Peter Cartwright United Methodist Church
Pleasant Plains, Illinois
Heritage Landmark of The United Methodist Church
Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) was born in Amherst County, Virginia. The family soon moved to Logan County, Kentucky, where 16 year old Peter was converted at a camp meeting and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. He became a preacher in 1802 and was later ordained by Francis Asbury and William McKendree. In 1812 he was appointed a presiding elder (now District Superintendent), and he served in that office for the next fifty years.
Cartwright moved from Kentucky to Illinois in 1824. In his autobiography he gave several reasons for this decision. Among them were that in Illinois he "would get entirely clear of the evil of slavery, that he could improve his financial situation and procure lands for my children as they grew up. And...I could carry the Gospel to destitute souls that had, by their removal into some new country, been deprived of the means of grace."
Cartwright was a founding member of the Illinois Annual Conference in 1824, and remained in Illinois for the rest of his life. He was a towering figure of frontier Methodism and one of the most colorful and energetic preachers the church has produced. He was elected to 13 General Conferences and called himself "God's Plowman."
Despite (or perhaps because of) his own background, Cartwright tirelessly promoted Methodist education and helped found McKendree College (Lebanon), MacMurray College (Jacksonville), and Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington). He also was active in state affairs. Twice a member of the Illinois legislature, he ran for the United States Congress in 1846, but was defeated by the Springfield lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.
In 1808, Cartwright married Frances Gaines; together they had two sons and seven daughters, one of whom, Cynthia, died on the journey to Illinois.
The present Cartwright Church began in 1824 as a class in the Cartwright home. In 1838, Cartwright donated land and $300 towards the construction of a log chapel where the congregation worshipped until 1853. By that time, the church had grown so much that it had to divide into two congregations. One moved two miles west and built the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church (which was torn down in 1953). The other moved into the new village of Pleasant Plains and the current building was constructed in 1857. Two additions have been made, but the sanctuary is nearly the same as it was during Cartwright's time.
Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: Five places make up the Landmark. Most prominent is the Peter Cartwright Church, which has a small museum with family artifacts; Cartwright's pulpit is still used in the church. Peter and Frances Cartwright, their oldest son Madison, and other family members are buried in the Pleasant Plains Cemetery. In addition, visitors can see the site of the log cabin home of Eliza Cartwright Harrison, oldest Cartwright daughter, and the site of original farm home of Peter Cartwright. Bethel Cemetery is the site of Bethel Church and the burial place of Cartwright daughter Mary Jane Mickel. Parking and restroom facilities are available at the Cartwright Church, which is also wheelchair accessible.
Special events: The Peter Cartwright Memorial Sermon is preached on the third Sunday in September. The congregation also places a wreath on Cartwright's grave at the conclusion of the worship service on Memorial Sunday in May.
Area attractions: Pleasant Plains is near a number of Lincoln sites, such as Springfield and Lincoln's New Salem. Jacksonville is 25 miles southwest of Pleasant Plains; it is the site of MacMurray and Illinois Colleges and of the grave of Peter Akers, Methodist preacher in Kentucky and Illinois and the first president of McKendree College.
To visit: The Peter Cartwright Church is an active United Methodist congregation. It is open for regular worship; contact the church if you wish to visit at another time. The cemetery and the site of Bethel Church may be viewed during daylight hours. The site of Eliza Cartwright's house is a private home and is not open to the public. A brochure with a map is available from the church and the Conference Archives (see addresses below).
Location: Within the boundaries of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, in Sangamon County. Pleasant Plains is sixteen miles west of the state capital, Springfield, on State Route 125.
Food and lodging: There are restaurants in Pleasant Plains and motels and restaurants in Springfield. Lunch may be arranged for groups at the Peter Cartwright Church by prior arrangement with the church.
Directions: Take Interstate 55 to Springfield; take exit 98 to to State Route 97; follow 97 to State Route 125 (about seven miles), then take 125 to Pleasant Plains (another eight miles). The church, cemetery, and site of Betsy Cartwright's home are just south off Route 125 in Pleasant Plains. The site Peter Cartwright's farm is one mile north of Route 125 west of town, and the site of Bethel Church is west of Pleasant Plains, one mile north of Route 125 on State Route 123.
For further information, contact: Pastor, 209 W. Church St., Pleasant Plains, IL 62677
To learn more about United Methodist church history in this area:
Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference Archives, Illinois Great Rivers Conference Office, P.O. Box 515, Bloomington, IL 61702-0515; Lynne Phillips, Archivist.
The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984; originally published in 1856).
J. Gordon Melton, Log Cabins to Steeples; The Complete Story of the United Methodist Way in Illinois (Commissions on Archives and History, Northern, Central, and Southern Illinois Conferences, 1974).