Peter Howell, Wild Man & Eccentric Minister by “Divine Permission”

Indeed, Madonna Montran’s vaudeville career is very interesting to follow. In my wife’s family tree, Peter M. Howell is probably the most interesting of her direct ancestors. Peter was a “Wandering Missionary” who preached throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He walked everywhere. Much of his preaching was documented in the 1848 book, The Life and Travels of Peter Howell by Peter Howell.

I’ve not known much about Peter’s life after his book. I’ve found him in the 1850 Census, but I have not found him in the 1860 Census. Nor had I found a death record for him. I suspected that he died sometime in the 1850s. I know that a lack of evidence doesn’t provide evidence of a fact, but it is hard not to have a suspicion. Sure enough, I was researching in via Newspapers.Com and found newspaper articles about Peter long after his book including one from March 1869, which provides clear evidence he was still preaching.[i]

From the Wilmington Post, Wilmington, North Carolina 11 March 1869, Page 1, Column 1.
Wilmington Post (Wilmington, N.C.) 11 March 1869, Page 1. via Newspapers.Com

Peter Howell, the “Wild Man,” preached to a promiscuous congregation at the Market House, Sunday and Monday mornings and afternoons. We do not know how many converts he made.

“Promiscuous” must have had a different meaning then than it does now because if he was able to assemble a “promiscuous congregation” by today’s meaning, I’d really be impressed.

The Daily Journal from the Saturday before indicated that Peter was staying at the Fulton House in Wilmington.

Next, an article in the Greensboro Times, 29 May 1856[ii] said:

PETER HOWELL—This eccentric minister of the gospel, is we learn, preaching at Lexington S. C. with much success. He still travels on foot, and preaches in Churches, private houses, in the open air, and every where, as opportunity presents itself.

Finally, there was also an ad for his preaching in Cary, North Carolina on 1 March 1857[iii] which advertises:

BY DIVINE PERMISSION, PETER HOWELL Wandering Missionary, will preach at Macedonia, Wake County, on next Sunday, 1st of March,—two discourses, one at 11 and one at 3 o’clock

I have known that Peter talked to God often, but I didn’t know that God gave permission to him to preach.

I learned that Peter M. Howell was alive in 1869 and that he preached at the following venues:

  • 29 March 1856 – Lexington, South Carolina
  • 1 March 1857 – Macedonia (Cary), North Carolina
  • 7-8 March 1869 – Market House, Wilmington, North Carolina

He was considered eccentric and was known as the “Wild Man.” I also saw some articles indicating he was arrested for preaching in Petersburg, Virginia, but more about that another time.


ENDNOTES

[i] The Greensboro Times (Greensboro, North Carolina) · Thu, 29 May 1856 · Page 2. Via Newspapers.Com

[iii] Semi-Weekly Standard, Raleigh, North Carolina (online archive) -1857-02-25 – First Edition · Page 3 – PETER HOWELL via  Newspapers.Com

The Life and Travels of Peter Howell by Himself

This week I began research on the Howell Family Tree (my wife’s).  I had very little on her grandfather, a bit more on his father (who was in the Civil War) and very little about his father Peter Howell.

Unfortunately, or fortunately as it turned out, her grandfather, went by his initials most of the time. I knew he was a Baptist preacher in North Carolina. So I started searching Baptist records in North Carolina just searching for “Howell” and not his first name, nor his initials, just “Howell.”  Suddenly a WOW!  Up popped a book, “The Life and Travels of Peter Howell”.  My wife’s great and her 2nd great grandfathers were both named Peter Howell.  Could this be the same Peter Howell.  Found the book was at a library in Raleigh reference section.  I then searched around for the title elsewhere and found it at archive.org, which is a must site for your searches.  I downloaded the files and began to read.  It was the right one, born 1805, married to Caroline Pankey, lived in Virginia…. it was the right Peter Howell.

The first page was a bit of a disappointment, he mentions his birthdate (which we didn’t have before) but not his parent’s names.  He spent his adult life as an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town preaching in people’s homes, at court houses, at Methodist and Baptist churches, even on occasion at quaker meeting halls, masonic temples and a Catholic Church. He walked almost everywhere putting on over two thousand miles walking in one year preaching at hundreds of places.  He describes town, buildings, such as the Virginia and North Carolina State Houses, as well as places like Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.  He mentions churches,  and most importantly people throughout his travels. Sadly, he mentions very little about his personal life or his family, but the book does provide a wonderful insight into the life of a itinerate preacher of the 1840’s.

He seldom ever mentions his two daughters.  He does correct one name Lousianna (I had Laurana previously) but never mentions the name of his second son nor his second daughter. He confirmed the name of his first son and, in the book, corrects the name I had for his youngest child.  More importantly, he provides county information for his parents, marriage information for a sister, and the names and living locations for a couple brothers that I had no information about.

It took many hours to go through the book, determine genealogically interesting information, and incorporate them and the source references into my tree.  

Of course one of the greatest finds in the book was a drawing of the author, Peter Howell (b. 1805).