I could get it straight-on that the pain left. Upon reflection I thought it served me right for it was forbidden fruit I was after.

About this time one Sabbath afternoon, contrary to my father’s orders, I stole away to play with some boys on an adjoining farm. About the time to come home we got to jumping in frolicsome play. One of the larger boys jumped from the tarmac, I followed him, he stepped back at the end of his jump. I in the act of jumping struck my elbow against his back and struck the blade of my pen knife in my right eye which resulted almost in total blindness to this eye in the course of time.

One day while riding up the lane leading to our house, the horse threw me directly over his head in somersault fashion. My head barely grazed the post of a post and rail fence. I swung under the horse’s head holding to the bridle. If I had struck my head against the post it might have killed me instantly.

On being sent on an errand on another occasion to a neighbor’s, I had to pass through a field where there were several lime kilns and limestone quarries. The workmen had just put in a blast and stationed themselves at posts out of range. I not knowing it and they not seeing me, I approached the quarry just as the blast went off. The broken stones were thrown out towards me and fell around me in a perfect shower, some stone which fell within a few feet of me I could not lift. It was a matter of surprise to all how I escaped being killed or seriously hurt.

I was in the habit of going to a place below Baltimore then called Cedar Point to bathe, a place much frequented by all ages for this purpose. On one occasion a large tall young man by the name of Murphy caught me and took me out beyond his depth to learn me to swim, as he afterward said. So he turned me toward the shore and told me to strike out. I made but a feeble effort, for I was very much frightened. He became angry at my poor success, gave me a push toward the shore, and let me sink. After he saw me make repeated struggles he grabbed me and carried me to the shore in a drowning condition. After much rolling and rubbing and thumping I was relieved of the salt water and restored to consciousness.

Thus twice was I near drowning in the early part of my life, besides making other very narrow escapes. The guardian angel has watched over me, even while I was very young. I have asked myself the question why have I been thus spared? Since I have been older the question has returned with double the force.

Chapter II

After shifting about considerably I was induced through the influence of a young man in whose piety I had great confidence, to make application to the gentleman with whom he was learning his trade, for a situation. Subsequently on the 15th of May 1846 I went on trial to Mr. Benjamin C. Buck, Master Sail Maker, Smith’s Wharf, Baltimore. The time of trial was six months. After that, if both parties were agreed. A verbal contract is as good and as binding as a written indenture.

The time of trial passed rapidly away but little occurred of interest during this period. I was treated kindly and was delighted with my situation. About the time the six months were up, Mr. Buck called me into the counting-room and asked me if I was willing to stay. I told him I was. But soon another state of things took place. I never could determine whether it was from reversal of Fortune, a change of disposition in the man, or the natural result of me becoming an indentured apprentice, but he became tyrannical and overbearing so much so thus nothing could please him. I became dissatisfied and was sorry that I had consented to stay and longed like a caged bird to be rid of the boss, but feared to leave, less I should incur a lawsuit.

One day he became very angry at something, no one knew who or what, and vented his spite upon me, by striking me. This I thought I could not bear, so I resolved to leave him. This I did by going home, packing up my clothes and leaving early next morning before he was up. I deposited my trunk at my mother’s and went and sought legal advice. My lawyer, after learning the nature of the case, was perfectly willing to file a bill in court for me, and undertake the case.

I proposed he should defer the matter until I saw him again. On my return home I found the foreman of the Loft waiting for me. At first I was a little alarmed for I supposed he had come with some unwelcome word, but it was not so. He had brought a persuasive message from Mr. Buck for me to return. After considerable talk back and forth I consented to go back, and after a week or more I was again regularly installed in my old place. This fallout was a happy thing for us both. He ever afterward treated me kindly.

This state of things, it seemed, was not to last long. I was speedily to be doomed to suffer more than ever before. This occurred from the admission of a new partner who was to take charge of the Sail Loft. This partner was a brother of Mr. Buck’s, a drunken swearing fellow, who was always ready for a fuss or a fight with the journeymen or boys. We always dreaded to see him coming into the Loft. Not that we had to be so obsequious or that he commanded so much respect, but because of his disgraceable temperament. He had fallen out with the journeymen and threatened all the boys and at times would start toward us as if he would take our lives.

