ASBURY, FRANCIS (1745-1816), American clergyman, was born at Hamstead Bridge in the parish of Handsworth, near Birmingham, in Staffordshire, England, on the 20th of August 1745. His parents were poor, and after a brief period of study in the village school of Barre, he was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a maker of "buckle chapes," or tongues. It seems probable that his parents were among the early converts of Wesley; at any rate, Francis became converted to Methodism in his thirteenth year, and at sixteen became a local preacher. He was a simple, fluent speaker, and was so successful that in 1767 he was enrolled, by John Wesley himself, as a regular itinerant minister. In 1771 he volunteered for missionary work in the American colonies. When he landed in Philadelphia in October 1771, the converts to Methodism, which had been introduced into the colonies only three years before, numbered scarcely 300. Asbury infused new life into the movement, and within a year the membership of the several congregations was more than doubled. In 1772 he was appointed by Wesley "general assistant" in charge of the work in America, and although superseded by an older preacher, Thomas Rankin (1738-1810), in 1773, he remained practically in control. After the outbreak of the War of Independence, the Methodists, who then numbered several thousands, fell, unjustly, under suspicion of Loyalism, principally because of their refusal to take the prescribed oath; and many of their ministers, including Rankin, returned to England. Asbury, however, feeling his sympathies and duties to be with the colonies, remained at his post, and although often threatened, and once arrested, continued his itinerant preaching. The hostility of the Maryland authorities, however, eventually drove him into exile in Delaware, where he remained quietly, but not in idleness, for two years. In 1782 he was reappointed to supervise the affairs of the Methodist congregations in America. In 1784 John Wesley, in disregard of the authority of the Established Church, took the radical step of appointing the Rev. Thomas Coke (1747-1814) and Francis Asbury superintendents or "bishops" of the church in the United States. Dr Coke was ordained at Bristol, England, in September, and in the following December, in a conference of the churches in America at Baltimore, he ordained and consecrated Asbury, who refused to accept the position until Wesley's choice had been ratified by the conference. From this conference dates the actual beginning of the "Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States of America." To the upbuilding of this church Asbury gave the rest of his life, working with tireless devotion and wonderful energy. In 1785, at Abingdon, Maryland, he laid the corner-stone of Cokesbury College, the project of Dr Coke and the first Methodist Episcopal college in America; the college building was burned in 1795, and the college was then removed to Baltimore, where in 1796, after another fire, it closed, and in 1816 was succeeded by Asbury College, which lived for about fifteen years. Every year Asbury traversed a large area, mostly on horseback. The greatest testimony to the work that earned for him the title of the "Father of American Methodism" was the growth of the denomination from a few scattered bands of about 300 converts and 4 preachers in 1771, to a thoroughly organized church of 214,000 members and more than 2000 ministers at his death, which occurred at Spottsylvania, Virginia, on the 31st of March 1816.
His Journals (3 vols., New York, 1852), apart from their importance as a history of his life work, constitute a valuable commentary on the social and industrial history of the United States during the first forty years of their existence. Consult also F.W. Briggs, Bishop Asbury (London, 1874); W.P. Strickland, The Pioneer Bishop; or, The Life and Times of Francis Asbury (New York, 1858); J.B. Wakeley, Heroes of Methodism (New York, 1856): W.C. Larrabee, Asbury and His Co-Laborers (2 vols., Cincinnati, 1853); H.M. Du Bose, Francis Asbury (Nashville, Tenn., 1909); see also under Methodism.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)