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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A 19th-Century Religious Enthusiast and His Memoirs

A Sketch of the Life and Travels of Elder Andrew Jackson Norton

My great-grandfather Ernest John Andrews was researching his great-grandfather Asa Norton in 1924 and came across this account of the life of Andrew Jackson Norton, one of his mother’s cousins. I cannot find a copy of the original; what I inherited was a photocopy of a typewritten transcript. I copied it word-for-word but changed the punctuation to make it more readable and added paragraph breaks. He rarely used punctuation at all, and when he did, often it was in the wrong place; sometimes I have left it as he wrote it to give the flavor of his style. Anything in square brackets was inserted by me. Ernest J. Andrews was a careful and thorough genealogist and found evidence that proves some of what Andrew Jackson Norton says about his father’s family is incorrect; my notes at the end explain where the errors are and what the records prove to be true. It is not surprising that he made errors; both his parents were dead by the time he was seven years old, and most of his siblings were also dead. From the little he wrote, it seems that when he was a young man he was not much interested in knowing family details. But the things that occupied his thoughts were quite interesting enough.

Hampton, November 25, 1873.

My grandfather, Stephen Norton, was born in the State of New York near the city in the year 1755; his wife, two years younger, was born in 1757. Both of English descent, they were married in the year 1776. They settled near the city on 160 acres of land and remained there till the year 1815. He sold his farm for four thousand dollars, removed to and settled in Ohio, near where Springfield now stands, with the view of helping his children, five boys and three girls. They all married but two.

The eldest, Asa [see note 1], was in merchandise in the city for several years; when the War of Twelve broke out, he enlisted and served with honor as a quartermaster general. My Father was the next—Benjamin Franklin Norton [see note 2] and Reuben were rather weakly. They were educated and graduated at the Yale College with honor, received their diplomas and proved very successful in the practice of medicine. My Father bought a tax title to six hundred and forty acres of land, a soldier claim, four of them built there and Father and Grandfather built a mill on a stream; the dam washed out, they rebuilt, and the mill dam and all washed out soon, and the heirs to the land came on, they paid again, other heirs claimed, they lawed them till they spent nearly all they had and had to pay twice more, then sold it to two of my uncles for four horses and two wagons.

Father and Grandfather drove to the Ohio River, shipped aboard a family boat for Illinois going down the Ohio River, landed on the Kentucky side opposite Vevy, Indiana where I was born in the year 1818, March the 13th. They crossed over to Vevy and lived there till fall, then moved west to a town called Washington, where mother died the next March, leaving five living children, four boys and a girl [see note 3]. There were seven boys dead, one fell on a knife—it entered his brain, one drowned, one scalded. We were scattered. My father’s sister Lydia Goodrich that never had any children to live took me to raise as one of her own [see note 4].

My father married again when I was five years old. By this union he had one son and he died in the town of Palmyra, Illinois. At his death I was seven years old. My Grandfather Stephen Norton lost nearly all his property by sickness and bad luck and died when I was three years old [1821]. His wife died the next year [1822].

My uncle [Goodrich] settled in Crawford County, Illinois, fifteen miles above Vincennes, Indiana. The settlers were few and far between. Very little schooling could I get, my uncle paying nine dollars per quarter, I going two or three days and staying at home to work. He was born and brought up in the State of Vermont near Montpelier with sufficient education to teach schools. He taught me more at home than I received at school. He and me read the Bible through before I was twelve years old. I read aloud he correcting me, they kept me very strict and moral not allowing me to swear nor practice any bad habits. They were kind and corrected me often as I no doubt needed it. I had to bow to and reverence older persons and be attentive to and respectful to all religious assemblies, they being Predestinarian Baptist.

My parents and grandparents on both sides were of that order. My father and grandfather on my mother’s side were both ordained ministers, also an older brother but I cared for none of those things—had I been permitted would have spent much time in worldly amusements, till I was in my twentieth year in the month of December.

While at school in the evening we were told to inform all we saw that Elder R.N. Newport would preach at that house at candlelight, it being a Predestinarian Baptist house built of hewed logs. Was a good house of the kind, it was used for schools also; as we left the house my cousin and chum said, “Uncle Dick has come again and he will catch a good many this time.” I said I did not know how many he would catch but one thing I did know, he would not catch me. Three of us returned with young ladies to see and to be seen, caring not for spiritual things as our natural minds could not discern them. We would not have exchanged conditions with any professor present, thinking we was as good and even better than some, but had respect to age and then as a religious assembly.

