John and Charles Wesley visited America in 1735 as spiritual advisers to James Oglethorpe's colony in Georgia, but the actual beginnings of Methodism in America came after 1766, when Philip Embury, a Wesleyan convert from Ireland, began to preach in New York, and Robert Strawbridge started a congregation in Maryland. In 1769, Wesley sent several itinerant preachers into the new field; Francis Asbury arrived in 1771. The first annual conference in America was held in 1773. In 1784, Thomas Coke, acting on authority from Wesley, proceeded with the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. At a Christmas conference in Baltimore, Asbury and Coke were elected superintendents (and shortly thereafter styled bishops), and the order of worship and articles of religion prepared by Wesley were adopted.
The first General Conference of the new church was held in 1792. In 1830, after controversy over lay representation in conferences and other questions, the Methodist Protestant Church was formed, without bishops or presiding elders. The Wesleyan Methodist Connection was organized (1843) at Utica, N.Y., in a strong antislavery protest. The independent Methodist Episcopal Church, South, began in 1845 over the issue of slavery. In 1939 a great reunion was realized—the Methodist Episcopal Church (North), the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church united as the Methodist Church. In 1968 the Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church, now the largest body of Methodists in the world with about 8.5 million members (1997).
Among the 22 other branches of Methodism in the United States are the Primitive Methodist Church (est. c.1830), the Congregational Methodist Church (est. 1852), and the Free Methodist Church of North America (est. 1860). Black Methodist denominations, founded by pastors such as Richard Allen, include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (formerly the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.