Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How the Creek Migration Legend led to Formation of the Methodist Church - Part 4 with Robert Thornton

 John Wesley romances Sophia Hopkey in the movie, "Wesley" (2009)

Here we have the tale of how a couple of disgraced brothers joined with the Moravians to accidentally found the Methodist church.  A combination of necessity, open air preaching to the poor in particular and the accidental invention of Born Again set the stage for a truly independent movement.  The American Revolution made it real. 

In the end, it all sounds so utterly unplanned yet it really happened.

Sometimes that is the real way of the world even for those truly prepared.
How the Creek Migration Legend led to formation of the Methodist Church – Part Four

“From now on, when we come to this place, we will call it Georgia.” 

Parakusa (High King) Chikili

Speech to the leaders of Savannah, GA

June 7, 1735


“This Morning James Oglethorpe, Esq; accompanied by the Rev. Mr John Wesley, Fellow of Lincoln College, the Rev. Mr. Charles Wesley, Student of Christ Church College, and the Rev. Mr. John Ingram of Queens College, Oxford, set out from Westminster to Gravesend, in order to embark for the Colony of Georgia – Two of the aforesaid Clergymen design, after a short stay at Savannah, to go amongst the Indian Nations bordering that Settlement, in order to bring them to the Knowledge of Christianity.”

Gentleman’s Magazine – October 14, 1735

The image above portrays John Wesley romancing Sophia Hopkey in the movie, “Wesley” (2009)

The Creek Migration Legends Series
Prologue: The thinly populated provinces of the Creek Confederacy along the Georgia Coast had sold a county-sized tract of land to Squire Oglethorpe that nobody lived on until a few months before the Georgia colonists arrived. It consisted of the swampy land between the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers, up to the high tide line. It was land that most Creeks disdained, because it was infested with mosquitoes, parasitic worms and horrific intestinal diseases, most notably “the flux” (vibrio~New World cholera) a bacteria that thrived in locations where fresh and salt water mixed.

The Creeks had formerly called the region around this county sized province, Parachikora. The Spanish had once called Chicora. The French had once called it Chicola. Now it would be called Georgia.  A century later, some historian in South Carolina would decide that Chicora was 150 miles to the north near Georgetown, SC.  A legion of institutions, streets, schools and Indian tribes in that state would eventually be named Chicora.

Mikko Tamachichi made a “fast buck” in February of 1733, selling land that he had never lived on until late 1732. In fact, until 1717 the Coastal Plain had been the domain of the Yamasee Confederacy. After Yamasee’s demise in the war against South Carolina, the new Koweta Confederacy cut a deal with South Carolina officials that declared all lands west and south of the Savannah River to be Koweta turf.

In private negotiations with James Oglethorpe in early June of 1735, Chikili had agreed to allow the construction of a trading post at the Fall Line of the Savannah River. The Creeks detested the South Carolina planter aristocracy because they kept thousands of African and Native America slaves in bondage. Squire Oglethorpe had banned slavery in the new colony. A Georgia trading post on the Fall Line would be much closer to the main centers of Creek population.

When Chikili and the national council strode out of Savannah in mid-June 1735, they assumed that the Colony of Georgia would always be a thin strip of unwanted land on the coast, which would be a source for European firearms, manufactured goods and technology.

The minuscule population of Georgia would always be dependent on the mighty Creek army for protection from the Spanish, French and Cherokees. With a steady flow of munitions and intelligence being supplied by loyal Georgia-based traders, the Creeks could quickly re-occupy their lands, seized by the Cherokees twenty years earlier. Perhaps they could eventually drive the Cherokees back north to where they came from. At least, that was the delusion that Creeks carried toward this new colony in their midst.

Act VII: John Wesley’s planned mission to recreate the Creek Indians in his own image was doomed from the start. He later admitted that “he hoped to save his own soul by saving theirs.” There was a worse problem, however, than Wesley’s self-doubts. He viewed the Creeks as simple-minded children with no cultural memory or knowledge of spiritual matters. He expected them to be in awe of his superior intellect and cultural heritage then immediately do everything possible to emulate him.

Remember the University of Georgia senior anthropology professor in 2012, who said to us, “Now run along children and play.  You shouldn’t be meddling in things that you don’t understand.”

Wesley’s response to being bested intellectually by the Creek elders at Palachicola (Part Three) was to shun the Native peoples for the rest of his time in Georgia. He pretended in his mind that they did not exist, since they refused to bow down before him.

Does that sound like some Dixie academicians we know?

