JOHN WESLEY & His Early Life as Told by UK Historian Richard Cavendish

By Richard Cavendish | Published in History Today Volume: 53 Issue: 6 2003

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was born on June 17th, 1703. Richard Cavendish charts his early life.

John Wesley (US Library of Congress)John Wesley (US Library of Congress)

The founder of Methodism was brought up as a staunch Anglican, but cherished the dissenting traditions on both sides of his family. His grandfather, John Wesley or Westley, was a Puritan supporter of Parliament who was expelled from his Dorset living after the restoration of Charles II. This John’s son, Samuel, was educated as a nonconformist, but when he went up to Oxford, he explored his talent for writing and his misgivings about Dissenters. Surprisingly, he considered them unduly frivolous. He became a Church of England curate in London, where he met and married Susanna Annesley, one of the twenty-five children of a prominent Puritan divine, known as ‘the St Paul of Nonconformity’. Spirited and intellectual, she too had moved away from Dissent.

In 1695 Samuel became rector of Epworth, a remote little town in the Isle of Axholme in the flat country of northern Lincolnshire, windswept under a massive sky and so isolated among rivers and marshes that quite often it could be reached only by boat. It was a centre of Dissent and the inhabitants, who have been described by one biographer as ‘morose and in-bred’, were not all enthusiastic about their rector’s Tory politics, High Churchmanship and insistence that moral backslidings on their part required public confession and public acts of atonement…

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