Guernsey in America, 1924

From the Guernsey Free Churchman, December 1924 and January 1925.

Some quite remarkable events have occurred on the little island of Guernsey; but perhaps none more interesting than those surrounding the introduction of Methodism into our homeland. Methodism reached the Channel Islands by way of America.

By a striking coincidence, one of the instruments God used to establish Methodism in America had an equal calling to play a part in the work in the Channel Islands.This man was Captain [Thomas] Webb [1724-1796], a retired British Army officer, turned preacher, who had played an important part in the the foundation of American Methodism. This was a preacher who still wore his uniform, and who had lost an eye fighting the French.

His regiment was sent to Jersey around the beginning of November 1783, amongst whom several had become blessed converts to God through him. At this time an appeal was made to John Wesley by people who had been awakened to salvation through the great efforts of two Jersey Christians, Pierre Le Sueur and Jean Tentin. Providence had destined them to be the first preachers of the awakening in their island, which was soon to spread to Guernsey.

Pierre Le Sueur, an intelligent and entrepreneurial young man, had set up a cod-fishing and processing plant in Newfoundland; Jean Tentin was in the same business. Jersey ships had been out fishing on the Grand Banks since the beginning of the 17th century. The two Jersey friends had been converted in Newfoundland by a Methodist preacher called Laurence Couglan. He was formerly a travelling preacher working for John Wesley; having been ordained by the Bishop of London he went out as a missionary to Newfoundland under the auspices of the Anglican Society for the Propogation of the Gospel. (He returned to England to resume his work for Wesley, but died soon after.)

In Jersey, the little group of awakened souls were encouraged by the blessed efforts of the convert soldiers, together with Le Sueur and others. They sent a request to Wesley for a preacher for the islands who could speak both French and English. Captain Webb and others lent strong support and within a few months Reverend Robert Carr Brackenbury arrived.

We cannot fail to mention here the a man as noteworthy for his devotion to God as for his knowledge; Dr Adam Clarke, whom the 1786 Conference sent to the islands, where he was to spend three good years of his young life; he was 25. In the midst of persecution and obstacles he helped build the foundations of a work that was afterwards strenthened and expanded. It was through him that the first Methodist Chapel in the Channel Islands was constructed, in Guernsey's Le Marchant Street.

But we want particularly to tell a story here, of which some members of the Methodist congregation in Guernsey may be unaware, or which may have been forgotten.

In 1808, 12 years before the death of Brackenbury, and at a time when the war with France made travelling by sea difficult, a small band of Guernsey Methodists, called Ferbrache, Bichard, Sarchet, and Marquand, left Guernsey and crossed the Atlantic. They did not make the crossing on a steamship, as the first steam packet in the Channel Islands, the Ariadne, Captain Bazin, arrived from Southampton on the 8th January 1827, crossing from Southampton to Guernsey in 13 hours.

Upon arriving in America, they made their way into the interior and made their first home amongst the hills of western Ohio. Soon the small town of Cambridge rose from the desert, and soon a name had to be found for the new colony; they called it 'Guernsey County,' after its first colonists. Eventually a circuit was organised in Guernsey County; our friends set up a French-speaking class┬╣ and continued their services in French, until the first immigrants passed away and little by little their children adopted American ways. Eventually the French class was discontinued and its members joined in with the English classes. [From the French. DAB.]

┬╣ 'By the year 1810 we find as many as 400 members worshipping in [the French] language [in Guernsey], and only 177 in English. Gradually the numbers increased, although the rate was always proportionately higher among the speakers of French.' From Basil C de Guerin, 'The Growth of Methodism in the Channel Islands,' in The Methodist Magazine, July 1947, cutting in de Guerin Scrapbook H in the Library.

See The Heaumes of Guernsey County; Guernsey Pilgrim Fathers. More material and several books on the history of Methodism in the Channel Islands are available in the Library.