Francis Asbury: Recommended resources


• Francis Asbury towers over the landscape of early American Methodism. John Wigger’s American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (2009) tells the story not only of Asbury’s life but of many of the leaders and ordinary people with whom he came into contact. Asbury’s journals and letters are available online, but if you want them in print, pick up Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury in Three Volumes (1958).

• To read more about what it felt like to live, think, and preach as an early American Methodist, check out Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (1989); Lester Ruth’s A Little Heaven Below: Worship at Early Methodist Quarterly Meetings (2000); and Ruth’s Early Methodist Life and Spirituality: A Reader (2005), which contains amusing and informative excerpts from everyday Methodists’ diaries, letters, and hymns; and Wigger’s Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America (1998).

• Some excellent books that begin with early Methodism but bring the story into the present day are David Hempton’s Methodism: Empire of the Spirit (2005); Karen Westerfield Tucker, American Methodist Worship (2001); and Jason Vickers’s edited Cambridge Companion to American Methodism (2013). Read more about Methodist “relics” in Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (1995), and see many, many pictures of objects from saddlebags to teapots in Kenneth Cain Kinghorn’s The Heritage of American Methodism (2008).

• For more on Philip William Otterbein, Martin Boehm, Jacob Albright, and the Evangelical United Brethren tradition, consult Arthur Core, Philip William Otterbein, Pastor and Ecumenist (1968); J. Steven O’Malley, Early German-American Evangelicalism (1995); and O’Malley and Vickers, eds. Methodist and Pietist (2011), a collection of essays that brings the story all the way into the twentieth century.

• Books on the African American tradition include Richard Allen’s autobiography The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen (1833); James Campbell’s Songs of Zion (1998); Dennis Dickerson’s Religion, Race, and Region (1995), A Liberated Past (2003), and African Methodism and Its Wesleyan Heritage (2009); and Richard Newman’s Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (2009).

• The Methodist journey from radical movement to respectable denomination is well told in Hatch and Wigger, eds. Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture (2001); Gregory Schneider’s The Way of the Cross Leads Home (1993); and William Warren Sweet’s Methodism in American History (1954). Jennifer Woodruff Tait treats Methodist involvement in temperance in The Poisoned Chalice (2011).

• Find out more about Bishop Simpson in George Crook’s The Life of Bishop Matthew Simpson of the MEC (1890) and Robert Clark’s The Life of Matthew Simpson (1958); and about Jennie Fowler Willing and other Methodist and holiness women in Priscilla Pope-Levison’s Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists (2004) and Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era (2013).

• How did publishing fuel Methodism’s growth and respectability? Read that story in Candy Gunther Brown’s The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America (2004); Eugene Exman’s The House of Harper (1967); and the two volumes of The Methodist Publishing House: A History by James Pilkington (1968) and Walter Vernon (1989). Famed Methodist Fanny Crosby told her own story in Memories of Eighty Years (1906) and Abel Stevens told Nathan Bangs’s in Life and Times of Nathan Bangs, D.D (1863).

Biographies and autobiographies of some of the figures in our Gallery include:

• George Mains, James Monroe Buckley (1917)

Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (1856); Robert Bray, Peter Cartwright, Legendary Frontier Preacher (2005)

•G. Lincoln Caddell, Barbara Heck: Pioneer Methodist (1961); W. W. Withrow, Barbara Heck: A Tale of Early Methodism (1880)

• Warren Smith, Harry Hosier, Circuit Rider (1981)

Religious Experience and Journal of Jarena Lee (1849); Susie Stanley, Holy Boldness (2004)

•Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard: A Biography (2000) and volumes edited from Willard’s works by Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford and Amy Slagle, Writing Out My Heart (1995) and Let Something Good Be Said (2007)

Past issues of Christian History

Issues of CH relevant to this issue’s topic are

• 2: John Wesley

• 10: Pietism

• 23: Spiritual Awakenings in North America

• 45: Camp Meetings and Circuit Riders

• 69: The Wesleys

• 82: Phoebe Palmer, Mother of the Holiness Movement

Some are available for purchase. All can be read online at

CH has also published the book Wesley Country.

DVDs from Vision Video

Vision Video has a number of videos about the origins of Methodism in England, including the award-winning 2010 feature film, Wesley: A Heart Transformed Can Change the World and the 1954 classic John Wesley. Also available are A Heart Set Free and Hymns of Praise (both about Charles Wesley); John Wesley: The Man and His Mission; Encounters with John Wesley; and A Portrait of Susanna Wesley.

The animated Torchlighters DVD The John Wesley Story effectively brings the story of Methodism’s beginning to children. Helpful films about early American Christianity that set the Methodists in context include Great Awakening; People of Faith: Christianity in America; Gospel of Liberty; and the historical circuit-rider drama Sheffey.

Online sources

Many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century biographies and autobiographies of famous Methodists can be found online: Richard Allen, Nathan Bangs, Peter Cartwright, Fanny Crosby, Barbara Heck, Jarena Lee, and Matthew Simpson. (In the online edition of CH, follow the hotlinks). So can The Damnation of Theron Ware, and you might enjoy famed Methodist novelist Edward Eggleston’s Circuit Rider: A Tale of the Heroic Age.

The modern United Methodist Church, the largest American successor to Asbury’s vision, has a website full of Methodist historical resources courtesy of its General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH). Also check out the United Methodist Archives Center, a cooperative venture between GCAH and Drew University; and the United Theological Seminary’s Center for the Evangelical United Brethren Heritage.

History-related websites of other denominations besides the UMC that trace their origins to Wesley include the AME, AME Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Free Methodists, Nazarenes, United Brethren in Christ, and Wesleyan Church.

Several individual churches significant to the history of Methodism have extensive websites on their history, including “Mother Bethel” AME, John Street UMC, St. George’s UMC, and Varick AMEZ. And finally, you might get a kick out of the following article: Thomas Tweed, “John Wesley Slept Here: American Shrines and American Methodists.” (If you want it in print, it’s in Numen 47, no. 1 [2000]: 41–68). CH

By the editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #114 in 2015]

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