On one occasion he picked up something and came towards me as if he would strike me. I think this is the only time I ever was tempted to do violence to my fellow being and this was in self defense. As he came I rose from my seat with calmness and picked up an instrument that used to be called a lid, sharp at one end and heavy at the other, and coolly determined to knock him down if I could, if he ventured to strike me. He saved me the trouble, for seeing that I was determined to resist him, he withdrew to the counting-room and I was heartily glad of it, for I do not know where it would have ended.

This state of things continued more or less all the time. I was often tempted to leave, without giving anybody any notice of it, for my mind was very much harassed and I was an object of temptation all the time from the adversary because of these outward unfavorable circumstances.

About this time I was strongly inclined to ship aboard a United States vessel and enter upon a three years cruise up the Mediterranean Sea. One of my most intimate associates had shipped. I saw him afterward and had made up a plan to meet him and go along if I could get the consent of my mother to leave home. She was not willing and I did not make any further effort toward going.

Shortly after the California fever broke out, I had determined to go to seek my fortune in the Land of Gold. I was prompted to this by the success of a friend in getting there and the glowing accounts he sent back. Thus my mind was upon the wing all the time. I was kept by a merciful providence from getting into society worse than that by which I was surrounded yet all this dissatisfaction and uneasiness was brought on by the unwholesome state of morals under which I was forced to live.

Notwithstanding the many trials I was subject to, I never failed to attend to my religious duties and my Sabbath School, for these I loved and it was these that kept one steadfast in the Faith of the Gospel.

About this time I assisted in the organization of the Wesleyan Literary Institute, which was composed of members of the noted Tenth Class of Old Caroline Station Sunday School, and which had Mr. Charles W. Kimberly for its Founder and Teacher for ten years. There is not one of those twenty-seven boys but what will hold in grateful remembrance the name of their teacher and feel more and more every day they live to appreciate the good he did them. He spent his money, his time and talents for their good. He was a model Sunday School teacher. Blessings be on his name forever.

I was connected with the Patrick Henry Lyceum. Also with the famous Murray Institute which assisted me greatly in my literary attainments – if I have any.

I came very near losing my life during this period of my history twice. Once by falling down the hatch-way of a vessel, some bags of grain had been put in the hold or I would without a doubt have fractured my skull. Then again on the twelfth of September in the year Forty Eight I started in a sailboat with a young friend on an excursion to Bear Creek, nine miles below Baltimore. The day was beautiful when we left and every appearance bid fair for a pleasant time but on our return a storm came up rapidly, and the boat was driven in a contrary direction. We had to bear ahead of the storm. The white caps commenced to roll and fill the boat with water, when within a mile of the city we could see crowds watching our perilous situation. We drove into the wharf when within a hundred yards of it a squall of wind took the sail and capsized us in fifteen feet of water. My young friend was a good swimmer and took me on his back and went ashore with me. I could not swim at all.

Chapter III

From my earliest recollections it was impressed upon my mind that I must go and call sinners to repentance. But now it came with irresistible force, it filled my mind day and night. I would sleep and dream of exercising my gifts before a congregation and wake up in a profuse perspiration and experience great agitation of mind at the same time. So for two years I suffered, before my thoughts were made known to anyone.

I endeavored in many ways to shake off these convictions, resorted to things that were sinful in their indecency. Before I was a quiet modest boy, I now rushed headlong with the pleasure seeker into company. I tried to be the merriest of all, spent my time home in reading books which I thought would have a tendency to polish and make my company desirable to my associates.

Hence every evening found me under an engagement of some kind, and frequently, would I forego the pleasure of meeting with my friends at those institutions of a literary character where the true principles of refinement were learned, for the sake of some trifling company who had no taste for such enjoyments. Again I might be found threading my way up some darkened street, to some obscure oyster and ale saloon, there with my jolly companions to pass half the night. Again I might be found at places of amusement now listening to the low songs of the “Ethiopian Serenader” then at the museum witnessing some two-penny farce or some pantomimic show. Again watching the movements and bending with all my mind to catch the last whisper of the gay opera troupe.

But I had no serious thoughts while all this was passing me? Yes! A thousand arrows would seem at times to smite at once, and this course afterward caused me many bitter tears with hours of sad reflection and deep remorse. But I was led a willing captive into all these things ready to do anything like Jonah that I might get clear of my duty.

I had a sense of decency. I did not wish to be turned out of the church and thereby be disgraced, and these things therefore were carefully concealed from him who had charge of the flock. I, also, had a sense of right. I did not wish to backslide and lose any hope of heaven, and hence I sought in some measure to discharge my Christian duties.

Under these measures I was a source of temptation to others, and everything seemed to be a source of temptation to me. At one time I had nearly made up my mind to give up everything like duty and become a real worldling. I saw that I was a base sinner and was not what others thought I was, and could not abide the idea of being a hypocrite. But it pleased the Lord, just at that time, to show me the folly of the course I was pursuing, in a peculiar way.

One evening while engaged at an oyster supper with six or seven of my young associates, a very animated discussion took place which ended in harsh words. Blows were struck. In the meantime, someone of the party turned a table and all the glass lights extinguished. This was done with the hope of putting a stop to the proceedings, but it only increased the confusion and one of the young men who was more angry picked up a dish of oysters and sent them at his opponent. They missed the mark and fell upon me, by which a nice suit of clothes was literally spoiled. This was a considerable loss, but it was an evidence of the company I had been in also which I hated most. I resolved that night upon my knees before the Lord that I would change my course, forsake my old associates and endeavor to do better. I am very thankful that ever this accident occurred.

I came to the conclusion that I would go into the work if the Lord would open the way, for there were certain difficulties that his power and providence only could remove and would take this as evidence sufficient of my call to the work of saving the souls of my fellow men. I found as soon as I yielded to this that my mind was at ease and I was no longer terrified as I had been before. I felt a close assurance that the Lord would open my way, and under this settled state of mind I commenced reading some of our standard works on Divinity.

Amongst the first of my reading was Watson’s Conversation for the Young, which I found a great help in strengthening my mind in the leading doctrines of the Bible. This is a great work, well adapted to our people and to its caption should be added the word Old for it is suited to the aged as well as the “young.”

I read Dr. Clark’s Preachers Manual, Watson’s Life of Wesley. Life of Watson. Wesley’s Sermons. Life of John Fletcher. Fletcher’s Checks, Appeal, etc. I also read Watson’s Institutes of which I became very much enamored. In the meantime I read my Bible every day and tried to commit some portion of it to memory. This course benefited me very much, gave me a good foundation to build on.

There were difficulties in the way, which caused me to fear at times. Yet I felt perfectly easy, for I was ready to do the will of the Lord. Let that be what it would and I felt sure that he would deliver me.

That which seemed the most prominent obstacle was the getting of any time nearly two years of which belonged yet to my employer and that the most serviceable, for I was of more service to him now than ever before. He not being a religious man, I supposed he would not be willing to give me up. I thought of many ways in which to bring the matter before his mind but deferred it for some time for it was a task for me to bring my courage up to that point.

I finally came to the conclusion that I would open the subject in the form of a letter. This I did by leaving it on his desk in the counting-room. He got it and several days passed and nothing was said by him. These were days of terrible suspense to me, for I was very anxious to know his mind on the subject which I had brought before him. After waiting for some considerable length of time, I determined that I would meet him face to face and know his mind. I watched him to see him alone was my desire. A favorable chance occurred and I approached him. With much trepidation I asked him “if he had come to any conclusion in the matter on which I had addressed him.” At first he was silent upon the subject, so long that I was about to turn away and give up. He then spoke and asked me if I had “considered well the step I proposed to take.” I told him “I had.” He spoke of the importance of the situation and the responsibility that one person assumed, and treated the subject in a way altogether different to what I expected. When I came to the point, to know whether or not he would give me my time this seemed to awake a new train of thought – he spoke of the importance of my time to him at the present in comparison to what it had been in the past. This he saw as plainly as he did and knew it to be true. At length he said he could not give me a definite answer until he saw his partner in business.

