Guide to the Wesley family papers, 1726-1889 and undated

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The brothers John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788) were Church of England clergymen and two of the founders of Methodism; Sarah Wesley (1726-1822) and Sarah Wesley (1759-1828) were the wife and daughter of Charles Wesley. The Wesley family papers span the years 1726-1889 and mainly comprise the correspondence of John and Charles Wesley, with single items from the wife and daughter of Charles, both named Sarah; there is also an inventory of John Wesley's library taken at the time of his death, 1791, and a photograph album, 1889, of English sites related to the Wesleys and the history of Methodism. Correspondence discusses John Wesley's life as a student at Lincoln College, the administration of Kingswood School, the brothers' mission to Georgia in the 1730s, and Methodism's eventual separation from the Church of England. Correspondents and people mentioned in the letters include the Countess of Huntingdon, George Whitefield, James Oglethorpe, Joseph Benson, and Samuel Bradburn.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Wesley family papers
1726-1889 and undated
3 Linear Feet, 46 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Material in English

Collection Overview

The Wesley family papers, 1726-1889 and undated, comprise correspondence, poems, sermons, affidavits, and other documents of the brothers John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles Wesley (1707-1788), both Church of England clergymen and two of the founders of Methodism; of Sarah Wesley (1726-1822), wife of Charles; and of Sarah Wesley (1759-1828), daughter of Charles and Sarah.

John Wesley's letters discuss his life as a student at Lincoln College; the administration of Kingswood School, Bath; his conflict with the Countess of Huntingdon; his involvement with the funeral sermon for George Whitefield and Whitefield's estate; and various other topics including the appointment of ministers. Charles Wesley's letters discuss details of the Wesley brothers' experiences on their mission to Georgia, including their relationship with James Oglethorpe, and his regrets over the Methodists' separation from the Church of England. Correspondents and persons mentioned include Samuel Wesley (brother of John and Charles), Eliza Bennis, Joseph Benson, Samuel Bradburn, James Kenton, and Samuel Lloyd.

Other materials include an inventory of John Wesley's library at the time of his death; a signed affidavit concerning a major chapel of British Methodism, opened in Nottingham in 1783; a photograph album of places in England associated with the Wesley family and the history of Methodism; and some infant baptismal clothing (a christening gown) attributed to the Wesley family.

Original correspondence housed in Box 1 available by prior request only. Use copies are in Box 2.


Arranged in three series: Correspondence, Miscellaneous, and Volumes.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Wesley Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Correspondence Series, 1726-1862 and undated

2 boxes

Arranged in chronological order in Box 1; except as indicated, all items are signed autograph letters. Use copies are in Box 2, together with provenance information for certain items. Miscellaneous other materials, mainly comprising printed materials and photocopies, are appended at the end of the series.

Conditions Governing Access note

[ATTENTION: originals housed in Box 1 available by prior request only. Use copies are in Box 2.]

Wesley, John, Lincoln College, Oxon, contemporary copy, to the Rev. Mr. [Samuel] Wesley, [Jr.], Gt. Dean's Yard, Westminster, 1726 Apr. 4

Encloses two poems, mentions receiving a note for twelve pounds from his father, gives his impression of the students at Lincoln, and reports three recent local happenings.

Box 1
Folder 1
[John Wesley], Oxon, to Bishop Potter (?), 1734/5 Mar. 4 [contemporary copy?]
Box 1
Folder 2
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Samuel Lloyd, 1751 June 19

Instructs Lloyd in ways in which to improve depth and consistency of his spiritual commitment.

[Original missing; use copy available.]

Box 1
Folder 3
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Samuel Lloyd, 1751 July 3

Concerning rumors of misconduct among the students at Kingswood School, a Methodist public school in Bath.

[Original missing; no use copy available.]

Box 1
Folder 4
Wesley, Sarah (Gwynne), Bristol, to Samuel Lloyd, [Birmingham?], 1755 Mar. 31
Box 1
Folder 5
Wesley, Charles, Chancery Lane, to Samuel Lloyd, Devonshire Square, 1755 May (unsigned, endorsed "Revd. Ch. Wesley 1755 rec'd the 26 May")
Box 1
Folder 6
Wesley, Charles, James Street, to Samuel Lloyd, Devonshire Square, 1760 Feb. 22 (unsigned)
Box 1
Folder 7
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Abraham Andrews, n.p., 1768 Aug. 20
Box 1
Folder 8
Wesley, John, Bristol, to [Eliza] Bennis, n.p., 1769 Sept. 18
Box 1
Folder 9
Wesley, Charles, Chesterfield Street by Marybone(?), to [?], 1769 Dec. 4 (endorsed in the hand of Samuel Lloyd)
Box 1
Folder 10
Wesley, J[ohn], London, to Joseph Benson, Edmond(?) Hall, Oxon, 1770 Nov. 30

Wesley states that after feeling for several years that it was his duty to do so, he told Lady Huntingdon that she thought herself of more importance than she was. She actively protested against the minutes of Wesley's conference that were published in 1770. He also writes about the large congregations at the Tabernacle and Tottenham Court Chapel, probably for his funeral sermon on George Whitefield. He also mentions the disposal of two houses and others where Whitefield had preached.

Provenance: see use copies in Box 2 for provenance.

Box 1
Folder 11
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Walter Churchey, Near the Hay, Brecon(?), Gloster[...torn], 1777 Aug. 4

Glued to the same sheet is a poem written on May 22, 1819. It concerns the receipt of a picture of Wesley on a piece of glass from the windows of his coach.

