- Historic Sites
God, Man, Woman, And The Wesleys
In early Georgia, the founders of Methodism got off to a terrible start
April/May 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 3
Oglethorpe did not interfere with the Wesleys’ “methods of salvation”—except when John dared to reprove him for “talking too much to the women.” The handsome, gallant soldier at first took the admonition good-naturedly—and continued his attentions to certain of the ladies aboard. But when John rebuked him again, Oglethorpe told him in no uncertain terms to confine his shipboard efforts to the colonists. The preacher noted in his diary that he had begun most earnestly praying for the founder of Georgia.
To the Wesley brothers, one experience of the voyage stood out as the most wonderful. They were very frightened during the storms at sea, and their fear puzzled them. John, after being terrified when a wave rolled over part of the ship and nearly drowned him, asked himself, “How is it that thou hast no faith, being still afraid to die?” A few days later the ships were caught in a hurricane. While the English screamed and whimpered in terror, the Moravians calmly sang songs of praise. When the gale died down, John exclaimed to one of them, “Were you not afraid, and were your women and children not afraid?” “I thank God, no,” came the answer. “None among us is afraid to die.” John talked at length to the English passengers of the “Germans’ calm born of great faith.” That night he wrote wistfully in his diary of discovering people who had overcome fear.
The Wesleys, bachelors who had had no experience with women of questionable character, felt they had a duty to save the souls of several “women of the world” aboard the Simmonds . John concentrated his efforts on Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Welch. Lively, daring, young Mrs. Hawkins was the wife of the doctor being sent to the colony; she had such a shady reputation that the lenient Georgia trustees had almost rejected the couple as colonists, finally accepting them only because of the need for a doctor. Mrs. Welch, a friend of Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins, was crude in speech and manner; she was pregnant, sick, and quarrelsome.
The two women eased the boredom of the voyage by pretending John Wesley was leading them from their sinful paths. His diary, page after page, tells of his progress in saving their souls. Mrs. Hawkins in particular put on a good show: she wept aloud and proclaimed that she knew, from her “close conversations” with John Wesley, that God had sent him to her.
Ingham and Delamotte recognized that the women were playing an ugly game; they knew from experience that Mrs. Hawkins was actually flirting with John Wesley. Charles, too, soon caught on, but none of them could convince John that his two penitents were actually amusing themselves at his expense. He was surprised when the women, resentful because he had remained blind to their charms, became hostile toward the end of the voyage. They had several times fought over the preacher during the journey; now they resolved together to have revenge upon the “holy Wesleys” once Georgia was reached.
On February 6, 1736, the travelers arrived at Savannah, a village of some two hundred houses and over five hundred inhabitants. Oglethorpe, the Wesleys, and the Moravians, on going ashore, gave thanks to God for a safe voyage, but not many of the other newcomers bothered. The Wesleys were very conscious of being strangers in a strange land, but they got busy with their job. When John Wesley returned to the Simmonds on an errand, he found that some of the crew and passengers who were on board waiting for temporary camps to be prepared were celebrating the end of the voyage by getting drunk—illegally so, as the statutes of the colony forbade the consumption of alcoholic beverages. He promptly staved in the casks of rum—which may have been the first incidence of the enforcement of prohibition in America.
In spite of the animosity shown him by Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Welch on the voyage, the gullible preacher did not give up. Soon after arriving in Savannah, he read to Mrs. Hawkins from The Life of God in the Soul of Man . He was disappointed because the “serious effect” it had on her “quickly vanished in light company.” The Moravian minister with whom he lodged until his parsonage was prepared counseled him to let Mrs. Hawkins alone and quietly “commend her to God,” advice that he did not heed. Charles Wesley decided to apply himself to the salvation of Mrs. Welch, whose ribald manner he attributed largely to the evil influence of Mrs. Hawkins. Mrs. Welch remained “all storm and tempest.”
After a week, Oglethorpe, Charles Wesley, Ingham, and the majority of the new colonists—four small boatfuls—including the Hawkinses and the Welches, went to Frederica, a new settlement on St. Simons Island, about one hundred miles south of Savannah. John Wesley and Delamotte remained at Savannah.