This last announcement gave me some trouble, and I had reason to fear, for I knew his disposition was extremely averse to anything that was good or religious. The interview was hard but the particulars of it I never learned. Yet I found out sufficient to know that he was not favorable to me leaving and his influence had warped the mind of my master very much. So much so, that in a second conversation with me, he would give me no satisfaction whatever.

All this occurred during the month of March and April, 1850, and after the last conversation, I gave up and expected from that time to work out my turn. But sometime in July following he sent me word by his brother Albert that he was willing that I should leave his employ. This was good news to me and I gathered up all my things and departed from my master’s house to prepare for my work in the future. But my being determined from March to the first of July so Shakespeare says – “thereby hangs a tale.” For it was customary for each boy to do so much each day and all over this stated amount they paid him for as extra work. This settlement came twice a year, viz. Christmas and Fourth of July.

When I was acquainted with the fact, that I could feel myself released, I asked for the settlement of my “over-work.” This was refused. They seemed to think my time a sufficient remuneration for all that the firm was indebted to me for extra labors. By this operation I lost between sixty and seventy dollars, a matter of no small consideration to me at this time. I wrote them a letter giving them my feelings and views of this piece of meanness which gave them great offense. For this I was very sorry, but I did not like the dishonorable appearance this seemed to give to my release. So our acquaintance and association were cut from the time I left.

I went back to the Sail Loft once afterward when I discovered unmistakable sign of a rancor which I had no desire to meet, and after closing the errand that I went on, I left immediately.

On the 4th day of July in 1851 – the July following my release – I was licensed as an Exhorter in the M.E. Church by Brother John Bowen with the consent of my class and the leaders meeting of Old Caroline Station of Baltimore City – Baltimore Conference.

The circumstances of my being licensed are these. Brother Coleman, one of my early associates now a preacher, was in Baltimore and having learned my mind on the subject, proposed to present the subject to my leader immediately. He was sick at this time and he proposed to go and see him so that it could be brought before the class next Monday evening.

We went down and after the preliminaries were passed, Brother Coleman brought up my case but my kind leader was already prepared for it and accordingly there was no trouble in getting at the matter, then of the utmost matter to me. The conversation, which took place between him and my friend is about as follows. For I was a passive observer all the while, a great load seemed to bear me down, and could scarcely speak even if I have wanted to.

“Brother Sanner,” said Brother Coleman, “there is a matter of some importance which interests us all just now and have come to confer with you about it?” “Well Brother Coleman,” said he, “speak on and I will hear and give you the benefit of my judgment in anything you wish.”

“Well,” said Brother Coleman, “is there not some young man in our church who that is ‘in’ Old Caroline whom you think ought to enter ministry?”

He raised up in bed as well as he could, and answered very emphatically “Yes! Yes, I do and I’ve thought so for a long time back.”

“Well,” said Brother Coleman, “who would you select from amongst all young men whom you believe ought to go into the work now?”

He fixed his eyes on me and with a look that I shall not soon forget, pointing his finger at me and said, “there’s the man who ought to at once for God’s spirit has been working with him for a good while in this matter.” Here I felt too weak and tears did come into my eyes. The call to the work of the ministry seemed now to be plainer than ever. I did not know that Brother Sanner had even thought of it at all.

The next question was “Shall we not take the necessary measures at once to bring this result about?” Brother Sanner answered “Yes.” “Well shall we not bring his case before the class for a recommendation to the leaders meeting for license to exhort?” “Certainly,” said Brother Sanner. “But it cannot be done now very soon as you are sick and not likely to get out very soon,” said Brother Coleman. “I have an expedient in the premises,” said Brother Sanner. “You go and lead my class tomorrow night and present Brother Kirby’s case in my name and start saying that it is my request and take a note on it and I will see that it is brought before the leaders meetings.”

