MY ANCESTORS AND MY EARLY DAYS
My forefathers were from Switzerland. There is romance in their history as well as in the land of their birth. Jacob Boehm, my great-great-grandfather, was a Presbyterian. His son Jacob learned a trade. It was a custom in Switzerland for all who completed their apprenticeship to travel three years through the country as itinerant journeymen. The design was to make them finished workmen; and no man could enter into business for himself, no matter how well qualified, until he pursued this course.
MY EARLY DAYS
In his wanderings Jacob fell in with a people called Pietists. In many respects they resembled the Puritans. He was converted among them. The change was so great when he returned home, his language so strange, that his friends could not understand him. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." His singular experience, his exposure of formal religion, his boldness in reproving sin, raised a storm of persecution. The minister withstood him, and denounced him as a heretic. His answers were so pertinent that his father gave him a severe reprimand, inquiring, "Boy, do you answer a minister in that way ?" The Church exercised civil as well as ecclesiastical authority, and young Boehm was convicted of heresy, and sentenced to prison. An elder brother was appointed to conduct him to the prison-house. He did not watch his brother very closely, and as they were near the line that separated Switzerland from France the prisoner crossed over, and was forever free from his domestic and priestly persecutors.
He journeyed along the banks of the Rhine till he entered the Dukedom of Pfaltz. This was the Palatinate bordering on Belgium. From this region were the ancestors of Philip Embury. There young Jacob became acquainted with a people called Mennonites. They took their name from Menno Simon, who was cotemporary with Luther. They were a simple-hearted people, and he united with them, and became a lay elder. He had several children, of whom Jacob, the third, was my grandfather. He was born in 1693, and emigrated to this country in 1715. Many of the Mennonites emigrated from Switzerland
My grandfather was induced to come to America from the glowing description given of this country by Martin Kendig, one of the seven families who had settled in what is now Lancaster County, Pa. He landed in Philadelphia, from thence went to Germantown, then to Lancaster, and finally settled in Pequea, Conestoga Township. Soon afterward he married a Miss Kendig. My grandfather was a lay elder in the Mennonite Society.
Soon after his arrival he bought a farm and built him a house. He was also a blacksmith, the first in all that region. His wife was very industrious, and when necessary, she would leave her work and blow and strike for him. I recollect him well. When I was five years old he walked over the fields showing me various things, and trying to entertain me. Not knowing anything about the infirmities of age, I wondered why he did not walk faster. He died in 1780, aged eighty-seven. My grandmother was an excellent woman, particularly fond of me because I was the youngest grandchild. They had a number of sons and daughters. My father, Martin Boehm, was the youngest. He was born November 30, 1725, and married in 1753 to Eve Steiner, who was born on Christmas day, 1734. Her ancestors were from Switzerland, and settled near my grandfather's.
My father inherited my grandfather's beautiful farm, and in 1750 built him a house, in which his children were all born, and where many have been born again. He was a short, stout man, with a vigorous constitution, an intellectual countenance, and a fine flowing beard, -which gave him a patriarchal appearance. He had strong common sense, and well understood the science of family government. The order and discipline of the family attracted the attention of the apostolic Asbury, and he made mention of it in preaching my father's funeral sermon.
Martin Boehm was first a Mennonite preacher, for he embraced the religion of his fathers. He was made so by lot in 1756, for such was the custom of this singular people. For some time he preached without a knowledge of sins forgiven; but in 1761 he found redemption in the blood of the Lamb, and then he became a flame of fire, and preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. His success was wonderful, and the seals to his ministry were numerous. Then the Mennonites expelled him for being too evangelical. He then joined the United Brethren, and afterward became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
My mother was a noble woman, and to my parents I am, under God, indebted for what I am on earth, and all I hope to .be in heaven.
I was born in the old homestead, in the township of Conestoga,(This is an Indian name, and is so called from the Coneatoga Creek, a beautiful stream that empties into the Susquehanna. The Conestoga Indians were once numerous and powerful.
) Lancaster County, Pa., on the 8th of June, 1775. This was immediately after the battle of Lexington, and one year before the Declaration of Independence. Thus I saw the birth of our nation, and have lived under the first President, George Washington, and sixteen of his successors, to Andrew Johnson. I was born nine years before the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, and have known all its bishops, from Thomas Coke, the first, to Calvin Eangsley, the last elected. My memory goes back over eighty years. I recollect when they traveled out West to Fort Pitt, now Pittsburgh, on "pack horses." The roads, if we may call them roads, for they were mere paths through the wilderness, were BO rough that they could not be traveled any other way.
