Life in Savannah

In this episode, we arrive in Georgia and follow John to Savannah and Charles to St. Simon's Island as they begin their lives in the new world.

Episode 42

Hello, I'm Wilson Pruitt, and you are listening to the History of Methodism Podcast. Today’s Episode: Life in Savannah.

John Wesley entered life in Savannah as a man without a home. He was ostensibly replacing the pastor, Samuel Quincy, but Quincy remained in the parsonage until a few weeks after the arrival of the Simmonds. This did not lead to any conflict between the former and curent preacher. Instead, it led to Wesley and his friend, Charles Delamotte, staying with some of the Moravians which they had met on the ship.

As V.H.H. Green writes,

This experience, together with their share in prayers, hymns, and worship, brought [Wesley and the Moravians] much closer together. Wesley was much impressed by their industry, their cheerfulness, and good temper. Even after Quincy left…, Wesley continued in close association with the Germans….Wesley took part in many conversations about doctrine, more especially concerning himself with the validity of the conservation of their bishops and baptism.1

Reflecting on this early days in Georgia, Wesley wrote about how his great fear in going across the Atlantic was leaving his friends behind. However, God gave him a greater gift in the whole Moravian Church.2

John’s ministry had the blessing of taking place in an already founded community and he was replacing a maligned Samuel Quincy, so his prospects were high. His work in Georgia began fruitfully, but looking back in his journal he could see the irony of the situation.

I do here bear witness against myself that when I saw the 30 number of people crowding into the church, the deep attention with which they received the Word, and the seriousness that afterwards sat on all their faces, I could scarce refrain from giving the lie to experience and reason and Scripture all together. I could hardly believe that the greater, the far greater part of this 35 attentive, serious people, would hereafter trample under foot that Word, and say all manner of evil falsely of him that spake it.3

Charles Wesley left John in Savannah and continued on with Oglethorpe as his personal secretary. Charles spent a lot of his time at Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island. One of Oglethorpe’s first projects when he arrived in Georgia with Charles was to lay out Fort Frederica. It was named after Frederick Louis, the Prince of Wales, and changed to Frederica because there was already a Fort Frederick in South Carolina.

Thus, the majority of Charles’s time was spent on this new military outpost at the mouth of the Altahama river. Disease and sickness would also mark a large portion of Charles’s time, which would lead to his early return to England later in 1736.

Charles led worship in the New World for the first time on March 9, 1736, at St. Simon’s Island, with Oglethorpe in attendance. Charles soon became embroiled in a dispute between a Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Welch, that vexed the entirety of his ministry and his relationship to Oglethorpe. Some accused Charles of spreading a rumor that Mrs. Hawkins and Oglethorpe were having an affair. Charles was also swamped with administrative duties as Oglethorpe’s secretary, especially letter writing.4

Some on the island stirred up trouble against Charles quite quickly, blaming him for all manner of things and making his work on the island a challenge.5 The letters between Charles and John from this time were written with Latin, Greek, and Shorthand, in case they were opened.

Because Fort Frederica was under construction, Charles’s living conditions were much worse than John’s. He started by sleeping in a corner of a hut or on a sea chest or a small boat. He found some boards and tried to make a bed and by April he was confined to the bed due to a fever. 6 A few days later, sicker and weaker, Oglethorpe took the bed to be used in construction and left Charles on the floor again.

John arrived on April 16th. This helped Charles’s health as well as his relationship to Oglethrope because John was able to clarify the situation with Mrs. Hawkins and Oglethorpe and the reality that Charles started no rumors.

However, by the end of April, Charles was already writing to his brother Samuel about leaving Georgia. Charles was concerned that it would be disobedient to God if he left, but Samuel encouraged him to follow his instincts and return. In June, Charles began to make plans to resign his post. Soon, John arranged a voyage back for his brother.

On July 25, 1736, Charles gave a letter of resignation to Oglethorpe. Instead of accepting it, Oglethorpe made him a courrier and gave him documents to take back to the board of trade and trustees of the colony. He also gave Charles some advice:

On many accounts I should recommend to you marriage, rather than celibacy. You are of a social temper, and would find in a married state the difficulties of working out your salvation exceedingly lessened, and your helps as much increased.7

Charles’s journey home was longer than his stay in Georgia, for he didn’t arrive until December 2.

