Thomas Ware (1758 – 1842)




Thomas Ware was born at Greenwich, Cumberland County, N. J., on the 19th of December, 1758. His paternal grandfather emigrated from England to this country, having been a Captain in the British service under Queen Anne. His maternal grandfather, whose name was Reed, was a native of Scotland, and, on his passage from that country to America, was wrecked off the capes of Delaware, and lost all but his life. He reached the shore by clinging to some fragments of the broken ship, and was found nearly exhausted on the beach, by a farmer Earned Garrettson, who took him to his house, and subsequently gave him his daughter in marriage.

The parents of Thomas Ware were pious persons, and his father was a man of considerable intellectual culture for that day. His mother was a rigid Presbyterian, but his father could not conscientiously subscribe to all the articles of the Presbyterian faith, and therefore did not become a communicant in the Church. He died in middle life, leaving a widow and eight children, the eldest of whom was only seventeen years of age.

His mother, being warmly attached to the higher doctrines of Calvinism, especially election and reprobation, endeavoured to impress these doctrines deeply upon him, while her own faith in them seems sometimes to have occasioned deep despondency, by awakening an apprehension that she was not one of the elect. As the Methodists began to make their appearance in that part of the country, the minister of the church which young Ware was accustomed to attend, endeavoured to put his people on their guard against what he believed to be the errors of their system, and to enlighten and establish them in the commonly received Calvinistic views. The spirit of controversy, which was awakened in the neighbourhood, had an unfavourable influence upon this young man, inasmuch as it rather weakened his sense of the general importance of religion, and made him more easy in the indefinite postponement of it as a practical concern.

His advantages for education were quite limited. The building in which he attended school having been burnt down, the school was broken up, and, as there was no other within his reach, he had no instruction except what he received from his mother; and that was but little, as she had enjoyed but very slight advantages for intellectual culture. He, however, remained with her, assisting her to cultivate her small farm, until he was nearly sixteen, when he went to live with an uncle in Salem, N. J., about twenty miles distant. This uncle was a man of decided ingenuity and wit, but was lax in his moral and religious principles, and did not scruple to indulge in cavils in respect to the truths of Christianity. His influence, as well as that of much of the company into which Thomas was now thrown, was not without its effect upon him, in giving to the general current of his mind an evil direction.

Though he was a mere stripling at the commencement of tho War of the Revolution, he took a deep interest in his country’s cause, and volunteered as a soldier in the service. In 1776, he was one of the nine thousand who were quartered at Perth Amboy, N. J.; and, after having been there for a month, he volunteered to reinforce Washington on Long Island. But before the company to which he belonged had time to reach their destination, the British had got command of the Hudson River, so that they were prevented from crossing over to Long Island. In consequence of the fatigne and exhaustion to which he was subjected in this march,—the day withal being a very sultry one,—he contracted a fever, from the effects of which he did not fully recover for several years. On hearing subsequently that the Hessian army had been made prisoners, he gathered up his energies, and volunteered in the service again; but he was soon met with intelligence of the brilliant affair at Trenton, and, from that time, he seems to have felt that his services in the army might be dispensed with, and, even if this had not been the case, he found himself too feeble to render them.

From this period, for several months, his mind was greatly excited and agitated on the subject of religion. In the multitude of his conflicting thoughts, he was led sometimes to doubt the doctrine of Providence, and of the soul’s immortality; and he even felt more than willing to fall into an eternal slumber. By a singular train of circumstances, he was brought to attend a Methodist meeting, at which the Rev. Mr. Pedicord, an excellent minister of that communion officiated; and the discourse was on the fulness and freeness of the Gospel salvation. The view now presented seemed new to him, and he felt that he could cordially embrace it. He retired to his room, and spent much of the following night in penitential and devout exercises, and gave himself at once to the earnest study of the New Testament. Shortly after, he had a personal interview with the minister whose preaching had given a new turn to his thoughts; the result of which was that he felt quite satisfied that he had become a subject of renewing grace. It was at Mount Holly, N. J., that he experienced this change; and he never lost his grateful associations with that place as long as he lived. About this time, he became a member of the Methodist Society.

