John Stewart was born in Powhatan County Virginia to parents that were part Indian and part black. Early on, John had physical problems that plagued him his entire life. When John was just a child, his parents left him and moved to Tennessee. Later, when John was older, he tried to find his parents. As he was passing through Marietta Ohio, John was beaten and robbed of what little money he had saved to make the trip. Thoroughly discouraged, he began drinking heavily, until finally in a fit of depression he contemplated taking his own life by throwing himself into the Ohio River.
It was at this low point that he met some people that wanted to help him from the Methodist Church in Marrietta. They helped him turn his life around and he learned a trade. Things seemed to be improving for John, but then in the fall of 1814, he became so ill that everyone thought he was going to die, including John. As many people might do in similar circumstances, he prayed to God for deliverance and promised that if he lived, he would follow wherever God led him.
When John finally recovered from his illness, true to his word, he went into the fields to fast and pray. According to his testimony, he heard a woman's voice that seemed to becoming from the northwest, praising God. Her voice was joined by a man's voice saying to him: "You must declare my counsel faithfully." This experience made a strong impression on Stewart, and it convinced him that it was God's direction for him to spread the word of God and warn sinners to flee from the wrath that was coming.
After paying off all of his debts that had accumulated during his stay in Marietta, John Stewart set off towards the northwest, with nothing more than a knapsack, and a general direction to head, but no destination. He finally came to the small town of Goshen (just northeast of present day Cincinnati) where he was taken in by Rev. Mortimore. Here he remained a few days, and during his stay here he met some Delaware Indians. These indians may have told him about the plight of the Wyandots to the north. In a few days, Stewart set off to find the Wyandots.