Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Why the Rev. John Wesley Departed from Savannah
By Charles Colcock Jones, Jr. (18311893)
[Born in Savannah, Ga., 1831. Died near Augusta, Ga., 1893. The History of Georgia. 1883.]
MR. WESLEY enjoyed wonderful health. His constitution seemed to improve under hardships and labors which would have impaired the stoutest physical powers. Of the three hundred acres set apart in Savannah for glebe land he cut off what he deemed sufficient for a good garden, and there he frequently worked with his own hands. He ate moderately, slept little, and left not a moment of his time unemployed. To the changing seasons, and in all kinds of weather, he exposed himself with the utmost indifference. His journeys into South Carolina were sometimes performed on foot, and with no shelter at night save the friendly boughs of a tree. His energy, resolution, self-denial, and endurance were at times conspicuous.
The circumstances which brought the usefulness and services of Mr. Wesley as a clergyman in Savannah to an abrupt and a notorious conclusion may be thus briefly narrated. With Mr. Causton, the chief bailiff and keeper of the public stores, and with the members of his family, the missionary associated on friendly terms. Miss Sophia Hopkins, a niece of Mrs. Causton, and a young woman of uncommon personal and intellectual charms, had been his pupil. He gave her French lessons. Under his religious ministrations she became a professed convert and united herself with the church. It would appear that this constant association with a pretty, fascinating maiden eventually excited tender emotions in the breast of the youthful and susceptible ecclesiastic. He was evidently on the eve of declaring his affection when his friend, Mr. Delamotte, excited his apprehensions by expressing doubts in regard to the sincerity of Miss Hopkinss religious convictions. He also cautioned him against cherishing or avowing too fond an attachment for her. Taking counsel of the Moravian elders, they too advised him not to contemplate a matrimonial alliance with her. Thus admonished, Mr. Wesley became more guarded in his conduct and more reserved in his intercourse. Perceiving the change in his deportment, Miss Hopkins was piqued, mortified, and angered. Something closely resembling a rupture ensued; and, not long afterwards, this charming and coquettish young lady gave her hand to a Mr. Williamson.
A few months subsequent to her marriage Mr. Wesley observed some things which he thought reproveable in her behavior. He mentioned them to her. At this, writes that clergyman in his Journal, she appeared extremely angry and said she did not expect such usage from me. The next day Mrs. Causton made excuses for her niece, and expressed much regret at what had transpired.
Having, after the lapse of a few weeks, repelled Mrs. Williamson from the Holy Communion, Mr. Wesley was arrested under the following warrant issued by the recorder:
GEORGIA. SAVANNAH, S. S.
To all Constables, Tythingmen, and others whom these may concern:
You and each of you are hereby required to take the body of John Wesley, Clerk: and bring him before one of the Bailiffs of the said Town to answer the complaint of William Williamson and Sophia his wife, for defaming the said Sophia, and refusing to administer to her the Sacrament of the Lords Supper in a publick Congregation without cause, by which the said William Williamson is damaged One Thousand Pounds Sterling. And for so doing this is your Warrant, certifying what you are to do in the premises.
Given under my hand and seal the 8th day of Aug: Anno. Dom: 1737.
By Jones, the constable, he was carried before the recorder and bailiff Parker. Williamson was there. To the charge that he had defamed his wife, Mr. Wesley entered a prompt and emphatic denial. As to the other allegation, he answered that the giving or refusing the Lords Supper being a matter purely ecclesiastical, he would not acknowledge any power in the magistrate to interrogate him in regard to it. Mr. Parker informed him that he must appear before the next court to be holden for Savannah. Mr. Williamson then said, Gentlemen, I desire Mr. Wesley may give bail for his appearance. But Mr. Parker immediately refused the application, with the remark, Sir, Mr. Wesleys word is sufficient.
Causton required that the reasons which induced Mr. Wesley to repel Mrs. Williamson from the Holy Communion should be assigned in open court. To this demand the clergyman declined to accede. On the second day after the arrest Mr. Causton visited Mr. Wesley at his house, and after some sharp words said, Make an end of this matter. Thou hadst best. My Niece to be used thus! I have drawn the sword and I will never sheathe it till I have satisfaction. Soon after, so runs Mr. Wesleys diary, he added, Give the reasons of your repelling her before the whole congregation. I answered, Sir, if you insist upon it I will, and so you may be pleased to tell her. He said, Write to her and tell her so yourself. I said, I will, and after he went I wrote as follows:
TO MRS. SOPHIA WILLIAMSON:
At Mr. Caustons request I write once more. The Rules whereby I proceed are these:
So many as intend to be Partakers of the Holy Communion shall signify their names to the Curate at least some time the day before. This you did not do.
And if any of these have done any wrong to his Neighbors, by word or deed, so that the Congregation be thereby offended, the Curate shall advertise him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lords Table until he hath openly declared himself to have truly repented. If you offer yourself at the Lords Table on Sunday, I will advertise you (as I have done more than once) wherein you have done wrong. And when you have openly declared yourself to have truly repented, I will administer to you the Mysteries of God.
Mr. Delamotte carrying this, Mr. Causton remarked, among other warm sayings, I am the person that am injured. The affront is offered to me, and I will espouse the cause of my Niece. I am ill-used, and I will have satisfaction if it is to be had in the world.
