The First Methodist Parsonage in the United States

I spent many of my childhood and teen years living in a church parsonage. A parsonage is a dwelling place reserved for the minister and her/his family. Some parsonages are stand alone buildings while some are directly attached to the church. I’ve lived in both contexts. While researching Methodists and popular culture I found this detailed history on the first Methodist parsonage from The Southern Methodist Handbook published in 1914. Throughout the history of American Methodism there have been many claims regarding the location of the first Methodist church. This is the first article I’ve found arguing for the location of the first Methodist parsonage. For those of you who grew up architecturally attached to the church you may find the following of interest:

“The controversy as to which was the first Methodist church in America we will leave to those who claim priority for the old John Street Church, New York, and those who enter a counter claim on behalf of the Strawbridge log meetinghouse in Maryland. While these warring advocates are pitting Asbury against Lee and Lee against Asbury — marshaling supposition against supposition and document against document — let us turn to an interesting item of Methodist history, about which there is no such perplexing surmise.

There can be no doubt that the little, old-fashioned, Dutch-built house which stood on a lot adjoining the John Street Church, New York City, was the first Methodist parsonage in America. When this house was purchased by the John Street Methodists is not known exactly; but that it was fitted up as a “preacher’s house” as early as June 1770, is a matter beyond dispute. This is amply shown by many entries in the first record book of the old Church. The items in this book were kept in the most painstaking fashion, and extend from 1768 to 1797.

But the fidelity which marked the early custodians of the record was not displayed by the later scribes, who mislaid the old book, and it remained lost for half a century. About fifty years ago it was recovered and came into the hands of Rev. J.B. Wakeley, who transcribed its most important entries and gave them to the public in a book bearing the title, “Lost Methodism,” published for the author by Carlton & Porter in 1858.

The items found in the old book and preserved for us by Dr. Wakeley’s antiquarian enthusiasm enable us to form a fair idea of the furnishing of the house which bears the unique distinction of being the first Methodist parsonage in America. It was not an overly comfortable house. It was pronounced by its clerical occupants a better “summer house” than “winter house,” as its numerous wide-open cracks permitted the biting winds of winter to enter and plague the prophets. These venerable fathers in Israel doubtless had warm Methodist hearts; but a warm heart is a poor antidote for a shivering spine and cold feet.

The task of furnishing the parsonage then as now largely devolved upon the sisters of the congregation. Being pioneers in this particular field of Church endeavor, the record shows that they did remarkably well. To get enough things together to make the house habitable, they bought, they borrowed, they gave. A sum equal to seventy-five dollars of our present currency was expended in making purchases for the house.

A complete list of what was bought is given: One bedstead and sofa; feather bed, bolster and pillow (weight, sixty-seven pounds; cost, forty dollars); two pairs of sheets; small furniture, saucepan, pair of blankets, places, nap-cloth, and tape. Altogether twenty persons loaned various articles to the parsonage. Sister Taylor fetched five chairs, three tables, two iron pots, a pair of andirons, and a shaving dish. Sister Trigler loaned a set of bed curtains and a small looking-glass. Brother Newton, an old bachelor, came along with the ladies and brought two blankets. Sister Jarvis, wife of one of the stewards, loaned a green window curtain, and Sister Beninger loaned another. The loan list was completed by four silver spoons supplied by Sister Sause, the wife of one of the stewards. This worthy couple have suffered the misfortune of having their name transcribed “Louse” by several of the later historians of Methodism.

Next came the “donation party.” Sister Sennet opened her heart and gave a gridiron and a pair of bellows. Other contributions were: six china cups and saucers, six china soup plates, salt cellars, bread basket, tea chest and canisters, wash basin, bottle, sauce boat, six cream-colored plates and two dishes, three wine glasses, cruet, five tablecloths, three towels, six knives and forks, copper teakettle, a bedquilt, Windsor chair and cushion, three pictures, one red rug, one bedspread, and a knife box. A Sister Harrison, long gone to a better land where such things are not needed, gave “three burnt china plates, two dozen cups, four silver teaspoons, and one picture.” Such was the furnishing of the John Street parsonage.”

Taken from the Southern Methodist Handbook (1914) pp. 86-88


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John Wesley Jarvis Manuscript

While working through several boxes of Drew manuscripts I came across this fascinating letter from 1804 signed by John Wesley Jarvis. Jarvis (1780-1840) was the nephew of Methodist founder John Wesley. At the age of 5, he and his family arrived in the United States from England. During the early 19th century he painted several portraits of well-known Americans including Andrew Jackson.

