206 E Redwood St, Baltimore, MD 21202

The Ordination of Bishop Asbury

18th and 19th century American Methodists took strong positions on slavery, both for and against, and were sometimes deeply divided on the issue.


Methodists founded Lovely Lane Meeting House, built in 1774 just a few streets north of the waterfront and since, relocated to 206 East Redwood Street.

John Wesley, an abolitionist, had been influenced by the writings of two American Quakers, Anthony Benezet and John Woolman. He considered the slave trade to be a national disgrace and sent Francis Asbury to America to promote his anti-slavery position. He named Asbury and Thomas Coke as co-superintendents and they played a prominent role. 

Plaque commemorating the original Lovely Lane Meeting House location

The Methodist Episcopal Church had banned its ministers from owning slaves but ended the ban in 1820, the same year as the Missouri Compromise. Around the same time, it became closely tied to the American Colonization Society and its own Liberian Mission, which proposed sending freemen to evangelize Africa, despite the very limited interest among free African Americans. 

Many prominent white Americans supported colonization as an alternative to emancipation in the United States, and according to historian Donald Mathews, “There was no religious denomination more closely connected with colonization than the Methodist Episcopal Church”.

Certificate of Membership, American Colonization Society

In the 1830s, abolitionists within the Methodist Episcopal Church sought to recover the church’s antislavery position. Notable antislavery activity took place within the New England Annual Conference where abolitionist Orange Scott and others used camp meetings and conference structures to attack slavery and the suppression of antislavery sentiments in church publications.

Despite those efforts, Methodist bishops sought to keep antislavery messages out of church periodicals, and to suppress abolitionists for the sake of church unity. They began to impose various forms of discipline on abolitionist clergy, saw that charges were brought against them and often reassigned them to the most difficult and undesirable locations. 

Southern Methodists defended the morality of slavery and asserted that, as a political matter, slavery was an issue outside the church's authority.

Lovely Lane

When pro-slavery forces prevailed at the 1840 General Conference, Orange Scott, and his allies La Roy Sunderland and Jotham Horton left the church. Condemning the Methodist Episcopal Church as “not only a slave-holding, but a slavery defending, Church,” these men organized a new Methodist church on explicitly antislavery grounds in 1843. They called it the Wesleyan Methodist Church (not to be confused with the British church of the same name).

But conflicts over slavery continued and in 1844, even the Methodist Episcopal Church split over slavery, into the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South.