Facts and Events
Richard Whatcoat (February 23, 1736 – July 4, 1806), was the third Bishop of the American Methodist Episcopal Church. History
Whatcoat was born in Gloucestershire, England and, although reared in the Church of England, became a Methodist at age 22. He was a devoted lay Methodist for nine years. In July of 1769, Whatcoat became a minister, quickly earning a strong reputation as a problem-solver. John Wesley and Thomas Coke ordained him an Elder in 1784, then Wesley sent Whatcoat and Coke to the United States as missionaries. Whatcoat became influential among the Methodists in America, known as an effective preacher. His contemporaries attributed his strength chiefly to his devotion. In the year 1800 he was elected bishop, joining Coke and Francis Asbury as the leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After several years of infirmity, he died in Dover, Delaware. "Richard Whatcoat was one of the saintliest men in the primitive itinerancy of Methodism. Had he been a Papist, he might have been canonized. His biographer adds that it might be said of him, as of St. Basil, 'that so much divine majesty and luster appeared in him it made the wicked tremble to behold him. In him were seen majesty and love. His whole deportment was beautiful, and adorned with personal graces.' During eight or nine years he labored humbly but effectively as a Band and Class Leader in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, where Methodism was 'tried as by fire' in terrible persecutions. In 1767 he began to hold public meetings, as an Exhorter, in rural neighborhoods. In 1769 the devoted John Pawson, who knew how to estimate his character, proposed him as an itinerant at the memorable Leeds Conference which sent the first Methodist missionaries, Boardman and Pilmoor, to America. The Conference might well have received their obscure young probationer with peculiar interest, could they have anticipated that he was providentially destined to follow their missionaries, and become one of the early bishops of the wide-spread Church they had thus been humbly founding in the distant West. Source: History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, Abel Stevens (1815-1897), pub.1864 In telling of his life, Richard Whatcoat stated that he was born in 1736 in the parish of Quinton, county of Gloucester, England. His father died while he was very young and living with his mother and four siblings. As with most young boys, he was bound as an apprentice. He claimed to have been as good as most boys could be, never swearing a vain oath, or given to lying, gaming, drunkenness or any other presumptuous sin, but was commended for his honesty and sobriety. Even at a young age, he thought about death and eternity. At the age of 21 he moved to Wednesbury, and in his words, "found myself in continual danger of losing the little religion I had, as the family in which I lived had no religion at all." "Whatcoat has left us but brief notes of his travels and labors in the present period. Immediately after the Christmas Conference he took the field in Maryland and Delaware for about half a year, preaching 'almost daily, sometimes twice a day,' and administering the sacraments almost as frequently. In Kent County he records more than seventy-five baptisms on a single day - such had been the long privation of this ordinance among the Methodist families! In 1786 he spent seven or eight months in Philadelphia and its neighborhood, and the next year penetrated to the west of Pennsylvania to Alleghany, Bath, and Berkeley Circuits, where he spent nearly fourteen months supplying the settlements with the sacraments, and proclaiming the Word in barns and woods." Rev. Whatcoat was written a letter by Francis Asbury on March 25, 1787 in Charleston, South Carolina. It states: "My dear Brother: Hereby I inform you that Mr. Wesley has appointed you a joint Superintendent with me. I can, therefore, claim no superiority over you; the way will be for you to come after me through the whole continent if called, but through the States without all doubt. The best method will be to go out to the Ohio, upon a plan I have laid out for myself, and return to the Springs; there I will meet you and form a plan for our future work. The mode of appointment is not approved of, though many of us by no means object to the person. I am, with respect, Yours as ever, Francis Asbury Source: The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, Vol.II, Chap.3, Elmer T. Clark, Editor-in-Chief, Pub. jointly by Epworth Press, London and Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1958. "Again he was sent, in 1788-89, to Maryland and Delaware, the head-quarters of his charge, which was a district with no less than sixteen large circuits, extending from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and Redstone, from the Maryland peninsula to Ohio. His manners were devoutly grave, but relieved by affectionate cordiality, and he was both revered and loved by