Commemorates John Wesley (1703-1791)
Location Reynolds Square
Artist Marshall Daugherty
In one of Savannah’s oldest squares stands a monument to one of the most influential individuals to be associated with the early history of the Georgia colony and its first city.
That person is the Anglican minister and theologian John Wesley. Wesley is famous for his role in the development of the Methodist branch of Christianity and the Sunday School idea, but his early association with Savannah (and that of his brother, Charles) is less commonly known of.
The sculpture is located in the center of Reynolds Square, near the spot where Wesley once made his home. The memorial, unveiled in 1969, was the first major monument to a religious figure to be erected in Savannah.
John and Charles Wesley are also jointly honored by the Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church on Calhoun Square.
John Wesley was born on June 28 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire. In 1736, after receiving his education and working in various positions as priest and curate in England, he sailed, along with his brother Charles, for Savannah.
The Wesleys traveled to Savannah at the invitation of founder James Oglethorpe, a friend of their father’s, with John to serve as minister to the new parish of Savannah, the third pastor of the Christ Church after Henry Herbert and Samuel Quincy. Their time in Savannah, unfortunately, would prove to be less than distinguished.
It was the voyage itself to the colony that turned out to be the most important part of the Wesleys’ New World venture: they sailed over with a group of Moravians, whose piety greatly impressed and influenced John Wesley in his later espousal of Methodism.
Upon arrival in Georgia, Charles was employed as Oglethorpe’s secretary, and John began his work in Savannah.
Charles Wesley traveled southwards with Oglethorpe to Frederica, where he worked in its parish. Once there, though, he soon made himself unpopular, not least on account of having accused Oglethorpe of various indiscretions with local women. Less than six months after he had arrived, he was on the boat back to England.
For some months after Charles’s departure, John continued with his ministry in Savannah. After a stay of only two years, however, he followed Charles back to England, his failure attributed to having expected too much in the way of active worship from his congregation and to having led on at least one young woman.
The work for which John Wesley would receive more lasting accolades took place when he was back in Britain. There, he became one of the leaders in the founding and popularization of evangelical Methodism, giving thousands of sermons and speeches during the course of his long life.
Wesley died on March 2 1791. He is buried at Wesley’s Chapel, in London, England.
The creation of the monument to John Wesley marked, together with the memorial to Savannah legend Florence Martus, the end of a hiatus of more than half a century in Savannah’s long tradition of commemorating its historical figures (three decades later, another burst of memorialization would result in the World War II, African-American and Haitian monuments).
The idea for the monument came from members of Savannah’s Methodist church and from other local people interested in preserving the city’s history.
The United Methodist Church of Georgia commissioned the John Wesley Monument in 1967. The bronze statue of Wesley was sculpted by Georgia artist Marshall Harrison Daugherty (himself a Methodist) and cast at the Roman Bronze Works in Corona, NY.
Most of the $60,000 cost of creating the memorial came from the church and its members. Much of the remainder came from Savannah citizens and local historical organizations.
The total height of the Wesley Monument is 18 feet, a 9-foot statue on a 9-foot granite base, set within a rectangular brick-paved area surrounded by four granite benches. It was installed in July 1969 and dedicated with a ceremony and speeches by Methodist clergy and its sculptor, Daugherty, on August 3.
The sculpture depicts Wesley as he probably looked at the age of 33, when he first arrived in Savannah, his likeness modeled after images of Wesley produced around this period. He is dressed in clerical robes, preaching with Bible in hand.
The site in Reynolds Square was chosen for its proximity to the parish house at which Wesley lived during this time in Savannah, located on the square’s southwest trust lot, currently the site of the Planters Inn. Some wanted to rename the square itself in Wesley’s honor, but the plan came to nothing.
Another version of the statue can be seen in LaGrange, Georgia. Daugherty donated a half-size sculpture cast from the model used to develop the 9-foot Savannah statue to LaGrange College in 1968, in honor of his parents.
There are also numerous other statues worldwide commemorating the life and work of John Wesley. The Reynolds Square monument is in fact one of two monuments to Wesley in Savannah and vicinity, besides the Savannah church named for John and his brother Charles: in 1950, the Colonial Dames of Georgia erected a smaller memorial near Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, where in 1736, Wesley gave his first prayer on Georgia soil.
In 1976, Reynolds Square was designated a Methodist landmark.