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John Wesley papers

Identifier: Manuscript Collection No. 153

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes three of John Wesley's diaries. The original 1736 diary documents part of his trip to Georgia (1735-1738) with his brother Charles, and is written partially in the cipher they sometimes used in their letters. The other two diaries are photocopies of the 1735 and 1737 volumes held by Methodist Archives in London (which has since been transferred to the University of Manchester).

The collection also contains correspondence of John Wesley pertaining to church business and theology, including correspondence with prominent Methodists and family members. Letters and manuscripts which are in print are noted in the container list at the relevant item. "Telford" refers to John Telford (ed.), The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley (8 vols; London: The Epworth Press, 1831). "Wesley Works" refers to Frank Baker and Richard Heitzenrater (eds.), The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley (35 vols; Nashville: Abindgon Press, 1976- ).

Other materials in the collection relate to John Wesley's life and ministry. This includes an affidavit against John Wesley by Captain Robert Williams. The affidavit concerns Wesley's failed romantic relationship with Sophia Hopkey during the time he was in Georgia and describes his repeated attempts to meet with her in private after her marriage to William Williamson. As a result of his actions, Wesley was tried by a grand jury, indicted, and released on bail. Before the trial was held, Wesley left Savannah "in a clandestine manner" and returned to England. Included is a pasted-in print copy of the excerpt from Wesley's diary that is a response to Captain Williams' statement and a handwritten copy of a letter written by Wesley to Williams. Other items in this series include an autobiographical sketch by Thomas Hanby, which contains John Wesley's manuscript corrections and John Wesley's epitaph on Dr. Dodd. The last item is an undated fragment consisting of a list of thirty-eight names and the church offenses they committed, including drunkenness, gaming, racing, dancing, railing, and scolding. The number of those expelled is totaled at the bottom.


  • 1735-1791

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Biographical Note

John Wesley (1703-1791) was a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford University; presbyter of the Church of England; and founder of the Methodist movement. He was born on June 17, 1703 at Epworth, Linclonshire, England. He was the second son of the Anglican priest Samuel Wesley (1662-1735) and Susanna Annesley Wesley (1669-1742). Though Wesley's parents were committed to the Church of England, his grandparents on both sides were Nonconformists. John Wesley graduated from Christ Church, Oxford University, in 1724. He was ordained deacon in 1725, elected a fellow of Lincoln College in 1726, and ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728. Wesley returned to Oxford in 1729 to fulfill the residential requirements of his fellowship. While there he joined his brother Charles and others in a religious group called the Holy Club. Group members were derisively called "Methodists" because of their emphasis on study and devotion.

In 1735, John Wesley, along with with his brother Charles, sailed to colonial Georgia. John Wesley was motivated by the opportunity to practice primitive Christianity among Native Americans, yet he was distracted from that goal by his duties to oversee the spiritual lives of the colonists. Wesley's ministry in Savannah was mostly unsuccessful and after a failed relationship with a young woman named Sophia Hopkey, he left Georgia and returned to England in 1737. In May of 1738, through the influence of Moravian believers, John Wesley had a personal religious experience. He began an itinerant ministry preaching to the unchurched and organizing them into Methodist societies.

Following the end of the American Revolution in 1784, Wesley took it upon himself to ordain preachers to serve in the United States. Though his intention was to remain within the Church of England, American Methodists formed their own, separate denomination in December of 1784. They called themselves the "Methodist Episcopal Church." Wesley continued to oversee the growth and development of the Methodist movement until his death. John Wesley died on March 2, 1791 in London.


2.0 cubic feet (4 boxes)


Consists of diaries, correspondence, and related materials of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in three series: (I) Diaries, (II) Correspondence and Letters, and (III) Fragments and Other materials. The first series is in chronological order. The second series is divided into three groups: (A) correspondence and letters to individuals, (B) facsimiles and reproductions of letters to individuals, and (C) printed circular letters. Each group in the second series is in chronological order. The third series is in chronological order.

Custodial History

A large portion of the collection was part of the R. Thursfield Smith Collection, which Warren Akin Candler purchased from W. H. Smith in 1911. The 1736 diary was also from the R. Thursfield Smith Collection, although acquired separately from Bishop Eugene Russell Hendrix prior to 1911. Additional gifts and purchases from 1929, 1941, 1970, and 1994. The majority of this collection was in the possession of the Rose Library (MSS 100) prior to being transferred to Pitts Theology Library in January, 2018. The materials from the Rose Library were added to the existing John Wesley collection at Pitts Theology Library (MSS 153). Some materials were previously part of an oversized bound volume containing letters of Wesley family members and other earlier Methodists. These letters were removed from the bound volume due to conservation concerns and all of these letters are marked with the note OBV1 and a page number to retain provenance information. When provenance for a particular item is known, that information is provided at the item level.


Gifts and purchases since 1911. Some materials in this collection were previously part of MSS 100 at Rose Library.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Collection on John Wesley (Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University), John Wesley Correspondence (Methodist Library, Drew University), Wesley Family papers (Rubenstein Library, Duke University), and Wesley Family papers (University of Manchester Library)

Related Materials in This Repository

Charles Wesley papers (MSS 159) and Wesleyana Collection (RG 020-3)

Publication Note

Many letters by John Wesley are published the following two works: John Telford (ed.), The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley (8 vols; London: The Epworth Press, 1831). Frank Baker and Richard Heitzenrater (eds.), The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley (35 vols; Nashville: Abindgon Press, 1976- ).


Processed by Rose Library staff; Nancy Watkins, 1997; Brandon Wason, February 2018.

John Wesley Papers, 1735-1791
Pitts Theology Library, Emory University
Date encoded: April 29, 2014
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Pitts Special Collections and Archives Repository

1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta GA 30322 USA