The Autobiography


Sunderland P. Gardner, Part Three

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In the fall of 1814, when in my thirteenth year, we removed to Farmington, Ontario county, in what was then called the Genesee country.  Our manner of traveling was with a wagon and a three-horse team, the forward one of which I rode; we were nine days on the road and it rained every day. We found the country comparatively new and much more productive than the one we had left, but there were some serious disadvantages to counter-balance, such as fevers - especially fever and ague; and the effects of the war, which was about closing as to active hostilities, but not with regard to its consequences. Business was deranged, men had lost confidence in each other, morals were lax, and people had to a great extent imbibed the spirit and feeling consequent upon war; hence intemperance, quarreling, fighting, lawsuits and general licentiousness all contributed to exhibit human nature perverted, in its worst character. This state of things constituted the school into which I was introduced. I attribute much of the error into which I fell, and the consequent remorse and anguish of spirit, to the influence of the pernicious example of my associates, and many a time have I regretted that my lot was cast among them, or that I had not obeyed my Heavenly Counselor, which would have enabled me to have arisen in moral strength to firmly withstand everything that tended to break down the sacred enclosure which our Heavenly Father has placed around every soul in its state of innocence, giving it power to guard against the assaults of the enemy. This power it never loses so long as it looks to and depends upon Him who gives it.

There were many young boys - older than myself - who had been brought up or rather abandoned to idleness and dissipation, and notwithstanding the care and anxiety of my parents on my account, frequent occasions offered to be in their company; and they, having no respect for parental authority, endeavored to leaven me with the same spirit. Very much of their conduct at first was shocking to my feelings and sense of right; but I gradually gave way, and imitated in some respects their practices. But great were my conflicts; my Heavenly Father reasoned with me as a father with an erring, beloved son, and showed me the path of duty and safety with indubitable clearness.

I will now endeavor to represent the state of the Society of Friends in the Genesee country at the time of my acquaintance with it. Farmington Quarterly Meeting included all the Friends in western New York (who were numerous), and was held a part of the time at Scipio. Farmington and parts of adjoining towns had mostly been settled by friends; there was no other meeting-house in the town for many years, and the consequence was that the inhabitants generally attended their meetings. There was not that plain, honest dealing and simplicity of manner here which characterized the Friends at the East; many of them were wealthy, and sought with remarkable ardor for more. Some were lawyers, yet were active in the Society's business. There was, however, a large body of valuable Friends, whose influence evidently tended to mould to some extent the character of the people in their vicinity.

Caleb Macomber was the only minister so far as I recollect in Farmington Monthly Meeting, and had great influence in transacting the business of the Society; great deference was paid to his judgment, and matters were generally disposed of according to his choice or direction. I think that the implicit submission to his views eventually proved a serious injury to him and a disadvantage to Friends, yet I believe he was at that time a minister of the gospel.

My father was very careful as to my attendance at meeting for worship, but not being a member I did not attend those for discipline. I have ever considered that a punctual attendance of religious meetings while a lad was of great advantage to me. I frequently felt the Father's love to fill my soul, and therefore had many seasons of instruction and profit; but my natural propensities being very strong, I had much to war against, and was frequently jostled or carried away captive; hence conflict after conflict, and sorrow and grief on account of my deviations from rectitude. I would renew my covenant, resolve to do better, - again lose ground, and be plunged almost into despair. I had seen the necessity of being very strict and circumspect in all my conduct, and any deviation from what I was clearly convinced was right was met by a swift and faithful witness in my own heart.

