Letter from John Mercer to Jabez Bunting

The letter is in the John Rylands Library, Manchester - [PLP 74-17-1] ; an edited version (leaving out the personal or entirely Manx comments) is available as pp29-36 in The Early Correspondence of Jabez Bunting Camden Fourth Series vol 11 ed W.R.Ward London:RHS 1972. The following is a full transcription, naturally including the Manx bits! The few strikethroughs and underlines are as per original which stretches over 10½ foolscap pages. Mercer tended to capitalise some words; he also used the german ß for double 's' but the script is very neat and readable; [a few very minor errors have been noticed in Ward's transcription].

It is important in giving a description of the state of early Methodism on the Island.Other letters by J Mercer survive but are of a more personal nature.

From John Mercer Peeltown, March 14, 1820

Revd and dear Sir

You probably recollect that I sliped a small manuscript into your green bag at Bristol Conference, prefaced with a few lines requesting you to read it over, and to tell me freely your thoughts upon it. Whether you read it over or not I cannot tell, as I have not heard been favoured with a single line from you on the subject. - I know that that your time is fully occupied with the great and important concerns of the Connexion; and perhaps it is not right for such an obscure Individual to take up any part of your precious time in reading and answering any productions of mine. But as I have no end in view, or interest to serve, but the cause of God and Truth; and as you are engaged in the same blessed cause; I flatter myself with a hope I once more take up my pen to write to you; not knowing any person in the Connection as suitable. For as you have travelled upward of twenty years in the richest of the rich circuits, and I have travelled upward of nineteen in the poorest of the poor circuits, I conceive that we are prepared to meet half way. My object in writing what I gave to you at Conference, and what I am now about to offer, is to make it appear that our Connexion hath resources within itself sufficient to pay the preachers' salaries according to Conference allowance, with the help of the profits arising from the Book Room. The number in Society in Great Britain, this year, is 196,605. One penny per week and one shilling per quarter for the above number amounts to the sum of £81,918. 15. 0. per year. The July Collection £2500, the yearly Collection £5500. From the Book Room £5000, making a total of £94,918. 15. 0. The number of travelling preachers in Great Britain is 647. Divid[el the above sum among them, and it makes the sum of £146. 14. 1½. for each Preacher married or unmarried. Now I suppose Am persuaded that all the circuits in Great Britain (with the exception of the Isle of Man) either does, or might, raise upward of one penny per week and one shilling per quarter per member. I think it must be allowed that Hexham, Whitehaven, Brough, Barnard Castle and Carlisle are among the poorest circuits in the Connexion. I travelled two years in each of them and therefore speak from personal knowledge. In Brough, at the end of the first year, we had about £20, and at the end of the second year £21 19. 5. more than 1d. per week and 1s. per quarter per member making a total of £41. 19. 5 in the two years, more than 1d per week and 1s per quarter per member. In Barnard Castle, at the end of the first year, we had £25. 19. 1. and at the end of the second year £32. 0. 7½. more than 1d. per week and 1s. per quarter per member making a total of £57. 19. 8½ in the two years, more than 1d per week and 1s per quarter per member.. In Carlisle at the end of the first year we had £39. 13. 0. and at the end of the second year £48. 11. 1½ more than 1d. per week and Is. per quarter per member, making a total of £88 4 1½ more than 1d per week and 1s per Quarter.. And I am almost certain that Carlisle is one of the poorest circuits in England. If the above circuits raise so much more than Id. per week and Is. per quarter per member, I think all the circuits in England might do likewise. And were the money so raised distributed in any measure according to equality, then those who gather much would have nothing to spare, and those who gather little would have no want. However, I rejoice that one step is taken toward equality, I mean the stationing the children according to the number of members;' and hope it will soon be followed by another step, viz. the stationing the wives in the same way, and so by little and little remove those objections which the preachers in general make against going to poor circuits, and at the same time remove those objections which the poor circuits make against married preachers. Yet as