Thursday, October 20, 2011
Murder attempts on Wesley
Thur 20 Oct 1743: After preaching to a small, attentive congregation, I rode to Wednesbury. At twelve I preached in a ground near the middle of the town to a far larger congregation than was expected, on ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and for ever’. I believe everyone present felt the power of God. And no creature offered to molest us, either going or coming: but ‘the Lord fought for’ us, and we ‘held our peace’.
I was writing at Francis Ward’s in the afternoon when the cry arose that the mob had beset the house. We prayed that God would disperse them. And it was so: one went this way and another that; so that in half an hour not a man was left. I told our brethren, ‘Now is the time for us to go.’ But they pressed me exceedingly to stay. So that I might not offend them, I sat down, though I foresaw what would follow. Before five the mob surrounded the house again, in greater numbers than ever. The cry of one and all was, ‘Bring out the minister; we will have the minister.’ I desired one to take their captain by the hand, and bring him into the house. After a few sentences interchanged between us, the lion was become a lamb. I desired him to go and bring one or two more of the most angry of his companions. He brought in two, who were ready to swallow the ground with rage; but in two minutes they were as calm as he. I then bade them make way, that I might go out among the people. As soon as I was in the midst of them I called for a chair, and standing up asked, ‘What do any of you want with me?’ Some said, ‘We want you to go with us to the justice.’ I replied, ‘That I will with all my heart.’ I then spoke a few words, which God applied; so that they cried out with might and main, ‘The gentleman is an honest gentleman, and we will spill our blood in his defence.’ I asked, ‘Shall we go to the justice tonight or in the morning?’ Most of them cried, ‘Tonight, tonight.’ On which I went before, and two or three hundred followed, the rest returning whence they came.
The night came on before we had walked a mile, together with heavy rain. However on we went to Bentley Hall, two miles from Wednesbury. One or two ran before to tell Mr. Lane they had brought Mr. Wesley before his worship. Mr. Lane replied, ‘What have I to do with Mr. Wesley? Go and carry him back again.’ By this time the main body came up and began knocking at the door. A servant told them Mr. Lane was in bed. His son followed and asked what was the matter. One replied, ‘Why, an’t please you, they sing psalms all day; nay, and make folks rise at five in the morning. And what would your worship advise us to do?’ ‘To go home’, said Mr. Lane, ‘and be quiet.’
Here they were at a full stop, till one advised to go to Justice Persehouse at Walsall. All agreed to this. So we hastened on, and about seven came to his house. But Mr Persehouse likewise sent word that he was in bed. Now they were at a stand again; but at last they all thought it the wisest course to make the best of their way home. About fifty of them undertook to convey me. But we had not gone a hundred yards when the mob of Walsall came, pouring in like a flood, and bore down all before them. The Darlaston mob made what defence they could; but they were weary, as well as outnumbered. So that in a short time, many being knocked down, the rest ran away and left me in their hands.
To attempt speaking was vain, for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. So they dragged me along till we came to the town; where, seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man catching me by the pair pulled me back into the middle of the mob. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street from one end of the town to the other. I continued speaking all the time to those within hearing, feeling no pain or weariness. At the west end of the town, seeing a door half open, I made toward it, and would have gone in. But a gentleman in the shop would not suffer me, saying they would ‘pull the house down to the ground’. However, I stood at the door, and asked, ‘Are you willing to hear me speak?’ Many cried out, ‘No, no! Knock his brains out; down with him; kill him at once.’ Others said, ‘Nay, but we will hear him first.’ I began asking, ‘What evil have I done? Which of you all have I wronged in word or deed?’ And continued speaking for above a quarter of an hour, till my voice suddenly failed. Then the floods began to lift up their voice again, many crying out, ‘Bring him away, bring him away.’
In the meantime my strength and my voice returned, and I broke out aloud into prayer. And now the man who just before headed the mob turned and said, ‘Sir, I will spend my life for you. Follow me, and not one soul here shall touch a hair of your head.’ Two or three of his fellows confirmed his words and got close to me immediately. At the same time the gentleman in the shop cried out, ‘For shame, for shame, let him go.’ An honest butcher, who was a little farther off, said it was a shame they should do thus, and pulled back four or five, one after another, who were running on the most fiercely. The people then, as if it had been by common consent, fell back to the right and left, while those three or four men took me between them and carried me through them all. But on the bridge the mob rallied again. We therefore went on one side, over the mill dam, and thence through the meadows, till, a little before ten, God brought me safe to Wednesbury, having lost only one flap of my waistcoat and a little skin from one of my hands.
I never saw such a chain of providences before; so many convincing proofs that the hand of God is on every person and thing, overruling all as it seemeth him good.