Box 1
Folder 12
Wesley, John, endorsed affidavit, 1782 July 29

Description supplied by Frank Baker: "a very important [document] relating to one of the major chapels of British Methodism, built to seat 1000, opened by Wesley and Dr. Thomas Coke in 1783, and described by Wesley as 'one of the most elegant in England.' This replaced the original Octagon chapel in Nottingham. It became a centre of controversy after Wesley's death. The leader of the Methodist New Connexion dissenting offshoot, Alexander Kilham, was buried illustrates the way in which at this time Wesley and Coke were striving to pull together under Methodist control properties which had been erected under Methodist auspices but were under the control of local trustees. This is a guarantee that if Methodism helps to liquidate the debt on the building it will in fact be conveyed to the Connexion."

Box 1
Folder 13
Wesley, Charles, n.p., copy to Dr. Chandler, London, 1785 Apr. 28, 1862, and undated

Two different handwritten transcriptions, one dating to 1862 and the other undated, though probably 19th century. Published in the New York Gazette, the letter is largely autobiographical, telling how his brother John persuaded him to become ordained and to accompany him and James Oglethorpe to Georgia. There, John took charge in Savannah while he worked in Frederica. While waiting for an opportunity to preach to the Indians he served as secretary to Oglethorpe and also secretary of Indian Affairs. Ill health resulting from exposure forced him back to England within six months; John returned the next year. He goes on to describe his work in the Methodist Society he had founded at Oxford, discusses how he and John tried to prevent breaking with the Church of England, and regrets the separation that eventually took place.

Box 1
Folder 14
Wesley, John, [?], to [?], London, 1787 Jan. 17 [Original missing; no use copy.]
Box 1
Folder 15
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Samuel Bradburn, Moorfields, London, 1788 Mar. 13

Concerning Charles Wesley's illness (Charles died on March 29).

Box 1
Folder 16
Wesley, John, Near York, to Capt. Richard Williams, at [?] near Truro, Cornwall, 1788 June 24
Box 1
Folder 17
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Joseph Benson, at the Preachinghouse in Hull, 1788 Sept. 17

Discusses the futility of trying to interpret by reason what is only known by revelation, and criticizes the theological writings of John William Fletcher and Isaac Watts. With a typewritten transcription by an unknown author (located in Box 2).

Box 1
Folder 18
Wesley, John, n.p., to [or about?] James Kenton[?], n.p., 1789 Apr.

Description supplied by Frank Baker: "unpublished and previously unknown to me. It promises to be of some importance. Kenton is apparently James Kenton, an old friend of the Wesley family, author of printed 'Scripture Cards' and of Elegies on both the Wesley brothers, and a witness at young Samuel Wesley's wedding. Wesley is apparently writing to some governor of his old school of the Charterhouse, which also, as a Carthusian foundation, ran some almshouses for needy brethren, whom Wesley sometimes visited. Wesley seems to be seeking charity for Kenton himself."

[Note on identification: Baker's log of Wesley letters (see Wesley Works Archive, Box 81) describes this letter as to a "rich layman" and "re Jas. Kenton," not to him.]

Box 1
Folder 19
Wesley, John, Bristol, to Jasper Robinson, at the Preachinghouse in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, 1790 Sept. 11
Box 1
Folder 20
Wesley, John, [?], to Mrs. Eliza Bennis, Limerick, Ireland, undated [Original missing; no use copy]

Accompanying this letter is one by Mrs. Bennis's granddaughter regarding the letter by Wesley. Bennis was one of the first five members of the Methodist Society in Limerick, Ireland.

Box 1
Folder 21
Tooth, [Eliza?], Hoxton Square, to Miss [Sarah] Wesley, Gloster Place, Portman Square, 1825 Apr. 29
Box 1
Folder 22
Unidentified items

Two severely faded items that may or may not correspond to items cited above as missing. They were found originally behind the JW to Bradburn of 1788 Mar. 13, and in front of CW to Chandler, 1785 Apr. 28.

Box 1
View 2 items (Duke Digital Repository)
Use copies for items in Box 1, 1726-1860

Includes provenance data for some items; additional data may also be available in the Collection Control File--consult with Research Services staff.

Box 2
Wesley, John, London, to Thomas McGeary, London and n.p., 1786 Sept. 25 and 1787 Feb. 15

Two typewritten transcriptions of in Kingswood School, Bath, England; they discuss human pride and the search for a schoolmaster for Kingswood School.

Box 2

2. Miscellaneous Series, 1735-1738 and undated

2 boxes

Includes clippings, photocopies of Charles Wesley's sermons, and artifacts.

A clipping of a poem by Charles Wesley
Box 2
Wesley, Charles, ten sermons (photocopies), 1735-1738
Box 2
Infant baptismal clothing, undated
Box 4
View 10 items (Duke Digital Repository)
An Inventory of the Books, Tracts, Pamphlets &c belonging to the Late Reverend John Wesley, 1791

Listings of materials begins in 1791 with annual updates from 1805-1816 as works were moved. Contains a deed of transference.

Conditions Governing Access note

[ATTENTION: Original may need reformatting or conservation prior to patron access. Please consult Research Services staff before coming to use this material. A photocopy of this volume, made at the time of purchase, is filed under "Bookroom inventory" in the Frank Baker Papers, Subject Files, Alphabetical Files II]

Box 3
Footsteps of John Wesley, photograph album of various places in England associated with the Wesleys and Methodism, unknown provenance, [1889?]
Box 5

Related Material

The following Rubenstein Library collections hold additional correspondence, writings, and other documents relating to the Wesley Family:

Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.


The Wesley family papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as purchases from 1952-1998.

Processing Information

Processed by Michael Shumate, Chloe Rockow, March 2012

Encoded by Michael Shumate, Chloe Rockow, March 2012

Addition 2012-0187 added by Paula Jeannet

Addition 2016-0219 interfiled by Alice Poffinberger

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 1952 to 1998, 2012-0187, 2016-0219.