John Wesley’s Preachers
Wesley's Preachers, 1740-1791
Compiled and Edited by John H. Lenton This list of Travelling Preachers who entered the ministry in Wesley's lifetime is now published for the first time. It is based on a list of 677 persons prepared by the late Dr. Frank Baker. More details about the criteria for selection and the database fields can be found in my "My Sons in the Gospel," published by the Wesley Historical Society as the WHS lecture for 2000 and available from the author at £3 plus postage. Only 10 of the 100 fields are shown, two being for the names. 800 names appear below, a total which includes some who are very doubtful, especially in the early years.
The first column, after the two columns for names, is that of "Date of Birth." This is often only known approximately. It is shown in the American way; when day and month are known, i.e., month/day/year. The next column is the date of entry. This is often doubtful for those who entered before 1765. Even after 1765 the date is sometimes different from that traditionally used which was based on acceptance by Conference. Wesley frequently asked men to become itinerant preachers during the Connexional year. Conference only caught up when it met.
The next column is "Date Left." This is for the 52% who left the ministry, a much higher percentage in Wesley's day, though lower than those who "located" in the American ministry in the 18th century (see Edwin Schell's article on, "Travelling Preachers in America 1773-1799," in Methodist History XXXVIII (July 2000): 307 ff. The next column is "Date of Death." For most of those who left, this date is not known. Comparing the last two columns shows that few of those who left, did so in the 19th century, while among the deaths a large number survived to that century.
Then comes "Age at Death." As with Schell's group of 819, the range of age at death is wide-ranging from Andrew Coleman, who died at 18, to Joseph Sutcliffe and Thomas Ridgeway dying at 94. Only ten are known to have died under age 30. The average age of death known is over 65 and we have ten who made 90 or more. It should be admitted that most of these are late entrants and those who stayed in the work. Of the ten 90-year olds, seven entered in the 1780s and two in the 1770s. The "Early Methodist Preachers" had a tougher time. In addition there are many for whom we don't know the age, but who are described as "considerably advanced in age" like Livermore.
At a time when expectation of life at birth was around 36 (John Rule, Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815 (London, 1992), p. 9) for the 27-year olds and others who became traveling preachers, the average of over 65 represents a considerable improvement. Schell suggests many reasons for this in America: "hard, active, alcohol-free lifestyles, loving support from spouses and families, and a vibrant religious faith." Examining how far this applies in Britain is interesting. The hard, active lifestyle applied into the 19th century, though already by 1800 many circuits had become easier with regular country walks and a return to the preacher's home each night. Even before, there was little in Britain to compare with the harshness of the American frontier. On the other hand, "damp beds " are blamed for many deaths and more withdrawals from the work.
"Alcohol free life styles" is not true of 18th century or even early 19th century Britain. Wesley drank alcohol, if abstemiously, and so did his preachers, for there was little else safe to drink. Certainly "spirituous liquors" were forbidden (e.g., Large Minutes, 1780), as were drams (1765). Tea was still difficult to get in the country areas and water was disease ridden. It was only after Edwin Chadwick's development of safe state-provided water in the towns in the next century that temperance could come to mean not drinking alcohol. Often preachers stayed in inns. Not all were like the Christopher Inn at Bath, where the Methodist owner, who entertained Wesley among others, shut the inn on Sundays (Leslie F. Church, More About The Early Methodist People (London, 1949), p. 10). At least one preacher was a landlord; Benjamin Pearce who kept the Cross Keys in Bradford on Avon, where class meetings were held in the little white washed room behind the bar. Most preachers were abstemious and doubtless their health benefited from this, but their lives were certainly not alcohol free. Loving support from spouses and families was true in Britain where a higher proportion were married. Vibrant religious faith certainly was a reason. The help they received from local Methodists who gave them their last food when they were hungry was also important. Probably most important was the determination to make what they had last. Many preachers' wives, having too little food, made their husbands eat what there was, denying themselves, to eke out the allowance to the next quarter day. Most preachers until Wesley's death were still looked after by individuals for most of the time as they traveled their rounds. So in 1788 the Minute of Conference read, "many of our Preachers have been obliged to go from the house of one friend to another for all their meals."
The next column says whether they left or died in the work, l=left, d=died. The last two columns deal with "Place of Birth" and county, the county codes being explained below. Of the 471 whose place of birth is established, nearly 70% came from England, 20% from Ireland, and less than 4% from each of Scotland and Wales. Within Ireland the largest percentage came from Tyrone, especially the Castlederg area in West Tyrone. Compared to membership, the figures for preachers coming from the Celtic fringe is higher than would be expected. In England the largest percentages came from Cornwall and the north and in the north from the West Riding of Yorkshire. The success in the West Riding can be largely attributed to the labors of the stonemason John Nelson of Birstall and the Reverend William Grimshaw of Haworth.
As with Schell's list, I am still working on the database and would appreciate help. Anyone with information on any of the 800 or wanting to know more about any of them, including possible descendants, please contact me. The easiest way is my email address email@example.com. My telephone is 044 (from the US) 1952 251792. From Great Britain it is 01952 251792. Mail address is Mr. J. H. Lenton, WHS Librarian Wesley Centre, Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes University, Harcourt Hill Campus OX2 9AT, UK.
Alphabetical Listing of Preachers in Adobe Acrobat pdf format: