Early itinerant, born at Thorner, near Leeds, on 12 November 1737. He first encountered Methodism in Hull, where he was learning the building trade. In 1758 he began attending Methodist services at Harewood and was influenced by the preaching of James Oddie and by reading Alleine's Alarm to the Unconverted. He eventually found 'peace with God' in 1760 and became an itinerant in the York Circuit in 1762. In 1785 John Wesley ordained him for the work in Scotland; but when brought back to England in 1787, he was forbidden to continue administering the Lord's Supper. Bewildered and frustrated, he became closely involved in the debates and events which shaped the Connexion after Wesley's death. He was President of the Conference in 1793 and again in 1801, his fortieth successive Conference. He was deeply concerned by the threat to the internal unity of Methodism after Wesley's death and by its lack of effective central government between Conferences. He attended the Lichfield meeting in 1794 and published his Affectionate Address to the Methodist Societies the following year. He was in favour of allowing the Methodists to receive the Sacrament in their own chapels and from their own ministers. His brother Marmaduke (died May 1798) was a local preacher.
A man of deep but simple piety, he is remembered for having in 1796 burnt many of Wesley's papers and his annotated copy of Shakespeare, which he considered 'unedifying'. His misgivings at the loss of Methodism's 'primitive' simplicity were expressed in a Serious and Affectionate Address to the Junior Preachers in 1798. His extensive correspondence, especially with Charles Atmore and Joseph Benson, gives an intimate and detailed insight into the state of the Connexion. Among his publications was A Chronological Catalogue of all the Travelling Preachers now in the Methodist Connexion (1795, a forerunner of 'Hill's Arrangement') and a volume of Sermons on Various Subjects (1801).
He was twice married. His first wife, Grace Davies of Bristol, died in 1783. In 1785 he married a widow from York, Frances Wren (née Mortimer). He died at Wakefield on 19 March 1806.