Scarcely had he made a public profession of his faith in Christ before some of his brethren ventured to suggest to him that it might be his duty to devote himself to the preaching of the Gospel. But his estimate of his own abilities was too low to allow him to entertain such an idea for a moment. He was conscious of feeling an intense desire for the salvation of souls, and was more than willing to labour as an exhorter, or in any other capacity that he believed his talents or acquirements would justify; but he could not easily be persuaded that he was qualified to enter the Gospel ministry. Mr. Asbury, having heard of him, and of his peculiar state of mind, sent a request that he would come and see him at New Mills, seven miles from Mount Holly. He questioned him, in a somewhat searching manner, upon various points, and being well satisfied with his answers, told him that he must go down to the Peninsula, and take the Dover circuit, upon which there was only one preacher, and that he could tell the people, if he pleased, that he did not come in the capacity of a preacher, but only to assist in keeping up the appointments until another could he sent.

Mr. Ware, not without many misgivings, finally consented to Mr. Asbury’s proposal; and, accordingly, early in September, 1783, he directed his course towards the Peninsula. He was cordially welcomed on the Dover circuit, and made the acquaintance of some very influential and excellent people. On one occasion, he was invited to preach in the Protestant Episcopal Church at Duck Creek. While in the midst of his service, three men came marching into the church, and halted just before the desk. One of them announced himself as a vestryman, and presented to Mr. Ware the alternative of voluntarily leaving the church, or of being forcibly put out of it. As the preacher remained in his place, the vestryman seized him by the collar, and dragged him from the desk. On seeing this, a giant of a man, near by, seized the vestryman in like manner, and, raising his huge fist, threatened to knock him down, if he did not let the preacher go. A certain Judge, who was present, cried out,—’ Don’t strike him, Mr. S.; and if he does not let Mr. Ware alone, and cease to disturb the congregation, I will commit him.’ The preacher was now suffered to have his liberty, and the vestryman and his companions retired.

The first Conference that Mr. Ware attended was in Baltimore, in the spring of 1784. He carried with him a strong impression that it would be his duty to return home, and endeavour to make some further improvements in both knowledge and grace, before he gave himself wholly to the work of the ministry; but, when he saw how great was the demand for labour in various parts of the country, he felt constrained to accept an appointment. Accordingly, he was appointed to the Kent circuit, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Here, as in the Dover circuit, he had access to some of the more distinguished families, and was gratified by the evidences of true practical godliness which he found among them.

Mr. Ware attended the famous Christmas Conference in Baltimore, at which the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States was organized, and was a deeply interested observer of all that passed on that occasion. He then returned to the Peninsula, where he found religion in a flourishing state, and for a time he preached with great fervour and freedom. But, after a short time, he was suddenly attacked by a severe and dangerous malady, that brought him to the borders of the grave; and, though he was able, at no distant period, to resume his labours, he had afterwards a second attack of the same complaint, which prostrated him still more, and suggested to him the propriety of withdrawing for a season from itinerant labour. Accordingly, in the spring of 1785, he did not attend the Conference, but went home, and wrote to Bishop Asbury, declining to take an appointment for at least one year, on account of the loss of his health. He was, however, appointed to the Salem circuit, which brought him among his relatives, several of whom, and among them two of his sisters, were hopefully converted through his instrumentality. On the whole, the year passed much more pleasantly than he expected, and both his health and spirits were greatly improved.

In 1786, his field of labour was Long Island. He did not, however, confine himself to the Island, but, with the consent of his Presiding Elder, a local preacher was employed to take his appointments, while he visited New Rochelle, some twenty-five miles above New York. From this place he went to Bedford and Peekskill, and wherever he preached was listened to with much attention, and treated with great kindness.

At the Conference of 1787, Mr. Ware volunteered, with two other young men, to accompany the Rev. Mr. Tunnell to the Holston country, now East Tennessee. Here he found a fine, productive region, sparsely settled; but among the settlers were not a few who at once greatly needed and strongly opposed the influence of the Gospel. Still, however, their work prospered; societies were formed, and a number of log chapels erected; and, on the circuit, three hundred members were received the first year.

In the autumn of this year, (1787,) communications were received, by the Presiding Elder, from certain persons who lived far down the Holston and French Broad Rivers, earnestly requesting that, in view of their very destitute condition, a preacher might be sent to them. Mr. Ware consented to undertake this mission; but it involved great deprivations, hardships, and perils. His route lay through a region that was infested by hostile Indians, and several individuals, and even whole families, had been murdered by them, a short time before he made the journey. Having visited the most distant settlement on the Holston, he crossed over to French Broad River, with nothing else to guide him than marked trees. Here he found a few Methodists, who had come from distant parts, and were prepared to receive with great delight a preacher of their own communion. At this place no danger was to be apprehended from the Indians, though he had serious opposition to encounter from certain Antinomian preachers, of scandalous lives, who not only succeeded in stirring up violent prejudices against himself, but did much to bring all religion into contempt.