The poor woman of Darlaston who had headed that mob and sworn that none should touch me, when she saw her fellows give way, ran into the thickest of the throng and knocked down three or four men, one after another. But many assaulting her at once, she was soon overpowered, and had probably been killed in a few minutes (three men keeping her down and beating her with all their might), had not a man called to one of them, ‘Hold, Tom, hold!’ ‘Who is there?’ said Tom. ‘What, honest Munchin? Nay then let her go.’ So they held their hand, and let her get up and crawl home as well as she could.
From the beginning to the end I found the same presence of mind as if I had been sitting in my own study. But I took no thought for one moment before another; only once it came into my mind that if they should throw me into the river it would spoil the papers that were in my pocket. For myself, I did not doubt but I should swim across, having but a thin coat and a light pair of boots.
The circumstances that follow I thought were particularly remarkable: (1) That many endeavoured to throw me down while we were going downhill on a slippery path to the town; as well judging, that if I was once on the ground, I should hardly rise any more. But I made no stumble at all, nor the least slip till I was entirely out of their hands. (2) That although many strove to lay hold on my collar or clothes, to pull me down, they could not fasten at all; only one got fast hold of the flap of my waistcoat, which was soon left in his hand. The other flap, in the pocket of which was a bank-note, was born but half off. (3) That a lusty man just behind struck at me several times with a large oaken stick; with which if he had struck me once on the back part of my head, it would have saved him all farther trouble. But every time the blow was turned aside, I know not how; for I could not move to the right hand or left. (4) That another came rushing through the press, and raising his arm to strike, on a sudden let it drop, and only stroked my head, saying, ‘What soft hair he has!’ (5) That I stopped exactly at the mayor’s door, as if I had known it (which the mob doubtless thought I did), and found him standing in the shop, which gave the first check to the madness of the people. (6) That the very first men whose hearts were turned were the heroes of the town, the captains of the rabble on all occasions, one of them having been a prize-fighter at the bear-garden. (7) That from first to last I heard none give a reviling word or call me by any opprobrious name whatever. But the cry of one and all was, ‘The preacher! The preacher! The parson! The minister!’ (8) That no creature, at least within my hearing, laid anything to my charge, either true or false; having in the hurry quite forgot to provide themselves with an accusation of any kind. And, lastly, that they were as utterly at a loss what they should do with me; none proposing any determinate thing, only, ‘Away with him; kill him at once!’
By how gentle degrees does God prepare us for his will! Two years ago a piece of a brick grazed my shoulders. It was a year after that the stone struck me between the eyes. Last month I received one blow, and this evening, two: one before we came into the town, and one after we were gone out. But both were as nothing, for though one man struck me on the breast with all his might, and the other on the mouth with such a force that the blood gushed out immediately, I felt no more pain from either of the blows than if they had touched me with a straw.
It ought not to be forgotten that when the rest of the society made all haste to escape for their lives, four only would not stir, William Sitch, Edward Slater, John Griffiths, and Joan Parks; these kept with me, resolving to live or die together. And none of them received one blow but William Sitch, who held me by the arm, from one end of the town to the other. He was then dragged away and knocked down; but he soon rose and got to me again. I afterwards asked him what he expected when the mob came upon us. He said, ‘To die for him who had died for us’; and he felt no hurry or fear, but calmly waited till God should require his soul of him.
I asked J. Parks if she was not afraid when they tore her away from me. She said, ‘No, no more than I am now. I could trust God for you as well as for myself. From the beginning I had a full persuasion that God would deliver you. I knew not how; but I left that to him, and was as sure as if it were already done.’ I asked if the report was true that she had fought for me. She said, ‘No; I knew God would fight for his children.’ And shall these souls perish at the last?
When I came back to Francis Ward’s I found many of our brethren waiting upon God. Many also whom I had never seen before came to rejoice with us. And the next morning, as I rode through the town in my way to Nottingham, everyone I met expressed such a cordial affection that I could scarce believe what I saw and heard.
I cannot close this head without inserting as great a curiosity in its kind, as I believe was ever yet seen in England; which had its birth within a very few days of this remarkable occurrence at Walsall:
To all high-constables, petty-constables, and other of his Majesty’s peace-officers, within the said county, and particularly to the constable of Tipton (near Walsall):
Whereas we, his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, for the said county of Stafford, have received information that several disorderly persons, styling themselves Methodist preachers, go about raising routs and riots, to the great damage of his Majesty’s leige people, and against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King:
These are in his Majesty’s name to command you and every one of you, within your respective districts, to make diligent search after the said Methodist preachers, and to bring him or them before some of us his said Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, to be examined concerning their unlawful doings.
Given under our hands and seals, this 12th day of October, 1743.
N.B. The very justices to whose houses I was carried, and who severally refused to see me!