May we hold a service in your house? We were told you might let us meet here." Burly Jesse Lee was as polite as could be.
The woman in the doorway shook her head. "My husband isn't at home right now, but before he left, he said he didn't want you preaching in our home."
"Well, I'd rather preach in the road than make trouble between you and your husband. But how about that old house over there--it's empty."
Jesse turned away. As a Methodist trying to open a work in Puritan New England, he had expected opposition. And here it was. It was just past four in the afternoon on this day, June 17, 1789. The sun was still hot and some kind of shade was necessary. Ahead was an orchard. Jesse turned aside and asked the old lady who owned it if the handful of people who had gathered to hear him might use it.
"No. You'll trample the grass," said the woman.
Jesse led the twenty people to an apple tree that overhung the road. When the first lady saw that Jesse really meant to preach outdoors, she changed her mind. "You can use our old house," she said.
"I think it would be better for us to stay where we are," said Jesse. And that is what they did, there in Norwalk, Connecticut on this day June 17, 1789. After singing and praying, Jesse preached his first sermon in Connecticut. He took as his theme, "You must be born again."
"After preaching I told the people that I intended to be with them again in two weeks, and if any of them would open their houses to receive me, I should be glad, and if they were not willing, we would meet at the same place; some of them came, and desired that I should meet at the town-house, the next time; so I gave consent."
That was the beginning of Jesse's major push to win converts to Methodism in New England. He was so successful that he was given the nickname "The Apostle of Methodism." By 1794, he and a helper were riding seventeen circuits in the New England states. Jesse was such a big man that he had to take two horses wherever he went, so that when one was worn out he could switch to the other.
Before he died, the energetic Jesse wrote A History of Methodism in America and served as chaplain to Congress for six terms.
- "Jesse Lee." Famous Americans. Appletons Encyclopedia. http://www.famousamericans.net/jesselee/
- Lee, Jesse. Memoir of the Rev. Jesse Lee. With extracts from his journals. New York: Arno Press, 1969.
Last updated May, 2007.