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From the moment his foot touched ground in Philadelphia from England in 1771, the American colonies were never the same - nor was Francis Asbury himself.

Riding 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year as America's first circuit-rider, spreading the gospel and daring death, Asbury became the best-known man on the continent, more so than even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Letters found him in the wilderness addressed simply: "Bishop Asbury, America." In the midst of the American Revolution, threatened with jail because he refused to "swear allegiance" to either side, on he rode.

Midnight Rider

"Chased by savage Indians, hunted by ravaging wolves, and stalked by highwaymen, on he rode.."

Fighting pleurisy, arthritis and other ailments that were sometimes so bad he could neither stand to preach nor kneel to pray, on he rode - from Georgia to Quebec. Sometimes, since he insisted on traveling, friends even had to strap him to his horse so he would not fall off. Preaching against slavery 70 years before the Civil War, and against intemperance 100 years before abolition became an issue, on he rode.

The only time he stopped was to minister to yellow-fever victims in Philadelphia in the plague of 1793 for three months until the plague dissipated. Through his powerful preaching, camp meetings that attracted thousands at a time, and ordaining 4,000 preachers to man circuits that he established around the country, Asbury spurred an increase in Methodist Church membership from a mere 600 to 214,000 by the time of his death in 1816. He helped create five colleges and numerous schools.

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