Fascinating find sheds new light on Methodism founder John Wesley


OXFORD, OXFORDSHIRE, UK | UM NEWSWIRE – A team of scholars steeped in early Methodism, a movement started by the Anglican preacher John Wesley, announced today the discovery of a time capsule dating back to 1791, the year of Wesley’s death. Although it is uncertain whether the time capsule was intended as such, it did not include anything that would provide a more precise date. The capsule was found amongst a variety of boxes and papers in an old house in Bristol, which Wesley frequented during his travels. The house is being restored and converted into a bed and breakfast.

Dr. Carey Nielsen, Prof. emeritus of Wesleyan Studies at the University of Oxford, shared that his team was able to ascertain the year of the time capsule based on its contents and an inscription found on the box. “Strange as it seems, it appears that a common cigar box was refitted for the purpose of this time capsule,” said Nielsen, commenting on how surprised he was at the preservation of the contents despite their relatively humble container. The box had been sealed shut with a wax stamp of no discernible significance.

Brandon Bigheart for the photograph; Parys Mine Company for the token issue, Wikimedia.

Cigar box aside, the contents have Wesleyan scholars buzzing. The box contained three pieces of British currency, known as provincial tokens, which were used to help ascertain the date, a gold tooth, and three sheets of paper bearing Wesley’s distinctive handwriting. The currency was minted in the years 1788, 1790, and 1791.

Nielsen shared that his team used the date on the currency and the presence of Wesley’s writing to lock down a date just prior to his death. Nielsen admitted that it is possible that another party gathered and packaged the items shortly thereafter.

Despite the immediate interest in Wesley’s writings, Nielsen was fascinated with the presence of a gold tooth. While far more common today, gold teeth simply weren’t widespread in Wesley’s day, despite the fanciful presentation of pirates today. Given John Wesley’s known predilection for humble living, Nielsen’s team reasoned that it was unlikely that it belonged to him. Still, if it isn’t Wesley’s, it begs the question, who did the tooth belong to, and why was it included?

Wesley’s notes

Of most enduring interest to Wesleyan scholars is likely to be the three short writings included in the cigar box. In one, he notes his disappointment with the nascent Wesleyan movement’s obsession with small groups.

“Small groups were supposed to be a temporary measure until we were strong enough to sustain corporate worship.” Wesley goes on to relate his shock at people’s willingness to endure the accountability and probing questions he had devised. “Really, how many times can you ask, ‘how is it with your soul’ before it gets old?”

Wesley also shared his frustration with the rapid growth and zealous passion of the movement. In revealing words certain to cast their relationship in a new light, John expressed anger toward his brother Charles:

“Why must he continue to write for the hymnody these songs with such contemporary zeal? Would it not be better to sing the great songs of old, rather than this modern feces.”

The final of the three notes made reference to Wesley’s much-maligned cure for baldness from his book, Primitive Physic, Or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. In a rare moment of humility, Wesley writes the following:

“One of the deepest disappointments of my life was my inability to follow all my interests to their logical conclusion; God dost not give ample time to pursue all that draws one’s attention. Of particular disappointment to me, is the absolute failure of my cure for baldness. I deeply regret the labours of those who took my words to heart and rubbed onion upon their balding foreheads for nought.”

Given adequate time, Professor Nielsen believes that John Wesley may indeed have solved that particular mystery.

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Patrick Scriven
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary-educated layperson working professionally in The United Methodist Church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications.

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