Methodist Circuit Riders

Methodist circuit riders, also known as “saddlebag preachers,” were prominent in the spreading of Methodism throughout much of the United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Their methods were later adopted by other denominations.

Francis Asbury, founding Bishop of American Methodism, set the standard, traveling more than 270,000 miles and preaching approximately 16,000 sermons during his time. These preachers packed lightly, traveling to various villages and communities to care for local people and preach. A circuit rider’s assignment would take five to six weeks of travel at a time.

Peter Cartwright (1785 – 1872) described the life of a circuit rider this way:

“A Methodist preacher, when he felt that God had called him to preach, instead of hunting up a college or Biblical Institute, hunted up a hardy pony, and some traveling apparatus, and with his library always at hand, namely, a Bible, Hymn book, and Discipline, he started, and with a text that never wore out nor grew stale, he cried, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.’ In this way he went through storms of wind, hail, snow, and rain; climbed hills and mountains, traversed valleys, plunged through swamps, swollen streams, lay out all night, wet, weary, and hungry, held his horse by the bridle all night, or tied him to a limb, slept with his saddle blanket for a bed, his saddle-bags for a pillow. Often he slept in dirty cabins, ate roasting ears for bread, drank butter-milk for coffee; took deer or bear meat, or wild turkey, for breakfast, dinner, and supper. This was old-fashioned Methodist preacher fare and fortune.”