About the middle of the discourse there was something came over me that I could not account for, similar to electricity, that opened my eyes to behold myself a greater sinner. I had from a small boy believed I was a sinner and intended when settled in life to reform and God would pardon and I would be saved. I know I felt the force of Paul’s language to the Ephesians: you hath he quickened [Ephesians 2:1] the eyes of your understanding being enlightened [Ephesians 1:18]. I now could feel as well as see that I was a sinner.

I did not want anyone to know what had occurred and tried to be lively but before I had gone one and a quarter miles I left my company and went into the secret grove, there tried to pray for the first time in my life that God to give me an ease of mind, expecting by prayer and reformation to appease the wrath of God, but all my tears, prayers and reformations brought no relief. Christ says, “Ask and ye shall receive.” I began to wonder and enquire for the cause I read the thoughts of foolishness is sin, and I think foolish all of the time. Christ said, “from the heart proceeds all manner of evil” [see Luke 6:45]. Oh what shall I do or whither flee to escape the vengeance done to me. I then wandered alone in the secret grove and tried to pray in many secluded spots, my prayers to be a chattering noise so mixed with sin and evil thoughts that a thrice holy God would not deign to hear.

I thought the Lord would hear the holy man of God, a faithful minister in my behalf, this failed also. I had a dream that showed my doom. I visited my only sister and a brother fifteen miles distant to bid them farewell, could not enjoy their company and returned the next day, expecting to die on the road. When I got home I thought I would go to a secluded spot and try to pray once more. I dared not kneel and wandered to where no mortal eye could see. I knelt, in the midst of my petition heard a noise behind me and I sprang to my feet, saw a wounded deer and dog close to it. I knew it must die and the dog ready to kill it, yet it had no soul to suffer forever. I would have gladly exchanged conditions with it or anyone of the brute creation.

I returned and went to see a brother, distant half mile, having no idea of living to see the sun rise again, while hearing them sing “Amazing Grace” my breath seemed to grow shorter. I thought I was breathing my last, but Oh what a miracle of grace for as they sang “tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home,” as quick as thought my trouble left me; I could read my title clear to [a] mansion above; I could shout for joy, could have embraced my enemy and pointed to Jesus’ blood and said, “Behold the way to God.”

I was foolish enough to think I could convert others, but when I tried I failed. I now say it was by grace I was saved, and not by works. I thought my trouble all over, felt like I could fly, but in less than an hour the Devil told me, You have dreamed or imagined it, it may be you are mistaken, for Christians are changed soul and body, think no evil, do no wrong, you had better not tell it yet for three days and two nights.

I tried to get my trouble back and mourned because I could not mourn, as I did before, being greatly troubled as the sun went down; while all alone the Lord appeared or lifted upon me the light of his reconciled countenance. I clapped my hands for joy and said I never will doubt it again, but Oh how far short have I come of keeping the ordinance blameless before God. I often doubted having met the necessary change; two days after the above occurred I told the Little Village Church a few of the dealings of the Lord with me and was received and baptized by Elder Thomas Young. I lived a very happy life and not feeling willing at any time for years to lay down to sleep without returning thanks to God and asking his protecting care.

In the year 1839, December 19th I united in wedlock with Miss Mary Ann Jeffers, in Jessamine County, Kentucky. She was born there in December 19, 1818. She was the eldest daughter of Elder Robert Jeffers, former resident of Henry County, Kentucky, but at the above date a resident of Crawford County, Illinois, near where I was raised. We commenced keeping house one week after our marriage in a house on my uncle’s land. I worked at the carpenter and joiner trade. I had learned of it of my uncle who was a first class workman. I had studied considerable but being poor was not able to graduate and get a diploma and resolved to gain a living at my trade which I did principally for thirty two years.

At the birth of our eldest, a son, my wife remained almost helpless for eight months. She was in trouble of mind similar to the way I described my trouble and when not expected to live; she raised up in bed to tell me she was dying in her sins, but the Lord moved her load of sin at that moment and instead of saying she was dying in her sins, she clapped her hands for joy and said, “The Lord has forgiven me all my sins.” We then were very happy.

