He was born at Mullan, Co. Tyrone on 7 May 1754, into a family connected with John Averell, Bishop of Limerick. He attended Trinity College, Dublin. In 1777 he was ordained deacon in the (Episcopalian) Church of Ireland, but, requested to speak against Methodism, examined its teaching and found himself in broad sympathy. He was converted in 1788, following his reading of John Wesley's Appeals, joined the Methodists, preached his first Methodist sermon on 7 October 1792 and was received into full connexion in 1796. Partly on account of being ordained, he rose to a position of leadership. Although he had been in the habit of administering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a deacon, he resisted the proposal to allow limited authority to the Irish preachers to do so. Declaring in January 1818 that the Methodists were 'not a church but a religious society', he was elected President of the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists that year and continued in that role until his death at Mount Salem, near Clones, Co. Monaghan on 16 January 1847.