I view hundreds of autographed manuscripts as a part of my job at the United Methodist Archives & History Center at Drew University. This signature caught my attention because of the caricature of a young man alongside the autograph. Was this a self-sketch of Jarvis in 1804 at the age of 24? Art historians may find this manuscript of interest.

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Luke Tyerman Book Manuscripts

The more I use a keyboard the less I enjoy writing script. It takes a lot of work. And, the less I write with my hands the more my handwriting looks the same as it did in my first grade writing projects at Monroe Elementary School in Conneaut, Ohio. But, I still appreciate the written word and often marvel at the various manuscript discoveries we uncover here at the United Methodist History & Archives Center at Drew University.

Mark Shenise, processing archivist at the General Commission on Archives and History for The United Methodist Church has been busy organizing some of Drew’s smaller unprocessed collections. Last week, he uncovered a gem – the Luke Tyerman collection. Tyerman (1820-1889) was a British Wesleyan Methodist minister and author. His first parish work commenced in the mid-1840s and the Encyclopedia of World Methodism notes “Although much had been written about eighteenth-century Methodism before his time, Tyerman was the first historian to produce serious, scholarly biographies of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and John Fletcher.”

The Tyerman collection consists primarily of seven bound, handwritten manuscripts on the life and work of John Wesley and his father Samuel. These manuscripts include notation and marginalia that did not make the final published versions of both Tyerman biographies. For those interested in how 19th century authors wrote about some of the key personnel of Early British Methodism these manuscripts will bring to light both the published versions and the thoughts and ideas behind the final products.

Tyerman was tireless in his steady work on these handwritten text. I wonder what he would have thought about delete keys and the cut and paste feature of today’s computers?

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Women and Methodist Missions

On Thursday I delivered an additional 85 texts to Internet Archive located at Princeton Theological Seminary. Internet Archive has a scanning station located in a dark, cave-like room at the library with six scanning machines where employees (many with headphones) digitize print texts into digital format. Instantly text on paper pages move to e-text and eventually are available globally to those with internet connection.

The latest delivery of Drew materials consisted of dozens of annual reports for the women’s missionary organizations of the Methodist Protestant Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and Methodist Church. These reports include the day-to-day activities of women missionaries and also include photographs and biographical information of many intercultural workers. I also delivered several general histories of women and missionary work for scanning.

To date the American Methodism Project has over 2,500 digital texts available for free; in several downloadable or reader-friendly formats. If you are interested in Methodist missionary history — specifically Methodist women and missions — please go to the following link to discover the work of several thousand women in American Methodism.

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Early Manuscripts Describing Missions Work in Liberia discovered at Methodist Center

This week we’ve uncovered two manuscript diaries written between 1838 and 1861. The diaries belonged to Walter Peter Jayne (1810-1894). Jayne was a New York City printer and missionary hired to set up a print shop in Monrovia, Liberia for the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

U.S. Methodists had been in Liberia as early as the 1820s with the first sanctioned missionary, Melville B. Cox, arriving in 1833. The next year an annual conference was organized and the Liberia Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was formally authorized by general conference in 1836.

Walter Jayne married Eleanor Ferguson in 1832 and left his family in December 1838 to sail to Monrovia. He arrived in January of 1839 and set up a printing shop. The shop published local materials and a missionary newspaper titled the Africa’s Luminary. This newspaper is available for viewing at the United Methodist Archives Center on the campus of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

The diaries include topical discussions on African culture, indigenous religious beliefs, topography and the daily life of mission work in Liberia. Jayne returned to the U.S. in 1841 and continued his work as a printer in New York City until his death in 1894.

Drew University also houses the manuscript journal of S.M.E. Goheen, missionary doctor to Liberia and co-editor of the Africa’s Luminary. The journal includes the years 1837-38. For more information on the materials of Jayne or Goheen please contact me at

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20,000 Pamphlets and Counting…

We are currently adding an additional 5,000 publications to our Methodist Pamphlet Collection here at the Drew University Methodist Library. The more we work through these small, yet interesting, print materials the more I find myself fascinated with the amount of information Methodists have produced the past 250 years. From sermons to funeral notices to missionary tracts to anti-amusement jeremiads – Methodists liked to promote themselves and their theological and cultural opinions.

