Charles Wesley

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1707 - 1788

By Richard Ratcliffe

1708 - December 18 – Charles was born at Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, the 18th child of the Rector, Rev Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna [nee Annesley].

1716 – He entered WestminsterSchool at the age of 9 where his elder brother Samuel was an Usher [or Assistant Master]. While at Westminster, Charles turned down a proposal from Mr Garret Wesley, a wealthy Irishman who wanted to adopt him and make him his heir.

1726 – He entered Christ Church College Oxford as a student. While at Oxford he became a founder member of a group of students determined to pursue their studies and devotions in a methodical way. The group became known as “The Holy Club” or “The Bible Moths” and subsequently “Methodists.”

1729 – His elder brother John returned to Oxford to take up his post of Fellow of Lincoln College and took over the leadership of the “Methodists.”

1735 – Shortly after the death of his father in April, Charles took Holy Orders and in October sailed for Georgia in the American Colonies to be Secretary to the Governor, General Oglethorpe. He arrived at Savannah on March 9th 1736.

1736 – George Whitfield, a member of the “Methodists” wrote in his Journal that following the departure of both John and Charles Wesley for Georgia, Methodism at Oxford visibly declined.

1736September – Charles preached at ChristChurch, the Old North Church in Boston, Massachusetts, on “One needful thing.” Earlier he had written to his friends Sally and Anne Kirkham that God had brought an unhappy, unthankful wretch hither and that he groaned under the intolerable weight of inherent misery.

1736 – October – Charles sailed for England, landing at Dover on December 3rd, 44 days after leaving Boston.

1738 – May 21 – The day of his “Conversion” at the house of John Bray, Brazier, of 12 Little Britain in London, three days before his brother John who had also returned from America in miserable circumstances, had a similar experience.

1738 – May 23 – He wrote his famous “Conversion Hymn” – “Where shall my wond’ring soul begin” which he joyfully sang with John and a group of friends following John’s conversion on the 24th.

1739 – January – He was sent to St Mary’s ParishChurch, Islington as Curate but forced to resign when the churchwardens took exception to his evangelical preaching.

1739 – He published his first collection of hymns. He was to write many other collections such as Funeral Hymns, Children’s Hymns and Hymns for Earthquakes and Tumults.

1740 –He became an itinerant evangelist preaching in many churches by invitation or to large crowds in the open air.

1740Christmas Eve – After leaving Bristol at 5a.m., he preached at The Foundery Chapel near Moorfields in London in the evening where a beggar offered to teach him “the grand Arcanum” for five shillings. Charles gave him sixpence telling him that as he had the powers of transmutation it was the same as if he had been given half a guinea.

1742 – July 23 – Following the death of his mother Susanna, Charles wrote a four verse epitaph for her gravestone in Bunhill Fields.

1744 – This was a year of disorder in which Charles was physically assaulted when preaching in Wednesbury, Birmingham, Thorne and Devizes. He attended the first Conference of Methodists which was held at The Foundery.

1744 – Sunday, September 23 – Charles preached at 5a.m. at The Horsefair, followed by Communion at Kingswood, a baptism and a sermon, then by horse to Bristol for a third sermon after which he returned to Kingswood for a love feast and at midnight went back to Bristol to sleep.

1749 – April 8 –He married Miss Sarah Gwynne, daughter of Mr Marmaduke Gwynne of Garth in Breconshire at Llanlleonfel Church at 8a.m. His elder brother John officiated.

1749-1771 – Charles made his home in Bristol at Number 4 Charles Street where he and Sarah had 8 children. Only 3 survived birth- Charles, Samuel and Sarah. The others – Jacky, Martha Maria, Selina, Susanna and John James all died in infancy.

1771 – Charles and his family moved from Bristol to Great Chesterfield Street in Marylebone mainly to help his 2 sons develop their musical talents, but also to allow Charles to develop his ministry among prisoners especially the inmates of Newgate Prison. His many acquaintances in London included Lord Mornington [the father of Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington], Dr Johnson, David Garrick and William Wilberforce. His son Charles was taught to play the organ by Kelway, the organist at that time of St Martin’s in the Fields. He was to become the organist at Marylebone Parish Church.

1780 – Brother John published a “Collection of Hymns for the Use of People called Methodists which included a large number written by Charles. This hymn book was used by Wesleyan Methodists until 1904.    

1788 – March 29 – Charles died at his home in Chesterfield Street, Marylebone. He was buried in the Churchyard of St Marylebone on April 5. His brother John was in Shropshire at the time and only learned of Charles’ death on April 4. It was later discovered that at the very moment Charles died, John and his congregation in Shropshire were singing one of Charles’ hymns – “Come let us join our friends above that have obtained the prize.” 

About the year 1830 , Charles Wesley Junior sold his father’s library of over 7500 books to Thomas Jackson who held them in Trust for the Wesleyan Methodist Conference. Later the collection was placed in the Library of the Wesleyan Methodist Ministers’ TrainingCollege at Richmond in Surrey. When the College closed in 1972 the Collection was sent to the John Rylands University Library in Manchester where it is kept in the Methodist Archives and Research Centre. 

His second surviving son, Samuel was born in Bristol on 24th February, 1766 and became a famous organist and composer. He was a contemporary of W A Mozart and was called “The English Mozart” by some of his contemporaries.

In 1793, Samuel married Charlotte Louise Martin by whom he had 3 children before he abandoned her for a teenage servant, Sarah Suter by whom he had another 4 children, one of whom was Samuel Sebastian Wesley who was born in 1810.

Samuel played the violin as well as the organ and was a conductor and music lecturer. He wrote mostly church music. He died on 11th October 1837 and was buried in St Marylebone Old Churchyard near his father, Charles. 

His most famous grandson was Samuel Sebastian Wesley, named after Johann Sebastian Bach. Samuel Sebastian was born in London on 14th August 1810 to Sarah Suter, Samuel Wesley’s partner. Samuel Sebastian sang in the Choir of the Chapel Royal as a boy and was appointed Organist of Hereford Cathedral in 1832 at the age of 22. 3 years later he moved to Exeter Cathedral and was later Organist of Leeds Parish Church and at Winchester and Gloucester Cathedrals. One of the most famous musicians of his time he composed many anthems and hymn tunes as well as other church music, He died on 19th April 1876 and is buried in Exeter Cathedral near several of his children.   

Richard Ratcliffe

Updated March 2014

This page was added by Ann Fox on 10/03/2014.

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