John Wesley: Military Chaplain

John Wesley was, for a time, a military chaplain, as was his brother Charles.

The Wesley brothers came to Georgia in 1735/1736 to serve as clergy for the colony. John was posted to Savannah, but Charles was assigned to to Fort Frederica on St. Simon’s Island (at south end of the Georgia coast). Frederica was a British military garrison and Governor Ogelthorpe’s military headquarters. It existed solely to check Spanish expansion out of Florida and it eventually played a role in the War of Jenkins Ear. In the 1742 Battle of Bloody Marsh, British troops from the garrison defeated Spanish invaders from Cuba.

As minister to the military garrison of Frederica, Charles Wesley was in effect a military chaplain. He was not, however, a successful military chaplain. He was unpopular with both soldiers and civilians, with both the rank-and-file and the chain of command. A campaign of rumor and innuendo against him sealed his fate. A bare two months following his arrival at Frederica, he sought relief from his duties. He returned to England less than a year after his arrival in the colonies on the pretext of a new assignment.

Following Charles’ relief from duty, his brother John assumed responsibility for providing religious support to the outpost. John retained his pastoral duties in Savannah while making periodic trips to the fort. Since there was no chapel in the fort, he conducted worship services in the guard house. John survived at Frederica longer than did his brother, but he was no more popular. Eventually, John faced his own personal troubles in Savannah. He, too, returned to England in 1737.

Both Wesleys departed Frederica before renewed hostilities with Spain erupted, so neither had the privilege of accompanying troops under fire. Their failures in Georgia contributed to their state of mind in 1738 when they both had strong experiences of God’s grace, ultimately leading to the explosive growth of the Methodist movement in England.

Today, little remains of Fort Frederica, although it is possible to visit the ruins. A number of signs within the fort recall the Wesleys’ ministry there. The historic Christ Church sits just outside the grounds of the Frederica monument, although it has no direct connection with the Wesleys. Further south on the island is the Methodist retreat of Epworth-by-the-Sea. A number of military installations in southern Georgia and Florida are within a short drive. If you are ever assigned in the area, a trip to both Savannah and St. Simon’s Island are well worth the trip.