1789 JOHN WESLEY. Regarding the Financial Struggles of a Rapidly Expanding Methodist Movement.

1789 JOHN WESLEY. Regarding the Financial Struggles of a Rapidly Expanding Methodist Movement.

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A fascinating Ireland-authored, autograph letter signed as usual, ‘JWesley’, and datelined to Dublin, 11 April 1789. 

The present letter is is addressed to ‘Dear Brother’ [Lancelot Harrison, identified at the head in another contemporary hand], in full:

"The letter which I received two or three days ago from George Whitfield informs me, that I outran my income so far last year, as to be now above two hundred pounds in debt. I have therefore promised him, not to draw upon him any more, before the end of next month. But do not you remember the Rule in the Minutes of the Conference, That we are not to [be]gin the building of any Preaching house, before two thirds of the money is subscribed? This rule we may not dispense with. And I am afraid, this is not the case, with regard to the House you are speaking of at Lincoln. I doubt therefore whether the time be come, for your building there. But you have reason to rejoice, that the Work of God prospers, there as well as at poor Blighton [Blyton]. I am, with kind Love to S. Harrison, Your Affectionate Friend & Brother, JWesley’," 

Nicely preserved with some age wear and slight soiling, tear with small loss of first two letters of ‘[be]gin’ to left margin of centerfold, 1 page, 8vo 

An interesting letter concerning financial difficulties, written in a deteriorating hand towards the end of Wesley’s life, and probably referring to the building of the chapel at Lincoln St Benedict, licensed in 1789. The letter was published in Abraham Watmough, A History of Methodism in the Neighbourhood and City of Lincoln (1829), pp. 26-27. Watmough was shown the letter by Mrs Belton, who is also mentioned in connection with another Wesley letter on page 24, where she is described as ‘Mrs Belton, of Walkeringham, daughter of Mr. [Lancelot] Harrison’. 

‘It does not appear, however, that Mr. Wesley's inability to advance the money, or his supposing the time was not come, prevented their proceeding; so that they had the pleasure of seeing the Chapel opened in the Spring of the following year … On July the 1st, of the same year (1790), Mr. Wesley visited Lincoln for the last time. He preached in the new Chapel in the evening, to a crowded audience…’ (Watmough, ibid., p. 27). 

Blyton was an early center of Methodism in Lincolnshire and Lancelot Harrison was a Methodist Minister in the county. A Lancelot Harrison married a Susannah Moody at Haxey in Lincolnshire in 1769 (Ancestry). George Whitfield was a travelling preacher and the official printer for Wesley’s book room known as the book steward. Both Harrison and Whitfield are referred to multiple times in Minutes of the Methodist Conferences: from the first, held in London by the late Rev. John Wesley, A.M., in the year 1744 (1862), where can also be found the origins of the subscription rule for the building of new chapels. In the minutes for a conference at Leeds in August 1766 is stated: ‘Let no other building be undertaken till two-thirds of the money are subscribed’ (p. 57).