A little Methodist Church history

by Ned Heite, Camden, DE
21 Apr 1999


The Methodist Episcopal Church was established in America at Barratt's Chapel (near Frederica) just after the Revolution. Priests of the old Church of England were required to take an oath of fealty to George III, so they were not particularly popular. Methodist preachers were also suspected of English sympathies.

In America, the old Church of England split into two groups. The Methodists, who had been an organization of itinerant lay preachers in the established church, organized their own episcopal (i.e., with bishops) organization, the Methodist Episcopal Church. The regular Anglicans organized the Protestant Episcopal Church, and had their bishop consecrated by "nonjuror" Scottish Anglican bishops who were not required to exact an oath to support George III.

The rector of Christ Church in Dover, Mr. Megaw, was a supporter during the Revolution of the Methodists, and he administered the sacraments (baptism, marriage, communion) for the adherents of lay Methodist preachers before the division. Francis Asbury, one of the first bishops of the new Methodist hierarchy, preached in Kent County, and in fact spent part of the Revolution lying low near Harrington.

St. George's (Protestant Episcopal) Chapel in Angola Neck, Sussex County, was the favored site for "mulatto" families before the Revolution to have their children baptised. I have no idea if Christ Church served a similar function here.

During the nineteenth century, the circuit-riding Methodists established dozens of small churches in Kent County, not the least of which were Manship and Fork Branch. These establishments were relatively late in the century, however.

So where did the people go for the sacraments before the local ME churches were established? Christ Church in Dover was closed for a very long time, but the Episcopal church in Smyrna was active. We have good evidence that some of the colored people of northern Kent County were schooled in a Quaker school at Cowgill's Corner.

Manship and Fork Branch churches were attached to the Little Creek and Smyrna Methodist circuits at different times, so it is entirely possible that the vital records would have been recorded at these sites. I don't know if any have been transcribed or published.

Delaware didn't have central vital statistics during the period in question, so the data tends to be diffused terribly.

I don't know if anyone has done a systematic survey to see where these families worshipped and received the sacraments before the local Methodist Episcopal churches were established. I'd suggest that the Episcopal Church may have performed these services long after the Revolution for people who were not associated with any other congregations.


Recommended reading, Eastern Shore Methodism questions --

The Garden of American Methodism: The Delmarva Peninsula, 1769-1820 by William Henry Williams. Wilmington, Delaware (1984)









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