[visual emphasis added e.g. Watson]
Pittsburgh August 19th 1820
Dear father and mother, Brothers and Sisters,
Yours of the 28th April 1820 I rec'd last week, but as it was only two or three days before we were going to have a camp meeting, I deferred writing untill it was over, thinking that something might transpire worthy of remark. I shall give you some account of it, which you may wish to hear, it was situated five miles from Pittsburg, up the Mononghahela in the woods, the small wood was cut out and the other made a good shade, almost every family had a tent to lodge in at intervals and at nights, these tents was set on a line on every side composing a square in the inside, this square included perhaps two acres of ground, a great part of which was set with benches for people to sit on, it was a regular rising ground and the pulpit or stand was erected at the low end, so that everyone might see the preachers, the meeting commenced on friday 11th of August and continued untill tuesday at ten oclock, I was there the whole time.
Rules by which the meeting is governed, prayer in each tent at Sunrise, and a public prayer meeting at the stand at 8 Oclock, preaching it 10 at 3 and at candlelight, the woman shall sit on the right hand and the men on the left of the preachers stand, a rail divides between the woods, on the right hand is for the walks of the Woman and those on the left for the walks of the men, No spirits shall be sold at or near this Meeting, any person under the influence of ardent spirits, or using abusive language, or behaving imprudently shall be taken away from the Meeting, and reported to the whole Congregation, all persons not having accommodation in the tents shall leave the Camp ground at 11 Oclock at night, at which time the trumpet will sound as a signal for them to depart, Another Rule of the meeting was that No disputes on Religion or on politics or any other subject shall be allowed.
Most families boarded in their tents and there was a large table provided for the rest to board at who were in the society, two or three hundred of us boarded this way, it only cost us 75 cents for the whole time, I generally rested in some of our English people's tents at nights, but scarce any persons retired before two or three Oclock and some continued worshiping in the tents alnight, there was 8 or 10 preachers only one spoke at a time, the prayer meeting lasted about an hour from 11 till between 12 and 1 including two Sermons; from three to five - the evening meeting was like a watchnight, from sunset till 10 or 11 Oclock, after that the preachers came down from the stand and spent some time particularly for those that was true spiritents and sincere mourners, and there was not a few, a divine power and influence attended the preaching of the word, and the other exercises of this Meeting as I never wittnessed in all my life.
I cannot give you any Idea of it, almost all that I can say is that I felt it was good to be there, stouthearted sinners was led to tremble before God and was so powerfully awakened and convinced that frequently could no longer sit on their seats but fell down to the ground or on their knees and their sighs and tears and prayers were the most pittiful, and calculated to excite the most anxious concern in the minds of those that was around, I dare say many prayed for these mourners which had never prayed for themselves, the evening Meeting was much like a watchnight, when we had some most impressive exortations, often between ten and eleven Oclock, the mourners went together besides the stand and kneeled down besides the benches and everyone prayed for themselves, the preachers and other official members prayed with them, and talked to them and it was enough to create gladness in every heart to the remarkable conversions which took place at that meeting, when the mourning souls of these penitent creatures was not at liberty it was clearly discovered not only by their language but in their very counternance, some that went just to make their observations were silenced and constrained to acknowledge it to be the work of God.
I am sorry I cannot tell you how many did find peace at that meeting but it was not a few, probably it cannot be ascertained till a few days for I cannot but think there was some deceit and false pretentions among them, for instance, I saw one young woman among the mourners aparrently in deep distress, she presently rose up and leaped about and shouted Glory to God and expressed no extacy of joy, shortly after she was down among the mourners again and changing respect by that way which was a great inconsistency and at some times I saw the passions of the people raised by the zeal and terror of the preachers.
There was a large number collected in a large camp for praying and singing, one of the preachers went in and begun to alarm them by telling them they must either get Religion or else go to Hell, and ordered them every Soul to kneel down and pray, they did so, he ordered them to pray more fervently, or pray (Says he) as if Heaven and earth was coming together, they got so frightened and into such commotion that I do not think they knew what they were praying for, I took notice of all these things. - Mr Davis the Pittsburg preacher observed to the people that if possible they had to contain themselves when their Souls was 'happy or set at liberty', (Says he) do not spill over the cup before it be full, let it stand till it is full and running over and desired those who thought they could not contain themselves without shouting so very much and those who could not help falling down upon others, to remain in their tents.
