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The Citizenry

The Circuit Rider

Among the preachers who served the Midwest in 1864 perhaps no one man touched the souls of more families than Rev. Allen H. Tilton. A traveling clergyman, or circuit rider, he spread the word of God throughout central Ohio.

Carte de visite by Abraham Bogardus of New York City. Author’s Collection.

Carte de visite by Abraham Bogardus of New York City. Author’s Collection.

In his annual report, the indefatigable 56-year-old Methodist documented 7,000 miles of travel to 100 locations, delivering 120 sermons and addresses. He also raised more than $12,000 as an agent of the American Bible Society, an organization committed to putting the good book into the hands of every person in a language they could understand. Tilton stated that, “During the year, 18,000 Testaments have been distributed among our soldiers and prisoners of war at the different military posts within my district. The uniform testimony to the excellent spirit and gratitude with which these Sacred Volumes have been received and regarded, is surprisingly favourable. An officer of high rank stated to me that ‘of all the reading matter furnished to the soldiers, their interest in the Scriptures was the greatest and most lasting. Their Bibles were the last things they parted with, and then only as an absolute necessity.’”

“The Circuit Preacher” by Alfred R. Waud appeared on the front page of the Oct. 12, 1867, issue of Harper’s Weekly.
“The Circuit Preacher” by Alfred R. Waud appeared on the front page of the Oct. 12, 1867, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

The mobile reverend also supported the Society’s anti-slavery agenda. According to one historian, “From 1835 until the downfall of slavery Tilton never lost an opportunity of raising his voice against that institution, and all through the War of the Rebellion was an uncompromising Republican.”

A native of Washington, N.Y., Tilton moved to Oneida at age 20 and became a cabinetmaker. At this time in the late 1820s, an upsurge of religious fervor that became known as the Second Great Awakening swept the country. Tilton turned to the ministry about this time and received a license to preach in 1831. Thus began a long career spent circuit riding on horseback, carrying a few possessions in his saddlebags through rural and frontier outposts in New York and, in 1855, in Ohio. He settled his family, wife Hannah, a girl who died in 1860, and two boys who lived to maturity, in Mount Vernon.

The Tilton’s eldest son, James, served in two Buckeye State infantry regiments during the Civil War as a musician in 4th and a private in the 20th. He survived his enlistments.

Rev. Tilton died in Mount Vernon in 1891 at age 73.

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