A CRITICAL moment had arrived. The death of the old rector changed many things. With all his failings he had been fixed ground for all his family.
There had been the hope that John would take his place at Epworth, but he had refused, supporting his refusal with much argument. His reasoned statement seemed on the face of it, a little selfish. He preferred the security and opportunity of Oxford. Perhaps the real fact was that he was afraid of Epworth, remembering his failure at Wroote. His experience in the Holy Club had given him some idea of what he could do. Certainly it was not a future of idleness or easy popularity which he craved, but it seems as though he shrank from work which he knew, in his heart, he was unfit to attempt. There was still that sense of something missing. He was struggling to save his own soul. The dull, heavy-hearted folk of his father’s parish would not be likely to respond to such a pre-occupied messenger. They needed someone with good news of hope and joy—even of assurance!
Though he relented and gave tacit consent for steps to be taken to secure his appointment, it was too late. The living was vacant but John Wesley was not nominated. The sticks and stools in the old rectory were sold, together with the farm stock. Debts were paid. Susanna moved, with her few personal belongings, to the little school Emilia had started at Gainsborough. John and Charles went back to Oxford, taking the Dissertations on the Book of 7ob with them.
Even Oxford was changed. The members of the Holy Club were scattered. One had become a clergyman at Stanton Harcourt, another was a curate in Essex, a third was chaplain at the Tower, two of the rest were at Manchester, and George Whitefield, the pot-boy of Gloucester, had gone back to evangelize his native town!
The old rector had always been an optimist, but he had never been so certain that he was on the verge of success as when he was hurrying to finish his last book. This was to be his masterpiece. Before he died he made sure his boys would sponsor it. The two brothers, John and Charles, left Oxford and came to London. John had decided t& present the book to Queen Caroline herself. It was dedicated to her, and Samuel had staked his hope on her good offices. She was a remarkable personality. At times she would discuss theology with her chaplain or some distinguished divine, at other times she would attempt to share in the gaieties of the Court, and always her first concern was to satisfy the slightest whim of her coarse, ill-mannered husband, lately the Elector of Hanover but now George II of England.
After some weeks, an audience was granted and the solemn young Oxford don, with the large volume under his arm, came to St. James’s Palace. The Queen would receive him, and the work of his father would be established. There is something pathetic about the whole scene. He came across the great room, where her Majesty was dallying with her maids of honour, a little timidly but none the less steadfastly. He stood before her, knelt down and offered her the book—his father’s crowning work. The Queen smiled, looked at the cover a moment, and then at John Wesley, waiting expectant. ‘It is prettily bound,’ she lisped, and, with another smile, put the book down on the window-seat. He stood up, bowed low, walked backwards, and in a moment was gone.
It was probably the strangest Sunday in his life. His old father had written a dedication to Queen Caroline, believing that she was ‘an encourager of learning’, but before John Wesley had reached the palace gate, she was chattering again with her maids of honour. He was not discouraged; he had other things to think about. He was on the edge of a great adventure. However little he and his friends understood the strange quest which disturbed their hearts, it is certain that the lords and ladies of the Court would have understood nothing at all.
During the weeks of waiting, John and Charles had been staying at the house of young James Hutton, whose father, an Anglican clergyman, now kept a boarding-school in Westminster. Whilst there the three friends discussed their future. There were not many ways that seemed open to John Wesley. He might become a schoolmaster, he might perhaps go back to Oxford or he might settle down in a country living as had his father before him.
Suddenly the whole prospect changed. John Wesley met James Oglethorpe, and within two months was on his way to America to convert the Creek Indians. It seemed an incredibly impulsive decision, but it happened quite naturally.
