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John Wesley Trial: 1737

Threats, Flight, And A New Church

In the weeks that followed, Wesley showed up at seven different court sessions, but no one moved for his trial. Meanwhile, Wesley was removed from the church in Savannah and assigned to a smaller settlement, but this did not stop his evangelical preaching and praying. Then on November 22, Magistrate Causton sent for him and produced an affidavit in which he, Causton, accused Wesley of "calling him a liar, villain, and so forth."

He continued to preach but he also let it be known that he was considering returning to England. At that, William Williamson issued a notice that he had brought an action asking for £1,000 damages and that anyone assisting in Wesley's escape from the colony would be prosecuted. On December 2, the court sent for Wesley and warned him not to leave; when the bailiff insisted on his posting a bond, Wesley refused and left the premises. The court immediately published an order requiring all officers and guards in the colony to prevent Wesley from leaving.

That evening, Wesley and four other men left under cover of darkness and made their way by boat some 20 miles along the river from Savannah. From there they walked overland to Port Royal, South Carolina, which they reached on December 7. There he took a ship to Charles Town, and on December 22, 1737, he sailed for England. Wesley's "crimes" went largely unknown until an English merchant, Robert Williams, returned from Georgia in 1739 and published an attack on Wesley's behavior there; this prompted Wesley to publish (in 1740) the first volume of his journals in which he gave his own version of events. The episode soon faded from the public's awareness in both Britain and America, and although Wesley would never return to North America, the Methodist Church he founded in England would eventually flourish in the United States.

John S. Bowman

Suggestions for Further Reading

Stephens, William. A Journal of the Proceedings in Georgia. 1742 Reprint, Atlanta, Ga.: Franklin, 1906.

Tyerman, L. The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Founder of the Methodists. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1872.

Wesley, John. The Works of John Wesley. Vol. 18. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832John Wesley Trial: 1737 - A Fateful Move, The Case Against Wesley, Threats, Flight, And A New Church