After the conversation we left, when he took me by the hand and gave me some excellent advice. On the following evening Brother Coleman led the class. After the class was over he brought up my case and there was not one objection except by an aged Brother by the name of Bartlett who was constantly laboring under some hallucination of the brain, which was not edifying in the least. He was a dreamer and often in his experiences would relate some of the most ridiculous things. He objected but his reason was that he had been rejected some two months before and he being an older man he thought he ought not to be rejected and a younger man taken up before him.

The next “leaders meeting” my case was brought up and after considerable discussion and a tedious examination by Brother Bowen, my case passed by a unanimous vote. I was given an Exhorters License, the form of which on the original document as I received it from the hands of Brother Bowen I here append:

This is to certify that Edmund W. Kirby is authorized to exercise his gifts as an Exhorter in the Methodist Episcopal Church so long as his doctrine and practice are in accordance with the Word of God and the Discipline of said Church. Having been approved by the Leaders Meeting of the Old Caroline Street Station. John Bowen, Baltimore, July 4th, 1851.

Brother Fielder Israel was our junior preacher in Old Caroline Street Station. He kindly invited me to come and use his library and offered his own instruction for which I was very thankful. I went in accordance with the invitation and used his books and received much valuable information on theological subjects from him.

About this time Brother Coleman wrote to me to come and fill the place of his colleague Brother David Trout who was sick until he should get better. His sickness was only temporary, and I remained some four or five Sabbaths preaching every Sabbath. Twice this little bit of practice was of vast service to me. I would read a portion of Scripture and preach from it all I knew how and call it exhortation. After this I returned home and remained for a few weeks reading with Brother Israel in the meantime and studying at home. During the following November I went back to Shrewsbury, the place of my former labors with Brother Coleman, and was solicited to take a select school which I did succeed very well. I had only fourteen scholars which proposed to teach one quarter at five dollars each which would pay my ways until conference when I expected to be employed in the regular work.

During this period I was much engaged helping Brother Coleman and Trout at protracted meetings. During the following month of December our Preaching Elder Brother Nicholas J. Brown Morgan wrote to me that I would be expected to come on to Baltimore and preach my trial sermon before the officiary of Old Caroline Street charge preparatory to my receiving license to preach. I, in accordance with his request, prepared myself and went on to Baltimore and preached on Sunday afternoon to quite a large congregation, and had much more liberty than I expected. So well satisfied were its officials with my public effort that they gave me license after my examination without a dissenting voice. A copy of the license I herewith append.3

While I was home during this visit, I met with the much esteemed “Rachel Martin,” wife of the late venerable and eccentric Jacob Gruber. She was as eccentric as he could possibly be yet a devotedly pious Christian woman. She gave me some advice in an eccentric way which I shall never forget.

The sum of the conversation and advice was about this. I wished very much about this time to go to the Theological Seminary at Concord N.H. and had almost completed my arrangements to go when I fell in company with Sister Gruber when introduced to her by Brother Israel. He told her my intentions and asked what she thought of it. She turned to me and said “I suppose you can read and write.” I answered her in the affirmative. “I suppose you know something about arithmetic.” Also “something about bookkeeping.” I told her yes and then she said “Get yourself a horse, saddle, bridle, saddle bags, a Bible, and hymn book. Let these be your studies, your saddle, horse and the woods your college, and go to work to save souls. In one year you may be the means of saving many souls. What do you suppose my dear Brother would become of these souls if you were away at college?” I felt the force of her remarks and concluded to abandon my Concord enterprise and go to work as soon as opportunity offered.

I returned to finish my school and prepare for my next year’s labor as I intended immediately after the session conferences to enter the labors of the itinerancy having had assurances from Brother Morgan that I should have work. I bought a horse from Brother ****4 of New Market on the Shrewsbury circuit, also a saddle and bridal and an old pair of saddle bags and left them on the circuit, and repaired to Baltimore about the elders session of conferences having filled one of the preachers appointments while about at conferences.

Chapter IV

As soon as the conference was over, I was sent by Brother N.J.B. Morgan, Preaching Elder of the North Baltimore District, to the Castle Finn Circuit, in company with Brother Samuel Cornelius, preacher in charge. I started immediately for my circuit, it was in the later part of March 1852. The weather was exceedingly cold and I found the traveling rough and the exposure very great – and trying. But I had made up my mind to endure all for the sake of the Gospel and I met the beast with a firm resolve to brave it.

