The Very Strange Story of the Wesley Ghost

April 12, 2011


I finished my third biographical book about Susanna Wesley, mother of Reverend John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, and Charles Wesley, the brilliant hymn writer. I’m obsessive like that, I guess. When I want to know a topic of history, I cram it all in. I once read four books about Queen Victoria, one after another, and watched a TV series on the Internet about it, too. No surprise that the TV series was nothing like her real life, lol.

One of the most interesting occurrences in the life of Susanna Wesley (who lived in the mid 1660s and died in the mid 1700’s) was that their rectory was “haunted” for a time. I don’t believe in ghosts, exactly– not the way the world and the media do. The Bible describes spirits (like the spirit of Samuel when he came to Saul). But as far as ghosts and hauntings, I am very skeptical.

However, the accounts written by John and Susanna and Samuel Wesley (Samuel was the husband of Susanna and John’s father, and the minister of the small settlement) and all the rest of the family (8 girls and 3 boys!) are very compelling and make me wonder. The family said their house was disturbed by a spirit of some kind, from December 1716 to April 1717. They wrote letters with great details about the occurrences, all very credible. The family had no idea where it came from, what it was, why it happened. At first it was only the children who heard it, but then the parents, then visitors and even the trusty mastiff guard dog yelped in terror. It’s a very odd story.

The Wesleys lost their first rectory, in Epworth, Lincolnshire, to a terrible fire. They lost everything. Most of the family got out in the nick of time, some with bad burns; 5-year old John was trapped in an upstairs bedroom and was considered lost, when the men performed a daring escape and plucked him from the collapsing building. After the fire, a new rectory was built– it was larger and much more solid, made of stone and wood this time and not mud and straw. But a few months after the family moved into the house, the children reported strange sounds. One of the older daughters was the first to hear the sound– a moaning as if someone was dying a terrible death, walking across the floor with a heavy trailing nightgown, and then chains shaking the floor.

The sounds developed into knocking, footsteps and rattling, but were only heard on the children’s side of the large house at first, in the evening. The children became so accustomed to the presence of this entity that they named him “Old Jeffrey.” šŸ˜Æ He would sometimes raise the beds they lay on. He stomped his feet on the wooden floorboards and followed the girls around the children’s section of the house. He slammed doors. He rattled invisible chains and smashed invisible pottery.

Susanna then started to hear the sounds. She thought perhaps it was a servant playing tricks, or one of the nasty neighbors trying to scare them. But as the family investigated into the issue, these reasons were discounted.

Samuel, the father, initially rebuked the family for being frightened by such nonsense. He commanded the ghost to visit him in his study if he wanted to make his presence known. “Thou deaf and dumb devil, why dost thou frighten these children? Come to me in my study, that am a man.”

Immediately, three on three poundings rocked the study door. Later, when Samuel was in bed, Old Jeffrey pressed on Samuel’s chest. Samuel was terrified. He purchased a dog– a mean old mastiff– to scare the intruder away. But as soon as the mastiff heard Jeffrey approaching, the dog whined and hid under the table.

Samuel wrote to one of the bishops about the occurrences, who decided to come check out this nonsense for himself. That evening while the men sat in the study, Jeffrey paid a visit. The bishop fled the property. :run:

The house was fully inspected for riffraff and pranksters, but nothing was found. The sounds were too loud and close, the movements were too sudden and swift to have been a person skulking around the house. And both Susanna, one of the daughters, and one of the servant men all claimed they saw the creature– it looked like a badger with no head. It once crawled under the bed and once under Susanna’s voluminous skirts.

Jeffrey roamed the house freely, interrupting lessons and bedtime. The children would sometimes play games with him, like Follow the Leader. :egads:

Susanna was very concerned that Jeffrey would disturb her very important prayer time in the evening. As a minister’s wife and mother of 11 children, her alone time in prayer was extremely precious. She prayed to God that she would not be interrupted between 5pm to 6pm. She told Jeffrey that this was extremely important to her, and did not wish to be interrupted during that time. And she never was.

So all these stories really made me think. When John grew up, he wrote about the experience. He attributed the disturbance to a vow his father had taken in a fit of anger against his wife (they differed on politics and Samuel swore before God that he’d never be with his wife again, and left the family– but he came back about a year later). That was 16 years before Jeffrey, however. So some scholars think that John’s reasoning is not the true reason. Yet, Jeffrey was MOST active– making disturbing noises and groans– whenever Samuel prayed for the king. Hmmm.

If you do a search on Wesley, ghost, and Jeffrey on Google Books (try this link and this link), you will see for yourself how much information there is out there about this issue. John Wesley wrote of it numerous times, often twinged with a bit of wry humor. Tradition holds that, 100 years later, residents of the Lincolnshire rectory were driven away by the same noises and rattlings as Old Jeffrey.


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6 Responses to “The Very Strange Story of the Wesley Ghost”

  1. Secondary Roads Says:

    Susanna was indeed an amazing woman. She is one of my heroes of the faith.

  2. Tiny Says:

    A fascinating story – yeah, I know it’s fact, but you know what I mean! I love a good ghost tale.

    Get yer butt over to my blog – you have an award waiting – sorry, I should have pre-warned you. I’m a failure…

  3. lin Says:

    Ooooooh! That is creepy/cool! Creepy if it was happening to me–Cool ‘cuz it was happening to THEM!! šŸ™‚

  4. Rebecca Says:

    Chuck- same here. šŸ™‚

  5. Rebecca Says:

    Oh Tiny- you doll!!! Thank you for the award. I had a chance to speed read your post, but have been away from the computer for a few days (daughter had oral surgery and articles are due for work). But I will get to it! Thanks for including me. I feel special. šŸ˜€

  6. Rebecca Says:

    Lin- that’s a great big DITTO from me!!