Webb, 'Captain' Thomas

Lay pioneer of American Methodism, born on 31 May 1725, probably in Bristol, but possibly in Ireland. In He enlisted in the 48th Regiment of Foot c.1745, was commissioned as Quartermaster in 1754, served in America under Wolfe and lost an eye at the battle of Montmorency during the seige of Quebic in 1759. He was married in 1760 and chose to stay in America in 1764, as civilian Barrack Master at Albany, NY. During a visit to England after his wife's death, he was converted in Bristol, where James Rouquet introduced him to the Methodists and John Wesley accepted him as a local preacher. Wesley described him as 'a man of fire' (see e.g. under 'Salisbury') and Charles Wesley, more guardedly, as 'an inexperienced, honest, zealous, loving enthusiast'. He continued to preach back in Albany and as far south as Pennsylvania. He played a crucial role in the building of the first John Street church in New York and in acquiring St George's Church, Philadelphia, and successfully appealed to the British Conference to send more preachers to America.

In 1773 he married Grace Gilbert, sister of Nathaniel. During the Revolutionary War he was arrested as a Loyalist and, though cleared of a charge of spying, his position became untenable. He finally returned to England in financial straits in 1778. Settling eventually in Bristol, he gave a lead in the building of Portland Chapel (1792), where he served as trustee, chapel keeper and class leader. He died in Bristol on 20 December 1796 and was buried at Portland Chapel. Following its closure and demolition, his remains were reinterred at the New Room in 1972. His memorial tablet was presented by the Portlad trustees to John Street Church in New York, where his portrait by Lewis Vaslet also commemorates his association with the church.

  • O.S. Watkins, Soldiers and Preachers Too (1906), pp.25-6, 124-6
  • Leslie F. Church, 'Captain Thomas Webb, Envoy Extraordinary to the Anglo-American Peoples', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1951, pp.195-200, 229
  • Marvin E. Harvey, 'The Wives of Captain Thomas Webb and their Kin', in WHS Proceedings, 33 pp.153-59; 34 pp.49-50
  • E. Ralph Bates, Captain Thomas Webb, Anglo-American Methodist Hero (Bognor Regis, 1975)
  • E. Ralph Bates, 'Here Lies Captain Thomas Webb', in WHS Proceedings, 38 pp.127-30
  • Arthur Bruce Moss, 'Captain Webb Returns to John Street Church, New York', in WHS Proceedings, 39 pp.57-60
  • Frank Baker, From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American Methodism (Durham, NC, 1976) pp.51-69