John Wesley’s American Parish

John Wesley’s American Parish

Heritage Landmark in Savannah, GA

Savannah was a planned city, founded in 1733 by philanthropist and reformer General James Oglethorpe and laid out according to his design. In 1735, Oglethorpe invited John Wesley to come to Georgia as the colony’s chaplain. Wesley sailed for Georgia on October 14, 1735, along with his brother Charles, who was to serve as Oglethorpe’s private secretary.

Others in the party included Benjamin Ingham and Charles Delamotte, members with the Wesleys of “The Holy Club” at Oxford. The faith of a group of Moravian Christians on board the Simmonds with the Wesleys made a deep impression on John.

On February 6, 1736, the ship’s passengers set foot on Peeper (now Cockspur) Island, and John Wesley led them in a prayer of thanksgiving. (A monument now marks the spot.) Exactly a month later, on March 7, he preached his first sermon in a hut in Savannah†that served as both a courthouse and a place of worship.

The next two years were very difficult ones for the Wesley brothers. Charles was not temperamentally suited to be Oglethorpe’s secretary. He also was not suited to be the parish priest to the new settlement at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, about seventy-five miles south of Savannah. He ran into trouble with the colonists, had bouts of illness, and became so disheartened that he returned to England in August, just six months after their arrival.

John faced his own problems. He, too, was at times unpopular with the colonists, and a disastrous love affair with Sophy Hopkey only made his situation worse. Continued contact with the Moravians led him to question the state of his soul, and he failed to realize his hopes of a mission to the American Indians in Georgia. He wrote in his journal, “I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?”

John Wesley sailed for England on December 2, 1737, discouraged and uncertain about his future. He later said that he was only “beating the air” during his time in Georgia.

However, the time was not wasted. The questions that drove him from Georgia brought him “very unwillingly” to a meeting in Aldersgate Street in May, 1738, where he had his famous “heart-warming” experience. One could say that his months in Georgia were an important apprenticeship for the work that would be his for the next fifty years.

Taken with permission from Heritage Landmarks: A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Sacred Places in The United Methodist Church, by the General Commission on Archives and History. For more information, see http://www.gcah.org/research/travelers-guide/john-wesleys-american-parish