The first Conference in Holston was held in 1788. Bishop Asbury, owing to the danger of travelling, except in considerable companies, did not reach the place for a week after the time appointed for the Conference to commence its session. However, they improved the time in preaching, and among those who were reckoned as converts, were General Russell and his wife,—the latter a sister of Patrick Henry. From this Conference Mr. Ware was appointed to East New River, where he met with a most kindly reception, and had considerable success in his labours. Here he administered Baptism to a large number of children, including not a few whose parents belonged to the Presbyterian Church,—there being no minister of that denomination in the neighbourhood. He passed two years in this new country, not indeed without many exposures and trials, but, on the whole, in a way very satisfactory to him.

In the spring of 1789, Bishop Asbury visited Mr. Ware’s circuit, and took him to North Carolina. The Conference for that year was held at McKnight’s Church, and was, on several accounts, one of great interest. Mr. Ware was appointed to Caswell circuit, and, as soon as the Conference had closed its session, set out for his field of labour. Besides being nearly penniless, and without decent clothing, he lost his horse after a few days; but the brother with whom he had stopped furnished him a horse on trial; and another person,—not a Methodist,—with whom he came casually in contact, sent him to his store in Newbern, with directions to his clerk to furnish him with clothing to the amount of twenty-five dollars. For this he declined all compensation.

Soon after commencing his labours in North Carolina, he visited a settlement consisting almost exclusively of Episcopalians. As the Revolutionary War had driven away their ministers, and caused a suspension of the administration of Christian ordinances, large numbers of parents had requested that he would baptize their children. The scene was one of great interest, and much feeling was visible throughout the assembly. At the close of the service, many followed him to the house where he lodged, and in the evening he preached to them, and thus there commenced a revival of religion of great power.

Mr. Ware’s second year in this part of the country was on a district consisting of eight circuits, embracing a part of Virginia. At one of the Quarterly Meetings held on New River, an attention to religion was awakened, at once so extensive and so powerful, that for many weeks almost all worldly concerns were suspended throughout quite a large district. Just before he left the State, he was confined, by indisposition, at the house of a very aged couple, who had no children, and who had been hopefully converted through his instrumentality. Being in possession of considerable property, and far advanced in life, they desired him to write their will; but he objected on the ground of being ignorant of the required form. They replied that their will was simple, and might easily be drawn ;—that it was nothing more nor less than that, on condition of his remaining with them, during their short stay in this world, all that they had should be his. But, tempting as the offer was, he could not accept it with a good conscience; and he therefore took leave, not only of these generous friends, but of the State in which they lived, and returned to visit his friends in New Jersey, after an absence of six years.

He arrived in Philadelphia in time to attend the Conference of 1791, and was appointed to Wilmington, De. Here he found the moral atmosphere so impure as to make him almost sigh for the wilds of Tennessee; and yet there were among his charge some whom he regarded as the excellent of the earth. In the spring of 1792, he was appointed to Staten Island, where he laboured for a short time with great comfort, and not without some success; and then took charge of the Susquehanna District. In the spring of 1793, he was transferred to the Albany District, which, at that time, embraced a portion of four States,—namely, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Here he found the mass of the people strongly opposed to the peculiar views of the Methodists, and himself and his colleagues regarded as intruders in a field which in no wise belonged to them; but he still felt that he had occasion to rejoice in the results of his labours.

In September and October, 1796, he attended the Annual Conference in the city of New York, and then proceeded with Bishop Asbury to the Philadelphia Conference, which immediately followed. Here he was appointed to the charge of the Philadelphia District, which extended from Wilmington in Delaware to Seneca Lake in the State of New York. Having attended the General Conference this year in Baltimore, he hastened back to his work, and though little apparent success attended his labours the first year, he was permitted in the second, to witness, in connection with them, an extensive and powerful revival of religion, which included among its subjects not a small number of persons distinguished in civil life.

At this time, Mr. Ware had his residence at Strasburg, Pa., where he made the acquaintance of Miss Barbara Miller,—a lady whom he deemed more suitable than any other he had met to become his wife. He, accordingly, offered himself to her and was accepted; and, on the 15th of October, 1797, they were married, she being thirty-five years of age, and he thirty-eight.