the best laws which were ever framed by the wisest human legislator; and the best rules which were ever made by the most pious bodies of Christian ministers have been and still are liable to be abused; I have my fears that the rule made last Conference, allowing each circuit a definite sum, and no more, will be abused. I certainly highly approve of the rule, and hope it will be productive of much good to the Connexion. I hope it will have a tendency of making the Quarterly Meetings more careful how they allow their preachers more than Conference allowance. And also I hope it will make some of the preachers more careful of the weekly and quarterly contributions. Yet I see two ways by which the above rule, excellent as it is, may be abused. The first is by those preachers who are in the constant habit of leaving debt in their circuits. And I am sorry to say that there are too many among us of this discription. I consider poor circuits which cannot support the Preachers stationed on them to be something like poor labouring men who have so much per week, and receive their wages every Saturday. If they run into debt this week, if it is but one shilling, how are they to pay it next week? Just so with those poor circuits that cannot pay their preacher's salaries without help from the Contingent Fund. If a preacher does but leave five or ten pounds of debt in a circuit, how is his successor to pay it? Unless he get it from the Contingent Fund. But as the rule now stands this way is blocked up; and consequently the evil of leaving debt in poor circuits becomes the more serious. For my part I have been tormented in most of the circuits where I have travelled with the debts of those who were before me. Now when I went to Brough Circuit, I soon found that my Predecessor had not paid too much attention to the weekly and Quarterly Contributions; consequently at the end of the year fell short of Money : and as his Predecessor had sent no defficiencies to Conference, he was ashamed to send any: and to mend the matter, he borrowed ten pounds from one of our Friends, and left it for me to pay. In the year 1809 I was appointed to Barnard Castle Circuit, and according to the Circuit Book, my Predecessor had left 12/3 in hand. But before the September Quarter Day One bill came out after another to the amount of £30 1s 7d and after the Sep. Quarterday more Bills came out to the amount of £3 9 7 making in all £33 11 2, and all we had, as a set off against it, was £11 2 3 which he received from Conference leaving a Balance of £22 8 11. That year he took Difficiencies to Conference to the amount of £68 10 0, add the above £22 8 11 and his Dificiencies for the year ending June 1810 will be £35 19 1, while those of my Predecessor's for the year ending June 1809, will be £90 18 11. So that tho' we had a heavier burden, yet our Difficiencies were less by £54 19 10. In 1811 I was appointed to Carlisle Circuit, and tho' I was not Superintendant yet I found that my worthy Brother, whose ten pounds had given me so much trouble in Brough Circuit, had not been altogetherr Idle here: for his Dificiencies being so enormous, I suppose he was rather ashamed of taking them all to Conference, so he again had recourse to borrowing System : but not exactly in the same manner as he had done in Brough. For the Friends in Carlisle being so miserably poor, none of them were able to lend him ten pounds ; but to remedy this evil he borrowed from them according to their abilities. From some some one pound and from others two, &c til the whole amounted to £31 2 3, and promised that the Stewards would pay them at the Quarterday. In August 1816 I was appointed to Ramsey Circuit and Mr. Burgess Jun.' with me. And we soon found it out that the old method of leaving bills unpaid and borrowing money had been resorted to by our predecessors for a considerable number of years. So that the Circuit debt amounted to the awful sum of £84. 7. 2. And notwithstanding all the exertions which myself and colleague were able to make, yet our quarterage for the whole year only amounted to £80. 5. 1½, so that we laboured hard the whole year for £4. 2. 0½. less than nothing. Under the remains of this debt we are still groaning; and whether we shall be able to rise, or it will sink us altogether, I cannot tell. However we have not been adding to it; but have reduced it from £84. 7. 2. to £29. 7. 9½. Here let stop a few moments and consider our present situation in reference to money matters. Conference has allowed £180 for the whole Island, and I am pretty sure that we shall not be able to raiuse more than £130 in each circuit, which makes £260 for the whole Island, which sum added to the above makes £440. Now I am out of pocket these six years


