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