2. The Retirement of James Crawfoot

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by H Bickerstaffe Kendall in the series “One Hundred Years Ago”

IN spite of the superstition of ill-omen attaching to the number thirteen, the year 1813 was for Primitive Methodism a year of hard work and quiet progress. True, the Tunstall Non-Mission Law was still in force, but “a few enterprising individuals” had disregarded it from the beginning. Who these freelances were we have already seen, as also what were some of the results of their work. Theoretically, Benton and his co-adjutors were independent of the Tunstall Circuit plan and of Tunstall officialism, but they really were unattached Primitive Methodists. Their evangelisation reacted favourably upon the circuit’s interests, and in time the gains they had acquired were assimilated, and their happy example as law-breakers soon led to the suspension of the law itself and to the resumption of missionary labours.

Probably the most important event of the year in some aspects was one which at the time would be regarded by many as a misfortune and a drawback to the progress of the Connexion. This was the retirement of James Crawfoot, the “rustic mystic” which Rev. J.W. Chappell dates from Feb. 11th, 1813. Crawfoot had been summoned to an official meeting to answer a series of charges preferred against him by Hugh Bourne. But he failed to put in an appearance, and, as a consequence, became separated from the Connexion he found the title for and helped to found. His had been the first name on the plan; hereafter that of James Steele took its place, and yet another James—James Nixon—went into his work. In his “History” Hugh Bourne passes over Crawfoot’s retirement; he is not so reticent in his private journal. In these later days we have learned to do something like justice to Crawfoot. We have come to recognise the mystic element that ran through the piety of “the old man of the forest” which he largely infused into Bourne and Clowes when, at an impressionable time, they sat as disciples at his feet. Take in equal parts the fervid evangelism of Clowes, the practical idealism of Bourne, and the mysticism of Crawfoot, and you have a fine blend. A Church compounded after this formula should make her presence felt, and serve for the healing of the people.

Though Crawfoot passed out of Primitive Methodism he could not take back what he had given. Virtue had already “gone out of him,” and it would perforce do its work. We must add that his retirement had probably become almost inevitable. Circumstances had arisen, and temperamental differences were such, as to make it impossible for Bourne and Crawfoot to work much longer together. In this clash of contrarieties. the younger and the stronger man prevailed as he generally, though not always, did. More we need not say, except to suggest that there is room, and perhaps the material, for a sober judgment on Hugh Bourne’s later, as contrasted with his earlier, relations to Clowes and Crawfoot, Winfield and Flesher. Such an enquiry would be of considerable help to the understanding of the psychology of our senior founder.

We are glad to take cognisance of another event that can be so confidently dated as to warrant its insertion here. On the night of February 11th, 1813, Hugh Bourne took his neglected Journal out of the desk. There had been, for reasons already stated, a year’s hiatus in the record. But Time is the great healer; and he has now recovered his spirits sufficiently to resume these daily entries, which we shall find an advantage as we try to call up what was happening One Hundred Years Ago.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/88

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