In February, 1736, James Oglethorpe would return from England with an additional two shiploads of colonists. Among those 257 passengers were the Reverend John Wesley and his brother, Charles.
Wesley's fervent wish was to teach and convert the Indians, but Henry Herbert, the colony's minister, had fallen ill and died at sea on his way back to England. When Herbert's successor pretty much ignored his parishioners, often not even showing up to conduct services, the colonists dismissed him and prevailed upon the 33-year-old Wesley to become their minister.
In the beginning, the colonists were dazzled by the intellect of this graduate of Eton and his energy. But after a while, the parishioners became a tad wary and weary of his repeated criticisms of them, as well as his strict, staunch adherence to the Church's canon. In plain language, John Wesley was a nitpicker of the first order and because of that....as the song from The Music Man goes...."There's trouble...right her .in River City." And troubles there were.
One of Wesley's first kerfuffles was with Mr. and Mrs. Parker, who asked the Reverend to baptize their baby daughter, Anne. Wesley had revived an old custom, Trine Immersion, which meant the individual was totally immersed three times. When little Anne's mother opted for the standard method of sprinkling the baby, the very proper Reverend Wesley advised the Parkers that the only way Baby Anne could be sprinkled, according to church law, would be if the Parkers declared that Anne was too weak to be submerged.
The Parkers departed in a huff, and Baby Anne was sprinkled by someone else, we know not who.
Wesley did accomplish many fine improvements, including the founding of the first Sunday School, as well as a study and prayer group called Serious, where self-examination of one's soul was advised by the Reverend. He also offered French lessons to attendees.
And this would begin the unraveling of Wesley's life in Savannah, for one of the French students was 18-year-old Sophia Hopke, a niece of Bailiff Thomas Causton and his wife, with whom she lived.
It was obvious that a rapport was building between the Reverend and Miss Hopke, which pleased the Caustons. But John spent so much time in introspection and soul searching that Sophia grew weary and restless and finally eloped to South Carolina with William Williamson, the clerk at the colony's Trust store.
Wesley was not happy to hear of the elopement, to say the least, but used rather oblique ways to convey his distaste, ranging from refusing communion to Sophia Williamson, as she stood at the altar, humiliating her, and also implying that her husband just might be shorting customers who bought at the Trust store.
But...no slouch he...young Williamson retaliated by swearing out a warrant against the Reverend for defamation of his wife's character.
After the warrant was served, Wesley would be drawn into a wearying series of non-stop court appearances.
Now in those days, Johnson Square was the communication hub for the town. It was where the colonists went to get the latest news. Tired of the myriad charges and plots against him, Wesley posted an announcement in the square that he intended to leave Savannah. And in a real cloak and dagger ending, Wesley gave the evening sermon one night and then fled across the river to South Carolina before Savannah's law enforcement could serve him with a warrant for his arrest.
His brother was already back in England, having lasted a mere two months in the colony, tiring early of the heat and humidity, as well as the politics.
Both Wesleys would find successes in England, John by founding the Methodist Church and Charles by writing thousands of hymns, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!"
Wander into Reynolds Square and stop to admire the statue of John Wesley and read the inscription at the base of the statue, Wesley's prayer for Savannah....
My heart's Desire
for this place
is not that it be famous or rich,
But that it may be
a religious colony
and then I am sure it cannot fail
to receive the Blessing of God.
Follow us as we continue our romantic journey here.