New songs in a new colony
After returning from the Korean War in 1952, I made my home for a time in Macon, where I attended Mercer University. I had a rigorous schedule, since I was singing in a gospel quartet. We traveled every weekend to towns throughout the southeast to sing in concerts and socalled “all-night singings.”
I decided to take voice lessons to improve my singing. A teacher at Mercer suggested I find a voice instructor at Wesleyan Conservatory of Music, located in Macon. When I enrolled for just one class, I didn’t know anything about Wesleyan; but I soon learned some important things that must be shared.
The Wesleyan Conservatory of Music and School of Fine Arts is located near the business district of Macon and is part of Wesleyan College, the first college in the world chartered to grant a degree to women. Founded in 1836, it awarded its first degree to Catherine Brewer of Macon, mother of Admiral Benson, in 1840.
The school was first chartered as Georgia Female College; the name was changed to Wesleyan Female College in 1843, when the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church accepted the college. The name was then changed to its present form in 1919.
Wesleyan is an accredited, privately controlled college of arts and sciences for women. The liberal arts college is located on the Rivoli campus, five miles from the city of Macon.
Many historians delight in visiting the library of Wesleyan, since it includes the Park Collection of Georgiana and the McGregor Collection of Rare Americana.
The college was named for John Wesley, founder of Methodism, the clergyman who came to the new Georgia colony as a missionary to the American Indians.
Born in the Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, on June 28, 1703, he studied at the Charterhouse and at Christ Church, Oxford; then he took priestly orders in the Established Church of England and received a of Master of Arts.
Wesley was appointed a teacher at Lincoln College at Oxford. Following the example of his father, Samuel, also a priest in the Church, he became deeply devoted to theology and developed unusual talents in preaching.
How could he fail in this calling? His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were clergymen of the Church of England, and his mother’s father, Dr. Samuel Annesley, was one of the most notable ministers of London.
Susannah Wesley, his mother, was one of the great mothers of history.
There were 19 children in the family of Susannah Wesley. The oldest, Samuel, became a teacher of distinction and was helpful in the education of his two brothers, John and Charles. An excellent scholar in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, he went on to master French and German. With this foundation, and almost 10 years of preaching, teaching, and assisting his father in the ministry, he became immersed in the doctrines of the Church.
While at Lincoln College, he joined the Holy Club; this was a turning point in his life. The club included a group of students which would later become great church leaders: Charles, his brother, and George Whitefield, who was to become the founder of the so-called Calvinistic Methodism.
A sacred atmosphere pervaded those meetings. The club members adhered strictly and methodically to religious precepts and practices; among them, doing such good works as visiting prisons and nursing homes for the elderly and comforting the sick and lonely. So they earned the name which would later become profound: “Methodists,” as they were derisively called by many of their friends.
In 1735, after the death of their father, John and Charles accepted an invitation of General Oglethrope to go with him as chaplains to the colony of Georgia. It was in Georgia that the first Methodist hymns were written in America. These hymns were translated from the German by John Wesley. He had heard the hymns of the German Moravians on board the ship on his journey to America.
At Savannah and Frederica, Wesley produced his first hymnal, Collection of Psalms and Hymns. It was published in Charleston in 1737. This was the first hymnbook to be written in America.
Wesley’s hymns eventually became the main spiritual and doctrinal resources for the new movement which became Methodism.
Wesley’s contributions to religious life in America were phenomenal. Georgians can be proud of the intimate connection to this man of such marked historic significance.