Christman Archives Treasures Fall 2011

The Fall exhibit of the C. Wesley Christman Archives, on view in November and December 2011, highlighted some of the treasured items held in the Archives of the New York Annual Conference. These items illuminate several aspects of the rich history of our conference and they illustrate the variety of materials we collect. Click on an image to view it larger in a new window.

Early Circuit Riders in New York State

Included in the Archives collections are saddlebags dating from the late 1700s that belonged to Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, known as “The Father of Methodism in New York State.” Freeborn Garrettson was born in 1752 in Maryland, was converted to Methodism at the age of 23, and immediately became an itinerant Methodist preacher, serving under Bishop Asbury.

In 1784 Rev. Garrettson went as a missionary to Nova Scotia, and in 1788 he began working in New York State. In 1791 he married Catherine Livingston of Rhinebeck. He helped to establish Methodism throughout New York State and the newly settled territory to the west. He died in New York City on September 26, 1827, in the 76th year of his age, and 52nd of his ministry.

The life of traveling preachers (known as circuit riders, since they would knit together chains of preaching places called circuits) was physically demanding and difficult. Circuit riders chose less-traveled routes, rather than preaching in already-settled areas. They preached in homes, barns, inns, taverns, clearings, and any other place they could gather a group interested in Methodism. A circuit might cover 200-500 miles, taking weeks to cover over hard terrain.Travel was extremely difficult, crossing mountains and rivers, wading swamps, facing wild animals. In addition, they were often ridiculed and persecuted, both by other established churches and by those who found their means of worship different and strange.

Circuit riders carried supplies of clothing, food, books, and paper in saddlebags like those of Rev. Garrettson shown at right. Few had a formal education, but they read continuously. Preachers would receive their assignments at Annual Conference, then travel continuously, preaching morning and evening, and resting only a few days per month.

Their purpose of these traveling preachers was to bring the gospel to those whose lives had not yet come under the influence of God’s saving love. The circuit riders played an important role in the growth of the Methodist Episcopal Church - in 1776, less than one out of every 800 Americans was a Methodist. By 1812 one out of every 36 US citizens was a Methodist, and by 1850 the Methodists claimed one-third of the entire church membership in America.

Methodist Hymnals

The Archives holds a collection of Methodist hymnals dating from the late1700s to the present. From the beginning of American Methodism, hymn-singing played an important role in worship. Wesleyan hymns, many composed by Charles Wesley, spoke of deep religious emotions.

The first hymnals were small because Methodists were expected to carry their own hymnals to worship. Imagine trying to read the tiny words by candlelight! As time went on, hymnals got larger and were more often kept in the church pews. The earliest hymnals provided only the words; all of the hymns were sung to the same few familiar tunes. The 1878 edition of the Methodist hymnal was the first to include tunes. Early hymnals also did not include liturgies or worship resources, but these were gradually added.

There have been a number of well-known hymn writers associated with the New York Annual Conference, including Rev. George Coles, Ira D. Sankey, Phoebe Palmer Knapp, and perhaps the best-known, Fanny Crosby, who penned over 8000 hymns in her lifetime, including "Blessed Assurance" and "Rescue the Perishing."

NYAC Records: Annual Conference Journals

The New York Annual Conference was created through the division of the New England Annual Conference in 1800. In 1849 the New York Conference had grown so large that it was itself divided into New York and New York East (the two conferences were reunited in 1964).

The earliest Conference Journals held in the Archives date from 1840 (earlier Journals are held at the New York Public Library), and contain handwritten minutes of the Annual Conference meetings. These minutes covered a wide variety of topics, including Disciplinary questions (who are admitted into full connection, who have been elected and ordained elders, and so forth), appointments to committees, examination of the characters of elders, and special events.

Later Journals were printed rather than handwritten, and included additional information, including lists of appointments, reports of committees and commissions, and financial information. The Archives holds an almost complete collection of all published NYAC and NYE Journals. Today the archives also preserves raw DVD footage from Annual Conference, and the Journal is available online as well as in printed form.

