The bronze equestrian statue in front of Mead Hall depicts Bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), who was the first episcopal leader of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. It celebrates the role and mission of Asbury in the itinerant preaching tradition that was central to early American Methodism. The statue was donated by William S. Pilling, a trustee of the school, in memory of his brother, Edward S. Pilling, Drew class of 1885. The statue was dedicated in 1926. At the dedication, President Ezra Squier Tipple said that the statue's "first mission was to give students faith, zeal, and devotion."
For many years, the statue was a focus of student Pranks, including anatomically-applied paint and fake scatological deposits near the horse's hindquarters, but no such japes have been reported recently.
Asbury at Drew?
Francis Asbury died in 1816, long before the founding of Drew. However, Frank Mason North traced how Asbury's travels would have brought him past the place where his statue now stands:
"Thrice Asbury passed over the wooded terrain of which the forest was part. What concerns us now is on what roads his horse's hoof-beats were heard on those three journeys. He had not been stopping at Madison or Bottle Hill. No Methodist society was organized there until 1828 but did he, in passing by, look upon the land which became the site of Drew Seminary? We believe he did." Then Doctor North traces journey (a) in August 1784, journey (b), August 1796, and journey (c), May, 1811. Here he starts from Germantown, Pennsylvania. "Henry Boehm is with him. He halts and preaches at places he had visited sixteen years before." We quote the record: 'Thursday the sixteenth we had a heavy ride to Father Laursnats and such another to Morristown, and a third to Turkey Hills, where I preached. I have met the societies generally.' . . . . Turkey Hillls had changed its name to New Providence, but the old name lingered in the terse notes of the Journal.To New Providence, Asbury forced his way on the hard ride in three stretches . . . The Morris Turnpike had been finished seven years before, providing a practically straight stretch from Passaic Bridge in Chatham to the point where Elm Street joins the main thoroughfare now called Madison Avenue. Thus it brought him on his third stretch to the very spot where the gates were to spring open for the host of itinerants who where reverence him and count him their leader, gates through which the two itinerants-- the horse and his rider-- were throughout the decades to look out at the world..."
(from an article by Frank Mason North in the Drew Gateway, January 1935, as condensed in The Building of Drew University, Charles Fremont Sitterly, 1938.)
Cunningham, John. The University in the Forest: The Story of Drew University. (Afton Publishing, 1990)
Sitterly, Charles Fremont. The Building of Drew University. (Madison: Drew University, 1938)