Like my father, I was the youngest child. There were seven older than myself, and four of them had grown up to manhood before I was born. I had a common school education. The old school-house and my schoolmaster, Henry Kosman, I well remember. He went from house to house, and it was a great occasion when he came to my father's to board. He was quite a character, a perfect original. He came from Hesse Cassel, and was one of the Hessian soldiers taken prisoner at Trenton, N. J., when Washington and his noble band crossed the frozen Delaware and surprised Colonel Kalle and his troops and took them prisoners, while their commander was slain. Many of the Hessians had come to this country contrary to their own will to fight against America, and they preferred remaining here to returning to Europe. A number of them were sent to Lancaster County, and among the rest my old schoolmaster. He possessed many rare qualifications for an instructor. He was a thorough German scholar, and had mastered the English language. His school was kept in perfect order; every scholar knew his place, and was obliged to keep it. The teacher prayed in school, and taught the children short prayers. Like Ichabod Crane, he sung psalms and hymns, and we learned to sing them. Some of the German hymns which he taught me to sing over eighty years ago I still remember well. To him I am indebted for my accurate knowledge of the German language, which I learned before the English. Germans have often admired my correct pronunciation of their vernacular. They said it was pure, and not mixed with other dialects, like the Pennsylvania German. In after years - it was a great benefit to me when I preached in German. I was one of the first among the Methodists that preached in that language. This I have done in fourteen different states. Some things which I wrote in German over sixty years ago I have preserved, and am surprised to find them eo correct. I was a great favorite with Mr. Bosman, and he took delight in giving me instruction.
The little old schoolhouse still remains, but where are the scholars and the teachers. When, after an absence of many years, I paid a visit to my native town, in 1856, I inquired for my old schoolfellows, hoping to find one with whom I could converse about by-gone days. I inquired in vain. They were all gone, and I found myself alone and lonely. Dilworth's spelling-book, from which I learned English, and the knife and fork I used when a very little boy, I have preserved as relics of my childhood.
Once in my early days I went to the theater in Philadelphia. I had heard much of the theater, and I wanted to see what it was. I got along very well until mimic thunder and lightning was brought in to illustrate the play. When I saw and heard this I was shocked. It seemed to me so irreverent and presumptuous that I thought the Almighty in his displeasure would send real thunder and lightning to terrify those imitators. I expected to hear the deep-toned thunder, and to see the vivid lightning flash over my guilty head. I prayed, and promised God, if he would only spare me to get out of the house and return safely home, I would never enter such a place again. That was my first and last visit to the theater.
My early advantages for religious instruction were great. I was "brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Morning and evening the old family Bible was read, and prayer was offered. My father's voice still echoes in my ears. My mother, too, had much to do in moulding my character and shaping my destiny. One evening as I returned home I heard a familiar voice engaged in prayer. I listened: it was my mother. Among other things, she prayed for her children, and mentioned Henry, her youngest son. The mention of my name broke my heart, and melted me into contrition. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and I felt the importance of complying with the command of God: " My son, give me thine heart."
"Show pity, Lord, 0 Lord, forgive;
There lived in my father's family a wicked man who had a peculiar hatred against the Methodists, and he prejudiced me against them by his misrepresentations. This had a soul-withering influence on me. I lost my tender feelings, and neglected the means of grace. "One sinner destroyeth much good." Sinners enticed me to sin and I consented.
In the year 1790, when I was about fifteen, I went to learn the milling business, and worked in a grist mill. There I had no religious counsel or example. What a critical period it is when a young man leaves home! I went into bad company, supposing my father would not hear of it; but I was mistaken. He did hear of my conduct, and came to see me. When I saw him I suspected his errand. A guilty conscience needs no accuser. The plain, solemn, and affecting reproof he gave me at that time had a wonderful effect upon me. His quivering lip, tearful eye, and tremulous voice showed how deeply he felt for me. Shame crimsoned my cheeks. His counsel was not lost, but it terminated in deep conviction for sin. My soul was burdened, and, almost in despair,
Let a repenting rebel live.
Are not thy mercies large and free?
May not a sinner trust in thee ?"
When my father left I went into the upper loft of the mill, and on my knees, in an agony of deep distress, I cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." I had a view of the atonement of the Son of God. By faith I realized my interest in it, and in a moment I felt my heart strangely warmed. My conscience was assured of its part in the atoning blood, and God sent forth the spirit of his Son into my heart crying, "Abba, Father." This was in February, 1793.
I lived near the Lord, and enjoyed a great deal of comfort for some time; but I fell into a sad error. As I was converted alone away from the Church the enemy suggested that I could get along without uniting with God's people. I yielded, and this error was like to have ruined me. I enlarge here because many have yielded to a similar temptation and been lost to the Church and lost to heaven. The lambs of the flock cannot too soon enter the fold. In apostolic times converts did not first try the experiment
whether they could get along without uniting with the Church, On the day of Pentecost the three thousand who were " pricked in their hearts " under the preaching of Peter were baptized and united with the Church that day. So with the jailer; he was converted, baptized, and united with the Church that very night in Philippi, when Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God. This was the course pursued in the days of the apostles. I would advise young persons not to imitate my example. Never try to see if you can get along without the Church. The Church can get along without you, out you cannot get along without the Church. Place yourself under her care as soon as possible. Confess Christ before men, and he will confess you before his Father and the holy angels.
The consequence of my error was that I lost my spiritual enjoyment. My course was zig-zag. I ran forward, then stood still, then went backward. I was not a member of the Church, therefore was not under her watch-care, and I had no opportunity to improve the talents God had given me. I told no one I was converted. Instead of letting my light shine before men I resolved to hide it. Sad mistake! Thus I continued five long years. These were lost years: lost to myself, lost to the Church, and lost to the world. There is nothing in my early history I regret so much as the loss of these five years; a loss that tears and prayers cannot recall, for time once lost is gone forever.