While Charles was ministering on St. Simons Island, in this early period of his ministry, John continued the creative energy he had practiced on board the Simmonds during the journey. As V.H.H. Green writes, “With his usual energy he visited his flock, took services, learned German, Spanish (to talk to the Jews), French, studied theology, read, wrote, swam in the river (among the alligators) and played the flute. He would walk through swamps and forests, sleep on the bare ground in his damp clothes, fast as he had never fasted even at Oxford.”8

One of his projects during this time consisted of revising the common prayer book. Frederick Hunter notes that he was probably aligning the 1662 prayerbook with 1549 addition.9 As well, Geordan Hammond argues that this work was supplemented by Wesley’s study of the Apostolic Consitutions and other early church documents.10

Wesley also writes in his journal about how “Delamotte and I began to try whether life might not be as well sustained by one sort as by variety of food. We chose to make the to experiment with bread, and were never more vigorous and healthy than while we tasted nothing else."11

John and Delamotte went to Fort Frederica to visit Charles. They found Charles quite weak. Charles wrote in his diary that he had been ill with the flux, or dysentery, and couldn’t read the prayers in public. John helped his brother out.

On John’s return to Savannah, without any option to evangelize to the natives, he started organizing the church there .

John writes,

we considered in what manner we might be most useful the little flock at Savannah, And we agreed: first, to advise the s more serious among them to form themselves into a sort of little society, & and to meet once or twice a week, in order to reprove, instruct, and exhort one another; second, to select out of these a smaller number for a more intimate union with each other, which might be forwarded, partly by our conversing singly with each, 1o and partly by inviting them all together to our house; and this accordingly we determined to do every Sunday in the afternoon.12

John organized societies in both Fort Frederica and Savannah. He met with folks on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings and with a regular group on Saturday evenings before Sunday worship. John still participated in Moravian public prayer, but he would organize his meetings in a regular pattern with regular participation around both Moravian and Anglican prayer services.13 John noted the pattern in his diary from February of 1737.

Some time after the Evening Service [on Sundays], as many of my parishioners as desire it meet at my house (as they do likewise on Wednesday evening) and spend about an hour in prayer, singing, reading a practical book, and mutual exhortation. A smaller number (mostly those who desire to [take communion] the next day meet here on Saturday evening.14

A major portion of Wesley’s ministry consisted of house visits. Some of the visits he records in his journal are quite fascinating. For instance, this encounter with a Mr. Horton.

Observing much coldness in Mr. Horton’s behavior, I asked him the reason of it. He answered, 'I like nothing you do. All your sermons are satires on particular persons. Therefore I will never hear you more. And all the people are of my mind. For we won't hear ourselves abused.

Beside(s), they say they are Protestants. But as for you, they can't tell what religion you are of. They never heard of such a religion before. They don't know what to make of it. And then, your private behavior—All the quarrels that have been here since you came have been 'long of you. Indeed there is neither man nor woman in the town who minds a word you say. And so you may preach long enough; but nobody will come to hear you' He was too warm for hearing an answer. So I had nothing to do but to thank him for his openness, and walk away.15

Another conversation takes place with an unnamed colonist who had grown cynical about religion. John writes:

I had a long conversation with [him]. upon the nature of true religion. I then asked him why he did not endeavor to recommend it to all with whom he conversed. He said, 'I did so once; and for some time I thought I had done much good by it. But I afterwards found they were never the better, and I myself was the worse. Therefore now, though I always strive to be inoffensive in my conversation, I don't strive to make people religious, unless those that have a desire to be so, and are consequently willing to hear me. But I have not yet (I speak not of you or your brother) found one such person in America.'

’He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!' Mark the tendency of this accursed principle! If you will speak only to those who are 'willing to hear', see how many you will turn from the error of their ways! If therefore, striving to do good, you have done hurt, what then? So did St. Paul. So did the Lord of life. Even his word was 'the savior of death', as well as 'the saviour of life'. But shall you therefore strive no more? God forbid! Strive more humbly, more calmly, more cautiously. Do not strive as you did before—but strive, while the breath of God is in your nostrils!16

On June 30, Wesley is excited about a chance to visit some Choctaw, but Oglethorpe told him that it would be unsafe. Wesley was continually frustrated by his inability to begin a mission to the indigenous peoples.

