Asbury, Francis (1745-1816), pioneer bishop of American Methodism, was born in Handsworth, near Birmingham, the son of a jobbing gardener. After limited schooling he was apprenticed to a chape-maker. He attended the Methodist society at Wednesbury, was converted at the age of 16 and became a local preacher. Entering the itinerancy in 1766, he served in the Bedfordshire, Colchester and Wiltshire Circuits, before offering for America at the Conference of 1771.
In Philadelphia and New York he found that R. Boardman and J.Pilmore had virtually abandoned an itinerant ministry and set about reversing this trend. He himself travelled further and further afield until the outbreak of war in 1775 curbed his activities and forced him into hiding for a time in Kent County, Delaware. By the end of the War of Independence he was the only British-born itinerant still active in the former colonies.
His ministry led him across the Appalachians, where new settlements were beginning to spread westwards. John Wesley recognized him as the natural leader of the American Methodists (a position Asbury himself shrewdly insisted on confirming by the vote of his fellow itinerants), and in 1784 at the Christmas Conference in Baltimore, T.Coke successively ordained him deacon, elder and Superintendent - a title soon replaced by that of Bishop in spite of Wesley's strong disapproval.
During the next 30 years he led the rapid growth of American Methodism, maintaining a celibate and relentlessly itinerant life-style to match the rugged terrain and scattered population. Determined to keep the reins in his own hands, he defied the attempts of 'Daddy Wesley' to retain remote control of his American followers and denied Coke any effective share in the government of the Church during his visits to America.
Asbury never returned to his native land, but died in Spotsylvania County, VA and was buried in Baltimore. 1
1. W.P. Strickland (1858), W.C. Larrabee (1868), E.S. Tipple (1916), H.K. Carroll (1923), L.C. Rudolph (1966), J.A. Vickers (1993); F. Baker (1976) pp.105-141, Lives, Copyright John Vickers; as found on www.francisasbury.org.