£ s d

for furnishing the second Preacher's House in Douglas

40 0 0

Returned from Conference this year

10 0 0

Debt in Ramsey Circuit, including ten pound returned from Conference

27 7 9½

Quarterage for 15 Children @ 6.6.0 per child

94 10 0

Quarterage for 5 Preachers @16.16.0 per Preacher

84 0 0

Quarterage for 5 Wives @16.16.0 per Wife

84 0 0

Quarterage for 4 Servants @8 0 0 per Servant

32 0 0

House Rent for 4 Houses

48 0 0

Coals and Candles for 5 Preachers' Families

35 0 0

Washing for 5 Preachers £10. Letters for &c £6

16 0 0

Furniture, Horse Shoeing, Horse keeping, Saddler's Bills, &c, &c

37 2 2½


510 0 0

Cash from Conference and Quarterage, as per other side

440 0 0


70 0 0

From the above particulars you may see the unpleasant circumstances in which I have been placed for several years on account of Debt being left in the several Circuits where I have travelled ; and also the disagreeable situation in which myself and colleagues are placed this year; and chiefly on account of old Debt.

Now if any method could be adopted to prevent the preachers who travel in poor circuits from leaving debt behind them; or any mode of punishment inflicted for doing so, I am certain our Connexion would rise in point of money matters, and we should soon be able to pay our way honourably. For my part I see no way of curing the evil but the one proposed in the manuscript which I gave you at Bristol, viz. that every Superintendant produce at his respective District Meeting an exact account of all the money raised in his circuit; and also an account of the ways in which the money so raised has been expended; and that the accounts so produced at the District Meetings be taken to Conference and examined by a Committee appointed for that purpose. At any rate let this, or something like it, be attended to with all those circuits which make any claim on the Contingent Fund.

The second way by which the rule which allows a definite sum to every circuit is liable to be abused, is in respect to furniture. Conference allows £20 toward furnishing every aditional house. And you know, my dear Sir, that this will go but a very little way towards necessary articles even, for a man and his wife. What is the poor fellow to do? Perhaps he buys a few things, and borrows a few more; and so makes out as well as he can. At the end of the first or second year he removes. And perhaps a preacher with a large family is stationed in his place. And what are they to do? Those who had had the goodness to lend a few things to his predecessor want them home again. And the few articles which were bought with the £20 are the worse for wearing. So that he finds the house almost emty, though it may be both swept and garnished. He is forced to buy twenty or thirty pounds worth more. But how is he to get paid for them? Say he begins to make a private subscription. Nine out of ten are so poor they can give nothing. And almost nine out of ten of the rest will tell him that they never went to beg for their furniture, and will give him nothing. He then makes complaint to the Quarterly Meeting, and meets with little better reception there than while making his private subscription. But by giving them good words and telling them that they can take, or send a little more to Conference, perhaps he gets it. But on the present plan a certain sum is allowed and no more. I have been in this situation also.

In 1805 I was stationed to Whitehaven and all the Furniture in the House had cost some way near thirteen pounds, the whole of which my worthy predecessor had begged from a few friends. And tho' I had but myself, Wife and two children, yet some of us had to rest upon the floor till we could get more furniture. When I was appointed to Douglas six years ago there was neither House nor Furniture for us myself and Family. So I had to take a House and buy Furniture. And tho' I got the twenty pounds from Conference, yet I am forty pounds out of Pocket, and cannot get it either either from the Circuit or Conference. Three years ago Mr Burgess2 was appointed to this Circuit without either House or Furniture being provided. we got the twenty pounds from Conference by the help of which, and a few Articles that he borrowed he got his two years over. Mr Kemp succeeded him, and having no children, he, and his Partner, got the year over tollerably will [sic well] by buying eight or ten pound's worth more, two pounds of which he subscribed himself toward it. Last Conference I was appointed to succeed Mr Kemp with my Wife and six Children, some of which had to take up their lodging on the Floor till we could get a little more. I have already laid out ten or twelve pounds and we want ten or twelve pounds more to make us any way comfortable. But where am I to get what I have already laid out, or what I still want to lay out? I am pretty certain that the Circuit cannot pay it with the sum allowed by Conference.

Mr Broster7 is appointed as the second married Preacher to Ramsey without either Board, House, or Furniture. And tho' he has taken a House and got some Furniture, yet I cannot tell how we are to pay either for the one or the other. But this is not the only difficulty to which the present Rule exposes the poor Circuits to in respect to Furniture. But another, and in my opinion as great as the above one, is in respect to Houses which are already furnished. It often happens that a Preacher without any Family is appointed to succeed one with a large Family and may get his two years over without laying any thing out for Furniture, and a Preacher with a large Family may be appointed to succeed him again ; and may or rather must begin immediately to purchas Furniture : and not a large Family than for the man who has none at all. So the more I consider the subject, and the more I am convinced that some plan should be adopted by which it may be made to appear both at the District Meeting and at the Conference what every Circuit raises of Class money and Quarterage ; and the way which the money so raised has been expended. This would do away, or at lest bring to light every abuce of the Rule in respect to money matters. And I verily beleive would be of essential service to the Connexion.