The Devil soon made her believe that she was mistaken, telling her she was so low and weak that she imagined it. She was not changed at this time. Elder T. Young the pastor of our church called to see her and asked her to give a relation of her hope in Christ. She said she had none. He laughed. She thought he was wicked for laughing at her condition, but Christ revealed himself again, and she could tell what the Lord had done and as soon as she was able, she told some of the exercises of her mind to the Little Village Church and she was received and baptized by Elder T. Young.

I was then very happy and thought my troubles over, but Oh many troubles have I seen since.

In June 1841 I was engaged all alone framing timber in the woods and thinking of my brother’s qualifications for a minister, who the church had licensed to preach a few days before. I wondered if the Lord had called him up to preach. I could not see any signs of a preacher in him and could see more qualifications in many of my acquaintances and even more in myself than in him. While exalting myself about him the Lord spoke to me with such force that it rang in my ears for weeks, that I heard little else nor cared for nothing but to erase it from my mind in the following words: “Thou shalt also preach the gospel: be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke with all long suffering and doctrine, and then see which will be beloved of the Brethren.”

I was then ready to acknowledge the Lord knew best and perfectly willing he [my brother] should preach or anyone but me at that time. I had a wife and one child, and scarcely anything but my daily labor for their support, and preaching salvation by grace was then, as now, not popular, and my family would suffer. That I could not bear, so I thought I would engage in steady business and work it off, but it only gave momentary relief. I prayed God to remove my trouble and send someone else, but alas! no relief could I get; it pressed me with such weight that I could not live and bear it any longer. I must preach or die. Oft it would ring in my ears: “Preach the word, preach the preaching I bid.” I was like Moses, slow of speech and stammering tongue, so unworthy, unqualified in every sense it looked like, almost burying my family, and to go and preach! I finally prayed the Lord to give me an ease of mind till I could gain by honest labor five hundred dollars, then I could with my labor support my family and preach some; then I would submit.

After this my mind was not weighted so great, was more easy at times, but when I was at meeting, or I could not stay away, I could not leave without saying a few words. I seemed I would die if I did not face my mind; the church granted me license to preach or exercise my gift wherever God in his providence cast my lot, [and] the Lord prospered me or blessed my labor so that I owned forty six acres of heavy timbered land. I built a comfortable log house, cleared fifteen acres, and I remained there until May 1846 when I moved to Beloit, Rock County, Wisconsin.

[There] I thought I would not let anyone know I was a professor [of religion] and I could work it off, for I often thought it was all a whim of the brain, but Elder Jeffers went with me which I did not expect. It annoyed me very much, he would call me up and I would free my mind. We constituted a church of seven members and called it the First Predestinarian Baptist Church of Beloit. The Lord blessed my labors so that I had more than I had asked and yet was not ready in the fall of 1847. The only horse I had died, soon after the only hog I had of two hundred weight died, soon after all cows I had died. That winter myself and family spent visiting in Crawford County, Illinois, our old home that I yet owned, was at several meetings, returned to Rock County, Wisconsin, March the 7th 1848 still unwilling to obey my Lord.

In the fall of 1849 I had a comfortable home, owed no man anything, had money on interest, felt independent, only spoke in public once in a while. My youngest young son came down with lung fever, was very low, and as soon as he could sit up my elder son was taken with the typhoid fever and he was not expected to live from one hour to another for fifteen days and nights, and when he could sit up my wife was taken sick and her youngest daughter was born. My wife was helpless most of the time for over two years. I sat by her bed at night in my rocking chair where she could touch me. I became so used to her moans and wants that almost every move would wake me. I watched and waited on her for three months and during that time I never took off my clothes to lay down to sleep.

It made me think it was better to obey than to sacrifice and hearken than the fat of rams. I was like Jonah thrown on the shore of the ocean of love nearly destitute. I then moved in February 26, 1851 to Scales Mound in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. I now exercised my gift often in public. I was ordained in June of that year by Elders Robert Jeffers and William Long and Deacon S.V. Allison. I remained there until November and in company with William Conly carried on a wagon and Blacksmith shop. While there I assisted to constitute a church at Carnarecha, Iowa. When I got off the boat at Galena, [I] tried to save a dollar and walked home, twelve miles, and bruised my foot so I done nothing for six weeks.