I rode on horseback fifteen files from Shrewsbury and got within the bounds of my circuit. The following being Saturday I made twenty-one miles to get to my Sabbath days work. These two days were the most intensely cold days I ever felt in all my life. But evening found me at a Brother McDowell’s quite sick and disheartened. Unable to eat any supper I returned quite early to bed and after a good night’s rest I felt very much refreshed.

The room I slept in that night was small but clean and comfortable. I had some queer feelings as I looked over my few skeletons of sermons for something to preach next day. I began to feel then how important was my work and great my responsibility, especially when I beheld so slender a foundation for such important aspirations. My heart sickened and I returned to bed. In the morning I resolved to try to preach my first sermon from I Corinthians 13:13, subject “Charity.”

The Lord gave me liberty and its people seemed to feel it, and I then started after a friendly greeting at the Old Bethel Church with a lighter heart than I had felt for many hours before. In the afternoon I did not succeed so well as in the morning and felt much cast down. But the people were very kind and I felt them to be friends and that they would make all due allowance, and this gave me encouragement.

I had made a round or two on my circuit with the trials incidental to young beginners, when I was overtaken by a circumstance more trying than anything I had yet experienced, the substance of which is given in the printed stationary below. While this is true in substance, it is not in detail. My escape is yet more miraculous than here stated. This account was published in seven different papers widely circulated and fully credited:

Perilous Occurrence. A most thrilling and perilous occurrence took place lately, near Mundorff’s Island, York County, PA, which came near killing a very worthy young minister, Rev. Edmund W. Kirby, of the Baltimore Annual Conference. It appears that he was riding on horseback on the tow-path of the Tidewater Canal, and just after passing Fry’s Lock the animal became frightened, from some unknown cause, and backed over the wall with his rider, falling down the steep precipice on the craggy and dangerous rocks below, a depth of nearly sixty feet. The animal’s bones were broken in many places, and he died shortly after; but it is truly wonderful that young Kirby escaped with life. He was taken up on being discovered, and carefully removed to the residence of Isaac Mundorff, Esq., where Dr. Baldwin, of York County, and Dr. Kenling, of Lancaster County, were in attendance and rendered all the aid which professional skill could afford. It is thought he will speedily recover. The precise nature of his injuries we have not been able to ascertain. (Probably from the Baltimore Sun; also in the May 24, 1852 issue of the Gettysburg Republican Compiler, with only minor differences in wording.)

I was riding down the tow-path of the Tidewater Canal, when near the Sock Arrow on Fry’s Lock I overtook a canal boat, getting near to the team which had stopped to let the boat-line be loosened to let the boat into the lock. The dragging of the tow line on the path frightened my horse. The tow path here was only eleven feet wide. It was only an instant from the time my horse took fright until he leaped over the wall. I leaped off alighting about six inches from the edge of the wall which was perpendicular. My saddle bags, whip and hat went down into the river. My horse was horribly mangled by the rough sharp rocks on the “rip-rap.” We succeeded the horse out by wading her down the river about a half a mile but she died in about two hours after the accident.

After it became known that I had lost my horse, money was raised through the efforts mainly of Daniel Kline, an old local preacher at Bethel Appointment, to the amount of about $130.00. I bought a horse for $90.00 and had about $40.00 left, which the subscribers told me to put in my pocket, though I insisted upon giving it to the circuit. This was a great help to me at that time.5


Editor’s Notes

  1. The surname is not clear in the handwriting, but may be “Lorscher”, “Loeschen”, or some variant on this.

  2. A word is missing after “right”, and is likely foot, ankle, or knee.

  3. Rev. Kirby’s license to preach is missing from his memoir – it had been pasted in but removed at a later time.

  4. The surname is not clear in the handwriting, but may be “Schist.”

  5. This paragraph was added ca. 1884. From a comment in the memoir prior to this paragraph (not reproduced here), Rev. Kirby intended to update his memoir but did not enter any more writing after this paragraph.