James Oglethorpe appointed John Wesley as his private secretary to replace Thomas Christie. Wesley would be completely loyal to his patron and was expected to be his “eyes and ears” among the colonists. Almost from the beginning of the settlement, the colony’s chief magistrate, Thomas Causton, had been breeding discontent. He actively tried to get Oglethorpe court-martialed in England.

Wesley became aware that Causton was embezzling the Trustee’s funds and conducting business with the Moravians dishonestly. The Moravian commune had an agreement in which they would provide public works for the colonial government as payment for supplies. Causton was applying their required work to improvements to his plantation. Eventually, the evidence that Wesley gathered was sufficient to impeach Causton.

Since it was obvious that Wesley was not going to be a missionary to the Creek Indians, Oglethorpe also asked him to minister to the foreigners, who were now arriving in Georgia by the boatloads. Wesley was multilingual and highly educated. He was the ideal person to minister to their needs and to integrate them into the colony. After twiddling his thumbs, looking for something to do, he suddenly became a very busy man.

From the beginning, religious tolerance (except for Roman Catholics) was a mainstay of the Colony of Georgia. One of the oldest synagogues in the United States was founded there by Sephardic Jews, evicted from Brazil. They were joined by French Huguenots, who had fled France in the 1680s to live for two generations in Geneva, Switzerland. Italian-speaking Waldensian Protestants arrived in Savannah after being persecuted for many centuries by both the French and Italian Roman Catholics. The Moravians originally spoke Czech, but after living in Germany for awhile, also spoke German. The Salzburgers were Lutheran refugees from Austria, who spoke German. Their colony was at the northern edge of the lands, purchased from the Creeks.

Wesley’s days became filled with direct interaction with the foreign colonists. This was his typical week day schedule: 5:00-6:30 English Prayers – 9:00-10:00 Italian Prayers – 10:30-12:30 English Communion and Service – 1:00-2:00 French Prayers – 2:00-3:00 Catechism of children – 3:00-4:00 English Prayers. He made frequent visits to the Moravian commune north of Savannah. They became his closest friends and taught him German. He also periodically visited the Lutherans at Ebenezer, several miles northwest of Savannah. (See the 1735 Map of Savannah.)

It is quite ironic that John Wesley was destined to found the Methodist Church. While very empathetic and friendly with foreign Protestants and Jews, he treated the British Dissenters (non-Anglicans) of Savannah in a similar manner to the Creek Indians, after the humiliating sermon in Palachicola.

Wesley’s ostracism of their people, was particularly irritating to the Presbyterian Scots, who composed the majority of soldiers, protecting the colony. Wesley shunned the Dissenters (primarily Presbyterians and Calvinists) and refused them attendance at prayer meetings or church services. This was because he always despised the doctrine of predestination that was preached by the founders of Presbyterianism, John Calvin and John Knox.

A romantic interlude: On the voyage to Georgia, John Wesley had made friends with Sophia Hopkey and her mother. While on aboard, he gave Sophia French lessons. Sophia was considered the most attractive single lady in the new colony and was a member of one its wealthiest families. Wesley continued to pay regular social visits to the Hopkey home, developing a warm friendship, which most persons, including Sophia, assumed was leading to matrimony.

In late 1736, just when a formal betrothal announcement by Sophia and John, seemed imminent, Wesley later claimed that Bishop Spangingberg of the Moravians advised him to avoid amorous relationships with women. At the time, Wesley told some that God had told him to break off the relationship. Whatever the cause, Wesley suddenly began shunning Sophia . . . without any explanation to her.

On March 12, 1737, Sophia and William Williamson eloped to Purrysburg, SC and were legally married there. Wesley had refused to perform the ceremonies. He suddenly regretted the cruel way that he had dumped the young woman that he loved. He should have never listened to the advice of the bishop.

On August 17, 1737, probably as an act of reconciliation, Sophia showed up at church service for the first time since marrying. Wesley refused to give her communion. Wesley was exhibiting the same jackass behavior that in the previous year he had exhibited toward the Creek Indians, when he didn’t get what he wanted. The next day, her husband filed a charge of criminal defamation of Sophia and sued Wesley for 1000 pounds sterling in civil claims.

Wesley denied the right of the courts to interfere with what he viewed to be an ecclesiastical matter, but a trial was held, nevertheless. A newspaper of the time stated that “the jury consisted of a Frenchman who did not understand English, one papist (Roman Catholic), one infidel, three Baptists, and seventeen Dissenters (Presbyterians).” Nevertheless, the jury did not produce enough guilty verdicts to convict him. However, there was another problem. Sophia was the niece of Thomas Causton.

