Missionary on Horseback–Key Builder of a Nation

In the past, many of my blog posts have focused on my ancient British relatives and their descendents from the Boling/Bolling/Bowling, Chambers, and Taylor branches on my paternal side, to the Lathrop/Lowthropp and Ford families on my maternal side. Geographically,  all of these families resided primarily on the east coast in the earliest colonies–from North Carolina to Virginia up to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts; periods discussed in these posts ranged from the earliest settlers in America until present days–ancestors occupations included religious leaders, educators, statesmen, plantation owners and tobacco innovators and farmers.

Bishop Francis Asbury – Pioneer of Methodism

Today’s post looks at yet another renowned religious leader:  Francis Asbury (August 20, 1745, Hampstead Bridge, Staffordshire, England – March 31, 1816, Spotsylvania, Virginia), originally from the Parish of Handsworth, Staffordshire, England.  Francis Asbury, “Frank” as his parents Joseph Asbury (skilled farmer and gardener), and Elizabeth “Eliza” Rogers called him as a young boy, was North America’s first Methodist bishop.  The_Ordination_of_Bishop_Asbury-1784The ordination of Bishop Francis Asbury by Bishop Thomas Coke took place at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, Maryland in the winter of 1784–establishing the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States.  There is some confusion as to my precise relationship to him, but it is possible that I may be a first cousin, seven times removed.


Francis Asbury was a circuit rider (preacher on horseback) turned superintendent of American Methodism of the late 18th and early 19th century.  He was appointed to the office of superintendent by John Wesley himself.  He endured great things for the Lord and won many souls to Christ.  Here is his account, from his journal, of why he never married:




“If I should die in celibacy, which I think quite probable, I give the following reasons for what can scarcely be called my choice: I was called in my fourteenth year.  I began my public exercises between sixteen and seventeen; at twenty-one I traveled [i.e., became a circuit riding preacher]; at twenty-six I came to America: thus far I had reasons enough for a single life.  It had been my intention of returning to Europe at thirty years of age, but the war continued, and it was ten years before we had a settled, lasting peace.  This was not time to marry or be given in marriage.  At forty-nine I was ordained superintendent bishop in America.  Among the duties imposed upon me by my office was that of traveling extensively, and I could hardly expect to find a woman with grace enough to enable her to live but one week out of fifty-two with her husband.  Besides, what right has any man to take advantage of the affections of a woman, make her his wife, and by a voluntary absence subvert the whole order and economy of the marriage state, by separating those whom neither God, nature, nor the requirements of civil society permit to be put asunder?  It is neither just nor generous.  I may add to this, that I had little money, and with this little administered to the necessities of a beloved mother until I was fifty-seven.  If I have done wrong, I hope God and the sex will forgive me.  It is my duty now to bestow the pittance I may have to spare upon the widows and fatherless girls, and poor married men.” (January 27, 1804)


Startling Statistics

When Asbury first came to the American colonies as a 26 year old Methodist missionary in 1771, there were 600 Methodist believers on the new continent.  Fewer than 1 in 800 people was a Methodist.  When he died in 1816, there were over 200,000 Methodists (1 of every 36 Americans), and Asbury had ordained more than 2,000 Methodist preachers, nearly all of those were preaching at the time.  Despite poor health, he had ridden over 130,000 miles and preached for 45 years (an average of eight miles per day), probably delivering more than 10,000 sermons–about one sermon every three days!


More than a century after Asbury’s death, President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29) recognized Asbury as one of the key builders of the nation.

“I feel my spirit bound to the New World, and my heart bound to the people, though unknown.”


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