When the young Oxford Methodist faced the founder of the colony of Georgia he discovered a kindred spirit. The man who had struggled to serve the prisoners in the Bocardo met the man who had fought against great odds to clean up the Fleet, the Marshalsea, and the King’s Bench Prisons. How often had Oglethorpe, member of Parliament for Haslemere, tried to force the Royal Commissions of which he had been chairman, to face the whole problem! How slow they had been to respond! Meanwhile debtors, with no opportunity of earning money to repay their debts, rotted in pestilential rooms when they were no longer able to pay the extortionate fees of the sponging housekeepers. The best of them lay cheek by jowl with the worst. There was no serious attempt at classification, and no logical process which might lead to deliverance. Jail-fever and small-pox thinned the ranks, and those who survived sank into hopeless gloom. Employment was scarce, and debts inevitable. People went into prison the helpless victims of circumstance. They struggled there with no prospect of getting out. Even the philanthropic folk who tried to relieve them and secure their discharge could offer them no work. It was because of this that Oglethorpe conceived the idea of founding the colony of Georgia. A number of influential men were gathered together and he submitted to them his plan. He proposed that land should be acquired in America, by Charter, and its development vested in a Trust. From the wretched prisoners of the Fleet and Marshalsea some should be chosen and ‘transplanted’ to Georgia. There, in association with more normal settlers, they might find new hope and new life.
It was not just an excuse for extending what we call the Empire. It was a genuine effort to relieve distress and to bring real opportunity to people who had given up in despair. Religious refugees flying from persecution on the Continent were offered holdings in the new colony. Highlanders, escaping from hardship and starvation, accepted grants of land in return for semi-military duties on the frontier. However the final results may be criticized it is certain that the experiment was sincere and unselfish. There had never been anything quite like it before. Its progress had been a frequent topic of conversation in the Epworth rectory, and John Wesley saw in Oglethorpe something more than a soldier and empire-builder. To him this trim, straight figure was that of an enthusiast, eager to solve some of the problems with which he, himself, had been grappling.
Probably the Governor of Georgia was equally interested in John Wesley. He had never met him before, but he knew a great deal about his family. Had he not come to the rescue of the harassed little rector on more than one occasion? As soon as he had returned to England the previous year he had been greeted by a letter from him. ‘Honoured Sir,’ wrote Samuel Wesley, ‘It is not only your valuable favours to my son Samuel, late of Westminster, and myself when I was a little pressed in the world, nor your extreme charity to the poor prisoners; it is not these only that so much demand my warmest acknowledgement, as your disinterested and unmovable attachment to your country, and your raising a new colony, or rather a little world of your own in the midst of a wild wood and uncultivated desert, where men may live free and happy, if they are not hindered by their own stupidity and folly, in spite of the unkindness of their brother mortals.’ Young Samuel had published ‘An Ode to James Oglethorpe, Esq., in the Country’ and dedicated to him his poem, ‘The Prisons Open’d’. A few months before they met, Oglethorpe had used his influence to try to secure the appointment of John Wesley to the living of Epworth. In the List of Subscribers printed in the monumental Dissertations on the Book of Job, his name appeared. He had taken ‘seven large-paper copies’ for which he paid twenty-one guineas. No wonder that he was more than a little intrigued at meeting the son of the importunate old rector, who had won his sympathetic regard.
It was Dr. Burton of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and one of the Georgia Trustees, who brought John Wesley to see Oglethorpe. He was one of the most useful and energetic members of the Board, and was particularly concerned in the religious development of the new colony. They had not been very fortunate in the ministers who had been appointed and he was very anxious to get the right type of man in the early stages of the experiment. The fact that Wesley was in London gave him an opportunity which Oglethorpe welcomed. At this first interview he asked him, point-blank, whether he would come out to Georgia? It was an unexpected situation for the man who had been hesitating between the seclusion of a school and the security of Oxford. Perhaps he would not have considered it, had it meant merely undertaking the duties of a parish priest amongst the settlers of Savannah. But somebody mentioned the word ‘Indian’! That was an entirely different challenge. It made an instant appeal to John Wesley. The Trustees were rightly concerned that the colonists should be God-fearing and disciplined. Oglethorpe had sacrificed popularity because he had set his face sternly against the introduction of negro slave-labour and had forbidden the manufacture and sale of spirits. With such a policy, Wesley was in absolute agreement, but it would not have drawn him from England. It was this dream of converting the Indians which gave him pause. The thought of pioneer work on virgin soil, the dazzling prospect of preaching to unspoilt simple souls—that was an entirely different matter. He went away to think it over.
