Susanna Wesley

Mrs Ruth Wesley

Susanna Wesley (mother of John Wesley) was a highly intelligent and capable woman who lived in the days when opportunities for women in education and employment were almost non-existent. The story of Susanna is of a woman who faced hardship, poverty and domestic difficulties with patience and unswerving trust in God and passed on to her children a rich intellectual and spiritual heritage.

Born in 1669, the 25th child of Dr. Samuel Annesley, Susanna was reared in an extraordinary family – her father once being a minister of one of London’s important parish churches, situated near St. Paul’s Cathedral. At that time the struggle between the established Anglican Church and the dissenters was a conflict rocking England. When parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in 1662, insisting that the Prayer Book should be used in all churches, Dr. Annesely would not compromise his convictions and was ejected from the Church of England.

During Susanna’s childhood, many learned dissenters visited the Annesely home and talked freely of the differences between the Church of England and themselves. This meant that Susanna heard every argument against the church in favour of dissent. However she gradually came to the conclusion that dissent was wrong and the Church of England was right and before she was 13 years old she left the church of which her father was Pastor and was received into the Church of England. Here was a girl displaying an independence of mind and a strength of decision virtually unheard of in someone so young.

While still 13 years old, Susanna met Samuel Wesley at her sister’s wedding. Samuel was 20 at the time and a firm friendship grew between them. It is particularly significant that just as Susanna had left the dissenters and joined the Church of England, so now Samuel prepared to take the same step. Friendship ripened into romance and Samuel and Susanna were married in Marylebone Parish Church, London, in 1688.

Susanna’s chief claim to fame was the way in which she brought up her children. She gave birth to 19 children but only 10 survived – 3 boys and 7 girls. From the age of 5 Susanna taught the children at home. The Wesley sons left home to obtain further schooling. John attended his mother’s classes until the age of 11 when he was sent to London to Charterhouse School. Charles likewise attended his mother’s classes but when he was 8 years old he went to live with his brother Samuel and attend Westminster school. Whilst the boys were still at home, over and above what they were taught by their mother, their father instructed them in Latin and Greek and classical literature and so laid the foundation on which they built solid learning at Westminster, Charterhouse and Oxford.

After a long time of failing health, the Rev. Samuel Wesley died in 1735 at the age of 73 and so Susanna the longsuffering wife, began her years of impoverished but uncomplaining widowhood. Her sons were all willing to provide her with a home but lacked the means to do so. Later, John bought a factory known as the Foundery. He made a large part of it as a meeting house and a smaller section became his living quarters. John was now able to provide his mother with a home for the remainder of her life. While living with John, Susanna was attending Methodist services and though Methodistism was still a part of the Church of England, its message was different. She was aware of the change that had come into the lives of John and Charles, following their conversion in 1738.

Susanna’s life was now drawing to a close. John’s ministry took him away from home much of the time. During July 1742, John was in Bristol when he received a note from his sisters to say that his mother was near death. He rode post-haste to London to find her, in his own words “on the border of humanity”. Susanna was calm and sensible to the end, her last request being “children as soon as I am released, sing a psalm of praise to God”. Dr. Adam Clarke, who knew Susanna personally, wrote “….Many daughters have done virtuously, but Susanna Wesley has excelled them all”