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The story of John Wesley's sisters

August 17, 2015

I don’t know why I kept reading this book on John Wesley’s seven sisters, other than the fact that anything concerning John Wesley pulls me like a magnet. I wanted to understand more about his sisters and their apparent need for love, as the title suggests. “Seven Sisters in Search of Love” by Frederick E. Maser was not a particularly great read unless one has a keen interest in this family, in the kind of parenting that could produce two giants of faith like John and Charles, and yet fall short where relationships of love were concerned. I was. 

Susanna’s children were covered daily in religious devotion, discipline, and academia. She and her husband placed a tremendous emphasis on piety and the importance of a virtuous life. However, she had a difficult time showing her affections to her daughters, and even to John. She knew God had a calling on him, and thought that any tenderness toward him might get in the way of his being put solidly on the path that God had chosen for him. Admirable as that is, her coldness hindered him with women all of his life. He was never able to settle comfortably in a lasting relationship with a female. 

So, I jumped into this book, published in 1988, wanting to know more about this particular topic. Being an avid reader of anything Wesleyan, I had never seen a book that concentrated solely on the daughters’ search for love. 

Emily Wesley loved Robert Leybourne, who was driven away by her family. Then, she loved a Quaker, and John came against that relationship because of his religion. She loved Leybourne passionately, but later married Robert Harper. As a husband and provider he was a disaster. 

Hetty intended to marry against her parents’ will. She eloped, slept one night with her lover, knowing for sure they would be married the next day. He had no intentions of marriage. She was pregnant, and now had to face a long period of rejection from all of her family. Her father arranged a marriage, to save the family honor, with an uncouth plumber who later became a wife abuser. 

Daughter Susanna, having known the extreme poverty of her parents’ home, married a wealthy man without much thought as to whether she loved him and without her parents’ permission.  She sincerely believed he was a gentleman farmer of good prospects and considerable wealth. Instead of being a gentleman, he was a coarse, vulgar, immoral man who also abused his wife. She had four children with him, and finally left him.

Molly, who was disabled, married a man 14 years younger than her. Her happiness was short-lived. She died at the birth of their first still-born child. Her husband had an indiscretion when he was engaged to Molly, and the Wesley family never forgot it and most never forgave it. After her death, most of the Wesleys broke all ties with her husband.

Samuel Wesley interfered once again in a daughter’s selection of a mate. He forbade John Romley from even coming to their home to court daughter Martha. She then married Westley Hall, and their courtship and married life is the strangest story of all the Wesley sisters. Westley was a womanizer and had an affair, ending in a pregnancy, with a petite, attractive seamstress employed in their home. On another occasion, Hall brought home another child from another mistress, and ordered his wife to care for it, which she did. Eventually, Hall became a polygamist, openly preaching the doctrine of multiple wives. 

Kezzy Wesley was also in love with Westley Hall, who married her sister Martha. But, he courted them both at the same time, finally choosing Martha. Kezzy never married, and died at the age of 32.

Anne is the only sister who seemed to have found true love in her marriage. She and John Lambert were apparently devoted to each other and were well off financially. Her family accepted him. They had one son together.

Given the difficult living conditions of that time, the high infant mortality rate (Susanna and Samuel lost nine children, with 10 surviving), the difficulty Samuel had in paying their bills, the number of times he was put into debtor’s prison, the reports of Samuel’s sarcasm and temper, and the many other difficulties of rearing a family, the children did not have many opportunities to view a model marriage in their parents. They probably did the best they could.

So, what can you and I learn from this? Don’t be so hard on your neighbor when their children have problems. It happens in even the best of families. And, don’t be so hard on yourself for those things you could not help. Even in your difficulties, a Charles or John Wesley might arise from your home. Thankfully, God is not looking for perfect parenting or perfect homes, but submitted and obedient ones. And thankfully, He’s not finished with any of us yet.

The Rev. B.J. Funk is associate pastor of Central UMC in Fitzgerald. Email her at bjfunk@bellsouth.net. 

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