Francis Asbury

Francis Asbury

Asbury, Francis, 1745-1816, Methodist bishop in America, b. England. The Wesleyan conference in London sent him in 1771 as a missionary to America, where he promoted the growth of the circuit rider system that proved so eminently suited to frontier conditions. His powerful preaching, his skill in winning converts, and his mastery of organization had, by the end of the Revolution, established Asbury as the leader of American Methodism. In 1784, John Wesley ordained Dr. Thomas Coke as superintendent of the societies in America; Asbury was to be associate superintendent. At the American conference held that year, however, Asbury was the dominant figure and was made superintendent. He then assumed the title of bishop and took steps to institute a centralized church government. Although tormented by ill health, he maintained personal supervision of the expanding church, traveling on horseback over 5,000 mi (8,047 km) each year and strongly entrenching Methodism over the entire area of the new nation. His journal is valuable for its account of contemporary society as well of his personal life.

See his journal and letters (3 vol., 1958).

Francis Asbury (August 20 1745March 31 1816) was one of the first two bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.


Born at Hamstead Bridge, Staffordshire, England of Methodist parents, Asbury became a local preacher at eighteen and was ordained at age twenty-two. His boyhood home still stands and is open as a museum in West Bromwich, England. In 1771 he volunteered to travel to America. When the American War of Independence broke out in 1776 he was the only Methodist minister to remain in America.

In 1784 John Wesley named Asbury and Thomas Coke as co-superintendents of the work in America. This marks the beginning of the "Methodist Episcopal Church of the USA". For the next thirty-two years, Asbury led all the Methodists in America. Like Wesley, Asbury preached in all sorts of places: courthouses, public houses, tobacco houses, fields, public squares, wherever a crowd assembled to hear him. For the remainder of his life he rode an average of 6000 miles each year, preaching virtually every day and conducting meetings and conferences. Under his direction the church grew from 1,200 to 214,000 members and 700 ordained preachers.

In the most exciting time in American history, Asbury was arguably the most extraordinary preacher of his time. Biograph Ezra Squier Tipple wrote: "If to speak with authority as the accredited messenger of God; to have credentials which bear the seal of heaven ... if when he lifted the trumpet to his lips the Almighty blew the blast; if to be conscious of an ever-present sense of God, God the Summoner, God the Anoining One, God the Judge, and to project it into speech which would make his hearers tremble, melt them with teror, and cause them to fall as dead men; if to be and do all this would entitle a man to be called a great preacher, than Asbury was a great preacher."

Bishop Asbury died in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore near the graves of Bishops John Emory and Beverly Waugh.

His Journal

Asbury kept a journal assiduously; on December 8 1812 he crossed the Broad River into York County, South Carolina and came to the home of David Leech, Esq. He states in his journal that Leech offered him a Bible and a bottle of brandy; he wrote, "I took one." His journal also contains some references to conversations with ministers who disagreed with the Methodist leadership, such as Rev. Charles Hopkins of Powhatan County, Virginia who had rejected the Methodist ideals several years before.



References and Resources for Further Study

"Midnight Rider for the Morning Star," an historical novel (ISBN 978-0-915143-10-8) by Mark Alan Leslie, available at bookstores or through

  • The official Francis Asbury web site. Contains an A-Z index of places and people mentioned in his journals.
  • Trailblazin' Bishop: The Francis Asbury Story A one-man play on the life of Francis Asbury.
  • Bishop Asbury Cottage. Story on the BBC website about Francis Asbury's former home
  • Francis Asbury biographical sketch on Find-A-Grave
  • Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury (1958) by Francis Asbury (ISBN 0-687-20581-6)
  • America's Bishop: The Life of Francis Asbury (2003) by Darius Salter (ISBN 1-928915-39-6)
  • The Story of American Methodism: A History of the United Methodists and Their Relations (1974) by Frederick Abbott Norwood (ISBN 0-687-39641-7)
  • The Heritage of American Methodism (1999) by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn (ISBN 0-687-05500-8)
  • From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American Methodism (1976) by Frank Baker (ISBN 0-8223-0359-0)
  • Eliza Asbury - her cottage and her son by David Hallam (ISBN 1858582350

See also

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