In 1800, he was appointed to a district on the Peninsula; though, previous to his entering upon this charge, he attended the General Conference at Baltimore, in May, and was much refreshed by the evidence there presented of the increasing prosperity of the cause. In June, the Annual Conference was held at Smyrna, and, during its session, it was reckoned that there were hundreds converted to God. At the close of the Conference, several prominent individuals, among whom were Governor Bassett and Dr. Ridgely, requested that a meeting might be appointed at Dover in the ensuing May, to be called the Yearly Meeting, to continue for one week. The appointment was accordingly made, and the meeting held, and the religious manifestations were not less extraordinary than those which had been witnessed at the Conference. Mr. Ware had charge of this meeting, and found the duties exceedingly heavy, though he was assisted by two or three of his brethren. On his return home from his third tour around his district, he was met with the afflicting intelligence that, during his absence, his infant son had been removed by death.

In 1802, he returned to the Philadelphia District. In 1803, he again took charge of the New Jersey District, and continued on it four years. After this, he laboured two years in St. George’s charge, in Philadelphia. In all these places, the work in which he engaged was manifestly on the advance.

In the year 1808, while a resident of Philadelphia, he was attacked with a violent fever, which gave a shock to his constitution from which it did not recover: not only his bodily strength, but his vision, was permanently affected by it. In the spring of 1809, his general debility was such as to suggest the desirableness of his taking a superannuated relation; and this he accordingly did the next year.

In 1811, his field of labour was Lancaster, Pa. At the General Conference held in New York in 1812, he was elected one of the Book-agents. After holding this office four years, (till 1816,) he was appointed to Long Island; and from that time he continued in the itinerancy till 1825; so that he was an effective travelling preacher, in all, forty years.

In May, 1832, ho attended the General Conferenee at Philadelphia, and subsequently made an interesting communication to the columns of the Christian Advocate and Journal, comparing the then present with the past, and expressing his feelings of gratitude to God for the rapidly increasing prosperity of the Church with which he had been so long connected.

Mr. Ware’s latter years were spent in Salem, N. J., where he enjoyed, in a high degree, the respect and confidence of the entire community. He engaged, occasionally, in active service as long as his strength would permit, and when his ability to labour ceased, he still continued to bear an effective testimony for his Master by a spirit of serene submission and joyful confidence in God. He died at his residence in Salem, on the 11th of March, 1842.


New York, December 5, 1859.

Dear Sir: I cannot claim to have had an intimate acquaintance with the Rev. Thomas Ware, though I knew him during the time that he was a Bookagent in this city, and saw enough of him to justify the general high estimate that was formed of his character. At the same time, I am constrained to say that it is his relation to the early history of Methodism, as well as the fact of his being identified with the stirring scenes of the Revolution, that entitles him to commemoration, rather than any very strongly marked characteristics as a Man or a Minister.

Mr. Ware had a fine commanding person, and an expression of countenance at once pleasant and dignified. There was nothing in his manners that savoured of moroseness on the one hand, or of levity on the other—but he was easy of access and sociable, while yet he never lost sight of the proprieties of his profession as a Christian minister. He was a man of excellent common sense, and his judgment in difficult cases could generally be relied on with confidence and safety. He occupied various posts of honourable usefulness in the Church, and always, so far as I know, in a highly acceptable manner. Without having pre-eminent talents, or much more than ordinary acquirements, he had that well-balanced mind, that symmetrical development of character, and that earnestness and stability of Christian purpose, that more commonly form the leading elements of a useful life.

I think I never heard Mr. Ware preach, but my impression is that his preaching was rather solid, instructive and scriptural, than striking or brilliant. He occupied some very important fields, and large measures of Divine influence sometimes attended his labours. In some of his circuits he had to encounter great difficulties, but his wisdom and firmness enabled him to meet them successfully.

Mr. Ware, towards the close of his life, published a brief autobiography, from which it may be inferred that the tone of his religious feelings, especially in his latter days, was not only tranquil but joyful. He dwelt with great interest on the wonderful movements of God’s Providence and Spirit, in connection with the efforts of the Church, towards the moral renovation of the world; and if there was any desire of his heart that would have detained him longer on earth, it was that he might still bear a part in the aggressive enterprise of God’s people upon the Kingdom of darkness. His own personal hopes of Heaven remained unclouded to the last. With the deepest sense of his own unworthiness he connected a corresponding impression of the love, and grace, and faithfulness, of his Redeemer; and the thought of going to dwell with Him forever raised him above all fear in the prospect of committing his earthly tabernacle to the dust. He lived through an eventful period in the history of Methodism, and indeed in the history of the country and of the world, and his influence for good has gone out through innumerable channels.

Affectionately yours,


Source:  Annuals of the American Pulpit: Methodist, by William B. Sprague, D.D., Vol. 7, Robert Carter & Brothers, New York, 1859, pages 118-124

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