It was scarcely a year since London had welcomed a little company of Indians. The whole Town had been agog with the excitement. Every coffee-house had discussed the behaviour of Tomochichi and the rest of the Creeks whom Oglethorpe had brought back from Georgia. They had been received somewhat pompously by the Trustees, and Oglethorpe had explained that they had come ‘to learn English and the Christian religion and confirm the peace’. The King and Queen had received them at Kensington Palace. It had been an amazing scene. The old chief was arrayed in a fine scarlet robe edged with white rabbit-fur and bordered with gold galloon lace. His wife, Senauki, was resplendent in scarlet, whilst the lesser chiefs wore blue. In spite of protest by the more solemn and unimaginative Trustees, they had insisted on appearing with painted faces! The King had received a gift of eagle’s feathers, a pledge of peace. The Queen had heard little Tooanahowi, the fifteen-year-old heir, recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments! The Archbishop of Canterbury had received them at Lambeth, though as Egmont naively remarks in his 7ournal, ‘they had apprehensions that he was a conjuror, but the kind reception he gave them altered the imagination’. They had been entertained at Chariton and been duly catechized by their pompous old host, who discovered that they ‘held monotheistic beliefs’ and had definite views on immortality. He felt ‘Providence had prepared them to be Christians’. They gave great joy to the boys at Eton College for Tomochichi begged that they might be given a day’s holiday! Treaties were made and in November they set sail again for Georgia.
As Wesley pondered his future he pictured such people in their simple houses of timber and wattle, plastered inside with mud and white-washed with powdered oyster-shells. He remembered that the old chief had told them his father had been burnt by the Spaniards because he would not become a Christian. To bring them the consolation of the Christian faith as he understood it, seemed a better thing than to go back to the fluttering hens and sleepy villagers of Wroote, or even to Oxford, now emptied of his friends. Even as he sat thinking, the Trustees were reading a strange message written on buffalo skin and sent by the Creek tribes to assure the English people of their gratitude and their friendship.
John faced the new situation calmly. There was no question of sudden or sentimental impulse. True to his primitive loyalties he felt he must consult with his brethren! He talked with his brother Charles and Samuel, he talked with William Law, and then rode off to Manchester to see Clayton and Byrom, his Oxford friends. From Manchester he rode to ask advice of Susanna, his wisest counsellor. There was no doubt in her mind at all. The prospect of a son of hers becoming a missionary to the Indians was alluring. ‘If I had twenty sons I should rejoice that they were all so employed, though I never saw them more.’
Whilst he was away he received a letter from Dr. Burton, urging him to accept the invitation. Time was pressing, for Oglethorpe was preparing to sail within a month. He made it plain that there was need of men ‘inured to contempt of ornaments and conveniences of life, to serious thoughts and bodily austerities’. It was ten days before the answer came, but it made him rejoice. John Wesley was going to Georgia and with him would go his brother Charles, Benjamin Ingham and Charles Delamotte. It was like a little section of the Holy Club that was to be transplanted from the comfortable room at Lincoln College to the long stretches of ‘pine-barren’ in the New World.
Before they sailed John Wesley wrote a long letter to Dr. Burton, explaining in his peculiarly candid way the reason for the adventure. ‘My chief motive, to which all the rest are subordinate, is the hope of saving my own soul.’ Much has been made of the isolated sentence. Whilst it undoubtedly provides a key to the problem of his failure in Georgia, it has generally been exaggerated. The next passage in the letter reads: ‘I hope to learn the true sense of the gospel of Christ, by preaching it to the heathen.’ He expected to find a simple folk, ‘as little lambs, humble, willing to learn’. It was hardly his fault that they proved so different. The whole tone of the letter reveals a mood and motive much less selfish than does the solitary sentence. ‘I hope, from the moment I leave the English shore, under the acknowledged character of a teacher sent from God, there shall no word be heard from my lips but what properly flows from that character: . . . I then hope to know what it is to love my neighbour as myself, and to feel the powers of that second motive to visit the heathens, even the desire to impart to them what I have received, a saving knowledge of the gospel of Christ.’ Even as he writes he hesitates. Does he know enough? Can he himself give what he has not got? ‘But,’ he continues, ‘I am assured if I once (fully) converted myself, He will then employ me both to strengthen my brethren and to preach His name to the Gentiles, that the very ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.’
It was not the outpourings of selfishness which more than one writer has suggested. Beneath the desire to save his own soul, lay the passionate desire to preach the gospel. As he packed his few belongings he was thinking of Tornochichi and Tooanahowi and hosts of their brethren, waiting expectantly in their mud-daubed huts for the messenger. He was to be disillusioned, but the disillusionment would reveal his own shortcomings more clearly than those of the Creeks.
