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John Wesley’s oldest sister Emily

April 07, 2020
JOHN WESLEY MOMENTS
DAVE HANSON


John Wesley had seven sisters who survived to adulthood. Emily was his oldest sister. She was 11 years older than John and helped raise him. Their mother, Susanna, had 19 or 20 children, but only 10 survived to adulthood – seven girls and three boys.

Susanna had the older children help raise the younger children.

Emily was quick to learn. Her mother taught Emily her letters in one day and soon she was reading the Bible. The Wesley girls were among the best educated girls in England during that time; most girls could not read. Emily was “well proportioned, with a pleasant, wholesome appearance.” When there was a fire at the Epworth parsonage, most of the children were sent to stay with family or friends, but Emily stayed with her parents.

A turning point came in her life when she went to visit her uncle Matthew in London who was sort of a doctor or druggist and moved in the upper social strata of London. During this visit, Emily realized how poor her Epworth family was.

She fell in love twice, but both times her father broke it up.

Emily went to London to work as a governess. Later, she became a teacher, but lost that job when the school broke up. In 1735, at the age of 43, Emily married Robert Harper. That marriage lasted about five years, until Robert apparently died. They had one daughter.

Emily became very bitter and sharp-tongued. Once, John wrote her a letter after he had visited the Moravian Church in Germany. The letter told about numerous difficulties this church was having. Emily wrote back saying, “For God’s sake, tell me how a distressed woman, who expects daily to have her very bed taken away under her for rent, can consider the state of the churches in Germany!”

For the last 25 years of her life, Emily lived in rooms at the Methodist Chapel in London and did the work of a deaconess. She was especially kind to those in need and to the suffering. She knew the meaning of personal tragedy and utter despair.

The Rev. Dave Hanson is a retired pastor and John Wesley scholar.

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