He was born at Rothwell, near Leeds on 11 November 1738 and orphaned at the age of five. In early life he came under Calvinistic influence and was deeply moved by the preaching of George Whitefield. An encounter with Thomas Hanby convinced him of his calling to become an itinerant and he began preaching in his native Yorkshire. In 1761 John Wesley accepted him into the itinerancy and sent him into Wales. He was a pioneer of numerous societies there before being sent to Ireland and then to Scotland, where, in the face of widespread indifference,he established a society in Glasgow. In early life he had shown a thirst for learning, and he taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He published a reply to Thomas Paine's Age of Reason (1796), a History of the Waldenses and Albigenses (1793) and an autobiography, Redeeming Grace displayed to the Chief of Sinners (1785). He was one of Wesley's close associates and after 1791 was an advocate of Methodist administration of the Sacrament. He was twice President of the Conference (1796 and 1809). James Montgomery wrote a poem, 'The Christian Soldier', in his memory. He died at Birch House, near Bolton, Lancs, during the night of 14/15 October 1816.
'Large in person; - ordinary features. Good understanding; - a useful preacher; - matter, manner and style homely, though not coarse. Rather sententious; - not rapid in his delivery; - and rarely on fire… natural temper short and peevish, but subdued by divine grace. An early riser, - a close student, and fond of a book… With few drawbacks, a fine specimen of the old school.'
Wesleyan Takings (1840), p.354