The little company climbed aboard the Simmonds in October 14, 1735, and John went down into the partitioned cabin in the forecastle. In a few moments he was busily writing in his 7ournal: ‘Our end in leaving our native country was not to avoid want, God having given us plenty of temporal blessings, nor to gain riches or honour (which we trust He will ever enable us to look on as no other than dung and dross); but singly this—to save our souls, to live wholly to the glory of God.’
It was a week before the Simmonds weighed anchor and sailed from Gravesend. Fitful winds held her up almost as soon as she passed the Goodwins, and she was delayed again at Cowes awaiting the arrival of H.M.S. Hawk, a sloop which was to act as escort.
Aboard the Simmonds he discovered a strange world. A third consignment of colonists was on its way to a new life. They had been chosen by the Trustees. Many were there not because they were skilled workmen who would make useful settlers, nor even because they were sturdy and could endure hardship, but rather because they had suffered the penalty of failure and were now being rescued from the miseries of the Fleet or the Marshalsea. It was a mixed company, selected by people who were set on carrying out a philanthropic experiment, rather than ensuring good dividends. The second ship, the London Merchant, bore the rest of the emigrants.
Sailors might well have questioned the omens. The two vessels were so long held up in Cowes roads that the passengers ate most of the provisions which were intended for their use on the voyage. More had to be purchased at exorbitant prices and of poor quality. The longer they waited thet more stormy their passage was likely to be. Twice they were driven back by contrary winds. The delays exasperated John Wesley, but when, at last, on December to, they stood down Channel, and he saw the ship sailing seaward, his spirits rose. An eight weeks’ voyage lay ahead, but every day would bring him nearer what he was convinced was his divinely ordered task. As the three ships put out, with many others that had been waiting a favourable wind, he thanked God and took courage.
On the second day a Channel gale sprung up and the Hawk was separated from her consorts. She never joined them again. The two little ships, each of about 220 tons burden, were left to face the fury of the Atlantic alone.
Meanwhile John Wesley and his three friends had settled down to a fixed routine. It was evident that they intended to exercise spiritual oversight with remorseless care. They began to justify their reputation as Methodists. They must rise at four in the morning and end their work at nine o’clock at night. John must learn German, for there were a number of Moravians among the emigrants. Delamotte worked at his Greek. Charles Wesley wrote sermons and Ingham taught the children. Public reading and private instruction followed the midday meal, prayers and the exposition of the Lesson, public catechizing of the children, private prayer, more reading and conversation—even then it was only seven o’clock. Away goes John down the gangway between the cabins in the hold—they called it ‘the street’—on his way to the German service. Meanwhile Benjamin Ingham read, to such as liked to listen, on the lower deck. The last hour of the day, the four friends met ‘to exhort and instruct one another’. Not much wonder that when they lay down at nine o’clock they slept! No ‘roaring of the sea nor motion of the ship could take away the refreshing sleep God gave us’.
Twelve ate at Oglethorpe’s table, including some gentlemen whose passage he had paid that he might have them as settlers, the captain and the four young ‘Methodists’. Salt meat and vegetables were the staple food of the majority. Wesley became a vegetarian! There was some live-stock and dainties, but Oglethorpe took only ordinary fare. It was hard going yet there was little grumbling and no disorder, save that a small boy was thrashed for eating turnips!
Most of the people were kept busy. When the weather was fair the decks were scoured and washed down with vinegar, worsted, and knitting-needles were served out to the women, and stockings and caps were knitted for use in the new country. Nearly every day the men were drilled and taught the use of small-arms, for the settlers were expected to do guard duty on the frontiers in case of invasion. From time to time Oglethorpe mustered the company and spoke to them about conditions in Georgia, and their coming opportunities. Several times the two ships were becalmed, and he was rowed over to the London Merchant to assure himself of the welfare of its passengers.
Eight weeks at sea in a little ship, crowded with people so different in age, education and temperament, would be a trying exprience to any one. There was not much serious trouble, although the ‘method’ of the four young missionaries was too exacting. Some of the passengers responded readily but others were cynical and two, at least, became malicious. The scheming and hypocrisy of Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Welch caused difficulty. John Wesley accepted their posturings and repeated penitence with amazing credulity, though his companions saw them for what they were worth. His iron discipline and intense zeal was not the best method of approach. He had no use for what seemed to him to be trivialities, nor would he believe that these apparent converts could be guilty of intrigue and deceit. The incident had its far-reaching consequences on his whole work in Georgia. It helped at last to convince him of the failure of some of his methods, though he had, as yet, no clue to the secret of success.
