PD2015007/ “John Wesley, M.A. Fellow of Lincoln College OXFORD / Chaplain to the Right Honble.the Countess Dowager of BUCHAN, Aged 67. / Done from an Original Picture in the Possession of Thos. Wooldridge Esqr. of East Florida. / London: Printed for RobtSayer, Map and Printseller, No. 53 in Fleet Street. / Published as the Act directs, 20thDecr. 1770. / N. Hone Pinx. / Jno. Greenwood fecit.”
The backboard of this well-known likeness of Rev. John Wesley bears the intriguing pen-and-ink inscription “Capt. W. Noyes 1st Conts,”indicating that its owner potentially served in the First Regiment of The Continental Army, equipped to take up arms against the British in the American Revolution. The Continental Congress approved legislation late in 1775 to establish the First Continental Regiment as a Pennsylvania military unit reporting directly to Congress. It existed under that moniker from 1 January 1776 through the end of the year, after which it was re-chartered as the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment.
One might first surmise that the notation reflects the Captain’s hand. However, a second and much lighter inscription in a different hand reads “W Noyes,” making the inscription more likely that of a Pennsylvania print-seller who marked it with the purchaser’s name pending payment or pickup. Portrait prints of clergymen were poular in the American Colonies, and were advertised for sale in Philadelphia by Nicholas Brooks, who listed pictures of George Whitefield and John Wesley along with images of Venus attired by the Graces and Mrs. Yates in the character of Electra.
A search of the Historical Register of officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution April 1775, to December 1783did not find a Captain W. Noyes with the 1st Continentals, nor, indeed, a Captain W. Noyes; likewise, a search of the Revolutionary War Pension Applications also failed to find a Captain W. Noyes associated with the 1st Continentals. However, further research identified several “Captain W. Noyes” commissioned in the “camp in Cambridge,” and associated with the Continental Army reorganized after the Siege of Boston. Given the fragmentary survival and often-poor condition of Revolutionary War documents, the possibility remains of identifying this Captain W. Noyes, and in what capacity he served.
Rev. John Wesley (1701-1703) was an Anglican minister and theologian; credited with founding the evangelical movement known as Methodism, he was widely popular in America. Wesley spent two years in America in the Georgia Colony, after James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony in 1733, requested his presence. Wesley was to be the minister of the Savannah Parish, as laid out in the “Oglethorpe Plan.” En route to Georgia, Wesley first met the Moravian settlers, who were deeply rooted in pietism; their deeply personal religion became his influence for the foundation of Methodism.
“Wesley arrived in the colony in February 1736. He approached the Georgia mission as a High Churchman, seeing it as an opportunity to revive “primitive Christianity” in a primitive environment. Although his primary goal was to evangelize the Native Americans, a shortage of clergy in the colony largely limited his ministry to European settlers in Savannah. While his ministry has often been judged a failure in comparison to his later success as a leader in the Evangelical Revival, Wesley gathered around him a group of devoted Christians who met in a number of small group religious societies. At the same time, attendance at church services and communion increased over the course of nearly two years in which he served as Savannah’s parish priest.”
Wesley’s theology was immensely popular among the colonial militia, and the connection between Wesley and the American Revolution is clear. In a 2016 essay on a man’s waistcoat belt printed with Galatians 5:1, Matthew Skic illuminated the way in which the verse, which appears in a letter written by Wesley to a parishioner in April 1770, was interpreted by colonial Americans to have political overtones. Indeed, Skic notes “at least five New England preachers mentioned it in sermons about American liberties delivered between 1773 and 1778. In Boston, 1773, Simeon Howard’s sermon to the city’s Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company focused on the verse…. An even more compelling example is a sermon delivered to the First Battalion of the Philadelphia Associators by Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia, on July 7, 1775, titled ‘The Duty of Standing Fast in Our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties.’ It was dedicated to George Washington and the recently established Continental Army and frequently referenced Galatians 5:1. Advertised in Philadelphia newspapers and reprinted across the Atlantic, the sermon gained widespread popularity.” Wesley’s popularity, combined with the 1773 advertisement of his picture for sale in Philadelphia and the inscription on the backboard of this print linking it to a Philadelphia-based Continental regiment, makes this object all the more compelling as an inspirational artifact rather than a mere edition of a print.
The final line beneath the likeness notes that the engraving derived “From the Original Picture [sic on canvas portrait by Nathaniel Hone] in the Possession of Thos. Wooldridge, Esqr. of East Florida,” where he held the august position of “Provost Marshall General and Receiver General of his Majesty’s Province of East Florida” and simultaneously served as “Adjutant and Barracks Master for His Majesty’s troops at Fort St. Marks.” Although Wooldridge’s East Florida office might imply he had met Wesley in Savannah, the preacher had left the region some 40 years prior to the officials’ arrival in America—implying he had embraced Wesley’s teachings long before prior to emigrating to America.
The image was trimmed to the plate marks when cut to fit the frame in the eighteenth century, and over the years, received minor scattered surface damage from silverfish, the only notable loss being to the lower left corner. When acquired by Sumpter Priddy III Inc., the engraving was affixed to a paper substrate to consolidate scattered small tears and folds, and small creases appeared in the subject’s raised left hand, and near his waist.
The frame retains the original painted surface and oil gilded carving, with expected wear and minor scattered losses commensurate with age. The reverse of the frame and the backboard are consistent in color and oxidation; surface and early inscription on the exposed wood backboard.
Wooldridge’s full title appeared in the announcement of his marriage to Miss Kelley, of John Street, Crutched Friars, London, as published by The Town and Country Magazine or Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction and Entertainment,Vol. III, for the Year 1771(London: A. Hamilton, Junr.), p. 335.