Lucius C. Matlack was born in Baltimore, April 28, 1816. He was converted and admitted to Union church, Philadelphia, in 1832. He was later licensed to preach and recommended to the Philadelphia Annual Conference in 1837. However, because identified with "modern abolitionism" he was rejected at that Conference, by a unanimous vote. This occurred the following year, as well. Because of his association with abolitionism his name was stricken from the Local Preachers' Association and his license to preach was withheld in 1839.
Not to be dissuaded from his calling Matlack began to preach without license and was threatened by his pastor with expulsion. In June, 1839, by invitation of Presiding Elder Kilburn, and at the request of the churches, he was made junior preacher with Orange Scott, in Lowell, Massachusetts. He united with the New England Conference in 1840, and was stationed in Holliston and Boston. With Scott and others, in 1843, he aided in organizing the "Wesleyan Methodist Connection," which later became knows as the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Afterwards he was their book agent, editor, and president of the General Conference in 1860.
In 1855 Matlack assumed the leadership of the Illinois Institute, a school begun by the Wesleyans of Northern Illinois. The economic crises of the time period and poor administrative decisions, like offering perpetual scholarships, put the school--and Matlack's leadership--in a difficult position. By 1859 Matlack was asked to resign. Matlack helped lead Jonathan Blanchard to assume the helm of the struggling school.
As the Civil War began Matlack entered the Union army as chaplain of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, he afterwards became a field-officer in the 17th Illinois Cavalry, with important commands, and when mustered out, in 1866, was colonel by brevet. In 1867 the Philadelphia Annual Conference, by unanimous vote, reversed their position of thirty years previous and admitted him to their body. He also embarked upon pastoral work in Elkton, Md., New Orleans, Wilmington, and Middletown, Delaware.