circuit rider, itinerant preacher of the Methodist denomination who served a "circuit" consisting usually of 20 to 40 "appointments." The circuit system, devised by John Wesley for his English societies in their formative period and developed in America by Francis Asbury, proved especially adapted to the conditions of the American frontier and came into its own in the trans-Allegheny region. Its success was a factor in establishing Methodism in America. The circuit rider, traveling usually on horseback because it was economical and suited to the forest pathways, preached nearly every day and twice on Sundays, thus covering his circuit every four or five weeks. His appointments were usually in pioneer cabins, schoolhouses, or tavern barrooms. The circuit rider often had a limited education, but he was usually an effective preacher and lived a very self-sacrificing life.
See E. K. Nottingham, Methodism and the Frontier (1941, repr. 1966); W. W. Sweet, The Methodists, 1783–1840 (1946, repr. 1964).