Limited diet and rough weather brought illness to many herded in the tiny cabins. Oglethorpe gave up his own room to some of the women. The Wesleys insisted he should have theirs and cheerfully ‘lay on the boards’.
It had gradually become evident that though Charles Wesley had been chosen as secretary, it was his elder brother who had won Oglethorpe’s confidence. One day John went to his cabin and was invited to come in. The Governor was very angry. His servant, Grimaldi, an Italian, had apparently drunk most of his special wine, and he determined that he should be flogged. John Wesley looked at him very calmly as Oglethorpe said, ‘I never forgive’. ‘Then’, said Wesley, ‘I hope, sir, you never sin.’ The Governor, who was the soul of chivalry, was rebuked and admitted his fault. He drew out his keys, tossed them to Grimaldi, and said, ‘There, take my keys and behave better in the future’.
They had been at sea just over a month when a tremendous storm broke over the ship. The mainsail was split into shreds, great seas poured over the deck, and Wesley, like the majority of the passengers, was terribly afraid. Only one little band of people kept their heads. The Moravians went on quite calmly singing a psalm of praise. Every now and again, in a lull in the wind, their voices were heard in joy and thanksgiving. The mainsail split with a noise like great guns. Spars fell on the deck, rigging lay twisted everywhere, and the waves crashed remorselessly over the bulwarks. Nothing stopped the song of praise from the Germans. When at last the gale died down, Wesley spoke to them. ‘Were you not afraid?’ he said, and they answered mildly, ‘No, our women and children are not afraid to die’. Their courage greatly impressed him. He pointed out first to himself, then to his friends, later to the rest of the passengers, the calm that was born of faith in the hearts of these poor German emigrants. He spoke of it wistfully, as of something he longed for but did not possess.
Storm after storm battered the two ships, but they ploughed their way across the Atlantic, timbers creaking, mainsail and foresail split, and masts strained by the fierce gales. Aboard the Simmonds only one thing was certain each day—nothing would interfere with the services, the prayers, the public instruction, and all the details of the inexorable routine established by John Wesley and his friends. It is easy for us to criticize it as superficial, mechanical, and even, in a measure, selfish, but to these men it was the sine qua non of religion as they understood it. For them there seemed no other way. To have relaxed, they felt, would have been a base betrayal of their trust.
On Sunday, February s, they sighted the Pomeroy, a ship London-bound from Carolina. By her they sent back letters to their friends. On Wednesday soundings were taken. The depth was only twenty fathoms. By noon the look-out at the mast-head sighted the tree-tops of Georgia. As the ship neared the shore John Wesley read the evening lesson. It contained the sentence: ‘A great door and effectual is opened.’ He prayed fervently, ‘0 let no one shut it’. His spirits rose again. He was touched to new enthusiasm as he saw the fair vision of Tybee Roads in the calm beauty of early spring.
Next day they cast anchor near Tybee Island. The sky was clear, the water smooth, and the light of the setting sun Cast long shadows from the graceful pines which fringed the shore. It was Paradise to the weather-beaten folk in the Simmonds.
Early on Friday morning they landed on Peeper Island. Oglethorpe, in patriarchial fashion, led the whole company to a hillock where they knelt down and gave thanks to God. When he put off in a boat for Savannah it was to John Wesley and John Brownfield that he committed the charge of the people while he was away. The voyage was over, and somewhere in the new land were the Indians whom Wesley hoped to save—Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees and Chickesaws. He looked down the river towards Savannah and rejoiced.
Meanwhile Oglethorpe, with Charles Wesley, was landing at the little town with its wooden cabins arranged in rectangular blocks, with ample open space between them in case of fire. The freeholders were drawn up stiffly presenting arms, and the little cannon barked a welcome as the Governor stepped ashore. The town stood on top of a slope about forty feet above the level of the river which curved round its base. On this raised plateau, or bluff, running inland for five or six miles, Savannah had been built three years before. Its queer little detached houses, its diminutive fort, its court-house used also as a church, the prison, the store-house, and the public mill rejoiced Oglethorpe’s heart. The town was growing, and his dream was beginning to come true.
