Coughlan, Laurence
d. 1784

A Methodist preacher in Ireland and England, who converted from Roman Catholicism at Drumsna, Co. Leitrim in 1753. He entered the itinerancy in 1755. Tradition links him to the conversion in Ireland of Robert Strawbridge, one of the earliest Methodist preachers in America. Coughlan had to leave the Methodist connexion following his ordination in 1764 by the controversial BishopErasmus, since it took place without John Wesley's knowledge or approval. (Wesley dismissed him as 'a person who had no learning at all', which has interesting implications for the qualifications he saw as desirable for lay and ordained preachers.)

In April 1766 he sailed for Harbour Grace, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, having received Anglican ordination with the support of Lord Dartmouth. Later that year he returned briefly to England, bearing a petition signed by local people and so was able to resume his work in Newfoundland in the autumn of 1767 with the sanction and support of the SPG. Besides holding regular services, administering the sacraments and reporting to the SPG, he sought at the same time to be an instrument of evangelical conversion among the unchurched. At first he met with little success in this, despite strenuous and sustained efforts. But revival eventually came, marked by death-bed conversions, testimonies, praise and reformed moral standards, as described in his Account of the Work of God in Newfoundland (1776). In this aspect of his work he followed such Methodist practices as forming converts into classes and involving lay leaders (among them John Stretton). He maintained a correspondence with Wesley.

Coughlan is therefore regarded as the founder of Newfoundland Methodism. A colourful and controversial figure, he aroused both strong support and criticism. His 'denunciatory approach' and emotional preaching provoked considerable opposition, leading to petitions for his removal and actions by magistrates. More positively, small societies sprang up in Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Old Perlican; a chapel was built at Blackhead in 1769, and he reported an increase in communicants from 80 to nearly 200 between 1768 and 1770. By the time of his final return to England in 1773 he felt he had laid the foundations of Methodism on the island. But Wesley continued to have reservations concerning him and did not re-admit him to the Wesleyan fold. Instead, he became 'a successful, if somewhat unsettled preacher' in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.

  • C. Atmore, Methodist Memorial (1801) pp.80-83
  • T.W. Smith, History of the Methodist Church of Eastern British America (1877)
  • P. O'Flaherty, The Rock Observed, Studies in the Literature of Newfoundland (1979)
  • J.W. Grant, 'Methodist Origins in Atlantic Canada' and H. Rollman, 'Laurence Coughlin and the Origins of Methodism in Newfoundland', in C.H.H. Scobie and J.W. Grant (eds.), The Contribution of Methodism to Atlantic Canada (1992)
  • Neil Semple, The Lord's Dominion, The history of Canadian Methodism (Montreal, 1996)
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto, 1979) 4 pp.175-77
  • Oxford DNB