the people. His preaching was often attended with overwhelming unction, and in the administration of the sacraments he was peculiarly impressive, rendering those solemnities, frequently, occasions of great effect. In 1789 he traveled with Asbury to the north as far as New York, and westward across the Alleghanies to Fort Pitt, (Pittsburgh) and thence to Uniontown, Pa., where he assisted the bishop at the first ordination beyond the mountains. Returning to Baltimore, they held on their route to Charleston, S.C. where they met the South Carolina Conference, and thence into Georgia, where also they held a session. They then hastened westward to the Alleghanies, and passed into Tennessee and Kentucky. ... On again reaching Uniontown, Pa., he records that 'in the last fifteen months we have traveled six thousand miles.' " Source: History of the Methodist Episcopal Church. "In 1790 he (Whatcoat) was flying to and fro through the middle states, supplying the sacraments and preaching continually. In 1791 he was stationed in New York city, where he stayed some months, and was then transferred to Baltimore, where he welcomed the first regular Gen'l. Conference in 1792." Source: History of the Methodist Episcopal Church A spectator of the Gen'l. Conference of 1800, held in Baltimore, Md., witnessed Whatcoat's ordination saying, "It was one of the most remarkable in the history of our Church. The revival at that time was the greatest that has ever occurred at the session of any Gen'l. Conference. ... They elected Richard Whatcoat bishop, he having a majority of four votes over Jesse Lee. Sunday the 18th (of May), was a great day. The ordination sermon was preached by Rev. Thomas Coke, LL.D., in Light Street Church. ... After the sermon, which was adapted to the occasion, Richard Whatcoat was ordained a bishop in the Church of God by the imposition of the hands of Dr. Coke and Bishop Asbury, assisted by several elders. Never were holy hands laid upon a holier head." Source: History of the Methodist Episcopal Church In speaking of the General Conference of 1800 in Baltimore, Rev. Whatcoat wrote, "We had a most blessed time, and much preaching, fervent prayers and strong exhortations through the city, while the high praises of our gracious God reverberated from street to street and from house to house, which greatly alarmed the citizens. It was thought that not less than two hundred were converted during the sitting of our Conference." Source: History of the Old Baltimore Conference - From the Planting of Methodism in 1773 to the Division of the Conference in 1857, pg.37; James Edward Armstrong, Secretary of the Baltimore Conference, M.E. Church South; Printed for author by Kings Bros.,Printers, Balto., Md.; 1907 In the period of the quoted Haskins' letter (below), the author states that Asbury and Whatcoat had been travelling together, and Asbury was now suffering from a bad foot, so that he was unable to go on. Reference is made in Asbury's journal that Whatcoat went to the New York Conference and conducted it. In a letter from Francis Asbury to Thomas Cofee, August 20 he states in part, "Every circuit upon the Eastern and Western shores Maryland appears to have a revival. Since I wrote from Philadelphia, I have heard of a stir in New Jersey. Brother Whatcoat is upon a thousand miles tour, in round New York, Jersey, and Pennsylvania, I mean along the extremities of the country. In a little time I hope to meet him, and take the western journey, from Frederick-Town, in Maryland; thence to recross the Allegany to the south. ... Brother Whatcoat will perhaps go down the old path you have frequently gone with me, thro' old Virginia North and South Carolina, and Georgia. We shall not be able to meet all the conferences, if we keep together, tho' our bones were brass and our flesh iron." Relating the travels of Whatcoat and himself, Asbury states in a letter to Thomas Coke on July 28, 1803 that, "This will probably be the last letter I shall write you till the General Conference. Brother Whatcoat and myself, since April, have had a tour of 1800 miles from Baltimore thro' Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Northhamptonshire, and Vermont." In a P.S. he adds, "Brother Whatcoat is under a serious affliction thro' the gravel, shall leave him to rest in Maryland, till the General Conference." In another of Francis Asbury's letters dated June 27, 1803 in Cambridge, New York, he tells Stith Mead of church business and mentions the health of Richard Whatcoat. In regard to the latter he says, "Brother Whatcoat has had something serious in a discharge of blood at the urinary passage, that may either change his habits or his citizenship, from this to a better world. I believe we shall keep together this year if possible, we are now in haste for the new state [Ohio] and Kentucky, going down west of the Ohio." Source: The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, Vol.II, Chap.8, Elmer T. Clark, Editor-in-Chief; Pub. jointly by Epworth