Sunday dawned on Peeper Island. There was an open space, sheltered by myrtles and cedar-trees, where services had already been held. This day they had with them a visitor, August Gottlieb Spangenberg. He had been a professor at Halle but had been expelled for his theological beliefs. Count Zinzendorf had welcomed him to Herrnhut, and he had been chosen to conduct a little party of Moravian brethren to Georgia.
The morning services were over. Probably Spangenberg had preached. It was an opportunity for John Wesley to share his problem with another. He bared his soul and the Moravian astonished him by hesitating to give his opinion till he had asked two or three questions. ‘Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?’ It was an unexpected challenge; perhaps it stirred an echo of the past. Old Samuel had spoken some such words a few hours before he died. ‘The inward witness, my son, that is the proof, the strongest proof of Christianity.’ The words had perplexed John, fresh from his strenuous efforts at Oxford. They were not less perplexing now. All the routine, and external expressions of obedience had not brought him joy nor even certainty. He was dumb before his questioner. ‘Do YOU know Jesus Christ?’ persisted Spangenberg. Very cautiously John answered, ‘I know He is the Saviour of the world’. ‘True,’ said the Moravian patiently enough, but, persistently, he continued, ‘but do you know He has saved you?’ The reply was unconvincing. ‘I hope He has died to save me’. Once more came a last question, ‘Do you know yourself?’ At last John stammered, ‘I do’. In his 7ournal he added, ‘But I fear they were vain words’. He listened to Spangenberg’s advice but the memory that remained to torment him for many a day to come was that insistent question, ‘Do you know, yourself?’ The darkness fell on Peeper Island, the woods were sleeping, the ship lay almost motionless at anchor, but the zealous young ecclesiastic, the missionary who hoped to convince the Creeks and Chickesaws, lay wondering. Did he know? How could he convince men if he were not, himself, assured?
Nearly a week later he was faced for the first time with the Indians of whom he had thought so long. Tomochichi and Senauki came, with their nephew, two women and three children, aboard the Simmonds. The little clergyman looked at them eagerly. The old chief, his face painted red, his hair dressed with beads, behind his ear a scarlet feather, stood with his blanket wrapped about him, and offered John Wesley his hand. Senauki, his wife, held out a jar of milk and one of honey, symbols of their expectation and hope. They were but children; they must be fed with milk in simplicity of teaching, and with honey in all kindliness.
‘I am glad you are come,’ said Tomochichi, through his interpreter, a trader’s wife. ‘When I was in England, I desired that some would speak the Great Word to me; and my nation then desired to hear it. But since then we have all been put into confusion.’ He told John, pathetically eager to catch every word, that war was in the air. The French and the Spanish were preparing for battle. Traders, from Carolina, were dealing treacherously with the Creeks. These things did not commend the Christian religion to his tribe. Yet I am glad you are come,’ he concluded. ‘I will go up and speak to the wise men of our nation; and I hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians; we would be taught before we are baptized.’
As he ended, John Wesley, evidently greatly impressed, answered very humbly, ‘There is but One, He that sitteth in heaven, who is able to teach man wisdom. Though we are come so far, we know not whether He will please to teach you by us or no. If He teaches you, you will learn wisdom; but we can do nothing’.
There is no trace of arrogance or selfishness in the interview, but rather a certain wistful resignation to the dimly understood purposes of God. Though he was a little less confident, the conversation had not altered his intention of going himself wholeheartedly to the work ‘of converting the Indians’.
Within a few days, Oglethorpe, Charles Wesley, and the great majority of the new colonists had sailed for Frederica in four smaller boats. John was left with Ingham, at Savannah. For a month they lodged with the Moravians whose whole mode of life was warmly approved. John was taking his bearings. It was evident that Oglethorpe intended him to stay for a while at Savannah. Like a good soldier, he accepted his orders, and tried to obey them. What if he wandered in the pine-woods, and looked eagerly towards Yamacraw, Irene, and to the vast stretches beyond! He must be patient. God had .waited long for the souls of the Indians; he must learn to wait.