The Methodist Pamphlet Collection includes materials from the United Methodist Church as well as the many Methodist-related denominations linked in some way to the 1784 founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church. We have materials from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Methodist Protestant Church, the Wesleyan Church, Free Methodist Church, and Colored (now Christian) Methodist Episcopal Church. The collection also includes pamphlets from various British Methodist denominations dating back to the time of John and Charles Wesley.

You can access the current finding aid or visit the Drew University Methodist Library website for additional information and access to other materials. If you would like a scan or photocopy of a particular pamphlet please contact me at cjanders at Or, you may have a box of pamphlets that you’d like to donate to our collection. If so, we’d be pleased to add your materials to our research library.


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Methodists and Base-ball… a “disrelish of spiritual things”

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Now that Super Bowl XLV is behind us many people across the United States are anxiously awaiting the arrival of pitchers and catchers to spring training activities of their favorite baseball teams. Players for Milwaukee and Cleveland and San Francisco report to facilities in Florida and Arizona to prepare themselves for a grueling pre-season schedule, 162 regular season games, and, if they do well, several post-season games leading to the coveted World Series in late October/early November.

Today while scanning a few memoirs for a researcher I came across an 1869 committee report (see below) from the Cincinnati annual conference journal of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Methodists, it seemed, were not permitted to play baseball without serious implications on their souls. It was not pleasing to God – and followers of Wesley were instructed to “purge themselves” from the evils associated with the game. A bat, ball, and leather glove seemed to “alienate the youth especially from God’s service and favor.”

This brief committee report reminded me of a course I taught in 2006 on the history of American sports at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I knew self-acclaimed Christians had played baseball (they still do so today). Outrageously popular early 20th-century evangelist Billy Sunday (though not a Methodist) was perhaps the most well-known baseball player turned evangelist. He had even been asked to preach in chapel at Drew Theological Seminary nearly 100 years ago. But, during the course I found former major-leaguer Christy Mathewson. He was a contradiction, it seemed, as both professional baseball player and active Methodist.

Mathewson entered professional baseball in 1900 playing for both the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. He was an excellent pitcher and performed especially well in the 1905 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics (now Oakland A’s). Mathewson was known to have an edgy personality but because of his Christian faith would not play games on Sunday. As a Methodist he did not believe it was proper to play on the Sabbath. Reflective of his interpretation of the Book of Genesis from the Bible, Mathewson thought it best to “rest” on the Sabbath. He retired from active playing at the end of the 1916 season.

Between 1869 and 1900 Methodists had adjusted their theological position on base-ball. In 1869 Methodists thought the game was “injurious to sound piety” yet by 1900 Methodists were paid to play by major league baseball teams. This change reflected the popularity and growth of professional baseball throughout the United States but also evidenced how the Methodist Episcopal Church had acquiesced to American popular culture. It was permissible to play ball and follow Jesus – and Mathewson was an example of a Methodist who both played the game and lived out his faith on and off the field.

The following text is from the Journal of the Cincinnati Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1869)

Report on Fairs and Popular Amusements

The Committee on County and State Fairs and Popular Amusements offer the following for your adoption:

1. Resolved, That we look upon County and State Fairs legitimately and properly conducted as worthy encouragements to the agricultural and mechanical industries and the stock-growing interests of the Commonwealth, and in no sense injurious to sound morality and religion.

2. Resolved, That we are deeply grieved at the growing demoralization of these Fairs, arising from racing, trotting, betting, drinking, etc., and we are fully satisfied that the interests of morality and religion demand that the race track and all its accompaniments should be banished from these Fairs.

3. Resolved, That we respectfully and earnestly request for this subject the attention and prayerful consideration of members of the Church of God who may hold office in these Societies, and consequently must be in some measure responsible for these things.

4. Resolved, That many of the so-called popular amusements, such as dancing, card playing, base-ball playing, etc., are injurious to sound piety, and are to be considered “such diversions as can not be used in the name of the Lord.” They draw the attention from the truth, lead to a disrelish of spiritual things, and alienate the youth especially from God’s service and favor.

5. Resolved, That the present is no time for compromise with the world. Jesus demands that we be self-denying and cross-bearing Christians. Let all good people, and especially Methodists, purge themselves from these evils, as we prize morality. See the salvation of souls, and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Respectfully submitted, W. Fitzgerald, Chairman, and C.W. Ketcham, Secretary


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