I then moved to the town of Wayne in La Fayette County, Wisconsin, where I had bought eighty acres of land and improved it. The church we had constituted in Beloit all moved and settled adjoining farms in my neighborhood. We then changed the name from Beloit to Mount Pleasant retaining the Predestinarian. I built a small house of worship and held our meetings regular once or twice a month, also held a prayer meeting once a week, at night in winter at 4 o’clock p.m., for three years at one time without intervention. The church increased in number so that three entire churches and a goodly number of two more have been constituted from members lettered off from it. I remained there seventeen years and traveled in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and once in Kentucky, preaching at Associations and churches with great success.

The Lord filled my mouth with arguments by his spirit so the gainsayers acknowledged the Lord was with me and the brethren were comforted and strengthened which encouraged me and I continued traveling to fill requests and had I done nothing else could not have filled one half the requests nor can I now. This caused me to trust the Lord for all I needed, working when I could always get plenty to do tried every way to please my employers so I could get work when I needed it and was very lucky in getting my pay, the Lord giving me abundant crops, increasing my herds, blessed me in my basket and in my store in accordance with my faithfulness in what was revealed to be my duty; when I slackened in duty, my comforts lessened in proportion.

To illustrate, I had promised to attend a church meeting 18 miles distant, when the day came to go my wife said I had better stay at home. I knew had better stay at home and I knew I ought to go and felt I ought to stay for my house had to be plastered before cold weather, my plowing had to be done and if I took my only span of horses neither could be forwarded till Monday. I resolved to stay and sent my two boys for a load of sand. When they got in a mile of home one of the wheels mashed down and I could not get it home till I filled the wheel. I sent them after the wheel and they broke the buggy. I told my oldest son to go to plowing—I had a new plow—and he soon broke the beam out. I sent him to digging potatoes and he soon broke the hoe handle, and then I told him to go to bed as he had broke all the tools; it took two days to get where I started in the morning, so I lost more than I had gained. I always lost in like manner when I failed to obey or do as I agreed.

During the seventeen years of my residence in La Fayette County, Wisconsin, I visited many churches in Illinois, distant by rail from one hundred and fifty to two and three hundred miles, from one to four times a year, being absent from two to six weeks at a time. When on one of these tours going from one Association to another I tried to preach at the schoolhouse in Knox County, Illinois, where the Henderson Church held their meetings at two o’clock and Brother Deans at night, the next morning Brother Loverage was taking me ten miles to the train where I was to meet others going to another Association. We had not time to lose, before we had gone one mile I was met two different men in great agony. They requesting me to stop and pray for them one half a mile a part, I spoke comforting to them, told them I was nothing but a man, that the Lord alone could do them good and repeated some of his language: “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted, blessed are they that do hunger and thirst for they shall be filled,” no mistake, he is able, he is willing, doubt no more. I was there requested to stay a week for they believed the Lord was with me. I told them the Lord could work over the head of all opposition and would bring the blind by a way they knew not and paths they never knew when the appointed time came.

My duties called me hence; had a pleasant interview at the other Association and tried to preach day and night until I got home and found all prospering and my wife smiling, not crying as she was when I left for fear we would be ruined. The Lord opened the hearts of the people to take what I could spare to give me work so I paid all I owed, three hundred and fifty dollars to one man, that fall and winter so I was content to serve him two months.

Two months after the above mentioned tour I visited the Henderson Church again in November and preached twice a day and once at night for two weeks. I never had seen such a manifestation of the outpouring of the spirit of the Lord and for ten and even fifteen miles around the people of all classes and denominations were drawn together to see and hear for themselves, acknowledging the Lord was doing a marvelous work among the people; during this time a poor unworthy servant was permitted to baptize eighteen willing and I believed gospel subjects at that church and also many others; at other places in Illinois and Wisconsin I labored almost day and night either in the gospel field, at my trade or on the farm of 70 acres under the plow and all this time without receiving one dollar as a salary.

