WESLEY FAMILY. The Wesley family included John Wesley (1703–1791) and his brother Charles Wesley (1707–1788), leaders in the eighteenth-century evangelical movement in England called Methodism. The Wesleys' ancestry included Puritans and Nonconformists on both sides, although their parents were staunchly committed to the Church of England. Their paternal great-grand-father Bartholomew Westley (c. 1596–1671), grandfather John Westley (c. 1636–1770), and maternal grandfather Samuel Annesley (c. 1620–1696) were clergy removed from their positions after the Restoration because they were Anglican dissenters.
The parents of the brothers were Samuel Wesley (1662–1735) and Susanna Annesley Wesley (1669–1742). An ordained Anglican priest, Samuel Wesley became rector of Epworth parish in Lincolnshire in 1695. Although he was a talented scholar and poet, he was unpopular with his parishioners because of his strict demands that they live holy lives. It is believed that disgruntled parishioners, among other spiteful acts, set fire to the rectory in 1709. The building was destroyed with no loss of life.
The Wesley family included nineteen children, ten of whom lived into adulthood. With a large family, life in the Epworth rectory was busy. Susanna Wesley possessed considerable intellectual ability and skillfully managed the household. She supervised the children's earliest education, teaching each how to read and write. Circumstances for Susanna became quite difficult in 1705, when Samuel was imprisoned for several weeks in Lincoln Castle for debt he could not pay. Both parents instructed their offspring in the essentials of the Christian faith, including respect for the Bible and the traditions and practices of the Anglican Church. It would be difficult to underestimate the lasting influence of Samuel and Susanna on their children.
The three sons Samuel Jr., John, and Charles were ordained into the ministry of the Church of England. They were graduates of Christ Church College, Oxford University. After service on the staff of Westminster School in London, Samuel Jr. was named headmaster of Blundell's School in Tiverton. John, who was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726, also served as his father's parish assistant and was a missionary to the American colony of Georgia in 1736–1737. His ministry among the settlers and Native Americans was disappointing. He returned to England in 1737 in spiritual despair. His despondency ended with his evangelical conversion on 24 May 1738. Charles accompanied John to America and for a short time was secretary to General James Oglethorpe (1696–1785), Georgia's colonial governor. Ill health and misunderstandings with the governor and colonists forced Charles to return to England in 1736 and laid the groundwork for his conversion on 21 May 1738. In the months that followed their religious renewals, John and Charles became principal leaders in that part of the evangelical revival known as Methodism.
The lives of the seven daughters, Emilia, Susanna, Mary, Mehetabel, Anne, Martha, and Kezia, were mostly marked by difficulty and unhappiness. Mehetabel, or Hetty, the most talented of the daughters, published poetry in various magazines. The Wesley family was noteworthy in eighteenth-century England largely through the evangelical ministry of John Wesley and Charles Wesley.
See also Church of England ; Methodism .
Wesley, Susanna. Susanna Wesley: The Complete Writings. Edited by Charles Wallace Jr. New York, 1997.
Edwards, Maldwyn Lloyd. Family Circle: A Study of the Epworth Household in Relation to John and Charles Wesley. London, 1949.
Maser, Frederick E. The Story of John Wesley's Sisters; or, Seven Sisters in Search of Love. Rutland, Vt., 1988.
Newton, John A. Susanna Wesley and the Puritan Tradition in Methodism. London, 2002.
Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.