John writes

Mr. Oglethorpe sailed for England, leaving Mr. Ingham, Mr. Delamotte, and me at Savannah, but with less prospect of preaching to the Indians than we had the first s day we set foot in America. Whenever I mentioned it, it was immediately replied, 'You can't leave Savannah without a minister? To this indeed my plain answer was, 'I know not that I am under any obligation to the contrary. I never promised to stay here one month. openly declared both before, at, and ever since my coming hither, that I neither would nor could take charge of the English any longer than till I could go among the Indians. I fit was said, 'But did not the Trustees of Georgia appoint you to be minister of Savannah? I replied, They did; but it was not done by my solicitation: it was done without either my desire or Is knowledge. Therefore I cannot conceive that appointment to lay me under any obligation of continuing there any longer than till a door is opened to the heathens. And this I expressly declared at the time I consented to accept of that appointment.' But though I had no other obligation not to leave Savannah now, yet that of love I could not break through; I could not resist the importunate request of the more serious parishioners to watch over their souls a little longer, till someone came who might supply my place.17

On July 20, Wesley meets with 5 Chickasaw, who were in Savanah at the time. He records a large chunk of their conversation. Here is a sample of the conversation Wesley wrote down and shared about his ministry in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

Q: Do you believe there is One above, who is over all things?
Paustoobee answered, We believe there are four beloved things above: the clouds, the sun, the clear sky, and he that lives in the clear sky.
Q: Do you believe there is but One that lives in the clear sky?
A: We believe there are two with him, three in all.
Q: Do you think he made the sun, and the other beloved things?
A: We cannot tell. Who hath seen?
Q: Do you think he made you?
A: We think he made all men at first.
Q: How did he make them at first?
A: Out of the ground.
Q: Do you believe he loves you?
A: I don't know. I cannot see him.
O: But has he not often saved your life?
A: He has. Many bullets have gone on this side, and many on that side, but he would not let them hurt me. And many bullets have gone into these young men, and yet they are alive.
Q: Then, can't he save you from your enemies now?
A: Yes, but we know not if he will. We have now so many enemies round about us that I think of nothing but death. And if I am to die, I shall die, and I will die like a man. But if he will have me to live, I shall live. Though I had ever so many enemies, he can destroy them all.18

John continues to minister to other colonial settlements during his time in Georgia.

In August, John visited Charleston and sought to minister to slaves among other business. He had one conversation during Sunday morning worship, though a larger evangelistic exercise was stymied by the exhaustion of his horse.

Even after Charles had gone back to England, John continued to travel to Fort Frederica. He would often ask Benjamin Ingham to stay in Savannah during Wesley’s trips so that the people there could still receive ministry.

Wesley writes of one trip to Fort Frederica:

I came thither on Saturday the 16th, and found few things better than I expected. The morning and evening prayers, which were read for a while after my leaving the place, had been long discontinued, and from that time everything grew worse and worse, not many retaining any more of the form than of the power of godliness. I was at first a little discouraged, but soon remembered the word which cannot fail: 'Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. I cried to God to arise and maintain his own cause', and after the evening prayers were ended invited a few to my house (as I did every night while I stayed in Frederica). I read to them one of the exhortations of Ephraem Syrus, the most awakening writer (I think) of all the ancients. We concluded our reading and conversation with a psalm, and, I trust, our God gave us his blessing.19

Throughout his diary of this time, Wesley records the conversations he had with various people in the colony. Often, he would take morning walks with Oglethorpe or Delamotte. He would also record morning walks with some young ladies of the colony. A name that pops up again and again is Miss Sophy, especially after August of 1736. Miss Sophy also participated in the Wednesday and Sunday meetings. What Wesley could not know at the time was that his relationship with Miss Sophy would lead not only to his leaving Georgia but to a Grand Jury indictment and arrest and trial. Who was Sophy Hopkins? What is her story? And how did she change the direction of Methodist History? Next time on the History of Methodism.

  1. V.H.H. Green, 43. ↩︎
  2. WW 18:152 ↩︎
  3. WW 18:153. ↩︎
  4. Tyson, 31. ↩︎
  5. Tyson, 32. ↩︎
  6. Tyson, 35. ↩︎
  7. Tyson, 36. ↩︎
  8. Green, 47. ↩︎
  9. Hunter, 58. Cited in Hammond, 109. ↩︎
  10. Hammond, 109. ↩︎
  11. WW 18:155. ↩︎
  12. WW 18:157. ↩︎
  13. Heitzenrater, 66. ↩︎
  14. WW 18:476. ↩︎
  15. WW 18: 161-162. ↩︎
  16. WW 18: 162. ↩︎
  17. WW 18:173. ↩︎
  18. WW 18:166. ↩︎
  19. WW 18:172. ↩︎


V.H.H. Green, John Wesley (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987).

Geordan Hammond, John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity (Oxford: OUP, 2014).

Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995).