The Caustons and Hopkeys began spreading rumors that Sophia had repeatedly rejected Wesley’s proposals and that Wesley was secretly a Roman Catholic. Public opinion swayed to being almost entirely against Wesley . . . so much so that Oglethorpe could not dare intervene. After he received rumors that a lynch mob was about to come after him, Wesley was rowed across the Savannah River during the dead of night. He then traveled to Charleston and took the next ship to England.

After arriving in London, Wesley was called before the Board of Trustees for the Province of Georgia. In a non-judicial trial, he was made the scapegoat for everything that had gone wrong in the colony, then fired.

Unable to find a church assignment in England because of the rumors constantly arriving from Savannah, Wesley joined a Moravian congregation in London on Aldersgate Street. Both he and his brother, Charles became friends with the young Moravian missionary Peter Boehler, who was temporarily in England, before departing for Georgia. The Moravian and Salzburg missionary efforts among the Creeks and Uchee along the Savannah River were thriving. The Church of England had lost interest in the missionary work with the Creeks after William Wake died in 1737.

George Whitefield, Wesley’s friend from the Holy Club at Oxford, was also excluded from Anglican churches when he returned to England. He began preaching in the open air to the commoners, just as Wesley had done at Frederica (Part III). On May 27, 1738 Wesley experienced a “born again” moment at the Moravian service. This is the point in time that he always considered his beginning as a true Christian. He never exhibited again the arrogant, jackass behavior that so poisoned his ministry in Savannah. Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, soon had “born again” experiences at the same location.

Bethesda Orphanage for Boys - founded by the Rev. George Whitefield in 1740.
Bethesda Orphanage for Boys – founded by the Rev. George Whitefield in 1740.

The Wesleys and Whitefield cut their ties with the Moravians in 1739, when their congregations in England shifted to religious practices more akin to those of the Quakers. The three rebellious ministers then formed the Methodist Society with Whitefield as its leader. The Methodist Society maintained its allegiance to the Church of England, but focused its ministry on the poor and working class, who felt unwelcome at most Anglican churches. Whitefield volunteered to return to the colonies and John Wesley replaced him. Whitefield founded an orphanage in Savannah and then began a triumphant progression up the colonies that is now called the Great Awakening.

John Wesley
John Wesley

Both Wesley brothers always considered themselves to be members of the Church of England even though John was frequently persecuted by Anglican clergy and English magistrates. During the American Revolution tensions accelerated between the Church of England and Methodist factions, because almost all the Methodists were Whigs, who sympathized with the American revolutionaries.

In 1784, when the Church of England no longer existed in the new United States of America, John Wesley “laid hands” on an Anglican priest, Thomas Coke, naming him bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. He “laid hands” on Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey to be the presbyters of the new denomination. This moment is considered to be the birth of the Methodist Church as a separate denomination. Methodist Societies in Great Britain soon separated from the Church of England.

Statue of John Wesley on Wesley Square in Savannah
Statue of John Wesley on Wesley Square in Savannah
A final footnote on history

In 1743, James Oglethorpe, received orders to return to England to face charges of mismanaging the invasion of Florida during a war with Spain. He was absolved and in fact, praised for his victory at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. However, he never returned to Georgia.

Chikili was no longer treated with deference by the colonial administrator, who replaced Oglethorpe. Chikili quickly turned over the leadership of the Creek Confederacy to Malatchi, the nephew of Emperor Brim, who was far more militant in attitude. The capital of Koweta was moved from the Ocmulgee River to the Chattahoochee River, to symbolize the Creek’s independence from both Great Britain and France. However, for the remainder of the Georgia colony’s existence, more and more land was ceded to the British.

When John Adams arrived in London that same year to be the first ambassador to the Court of St. James, one of the first Englishmen to pay him a social call was none other than General James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the Colony of Georgia. Oglethorpe and Adams continued their friendship until Oglethorpe’s death in 1785. Although senior general in 1775, Oglethorpe had declined command of British forces being dispatched to crush the rebellion.

In 1784, the same year that the Methodist Church was formally birthed, the Creek Confederacy found itself being treated like a squatter on its own land. It was clear that the new government considered Creeks to be a barrier in the way, rather than a partner in progress.

Then one morning in 1790, Creek leaders learned that five years earlier, the United States had secretly negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees that took all remaining Creek lands in northeast Georgia, while giving the rest of North Georgia to the Cherokees. It was the beginning of the end.

John Wesley passed on to his eternal reward in 1791.  Virtually, a pauper for most of his life after leaving Georgia, all that he left this world was his clothes, his Bible and the Methodist Church.  It was John Wesley, who first publicly used the phrase, “Let us agree to disagree,”  while giving the eulogy at George Whitefield’s funeral.

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