I would also further observe, in reference to the rule which allows a certain sum to every circuit, that it will be necessary to consider the state of the chapels in every circuit, as this will make a considerable difference in paying the preacher's salaries. Some chapels can spare a little toward supporting the preachers, but others are so burdened with debt, that they are not able to support themselves. We have several of the latter discription in this island, but not one of the former. But the one which affects us most is Ramsey Chapel. The seat rents come considerably short of paying the interest of the money borrowed upon it; and consequently it keeps sinking in debt every year in spite of all we can do to prevent it. And in consequence of this the Ramsey Society cannot do much toward supporting the Preachers as they otherwise would do. Ramsey itself is only like a country village in point of size; has about one hundred in society, and most of them very poor. All they have been able to do for several years towards paying the preacher's board, and all they are now able to do, is to pay 3/9 per week to the married man. A few friends have kept the single man gratis for several years. However about two years ago some of those friends who had kept the single preacher while in Ramsey, became less able to do it; and one of them removed from the place, so that last year we had to provide board and lodging for the single preacher as well as for the married preacher. This we did last year by a private subscription. But now the single man is married, and is to provide for as such. So that you may see that we are in a very poor situation as it respects money matters. If Conference had only laid ten children upon us instead of fifteen, and allowed us £200 instead of £180, perhaps we might have been able to make ends meet, or nearly so. But how we shall do as we now stand, God only knows. There is one Item which I have left out of the above Account, viz. Board in Ramsey. The married man for some years past has had 7/6 per week. 3/9 of which is paid by the Ramsey Society, and the other 3/9 by the Circuit which amounts to £9 15 0 per year. And all, or the greatest part of Mr Broster's Board will have to be paid by the Circuit which will amount to £19 10 0, making for Board £29 5 0, add this to the £70, at page the 4th, and the probable amount of our dificiencies will be £99 5 0, which su, as far as I can see, we have no means of paying.