The first day I was there I observed any thing I could, and wished to see the process of the Meeting and had never seen any thing of the kind before, and neglected too much to check for a blessing for my own mind; the next morning I thought if I did not get into the Spirit of devotion I would go back the same way I had gone there, I laboured therefore to bring my reflections to run in a proper channel and interest myself in the Meeting, the longer I was there the more I was taken up with occation the former part of the Meeting, when the mourners was collected I generally stood on the outside, among many of our members, but afterwards by the earnest request of some of the Brethren I went among them and tryied as well as I could to persuade them to venture on a crucified Redeemer, in this serious exercise I felt my Mind greatly blessed, and while asking some of them some questions I was astonished at the correctness of their views and the sincerity of their desires.
The intervals between public worship was spent in singing and praying in the tents, and a more comfortable sense of the gracious presence of the Lord I never experienced before, than I did at these reasons especially one day while Mr. Cooper and a great many of us English people, were singing in a tent our English tunes, Mr. Davis and other of the preachers came in and prayed with us, and our hearts was all melted into love, the blessed reasons wh. was felt at this Camp meeting was better felt than expressed, but to enter into particulars it would fill three or four sheets .
It was remarkable to me how us English people drew together at certain tents, and sung our English tunes, which I am bold to say exceeded any singing in the campground and was more admired, but we did not sing for praise but for profit, some was melted into tears.
I now mention another particular which I did not approve of much at first sight, as it presented rather a millitary form, on Monday evening about midnight after having worshiped till that time the preachers came out out of the stand and walked all in abreast in a regular walk, round the campground in the inside of the tents, while Mr. Davis in the Middle of them, gave out "Come to thou travler unknown" He Sung it to Plymouth Dock, the rest of the congregation all walked behind them, as soon as the hymn was sung we all kneeled on the ground and one of the preachers prayed in a most effective manner; after we rose up Mr. Davis having insisted us sing Burnham he gave out "Ye virgin Souls arise" and sung it in that tune walking round, when the hymn was sung one of the preachers made a few remarks on this passage "At Midnight there was a cry made", It was not these hymns and this passage very applicable to the reason of the night, he directed us to that day when we shall be aquitted by the Judge, and shall walk in triumph to the Throne, the night was calm and dark, nothing to see but the lamps and the shady trees above us this added to the Solemnity of the scene, you cannot imagine what a solemn and affecting season it was, after that we spent an hour or two at the stand.
After ten Oclock preaching on Monday we had the Sacriment administered unto us, the remarks that Mr. Davis made previous to it was truly grand, respecting who was proper persons to communicate. - It was told Mr. Davis at the beginning of the meeting to take care on sending as many Gentlemen was coming from Pittsburgh to sit as criticks, Mr. Davis replied never mind we will give them preaching on Sunday, accordingly at 10 Oclock on Sunday Mr. D. preached from these words "almost those persuadest me to be a Christian". 1. Described a christian 2nd the Method to get people to be christian (that is) persuasion, it was considered the greatest sermon that was ever preached in these parts.
When the meeting broke up the principal part of the congregation was in tears, the preachers also was much affected I never felt it so hard to part with our preachers in Weardale than I did to leave this Meeting, it was thought there was something upward of five thousand people.
But I must dismiss this subject. - I am living as usual with Mrs. Kidd and is working with Mr. Belknass at 75 Cents per day, doing different kinds of farming work we have not burnt any charcoal this summer and I was very glad as it is a disagreable business in summertime, We have not got our money of Major Wolley yet, he has gone to Boston but says he will some back on the 20 of Aug. to settle his affairs, but his word cannot be depended upon, we get our Money pretty regular of Mr. Belknass, he is not certain wheather he will have work this winter or not;all kinds of provisions is exceeding low, flour is only one Dollar per Cwt, and other things such like, a family that has a garden here can live with very little money, a family lives with very little more expense than a single man does.
