Garrettson Saddlebags in Smithsonian Exhibit

Garrettson Saddlebags in Smithsonian Exhibit


These saddlebags used by Rev. Freeborn Garrettson are on loan to the Smithsonian.
By Joanne S. Utley
Editor, The Vision

Saddlebags were an important piece of equipment for the early circuit riders as they traveled from town to town to preach. So much so, that a pair of saddlebags in the collection of the C. Wesley Christman Archives made the journey from New York to be included in the “Religion in Early America” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The leather saddlebags were owned by Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, who is known as the “Father of Methodism in New York State.” Garrettson was born in Maryland in 1752, converted to Methodism at 23, and quickly became a Methodist preacher, serving under Bishop Francis Asbury. The saddlebags, on loan from the archives of the New York Conference, date to the 1700s.

Garrettson is also known as an abolitionist, having set the slaves owned by his family free after hearing a voice from God that directed him to do so. In 1784, Rev. Garrettson went as a missionary to Nova Scotia, and in 1788 began working in New York.

In 1791, he married Catherine Livingston of Rhinebeck. He helped to establish Methodism throughout the state and the newly settled territory to the west. He died in New York City on September 26, 1827, at age 76, and in the 52nd year of his ministry.

The saddlebags were first given to the New York Methodist Historical Society, who in turn presented them to the New York Conference Commission on Archives and History in 1955, according to Beth Patkus, NYAC archivist.

The exhibit is part of a larger themed presentation at the museum, entitled “The Nation We Build Together,” that has been staged to showcase the renovation of the building’s west wing.

According to the museum’s web site, “The role of religion in the formation and development of the United States is at the heart of this one-year exhibition that explores the themes of religious diversity, freedom and growth from the colonial era through the 1840s. National treasures from the museum’s own collection will be on view, such as George Washington’s christening robe from 1732, Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as “The Jefferson Bible,” and Wampum beads. Significant objects on loan will include Massachusetts Bay Colony-founder John Winthrop’s communion cup, circa 1630; a Torah scroll on loan from New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, founded in 1654; a chalice used by John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop in the U.S. and founder of Georgetown University; and a first edition of the Book of Mormon. The objects will represent the diverse range of Christian, Native American and African traditions as well as Mormonism, Islam and Judaism that wove through American life in this era.”

The “Religion in Early America” exhibit runs through June 3, 2018, in the museum at 1300 Constitution Ave NW; admission is free.