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John Wesley Trial: 1737

A Fateful Move, The Case Against Wesley, Threats, Flight, And A New Church

Defendant: John Wesley
Plaintiff's Claim: Defamation of Character
Defense Lawyer: No Record
Lawyer for Plaintiff: No Record
Judge: Thomas Causton
Place: Savannah, Georgia
Date of Trial: August 27-September 1, 1737
Verdict: Indicted on 10 charges, 2 relating to the original charge of defamation and 8 relating to alleged ecclesiastical errors
Sentence: Never formally sentenced

SIGNIFICANCE: Because these proceedings took place in a then isolated and obscure colony, they had no effect on the legal system, but this incident does confirm how intolerant of deviant religious beliefs the early colonies were. Also, the fact that John Wesley fled from and never returned to America may well have influenced the development of Methodism: Had Wesley stayed in the colonies, Methodism might have become both a more radical and more regional sect.

In 1729, two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, were at Oxford University in England, John as a teacher and Charles as a student. Sons of a clergyman in the Church of England, John was already an ordained priest and Charles was on his way to becoming one, but during the next few years, both began to express serious doubts about the teachings and activities of Britain's established church. In particular, they felt that the Church of England was too remote and passive in its rituals and teachings. They advocated a Christianity that was both more responsive to and demanding of the religious impulses of the common folk. They gathered around them a small circle of like-minded young tutors and students, and sometime during the early 1730s, these devout young men became known around Oxford as "Methodists," in reference to the more disciplined and demanding way they practiced Christianity.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832