His first work lay at Savannah, and though his ideals were high, his methods were very severe and rigid. He was very eager to help everybody, but they must be helped in the way he thought the only way. He was a Protestant, but he was a High Churchman of the old school, and he insisted that they behave as the primitive Christians behaved. Unfortunately he had his own ideas as to what that behaviour was.
On February 22 he baptized a baby, eleven days old and records the event with complete satisfaction. ‘Mary Welch was baptized according to the custom of the first Church, and the rule of the Church of England, by immersion. The child was ill then but recovered from that hour.’ The sentence is typical of his attitude in the tragic months at Savannah.
At first he made many friends and preached in the courthouse to a full company. He gathered little groups of them into meetings for prayer. He celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion regularly. He taught the children their Catechism, and he worked from morning till night, till one wondered how it was possible for him to stand the strain.
He had gone out expecting to fulfil a mission to Indians. He was now in charge of an amazing parish. There were English, German, and French in Savannah. Saints, far more advanced in their religious experience than himself, were living side by side with failures from the prisons suddenly finding themselves free and often inclined to mistake freedom for licence. There were doubtful traders from Carolina and adventurers to whom the free life of this new country offered temptations they did not intend to resist. John donned his cassock, and went amongst them with the loftiest purpose, but with a rigid conception of duty, and an absolute reliance on his sacerdotal office and the vigorous discharge of priestly functions. Somewhere, hidden beneath his vestments and his elaborate but mechanical ‘method’ was beating a heart of great gentleness. That was why he was so easily deceived. ‘As yet he knew only enough to bring him into a great and holy bondage. He had still to learn the truth that makes men free.’ When his emotions were deeply stirred or his affections awakened, he hurried back to test his feelings by a machine! If only there had come into his life at this stage some wise, discerning friend, he might have been saved much misery.
After a time he was called away to settle a quarrel in Frederica, where Charles had been the victim of some unscrupulous people. The wife of the surgeon, Hawkins, and her friend, Mrs. Welch—the two women who had caused the trouble on the Simmonds—had begun another intrigue.
He went in an open sailing boat called a periagua, and he describes his voyage: ‘I wrapped myself up from head to foot in a large cloak, to keep off the sand-flies, and lay down on the quarter-deck. Between one and two I walked under water, and seemed so fast asleep that I did not find where I was until my mouth was full of it. Having left my cloak, I know not how, upon the deck, I swam round to the other side of the periagua, where a boat was tied, and climbed up without any hurt more than wetting my clothes. Thou art the God of whom cometh Salvation; Thou art the Lord by whom we escape death.’
At Frederica he found chaos. Oglethorpe was anxious about the defences of the town and the Spanish threats from the frontier. The people were torn by petty jealousies and dangerous gossip. The two unscrupulous women had drawn Charles Wesley into their plot to involve Oglethorpe. He was chafing at the endless letter-writing from which he turned only to carry out his religious duties. Men and women, alike, grumbled at the ceaseless call to prayers and services ‘at the beat of the drum’, and the situation was not improved by John’s arrival. He brought his brother back to Savannah, and took over the care of Frederica. The gossips found him still easier prey and the result was inevitable. In August Charles sailed for England. He had failed, but he left Oglethorpe with friendly farewells.
The climate had undermined his health. He came to London, ill and despondent, but he busied himself with Georgian affairs, and took great pains to help Oglethorpe in a critical time. It is untrue to say that he cherished nothing but bitter memories of their association.
Presently Ingham also returned to England and stayed there. John was left alone to face his increasingly complicated problems. He saw little of Oglethorpe who was busy in the south. The Indians had proved disappointing. He had discovered that they had been corrupted by avaricious and brutal traders. They grew more bitterly prejudiced against Christianity which they imagined, like so many more intelligent people, to be the religion of all white men. Day after day John put on his cassock and preached to dwindling congregations. He was fearless in his denunciation of the people’s sins, but Savannah was being demoralized by the arrival of the most dissolute rogues from Carolina. His contacts with the Moravians and the Salzburghers, settled at Ebenezer a few miles away, were the happiest events of his harassed life.
