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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
John even studied Spanish so he could converse with a few Spanish Jews. He later worked special services for the Italian and French into the schedule, and from the beginning he conducted prayer services in two neighboring settlements on Saturdays in French and German. He and Delamotte also established day schools. When some of the boys who wore shoes and stockings laughed at the ones who had to go barefoot, John went barefoot himself until he had “cured the lads of their vanity.”
In Frederica, Charles “held constant services, calling his tired, sweating parishioners to assembly by beat of drum.”
John Wesley expected all in his parish—saints and sinners—to adjust to his schedule. He had either forgotten or he ignored the advice Dr. Burton had given him before he left Oxford: to “consider the settlers as babes in their progress, and feed them with milk.” Instead, as one of his contemporaries put it, he “drenched his parishioners with the physic of an intolerant discipline.” He refused Church burial to those who had not received Anglican baptism; and he refused communion to all who had not been baptized by an ordained Episcopalian minister—and that included a pastor, J. M. Bolzius, who was the leader of an industrious community of Salzburg Lutherans, and one of the most devout and respected Christians in Georgia. “Can anyone carry High Church zeal higher than that?” John asked ruefully years later. “And how well have I been beaten with mine own staff!”
Pat Tailfer, one of the colonial malcontents at Savannah, wrote of Wesley’s “new kind of religious Tyranny,” saying that “Mr. John Wesley, receiv’d by us as a Clergyman of the Church of England soon discovered that his Aim was to enslave our Minds, as a necessary Preparative for enslaving our Bodies. The Attendances upon Prayers, Meetings, and Sermons inculcated by him, so frequently, and at improper Hours, inconsistent with necessary Labour, especially in an infant Colony… tended to propagate a Spirit of Indolence and of Hypocrisy … it being easier by an effected Shew of Religion and Adherence to Mr. Wesley’s Novelties, to be provided by his Procurement from the publick Stores. … Nor could the Reverend Gentleman conceal the Design he was so full of, Having frequently declar’d, That he never desired to see Georgia a Rich, but a Religious, Colony.”
Charles Wesley faced even more resentment in Frederica than his brother did in Savannah. He “held constant services, calling his tired, sweating parishioners to assembly by beat of drum.” The settlers complained that he meddled in everyone’s business and kept the village “in a state of confusion.” He got so involved in petty jealousies among the female colonists that they finally banded together in hatred of him.
Oglethorpe had ordered that there be no shooting on Sundays, but the first Sunday he was away from Frederica, Dr. Hawkins, who regarded himself “above petty regulations,” fired off a gun in the middle of Charles’s best sermon. The constable put the doctor in jail for the rest of the day—at the preacher’s urging, the constable said later. That afternoon a woman miscarried, which, everyone agreed, would not have happened if the doctor had been available. The furious colonists threatened Charles’s life, scaring him “into a frenzy.” Oglethorpe, already displeased by Charles’s poor performance as a secretary, heard about the prison episode on his return to Frederica, and “flailed the little priest with harsh words for his blind zeal. ” Charles wrote in his diary after a funeral service that he “envied the corpse his quiet grave.”
But it was Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Welch who finally brought about Charles Wesley’s downfall. They “confessed” to him that they both had committed adultery with Oglethorpe, then told the governor that the “gossipy reverend” had made up the tale and was spreading it. They further confided to Oglethrope that Mrs. Welch had been intimate with the priest—at his insistence, of course. That was not hard for Oglethorpe to believe: Charles was known to have stayed frequently until midnight with Mrs. Welch. He said that the time was spent simply praying, reading, and talking—which undoubtedly was true—but many colonists preferred to believe that his attentions had gone beyond pastoral duties. Frederica seethed with confusion and malice.
Charles found himself suddenly out of favor with Oglethorpe, with whom he resided. The governor gave orders that his secretary was not to have use of anything in his house, leaving Charles without even a bed to sleep on. The servant who had washed his linen now sent it back dirty. When he asked to borrow one of Oglethorpe’s teakettles, he was told there would be “no issue” for him. He wrote in his diary, “I was enabled to pray earnestly for my enemies, particularly Mr. Oglethorpe, whom I now look upon as the chief of them.” Bewildered, crushed, sick in body as well as mind, he lay on the dirt floor in the corner of a shack belonging to one of very few friendly colonists, rising only to hold Anglican services for a congregation numbering three. Fearing he was going to die, either from sickness or violence—a bullet had barely missed him—he wrote a long letter to John detailing the whole situation and induced Ingham to take it to Savannah.