Familiar as it is, we now offer the old story of the hauntings at Epworth, mainly because a full view of the inhabitants, the extraordinary family of Wesley, seems necessary to an understanding of the affair. The famous and excessively superstitious John Wesley was not present on the occasion.
No ghost story is more celebrated than that of Old Jeffrey, the spirit so named by Emily Wesley, which disturbed the Rectory at Epworth, chiefly in the December of 1716 and the spring of 1717. Yet the vagueness of the human mind has led many people, especially journalists, to suppose that the haunted house was that, not of Samuel Wesley, but of his son John Wesley, the founder of the Wesleyan Methodists. For the better intelligence of the tale, we must know who the inmates of the Epworth Rectory were, and the nature of their characters and pursuits. The rector was the Rev. Samuel Wesley, born in 1662, the son of a clergyman banished from his living on “Black Bartholomew Day,” 1666. Though educated among Dissenters, Samuel Wesley converted himself to the truth as it is in the Church of England, became a “poor scholar” of Exeter College in Oxford, supported himself mainly by hack-work in literature (he was one of the editors of a penny paper called The Athenian Mercury, a sort of Answers), married Miss Susanna Annesley, a lady of good family, in 1690-91, and in 1693 was presented to the Rectory of Epworth in Lincolnshire by Mary, wife of William of Orange, to whom he had dedicated a poem on the life of Christ. The living was poor, Mr. Wesley’s family multiplied with amazing velocity, he was in debt, and unpopular. His cattle were maimed in 1705, and in 1703 his house was burned down. The Rectory House, of which a picture is given in Clarke’s Memoirs of the Wesleys, 1825, was built anew at his own expense. Mr. Wesley was in politics a strong Royalist, but having seen James II. shake “his lean arm” at the Fellows of Magdalen College, and threaten them “with the weight of a king’s right hand,” he conceived a prejudice against that monarch, and took the side of the Prince of Orange. His wife, a very pious woman and a strict disciplinarian, was a Jacobite, would not say “amen” to the prayers for “the king,” and was therefore deserted by her husband for a year or more in 1701-1702. They came together again, however, on the accession of Queen Anne.