Evangelist and theologian John Wesley was born on June 28, 1703 in Epworth, England. He was the fifteenth child of Anglican rector Samuel (1662–1735) and Susanna Annesley Wesley (1669–1742). John Wesley studied at the Charterhouse School and at Christ Church College, Oxford (M. A., 1727). He was elected a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726.
Wesley was ordained a Deacon in the Church of England in 1725. Three years later, in 1728, he was ordained to the priesthood. After assisting his father in the parish ministry from 1727 to 1729, John Wesley returned to Oxford where he joined the Holy Club, an organization founded by his brother, Charles. John Wesley soon became the leader of this student group committed to meeting frequently for Bible study, prayer, self-examination, and the performance of charitable acts. This systematic approach to fostering spiritual vitality earned the group the derisive nickname “Methodists.”
In 1735 John and Charles Wesley traveled to the British colony of Georgia as missionaries. Not long after his return to England in 1738 John Wesley had a life-changing conversion experience. From that moment on he became a prominent leader in the English evangelical revival.
John Wesley married Mary (Molly) Vizaille in 1751. They separated in 1771 and Molly Wesley died in 1781. John Wesley died in London on March 2, 1791, at the age of 88.
Since the 1950s Bridwell Library has collected letters of John Wesley by means of selective purchases and generous gifts, particularly a major donation by Bishop Frederick DeLand Leete (1866–1958). The digital collection presents large-format scans with complete, searchable transcriptions of 139 Wesley letters. Dating from 1741 to 1791, these missives were addressed to such recipients as Francis Asbury, John Newton, Adam Clarke, Joseph Benson, and various members of the Wesley family. For more information about the John Wesley Letters at Bridwell Library, please contact Bridwell Library Special Collections.