NYAC Records: Camp Meetings

The Christman Archives is also charged with caring for records that document organizations and events within the New York Annual Conference, both past and present. These include boards, committees, commissions, and other affiliated organizations. Today the Camps Governing Board oversees several NYAC camps, including Epworth and Quinipet, but many more camp grounds once existed within the Conference, and their history provides a fascinating window into Methodist worship during the 1800s.

Camp meetings, which began around 1800 in Kentucky and spread north and east, were religious programs that lasted several days and highlighted multiple preachers. Emotional and demonstrative displays of religious conviction were common. At first people gathered in a field or at the edge of a forest, staying in tents. Meetings would often be held in the same place each year, and eventually more permanent structures, including cottages, were built. Camp meetings were an important social event for isolated rural populations and became a major means of church expansion, especially for the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In the New York Annual Conference, the earliest camp meeting was held at Carmel, NY in 1804. In 1805 land was provided by Lt. Gov. Pierre VanCortlandt at Croton Landing, NY. Camp meetings were held there until 1831, when a permanent camp meeting site was established at Ossining, first known as Sing Sing and later as Camp Woods. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were numerous camp meeting grounds located throughout the New York Annual Conference, including Wesley Grove near Montgomery NY, Pine Grove in Canaan CT, and the Suffolk County Camp Meeting Association at Jamesport on Eastern Long Island.

Because camp meetings were temporary gatherings, and because they waned in popularity by the middle of the 20th century, not much documentation remains to give us a sense of what the camp meeting experience was like. Many of the camp grounds no longer exist or have been adapted for other purposes. The excerpt below from an 1805 volume of letters of preachers to their bishops describes a camp meeting that took place in New Haven CT in 1804 (click on the images to see them larger).

NYAC Records: Local Churches

The Discipline of the United Methodist Church requires the Archives to collect records of closed churches. Records of active churches and those churches that have merged into them remain at the church to be cared for there. However, the Archives does maintain church historical files to preserve miscellaneous booklets, programs, postcards, clippings, etc. from churches that are still active. The items shown here document John Street Church, the first Methodist church in New York City, founded in 1768.

The Archives holds many record books from closed Methodist churches, including St. James Methodist Episcopal Church of Harlem. This engraving is from a history of St. James published in 1882. Due to changing populations, St. James was discontinued in 1942, but found new life when its building was taken over by a congregation that left the AME church. Today Metropolitan Community Church occupies the building and is still active in the New York Annual Conference.

Vital records such as such as the baptism records shown here from St. James ME Church provide important information for genealogists, since they often include places of birth, residences, and names of parents. Records held in the Archives also include membership lists, marriages, transfers to and from other churches, and deaths.

Personal Papers

The Archives also holds personal papers of pastors and others affiliated with the New York Annual Conference. Pictured at right is Rev. Robert Dolliver (1902-1959) when he was pastor of Bushwick Avenue Methodist Church in Brooklyn. The archives holds a collection of Rev. Dolliver’s personal papers, which include scrapbooks, sermons, and diaries from 1930 to the mid-1950s. Rev. Dolliver was pastor of the John Street Church in the 1940s and had a strong interest in Methodist history.

Another example of personal papers is the Archives' collection of record books containing more than 200 sermon notes belonging to Rev. Newman Lounsberry Heroy. These date from 1874-1889. Rev. Heroy lived from 1849 to 1937 and served many New York Conference charges in the Catskills, Hudson Valley, CT, and Western MA. He kept detailed records of when and where he preached each sermon, as well as notations about whether the sermon went well and how it might be improved.

Newspapers and Periodicals

Finally, the Archives holds several collections of newspapers and periodicals pertaining to Methodism and to the New York Annual Conference. Seen at left are issues of the Christian Advocate and Journal, which was the first official paper of the Methodist Episcopal Church, published weekly in New York beginning in 1826. By the 1880s about 62,000 copies per week were issued.


Seen at right is an issue of the Epworth Herald, the newspaper of the Epworth League, a young people’s service organization within the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1890 until 1940. See the Archives' Epworth Herald web exhibit for more information on the history of this publication.

The C. Wesley Christman Archives is fortunate to be the custodian of these fascinating collections that document the history of the New York Annual Conference.