I saw the necessity of separating from the company of the lads in the neighborhood, and of keeping much by myself, occupying my leisure time and First-day afternoons in reading the Scriptures and other religious books, such as Friends' journals, etc. I made a practice of being engaged in vocal prayer when alone, and would retire to the fields and solitary places in the evening for that purpose; and although uttering the desire of my heart vocally upon the bended knee, found no better success to my petitions than would, undoubtedly, have been granted to the same earnestness of prayer in the closet of my heart; yet in these seasons my soul was filled with love, and I had a measure of the foretaste of heaven. These religious exercises in retirement I kept a profound secret, perhaps mostly on account of my great diffidence, and I am not aware that any person ever knew of it but myself. Well would it have been with me had I always obeyed that voice which spoke so clearly to my spiritual understanding in the days of my early youth; but notwithstanding this devotion on my part, and those seasons of divine love and favor, my warfare was by no means accomplished. It was that state in which innocence is blessed and washed by the dew of heaven, which can be only retained and virtue attained through trials and the resistance of temptations incident to our probationary state; and when these temptations come what conflicts! These were things belonging to my nature and proper in themselves when under right control, but caused uneasiness when brought under the influence of the young persons in the neighborhood on the one hand, and the voice of God on the other, which latter clearly showed me the right way. Here commenced my warfare; and I verily believe that had I fully taken up the cross to my propensities, and made unreserved submission to my Heavenly Father's will, which should have been the first and supreme point in my life and conduct, that the intensity of this warfare would soon have been over, and a victory obtained over everything that would lead from just and holy rectitude. But by not fully surrendering as one necessity appeared for it after another, the conflict was long, and sometimes I evidently lost ground, though I fully saw it. Under such circumstances I would endeavor to console myself by promising that I would yield full obedience by and by. O dangerous ground! O false counselor! It is the false reasoning in man, or that which is represented under the figure of the serpent, that, if listened to, invariably leads astray, and brings away from a dependence upon the only sure foundation - Christ, the Rock of Ages.

Among other improper diversions practiced by the lads and young men of the neighborhood was that of playing cards, in which I also indulged until it became a habit, and I often joined their company when not at cards, but profanity, levity, and excessive mirthfulness, were combined to make up the entertainment, which was sometimes kept up until late hours in the night, when I would make disguised excuses to my parents for my absence. But through all my deviations my Heavenly Father's spirit was extended for my deliverance. During the excitement of the moment I endeavored to keep down the witness against the evil, but when that was over it would rise up in judgment against my sins. In those seasons I never failed to promise that I would reform and forsake the error of my way; but the power of habit was so deeply fixed, and the desire for such diversions would rise with such strength, that contrary to clear convictions I still went on my way through the woods in the evening to join my associates, when I heard a language addressed to my mental ear of this import; "Thou hast often resolved to meet no more in these gatherings for playing at cards." I replied that "I intended to leave them," and the query was immediately and emphatically put, "When ?" which took such a hold upon my mind that I halted and reflected, upon which I perceived that the more I indulged the stronger my chains would become, and the less my strength to overcome, and I replied "now !" and turned about and went home, since which time I have never engaged in such pursuits. I ascribe this victory to the care of Israel's unslumbering shepherd.

Oh you young men and women, who have health, ambition and energy of spirit, and above all, talents committed to your care for right improvement, let me entreat you not to indulge in any course of conduct which will bring to the hearts of your parents one unnecessary pang; obey them in the Lord, for this is their due; and you will find more in this obedience than may appear to a superficial view, for as you are truly submissive to them a way will be opening for your submission to Him upon whom depends all your happiness both now and forever.

The season of youth is that period of human life in which proper discipline or restraint should be laid upon everything that gives evidence of putting forth an improper, hurtful or unprofitable growth. This will be attended with some crosses to your first or corrupted nature, but by carefully looking at them by the light which truth gives, you will see that the cross forbids nothing but those things which would injure you if practiced. Such discipline is necessary to keep all our powers under due restraint; hence, a proper guard upon our passions, or, in other words, taking up the cross against our improper, not to say impure, desires, is indispensable for our good. And if the season of youth has been rightly cultivated and improved, we are fitted to discharge with propriety and usefulness all the successive responsibilities of life; and a life thus improved cannot fail to be satisfactory to ourselves and beneficial to others, and prepares us for a glorious immortality.

About this period, having become convinced of a deep-felt concern to appear in the ministry of the gospel of truth in the religious gathering of Friends, the way seemed open to Friends to recommend me in the ministry, which proposition was sent down from Farmington Quarterly Meeting of Ministers and Elders to Farmington Monthly Meeting, by which it was confirmed Eleventh month 22d, 1849.

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