I was very sorry to hear of the death of Jos. Cleminson I am really afraid it was the effect of want, and other inconveniences, when we were there they had scarce anything to eat and all the money they had was a piece of silver the value of 7 pence English money, I cannot tell what will become of the family now I wish they were back to England, perhaps Ind. Cleminson will continue some way or other, for depend upon it they are badly of. If it could be brought about so as Is. and Hannah could get over to here I would gladly protect them, and see that they wanted for nothing, if they could not earn as much as would keep them I would make it up, and if they made any more they should have it themselves, if nothing can be done this way if they could by any means get to Buffoloo to where Tho. is they would do far better than where they are, we never hear anything from them but what you tell us.
I was sorry to hear that my Sister Nanny had been unwell a few weeks, but was glad to hear that she had got better, I would liked to have heard more about her, I hope she still maintains her union with her Lord tell her to write me a letter I wished she had been at our camp meeting there was many very pious young woman there I heard more than Twenty women pray in the tents one time and another, I was sometimes called upon to exercise in prayer in my humble manner.
I am glad to hear that you are so industrious as to be more content when you are working than when you are of work, I have not sold my Clarinet but does very little with it not having much leasure time, Since I came to America I have laboured harder than I did in England I have had my health tollerable well this summer, but I do not bear near as much flesh as I did a year or so since, it has been a warm summer several times the thermometer stood at 96 in the shade, and 113 in the Sun, so that you will see it has been pretty warm, and altho it does not effectually injure my health, yet it renders a person neither as lively nor as strong as when it is a little cooler, for about a month past I think I have mended some; times is no better yet but it is thought they will soon improve.
I have not fully made up my mind wheather to come back, or to settle and remain in America, the want of money renders a person unable to make a beginning in this country, and if ever he advance himself it must be by steady industry, Jos. Gibson and family is all well and sends their kind respects to you N. Gibson has recd a letter which impresses that times is some better in Weardale and what is almost a certain evidence of it is so many Marriages taking place Nichs. is living with his brother Jos. and has been for a Month or two; there is a letter for Nichs. Whitfield comed with mine he is living about twenty Miles from here, between this and where he was before, he is working at the Iron mine she has an order for the Money Which the former company owes him but he has not got the Money yet, Our country people is all well except for Jos. Stephensons little child wh. is rather poorly I think it will scarcely live I saw them at the camp meeting, N. Gibson and Molly Kidd & Mary & Jonathon was at the Meeting -
Geo. I am much obliged to you for your generous advice relative to securing a wife, but you will not find these large fortunes in every house, I have no objections to fortunes where there is other good properties of greater consequence I am acquainted with many pious like girls in Pittsburgh but few of them has been brought up with industrious habits so as to make a good country wife.
I have had a garden this summer which had produced me Cowcumbers, Watermellons, Indian corn, Cabbages, patatoes, and other things, We generally have preaching every two weeks, If I have not employment this winter perhaps I may go to Pittsburgh and begin a Singing School as I am encouraged to expect a great many scholars.
Tell my Br. Jno. that I have two of his letters to Answer the first opportunity I can get, I am exceedingly glad that letters comes so well, people all admires how much correspondence we keep up do not wait for letters from me as you have far more time Give my kind love to Uncle Jos. and Geo. and families and my Good mother also to my Uncle ? , also to Thos. Gibsons family, to Geo. Phillipson, to Cousin Cuth Harrison and tell him to write to me and tell me of the state of Religion in Weardale give my Love to all who shall inquire after me Molly Kidd sends her love to Jn. Phillipson and says she is not as content in America as she was in England and desires him to write to them immediately, they have sent two to him & got no answer.
Pray for your aft. Son Nichs. Watson.
Footnote: The original letter is held by
Mrs. Jean Hill as well as another letter dated January 8th 1821
by Nicholas Watson, also to his father. These letters predate
the two letters by Nicholas Watson deposited in the Darlington
Memorial Library of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
U. S. A. by Dr. P. A. Barkas in 1962.
(Transcript): Brian Whitfield, 3 May 2003