The final stroke which brought Wesley to the depths came unexpectedly. The store-keeper at Savannah, William Causton, was also chief magistrate. He was unscrupulous and none too honest, but he had a niece, a charming girl of eighteen. Sophie Hopkey was a regular attendant at the little church. She was fascinated by the cultured and handsome young preacher. He was interested in the eager and intelligent pupil, who came not only to public services but sometimes to the parsonage to receive lessons in the French language. Before he realized what was happening he began to fall in love. Gossips magnified and distorted their friendship. Oglethorpe, with the best intention in the world, tried to force it into marriage. The store-keeper did his utmost to compromise John, and make him wed his niece; it would mean a possible ally if his defalcations were discovered and he were compelled to render account to the Trustees.
Amidst all these complex forces John moved like a little child. With almost incredible innocence he passed through situations which must have scorched and consumed a lesser man, but which would not have arisen with one more wordly-wise.
When he realized the seriousness of the situation he consulted his friends the Germans. Finally he cast lots in what he conceived to be the way of scripture, and of primitive Christianity. The fatal slip emerged: ‘Think of it no more,’ he read. That, for him, was the end. There could be no argument. A year afterward he looked back, and the memory of Sophie brought poignant longing. He was back in England, then, and she was married to another.
Within a few days of realizing his irrevocable decision she gave herself to one, Williamson, and disaster followed. Wesley, accusing her of deceit and neglect of religious duties, refused her permission to attend Holy Communion. Her uncle seized the opportunity to get rid of this man who would now be a menace rather than an ally. It was not difficult to rally forces against him. His rigid discipline and high morality had made him unpopular amongst the riff-raff of Savannah, whose conduct he constantly criticized. The store-keeper influenced Williamson to prosecute Wesley for defamation of his wife’s character. He was tried by a grand jury, made up of men picked by Causton. He was found guilty of many breaches of canon law, and finally of defamation. They did not dare to arrest him, and kept postponing his final trial. His work had become impossible. There was nothing to do but set out for England.
He was nothing if he was not methodical. One can see him, nailing up a notice in the public square at Savannah on which were these words: ‘Whereas John Wesley decides 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.’
The magistrates demanded a bond, compelling him, under a penalty of fifty pounds, to appear before the Court when required. Indignantly he refused to give it. They replied by publishing an order requiring all officers to prevent his departure. He made his decision quickly. He would leave at once, but first he must take evening prayers! At eight o’clock he was ready to leave Georgia ‘after having preached the gospel . . . not as I ought but as I was able, one year and nearly nine months’.
He set out in the darkness to make his way to Charlestown. It was a weary tramp to Port Royal through miles of barren land. He left on Friday night and reached Beaufort on Wednesday, after suffering considerably from hunger and thirst. At last, on the following Tuesday he got to Charlestown, and eventually sailed for England in a boat called the Samuel, on Christmas Eve 1737.
The voyage home was momentous. He never forgot that he was a minister of God, and took the services regularly on the ship, though his heart was ‘sorrowful and very heavy’. When he tried to talk with the sailors, he found himself tongue-tied. He persevered, and presently attempted to instruct two negroes and a poor Frenchman in the Scriptures.
In his solitude and despair he began to realize things he had missed. He was remorseless, as ever, in his self-examination. Storms struck the ship, but they were gentle breezes, compared with the tempest that raged in his heart.
He wrote down, fearlessly, the secrets of his own soul. He had gone to America to convert the Indians, but he confessed that he was not converted himself. He longed to be a Christian, but he began to wonder if he had not laid too much stress on outward works. He had striven to enforce the practices of primitive Christianity with only a hazy knowledge of what they were.
His weary hand writes the words that burn his brain. ‘I have thrown up my friends, reputation, ease, country. I have put my life in my hands, wandering into strange lands; I have given my body to be devoured by the deep, parched up with heat, consumed by toil and weariness or whatever God shall please to bring upon me…. Does all I ever did, or can, know, say, give, do or suffer, justify me in His sight? . . . The faith I want is a sure trust and confidence in God that through the merits of Christ my sins are forgiven .. . I want that faith which none can ever have without knowing it.’
Evening fell. It was very calm. Another ship outward bound, sailed slowly past them. It bore George Whitefield to America. The Samuel lay becalmed, till suddenly a north wind blew, and presently they dropped anchor off Deal.
The knight errant had reached a stage further in his quest. There are those who see him farther from his goal than ever, but he had begun to realize his mistakes; he was on the way to discover truth. He was not down and out. He stepped ashore from the ship’s boat, made his way to the inn and took morning prayers in the common-room before breakfast. Then he set out for London, unafraid, expectant.