On this cold, January Monday morning in the state of Delaware, Francis wrestles his emotions. Stuck in the midst of his quiet season- what he calls his “dumb silent Sabbaths,” the waterfront state continues to trouble the itinerant with the British accent. The local colonials fail to accept Francis, suspecting his travels are in some way benefiting the British army.
For a time, Francis hides in a Delaware swamp. For the next twelve months, he stays outdoors, gaining a roof to sleep under whenever possible. After diverting to the south for a period, he returns to Delaware, informed by the Delaware governor, Caesar Rodney, that the colonials are beginning to see that he is not a British spy. Rodney shares that colonial forces intercepted one of Asbury’s letters to Thomas Rankin. Reading the letter which clearly displayed Asbury’s loyalty to the colonial effort, opened the door to this new opinion of the British itinerant.
During the end of his recent trip to North Carolina, his horse began to tire. The thinning animal no longer could bear the arduous traveling that Francis required. Several of his preachers decided to act on his behalf when hearing of the issue.
One month later, November 1781, at the quarterly meeting for Kent in Maryland, the 12 preachers present, give Francis a gift. It is a new horse. The stocky quarter-horse is nearly 17 hands high, a big animal, broad-chested and full of life. From the time Francis first rides the creature, it is evident to him that this is a sturdy animal. On the Monday morning in January mentioned above, Francis finds out more about his new traveling partner.
Fox, as the men who gave him to Asbury call him, is not only a strong horse, he is uncommonly fast. At times, Fox’s burst of energy would interrupt Francis’s regiment of reading and prayer while riding on horseback. Francis would begrudgingly stop what he is doing and calm the horse. On the 22nd of January, Fox once again displays his unusual talents of strength and speed.
Approaching a clay-covered, open field, the horse, by its own decision, takes off to full speed. It is difficult, but Francis hangs on. In the distance, Francis can see a thick line of trees, fortunately, there is plenty of time for stopping, or so Francis thinks.
Quickly approaching the end of the open field, Asbury begins to panic. He frantically pulls back on the reins. His sweaty hands unsuccessful; he assumes the worst, that he may lose his life.
The horse continues to launch, now within ten yards of the fatal tree line. Suddenly, the invigorated animal comes to a complete stop.
Confused, Francis dismounts to take personal inventory. He is unhurt, although shaking with uncontrollable nervousness, there is no physical injury. He looks about the field; it has a peculiar marking. He grabs the reins of Fox and begins to walk the creature back in the same direction from whence he traveled.
Francis discovers markings that clearly delineate a path intended for horse racing. How did Fox know this was a track? Francis’s thought confuses himself. Determined to gain understanding, he decides to inquire of some of his ‘gift-giving’ preachers.
Through several conversations with the guilty parties, Francis discovers that the men have gifted him an ex-race horse; they thought it a certain cure for his continuous reading on horseback. Fox’s uncontrollable incident which almost kills Francis occurs at the racetrack from the horse’s past. According to his journal entry, Francis states that ‘On my way to Andrew Purdin’s, (In Delaware), I came on a race ground, where the sons of Belial had been practicing my horse; he ran away with me when he came to the end of the paths, but stopped, and I received no harm. I lifted my heart to God; and by the mercy of the Lord he stopped near a point of woods, which, had he entered, I might probably have lost my life: my heart was deeply humbled before the Lord, who preserved me from such imminent danger.”
Fox remained one of Asbury’s regular horses. Did the horse become a pivotal figure in the famous Baltimore Christmas Conference in 1784? You’ll have to read the third book of The Asbury Triptych Series, Ordination, to find out.