I never did hire out to preach neither would I now if they would give me a million a year. I was always ready to accept freewill offerings but not as hire. My R. Road fare has been partly paid by my brethren, I having paid out hundreds of my own. The salary system is a great inducement to many lovers of filthy lucre to adopt the ministry as a profession, who God has not called to the work nor qualified and they having learned in one school and Paul in another, they learned of men, Paul of God, they quote the language of their teachers, Paul his qualifications 1st and 11th and 12th but I certify you brethren that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man for I neither received it of man neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ [Galations 1:11–12] 16th vr. to reveal his son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood [Gal. 1:16]. 3 ch. 7 vs. whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power [Gal. 3:7]. Gal. 1 ch. 1 vs. Paul, an Apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father [Gal. 1:1]. 8th vs. but though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed [Gal. 1:8]. Now unless God called and also puts the words in their mouth, how can he preach like Paul? If we could we are to be accursed; we should read and examine for ourselves and compare what men preach with what Paul preached, or how can we know what we receive? If the Lord has not called and qualified me to preach Jesus Christ as the way of the truth and the life [John 14:6], the master, the husband that loved his bride with an everlasting love, and the stronger than death who paid the last farthing of her immense debt. Justice says let the prisoners go free, I have found a ransom the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come to join with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads [see Isaiah 51:11], and when he who is our life shall appear, then shall we appear with him in glory [Colossians 3:4]; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away [Isaiah 35:10]; when they see him they shall be like him, for they shall see him as he is [see 1 John 3:2]; she shall be brought in to the king in raiment of needlework [Psalms 45:14] and wrought gold; he is to present himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing [Ephesians 5:27].

The speakers of the above language speak of those having authority and not as the scribes [see Matthew 7:29 and Mark 1:22]; if I speak not like the above it is because there is no light in me and I have no business in the field. There are thousands of living witnesses that I have not shunned to declare salvation by grace not for price nor reward, but to the honor of my King and to feed the flock over the which the Holy Ghost I trust hath made me overseer. I am like Paul: if I seek to please men I cease to be the servant of Christ [Galations 1:10]; I try to please my King.

But to return to my farm. I had two good boys to work and with my wife to manage though in poor health for many years, having two good girls to help her in the house, they with what I done managed to get a comfortable living. I educated my oldest son and two girls so they could teach and the oldest girl taught five quarters before she married A.H. Minor. He had some means from his father’s estate, and I gave them forty acres of rough gruly [sic] land, he paying fifty dollars and they improved it, and I also gave my oldest son forty acres and he paying fifty dollars income once. Those fortys I valued at two hundred each and gave my two younger children two hundred each in good property when they married. My two youngest were each married in one day. My sons and sons in law were all in the Army of the Rebellion and came out discharged honorably. H.D. Brown was a veteran with two discharges and he married my youngest daughter in 1865 while she was teaching her first term.

I rented my farm to my youngest son and went to Freeport, Illinois and worked at my trade and attended three churches once a month by rail paying my own expenses, also two Associations in December 1866. I came back to my farm and my wife and we went south in Illinois and visited four churches, five weeks from home and had a very pleasant trip. The next summer H.D. Brown tended my farm and I worked at my trade and tended many churches and two Associations; in November 1867 my wife and me went south as far as Vincennes, Indiana. I was engaged most of the time in the Gospel field and had pleasant interviews and returned in March 1868.

There was much more of this, but nothing of value to me.

[This is a penciled note by Ernest John Andrews at the end of the typescript, indicating that there was no more genealogical information in the rest of the life story, so he stopped copying at this point.]

1 Asa was not the eldest of the children of Stephen and Sibyl Norton; the children were probably born in this order: Benjamin Franklin, Asa, Olive, Theodore, James, Delia, Samuel, Joel, Reuben, Stephen, Lydia, Sarah.
2 Benjamin Franklin Norton was positively older than his brother Asa Norton.
3 Mary Kelsey Norton (Andrew’s mother) died in March 1819 in Washington, Indiana. It is not known who Benjamin Franklin Norton’s second wife was. Andrew Jackson Norton’s known siblings include Benjamin F. Norton, born in 1810; Alonzo Norton, and Mary Ann Norton. The names of the rest of the children are unknown.
4 Lydia Norton married first Sewell Goodrich (or Goodridge), and after he died in the 1840s, she married James Grimes. Sewell Goodrich was the uncle who helped Andrew Jackson Norton learn to read the Bible. Lydia and Sewell took in Andrew’s older sister too, although Andrew does not mention the fact. It is recorded on the 1830 Census. In 1840 the Census shows that Andrew, his wife, and his older sister were all living with the same aunt and uncle.

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