Category Archives: Early U.S. Methodist History

Reading Baker’s From Wesley to Asbury

Amazon had a copy of From Wesley to Asbury by Frank Baker that I just received. Baker starts out talking about John and Charles Wesley serving as missionaries in Georgia. Baker says, “Georgia meant much to the Wesleys and the Wesleys to Georgia.” Baker argues that the ministry they began there expanded on their work in the Holy Club at Oxford and led to their work with small groups in societies, preaching in informal locations, hymn-singing, extempore prayer, use of laymen and women, working for social causes and connections with Moravians that greatly impacted their work in England. He also argues that the seeds planted by the Wesleys in Savannah, nurtured further by Holy Club member George Whitefield laid groundwork for future Methodist successes.

Baker seeks to provide a timeline of early Methodism.

I think that we can claim that Methodism as a movement began with the Wesleys in 1736 and as a church in 1784. Methodist societies of a kind existed from 1736 and remained a feature of the movement.

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It seems to me that although the birth of the Methodism movement in American must be dated in 1736, the conscious formation of groups of converted and converting Christians into Methodist societies looking to John Wesley as their exemplar and leader began in 1766.

Baker notes that:

in 1729, Methodist movement begins with Wesleys and Holy Club at Oxford

in 1736 Wesleys arrived in Georgia

in 1739, Methodist society begins with Wesleys organizing societies in Bristol and London

in 1766  Methodist society meetings were being held by Robert Strawbridge in Maryland and Philip Embury in New York.

in 1784, Methodist Church begins when annual conference of Methodist Church legally incorporated

Future chapters focus on Thomas Webb, Franics Asbury and Thomas Coke.

From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American Methodism

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Candler’s Pitt Library offers exhibit on Asbury and Coke

Pitt Library at the Candler School of Theology has an exhibit on the first Methodist Bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke. John Wesley sent Asbury to America in 1771 and Coke in 1784.The online exhibit includes a number of important documents including a copy of the John Wesley’s Declaration and establishment of the conference of the people called Methodists, the sermon where Asbury was first referred to as bishop and Asbury’s journal.

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United Methodist Historic Landmark Sites in North Carolina

There are two United Methodist Historic Landmark Sites in North Carolina: Whitaker’s Chapel near Enfield and Green Hill House in Louisburg.

Whitaker’s Chapel is north of Rocky Mount and east of I-95, about 1.5 hours from Raleigh.

Richard Whitaker built the chapel on his property in 1740. Francis Asbury preached at Whitaker’s Chapel at least three times, in 1786, 1789, and 1804.

On December 19, 1828, 14 preachers and 12 laymen met at Whitaker’s Chapel and organized what became the North Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.

The original chapel was built of logs; at some point it was torn down and replaced with a frame building. In 1850 that structure was moved 500 yards from the site and a new church was erected in its place. The 1850 building was moved across the road to its current location in 1880.

Green Hill House is in Louisburg, just off U.S. 401 and NC 39, about 45 minutes from Raleigh.

Major Green Hill enlisted in the Continental Army as a chaplain in 1781. Major Hill became a Methodist around the age of thirty. He became a local preacher, probably the first native of North Carolina to serve in that capacity.

The Hill home in Louisburg was familiar to Methodist preachers traveling the circuit, including Francis Asbury. It was a large house, built for a family of eight children. Following the Christmas Conference in December 1784, the Green Hill House was chosen to host the first meeting of an annual conference of the brand-new Methodist Episcopal Church.

From April 20 to 24, 1785, twenty preachers from 31 circuits in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina met in the attic, a large room covering the whole upper floor of the house. Mrs. Hill and her family fed the preachers, who slept on the attic floor and in tents on the lawn.

Bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke guided the proceedings. Asbury recorded in his diary that the conference met “in great peace,” and Coke wrote that “we had a comfortable time together.”

The house is the original structure and is a private home. It was renovated in 1988, and the second floor has deliberately been kept much like it was at the time of the 1785 conference.

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The Wesleys travel to Savannah, Georgia

John and Charles Wesley left Oxford to serve as leaders of the church in the new British colony of Georgia.

The brothers embarked on the Simmonds in October 1735 and headed for the New World.  They were joined by fellow Holy Club members Benjamin Ingham and Charles Delamotte.  The voyage across the Atlantic contributed an important lesson to John Wesley’s life.  Though the ship hit rough seas that greatly frightened Wesley, the 25 Moravian Germans on board were calm and peaceful throughout.  That inner peace would be something Wesley would seek and find upon his return to England.

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John Wesley arrived in Savannah in 1736.  He immediately began his avowed tasks of teaching and preaching. His brother, Charles, went south to Frederica at St. Simon’s Island to minister. Disappointment and frustration hampered Wesley at almost every turn. Oglethorpe denied his plea to minister to the local Native Americans. His efforts to help his brother at Frederica failed.

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Wesley held regular services in Savannah and a sort of Bible study group on Sunday afternoons, a feature he would later use in England with great effect.

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Some Moravian colonists had an influential effect on Wesley, and later he closely associated himself with Moravians in London.

Wesley said of his travels to America:

I went to America, to convert the Indians; but Oh, who shall convert me Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, when no danger is near. But let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, “To die is gain.”

John Wesley left Georgia and returned to England in December 1737. Charles had returned earlier.

You will find interesting content about Wesley and his time in Georgia at the following links.

John Wesley’s Time in Georgia | Wesley – New Georgia Encyclopedia | Wesley – William Carey University | John Wesley’s big impact on America – Christianity.com | Georgia Missionary Experience – Wesley Center Online

Today Savannah has a number of Methodist congregations. Trinity United Methodist Church was the first Methodist church in the city. Another congregation is at the Wesley Monumental Church.

In 1976, the United Methodist Church declared the site of their founder’s American ministry a National Historic Landmark.

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