Press, London and Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1958. In A Compendious History of American Methodism by Abel Stevens. L . L . D., he states, "In casting a glance back over these sixteen years, so replete with great characters and achievements, we are reminded of events which might strike us as catastrophes were it not that they were in the order of Divine Providence, and therefore in 'due season,' and illustrations of the Methodistic maxim that 'God calls home his workmen, but carries on his work.' Among a host of men, many of them prominent, who fell by death in the ministerial field, Whatcoat, Coke, Asbury, and Lee have all disappeared from the scene as we close the period. "Whatcoat sustained his episcopal functions with continual disability from chronic disease, but was ever in motion throughout the whole extent of the Church North, South, East and West. His beautiful character preached more effectually than his sermons. Peculiarly simple, sober, but serene and cheerful, living as well as teaching his favorite doctrine of sanctification, extremely prudent in his administration, pathetically impressive in discourse, and 'made perfect through sufferings,' he is pre-eminently the saint in the primitive calendar of American Methodism." "In November, 1806, Asbury wrote to Fleming: 'Dear Father Whatcoat, after thirteen weeks' illness-gravel, stone, dysentery combined, died a martyr to pain in all patience and resignation to the will of God. May we, like him, if we live long, live well, and die like him.' He had 'finished his sixth episcopal tour through the work after his consecration,' says his biographer, 'or near that, and, after great suffering, he got an honorable discharge from the Captain of his salvation, and by his permission came in from his post, which he had faithfully kept for fifty years.' He took refuge at the home of Senator Bassett, Dover, Del., where he died, 'in the full assurance of faith,' say the Minutes, July 5, 1806. 'He professed,' adds his brethren, ' the justifying and sanctifying grace of God, and all that knew him well might say, If a man on earth possessed these blessings, surely it was Richard Whatcoat.' Nearly a year later Asbury reached Dover, and over his tomb declared that he 'knew Richard Whatcoat, from his own age of fourteen to sixty-two years, most intimately his holy manner of life, in duty at all times, in all places and before all.' " The relics of Richard Whatcoat, the third elected Methodist bishop, and who died in 1806, ten years before Francis Asbury, were buried under an altar at Wesley Chapel in Dover, Delaware, above which Asbury preached his funeral sermon. Source: History of the Methodist Episcopal Church
DEATH OF BISHOP WHATCOAT.
Bishop Whatcoat labored assiduously in the discharge of his duties as bishop from his election in 1800 to the spring of 1 806. He was then obliged to desist, and found a home at the house of Governor Bassett, in Delaware. His last affliction was very severe, and, after an illness of thirteen weeks, he died in the triumphs of faith, July 5, 1806. Though not distinguished for great brilliancy in the pulpit, or for great executive ability, he was, nevertheless, an excellent preacher, and was faithful and diligent in all his work. He was remarkable for his meekness and humility, and for the deep spirit of piety which he manifested, both in public and private. In reference to his ordination a distinguished writer has said : " Holy hands were never laid on a holier head."
From Manship, Andrew. 1856. Thirteen years' experience in the itinerancy. Philadelphia: Higgins & Perkinpine. p. 44
I was greatly gratified with the course recently pursued by our lay brethren in Dover, Delaware, and the members of the Philadelphia Annual Conference, in reference to the remains of Rev. Richard Whatcoat, the third Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who finished his course in that town, at the house of Richard Basset, Esq., a prominent citizen, and afterwards the Governor of Delaware. The end of Bishop Whatcoat, which took place the 6th of June, 1806, was peaceful, and his last night was spent in prayer and praise. He frequently prayed to the Lord in this time of need, and was often heard during the night to exclaim, " Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!" A murmur never escaped his lips. A dear servant of God, and a friend of mine, Thomas Stevenson, Esq., who still lives, has informed me that he was with him the last night he lived, and though it was a most solemn time (for there was a corpse in the house), "it was," says he, "the happiest night I ever experienced." His remains were deposited immediately under the altar of the Methodist Episcopal Church of that place. His funeral sermon was preached hy Rev. Dr. Chandler. Great respect was shown to this valuable minister, though a stranger in a strange land. A slab of marble, with an appropriate inscription, was inserted in the wall of the church, to mark the spot where he rested.