John Wesley (1703-1791)
Wesley was born on June 17, 1703, in Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, England, to Susanna and Samuel Wesley. He received his early education from his mother and later attended Charterhouse School and Christ Church College, Oxford. He received an A.B. degree in 1724, was elected a Fellow of Lincoln College in 1726, and received an M.A. degree in 1727. Ordained deacon in 1725 and priest in 1728, he became leader of the Holy Club, whose members were called Methodists, at Oxford in 1729. Wesley became a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and, along with Charles, sailed for Georgia in 1735. There he served as the
Difficulties arising from Wesley's strict discipline with his congregation, as well as an unsuccessful love affair, led to his return to England in 1738. His experience in the colony became difficult after his relationship with Sophia Hopkey, whom he met soon after arriving in Georgia, turned sour. Hopkey was the niece of Thomas Causton, the chief magistrate known for his corrupt dealings with the Moravian settlers in colonial Georgia. Hopkey married another man after Wesley stopped courting her on the advice of some Moravian elders. Further complicating matters, Wesley refused to give her the sacrament of Holy Communion in the church, thereby marring her reputation in the colony. A warrant was issued against Wesley for defaming Hopkey in public without due cause. He was brought before a bailiff, but believing the matter to be ecclesiastical, Wesley did not acknowledge the court's power. As a result he lost his good standing with the people of Savannah, which precipitated his return to England.
Methodism arrived in America in the 1760s, and in 1784 Wesley ordained Thomas Coke superintendent of America. He instructed Coke to travel to America and ordain Francis Asbury superintendent as well. Although Wesley and his brother Charles wanted the Methodist movement to remain within the Church of England, the two eventually separated into distinct denominations.
At Wesley's death, on March 2, 1791, Methodism had grown to 294 preachers and 71,668 members in Great Britain, 19 missionaries and 5,300 members on mission stations, and 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America. He died at his home in London and is buried in the City Road Chapel cemetery.
V. H. H. Green, The Young Mr. Wesley: A Study of John Wesley and Oxford (London: Edward Arnold, 1961).
Harry D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism, 2d ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Samuel J. Rogal, John and Charles Wesley (Boston: Twayne, 1983).
John Telford, The Life of John Wesley (New York: Eaton and Maine, ).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Frederick V. Mills Sr., LaGrange College
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