Before I lay down my pen I beg to say a few words on the state of discipline in this island. It is well known to the preachers in general that the late Mr. Crook4 was the first preacher who established Methodism in this island. And perhaps no preacher in the Connexion was better calculated for such a work; and his biographer no way exaggerates when he calls him 'the Apostle of the Isle of Man'. He established good order in all the Societies; and had everything among them as regular as clockwork. However he set up one rule, which in my opinion has been, and still is, a great evil. I mean his giving so much power into the hands of the Local Preachers. He began by meeting them regular every Quarter, but instead of giving it the simple and proper name of Local Preachers' Meeting he gave it the high sounding name of Manks Conference, and adopted most of the phraseology used in the Minutes of the English Conference. But the evil did not consist so much in the name, as in the nature of that meeting. For instead of attending to the simple business of a Local Preachers' Meeting, they also transacted the business of the Quarterly Meeting too, and I may say almost everything which belongs to the Leaders' Meeting. And at last grew to such a h[e]ight of despotism, that no ma[n], however well qualified, must be a Circuit Steward but a local preacher. The above particulars have been a source of much grief to many of the travelling preachers, and of much contention between them and the Local Preachers. Mr. Lumb was the first who atacked their mixed system with any degree of success; for which daring attempt he brought on a paper war between himself and the Local Preachers, which was carried on with great spirit by both parties and ended in an appeal to the conference. Most of the preachers who followed Mr. Lumb6 have been doing a little towards pulling down this stronghold. So that through mercy we have so far succeeded as to get the Leaders' Meeting and the Quarterly Meeting raised up again as a separate concern from the Local Preachers' Meeting. And in Douglas Circuit [we] have prevailed so far as to get a man for one of the Circuit Stewards who is not a Local Preacher. And if the travelling preachers would be unanimous, and every one attend to his proper work, I have no doubt but this part of Methodism might be redeemed. Another part of discipline has also been wonderfully neglected. I allude to the manner of giving tickets to the country societies. About the year 1797 or 1898 [sic 1798] there was a great revival through the whole island. Several hundreds joined the Society. And as the preachers never visited them but on the weekdays, and were accustomed to hold their meetings till twelve or one o'clock in the morning, there was no time to give tickets: consequently they were given to the Leaders to give to their respective classes. This laid the foundation of one of the greatest evils which ever happened to Methodism in the Isle of Man. For though the preachers one after another attempted to give tickets to the country Societies year after year, yet it was labour in vain, as not one in ten of them attended to receive them. And this was the case with many of the Leaders as well as the members. So that the preachers, not knowing what to do, added to the evil by giving tickets to the Leaders who were present for their absent members, and leaving tickets for those Leaders who were absent, without either seeing their class papers, or knowing the number of members in their classes. By these means I may safely say that every part of discipline, in the country societies, fell to the ground. This caused a separation between the preachers and the Societies, and hundreds of them knew not their prea<chers> from other men, unless they happened to meet them on the road, and guessed that they were English preachers because they had saddle baggs under them. The weekly and quarterly collections were very little attended to, and hundreds looked on the travelling preachers as a burden because they were now and then asked for something to support them. Most of the preachers would complain of the existing evils; and if one now and then had resolution enough to attempt to reform them, he was sure to be opposed by some or other of those who ought to have come forward to his help. When I came to Douglas Circuit in 1813 I found things in this deplorable state. And though good Mr. Rawson3 had been labouring among them with all his might for one year, and had done much good, yet a great deal more wanted to be done. We began to give tickets to all that we could get to attend for them, and took good care to give tickets to none of the Leaders but such as brought their class-papers. By this means we cut off a great number of disorderly walkers. We also got a book for every Society and met the Leaders at every place. By this means we increased the weekly collections a little; and by pursuing these methods the three years which I stayed, several things were got into a better state. Myself and colleague pursued the same measures in Ramsey Circuit for the two first years. And in the course of last year we began to give tickets to none but to those who came for them, except in case of sickness, or some other unavoidable necessity. We still continue the same plan. And though we met with some opposition at first, the Societies are now pretty well satisfied, and many highly approve of it. Much good hath already been done, and if the preachers would only walk by the same rule and mind the same thing for years to come, Methodism would once more lift up its head, in point of discipline, in this highly favoured island. However I beg leave to make one remark in favour of the preachers who travelled here for the last twenty years. Though I believe a great deal more might have done, in point of discipline, than has been done, yet it was impossible for them to attend to it in all its branches while only four preachers were s[t]ationed on the whole island. Their Sunday labours were always confined to the towns, and they had no opportunity of visiting the country societies but on the weeknights. So that even the Love-feasts were given up to the Local Preachers. Since we got a fifth preacher we have done a little better. We are able to visit the principal Societies in the country on the Lord's Day once or twice a quarter. But still we want help. I do not believe there is a circuit in Great Britain which stands in more need of an aditional preacher than we do. I verily believe if Conference would appoint three preachers to Douglas Circuit, and three to Ramsey, that in a little time they would support six preachers with more ease than they now support five. And if you attend to what follows I believe you will be of the same opinion. In Douglas Circuit there are 34 preaching places, exclusive of Douglas and Castletown. Several of them have chapels and large Societies belonging to them. But how is it possible for two preachers and a half to supply them with a sufficiency of preaching? Seven of them they visit once a fortnight. Seventeen once a month only. And the rest are supplied by the local preachers. In Ramsey Circuit there are 35 preaching places exclusive of Ramsey and Peeltown. Thirteen of these have chapels and three more pretty large school houses. Some have upward of a hundred in society belonging to them. Nine of these have fortnight[ly] preaching, fifteen preaching once a month, and the rest are supplied by the Local Preachers. Now we find it hard to keep up discipline where we preach once a fortnight; and more so where we only preach once a month. And we find it utterly impossible to keep up discipline where we never preach at all. But by the help of another preacher we might visit the principal country chapels two or three times a quarter on the Lord's Day; several of the month places once a fortnight; and some of those places where we never come, might be benefited by our labours. This would have a good effect upon our financial affairs. For, notwithstanding the extreme poverty which prevails through the island, could we but have more access to the country societies they would soon give considerably more toward our support. And I think we might have an aditional preacher without adding one to the number, as I believe there are several circuits in England where the preachers have not more than half the labour which we have, and yet take plenty of deficiencies to Conference. Could we have one from such a circuit, it would neither increase the number nor the expence. I fear that the length of this inchoerent scrawl will exhaust your patience. However, I have so far eased my mind of a burden which has laid upon it for some length of time, I may say for many years. And were not my circumstances too much like the circuits in which I have travelled (that is very poor), I would collect a few particulars together and get them printed and send a copy to every preacher.

I shall be exceeding glad if you will favour me with a few lines as soon as you can make it convenient. Wishing you strength of body and mind to perform all the particulars of your arduous office....


1 In 1819 Conference established the 'Children's Fund', under which the cost of maintaining preachers' children was divided among Districts in proportion to the number of their members.

2 Joseph Burgess, Jnr. (1785-1859; entered ministry 1812), preacher, Ramsey circuit, 1816-1818.

3 John Rawson (b. 1777 e. 1808 d. 1850), superintendent, Douglas circuit, 1812-1814.

4 John Crook (d. 1805,), superintendent, Isle of Man circuit, 1778-1781, 1786-1788; Peel circuit 1798-1799.

5 The Manx Conference published a hymnbook in the native tongue in 1799.

6 Mathew Lumb (d. 1847, aet. 84), superintendent, Douglas circuit, 1805/1807.

7 Enoch Broster - would appear to have left ministry as details not in Hills Arrangements




Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001