« Asaph Asbury, Francis Ascension, Feast of the »

Asbury, Francis

ASBURY, az´ber-i, FRANCIS: The first Methodist bishop ordained in America; b. at Hamstead Bridge, parish of Handsworth (a northern suburb 309 of Birmingham), Staffordshire, England, Aug. 20, 1745; d. at Spottsylvania, Va., Mar. 31, 1816. He became a local preacher at the age of sixteen, and an itinerant minister in 1767; at his own request he was sent by Wesley as a missionary to America in 1771, landing at Philadelphia with his companion, Richard Wright, Oct. 27; in 1772 he was appointed Wesley’s “general assistant in America,” with supervisory power over all the Methodist preachers and societies in the country, but the next year was superseded by Thomas Rankin. On the outbreak of the Revolutionary War Rankin returned to England, but Asbury chose to remain. Like most of the Methodist preachers, he was a nonjuror (that is, he had conscientious scruples concerning oaths, and refused to take the oath of allegiance required by the authorities), and he suffered some annoyance from the officials during the war. After the close of the war the Methodists were organized into an independent Church, Thomas Coke (q.v.) and Asbury being chosen joint superintendents at the Christmas Conference at Baltimore, 1784, and Asbury ordained by Coke Dec. 27. The remainder of his life he devoted to the Church with tireless energy and unflagging zeal. 66He visited Massachusetts 23 times after 1791 . . . the state of New York 56 times, New Jersey 62 times, Pennsylvania 78 times, Delaware 33 times, Maryland 80 times, North Carolina 63 times, South Carolina 46 times, Virginia 84 times, Tennessee and Georgia each 20 times, and other states or territories with corresponding frequency. In his unparalleled career he preached about 16,500 sermons, or at least one a day, and traveled about 270,000 miles, or 6,000 a year, presiding in no lees than 224 annual conferences, and ordaining more than 4,000 preachers.--Janes, p. 5. When he came to America the Methodists numbered 10 preachers and 600 members; when he died, after forty-five years of work, they had 695 preachers and 214,235 members.

Asbury was fearless in the discharge of duty, possessed a keen wit and uncommon shrewdness, was far-sighted and a good organizer. He never married; and his salary was sixty-four dollars a year. His early education was defective; but in later life he acquired some knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. In 1785 he laid the foundation of the first Methodist college, and he formed a plan of dividing the country into districts with an academy in each. His journal from the date of sailing for America to 1780 was published before his death, and the remaining years were transcribed and published by F. Hollingworth in 1821; it has been often reprinted (cf. The Heart of Asbury’s Journal, ed. E. S. Tipple, New York, 1905).

Bibliography: E. L. Janes, Character and Career of Francis Asbury, New York, 1870 (the standard biography); W. C. Larrabee, Asbury and His Coadjutors, 2 vols., Cincinnati, 1853; W. P. Strickland, The Pioneer Bishop; or, the Life and Times of Francis Asbury, ib. 1858; F. W. Briggs, Bishop Asbury: a Biographical Study for Christian Workers, London, 1874; J. F. Hurst, History of the Christian Church, ii, 894, 905, New York, 1900. For Wesley’s views on the assumption by Asbury of the title “bishop” consult R. D. Urlin, Churchman’s Life of Wesley, pp. 168-170, London, n.d.

« Asaph Asbury, Francis Ascension, Feast of the »
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