WILMORE, Ky. - Once Francis Asbury's foot touched ground in Philadelphia in 1771, America was never the same as Methodism spread like wildfire across the new country.

In a new historical novel, Midnight Rider for the Morning Star, author Mark Alan Leslie weaves the story of the preacher who became better recognized than even George Washington or Thomas Jefferson - so famous that letters from Europe reached him when simply addressed: "Bishop Asbury, America."

Readers can view the first chapter of the novel on line and order a copy, at www.francisasburysociety.com/midnightrider.htm.

America's first circuit-rider

Sent on a mission from legendary Methodist John Wesley in England, Asbury traveled 5,000 to 6,000 miles per year, spreading the Gospel up and down the Atlantic seaboard and 60 times across the Allegheny Mountains. As America's first horse-back circuit-rider, he was hunted by Indians, chased by highwaymen and Revolutionary War soldiers, stalked by wolves, defied deadly yellow fever in Philadelphia, and spoke out against slavery and liquor long before the anti-slavery and temperance movements.

Under Asbury's leadership, Methodism grew from 600 to well over 200,000 by the time of his death in 1816, and he became known as the "Father of American Methodism."

Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, former president of Asbury College and founder of the Francis Asbury Society, says, "Francis Asbury has been a lifelong inspiration. Midnight Rider tells his story in an exciting, exhilarating way that challenges the reader in an intense way."

While danger often lurked around the dawning of every day of Asbury's life in America, perhaps the most momentous decision he made was to remain in America during the American Revolution. Even though Wesley commanded all his preachers to return to England, Asbury remained behind, declaring that he could not leave colonists without a preacher. This left the church in high standing - both with the colonists and the new American government.

Exemplified Christ's call

"Asbury exemplified Christ's call to Believers to 'pick up your cross and follow Me,'" Leslie said from his home in Monmouth, Maine.

"In Asbury's case, truth is far greater - more dynamic, more exciting - than fiction and just as dangerous. A bullet once meant for his head went through his hat and an arrow once grazed his head. He came that close to death, and more than once," he said.

Asbury Press in Wilmore, Ky., is releasing the book in May. It will be available through bookstores nationwide. The ISBN is 978-0-915143-10-8.

This is the first published novel by Leslie, a Maine native and journalist who was drawn to Asbury's story by a grand 8-by-5-foot painting "Man on Horseback," which hangs in the United Church of Monmouth, Maine, and which serves as the cover for the book.