Which way this satisfaction was to be had, I did not yet conceive. But on Friday and Saturday it began to appear; Mr. Causton declaring to many persons that Mr. Wesley had repelled Sophy from the Holy Communion purely out of revenge, because he had made proposals of marriage to her which she rejected and married Mr. Williamson.
Having thoroughly espoused the cause of his niece, Mr. Causton set about stirring up the public mind and endeavored to create a general sentiment adverse to Mr. Wesley. He even busied himself with the selection of jurors whose sympathies were in unison with his own. Persuaded by him, Mrs. Williamson made an affidavit, full of insinuations, in which she asserted that Mr. Wesley had many times proposed marriage to her, all which proposals she had rejected.
When the grand jury was impanelled, it was manifest that Causton had much to do with its composition. Forty-four members were present, and among them Wesley noted one Frenchman, who did not understand the English language, a Papist, a professed infidel, three Baptists, sixteen or seventeen Dissenters, and several persons who had quarrelled with him and openly vowed revenge.
The court being organized on Monday the 22d, Mr. Causton delivered a long and earnest charge, in which he cautioned the jurymen to beware of spiritual tyranny, and to oppose the new and illegal authority which was usurped over their consciences. The chief bailiff, uncle by marriage to the complainant, was playing the double role of judge and prosecuting attorney. Mrs. Williamsons affidavit having been read, Causton delivered to the grand jury a paper entitled A List of Grievances presented by the Grand Jury for Savannah, this day of Aug., 1737. It had evidently been prepared under his direction, and was designed to mould in advance the finding of that body. After holding this document under advisement for more than a week, and after the examination of sundry witnesses, the jury on the 1st of September returned that paper into court. As modified by a majority, it read as follows:
Nine of these charges being purely ecclesiastical in their character, Mr. Wesley insisted that the present court could take no cognizance of them. As to the rest of the indictment, he pleaded not guilty and demanded an immediate trial. Again and again did he press for a hearing, which was denied upon some frivolous pretext or other, such, for example, as that Mr. Williamson has gone out of town. So malevolent was the spirit moving the parties preferring these charges against Mr. Wesley that with a view to damaging his clerical reputation far and near they caused the indictment found by a majority of the grand jury to be published in various newspapers in America .
Perceiving that he could obtain neither justice nor even a hearing from the town court in Savannah, persuaded that there was no possibility of instructing the Indians, being under no engagement to remain a day longer in Savannah than he found it convenient, and believing that his ministry would prove more acceptable in England than in Georgia, he consulted his friends as to the propriety of his returning home. They agreed that it was best for him to do so, but not at that time.
On the 3d of November he again appeared in court, and also on the 22d of that month. On the last occasion Mr. Causton exhibited to him sundry affidavits filed in his case, all of which Wesley pronounced false and malicious. No trial was, on either date, accorded to him. Upon conferring a second time with his friends they were of the opinion that he might now set out immediately for England. The next evening he called upon Mr. Causton and acquainted him with his purpose to leave the colony at an early day. He also put up in the public square the following notice: Whereas John Wesley designs shortly to set out for England, this is to desire those who have borrowed any books of him to return them, as soon as they conveniently can, to John Wesley.
There was nothing concealed about this determination; and he quietly, and with the full knowledge of the community, prepared for his journey. On the 2d of December, the tide serving about noon, he proposed to bid farewell to Savannah and start for Charlestown, whence he was to sail for England. But about ten, says Mr. Wesley, the Magistrates sent for me and told me I must not go out of the Province, for I had not answerd the Allegations laid against me. I replied I have appeared at six or seven Courts successively in order to answer them, but I was not sufferd to do so when I desired it time after time. They then said, however, I must not go unless I would give security to answer those allegations at their Court. I asked, what security? After consulting together about two hours the Recorder shewd me a kind of bond engaging me under a penalty of fifty pounds to appear at their Court when I should be required. He added, But Mr. Williamson too has desired of us that you should give bail to answer his action. I then told him plainly, Sir, you use me very ill, and so you do the Trustees. I will give neither any bond nor any bail at all. You know your business and I know mine.
In the afternoon the Magistrates publishd an Order requiring all the Officers and Centinels to prevent my going out of the Province, and forbidding any person to assist me in doing so. Being now only a prisoner at large in a place where I knew by experience every day would give fresh opportunity to procure evidence of words I never said and actions I never did, I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving the place: and, as soon as Evening Prayers were over, about eight oclock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet and left Georgia, after having preached the Gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months .
Landing at Purrysburgh the next morning, Mr. Wesley and his companions pursued their journey on foot to Beaufort, whence he proceeded by boat to Charlestown. Taking passage on board the Samuel, Captain Percy, he departed from America on the 24th of December, 1737, never more to revisit the scene of his early labors, conflicts, trials, and disappointments .
Whatever shadows and doubts gathered about him in the morning of his ministerial career were all quickly dispelled by the glorious beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Then, in the plenitude of intellectual and moral power, he proclaimed the glad tidings of salvation to the nations, gathering about him tens of thousands, founding a sect of strong virtue and stern religious sentiment, and closing one of the most remarkable lives in English history with the triumphant cry, The best of all is, God is with us. He giveth his servants rest. We thank Thee, O Lord! for these and all Thy mercies. Bless the Church and King, and grant us truth and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord forever and ever. The clouds drop fatness. The Lord is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. Farewell.