Francis Asbury

1745-1816. American Methodist bishop. Born and reared near Birmingham, England, in a deeply religious home, he experienced religious awakening at the age of thirteen or fourteen and soon joined the Methodists. Of limited schooling, he was apprenticed for about six years in a now unknown trade. For five years (1766-71) he had various appointments as an itinerant minister before volunteering to serve in America in response to an appeal by John Wesley. During the Revolutionary War he alone of Wesley's appointees stayed in America and after some internal struggle identified with the emerging nation. In 1784 Wesley appointed Asbury and Thomas Coke* joint superintendents, though Asbury insisted that his appointment be ratified by the Conference of Methodist preachers. Against Wesley's wishes he assumed the title of bishop, and in the frequent absence of Coke was until his death the major force shaping American Methodism. Never well and constantly beset by numerous maladies, he nonetheless traveled nearly 300,000 miles, mostly on horseback, and endured the rigors of the American frontier to nurture the emerging denomination. Viewed by some as autocratic, he emphasized discipline and the values of the itinerant ministry. Under his leadership Methodist membership grew from a few hundred to over 200,000.

See E.T. Clark et al. (eds.), The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury (3 vols., 1958); L.C. Rudolph, Francis Asbury (1966).