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Photo illustration by Fenn Christopher.

Photo illustration by Fenn Christopher

Historians believe John Wesley had a pet he called "Grace" which he carried with him on his travels as a preacher.

Who traveled with John Wesley? Historian reveals his longtime companion

A feature by Aileen Mildred*
April 1, 2016

It is a point of fact that the man who founded the Methodist movement traveled extensively himself but what may surprise readers is new research released on April 1st by a noted British historian that says Wesley had a constant companion on his journeys for much of his life. The idea is generating heated discussion in some circles and delight in others.

Patrick Daleson, of the British Society of Animal Science, contends that notes in Wesley’s own journals and comments by others who met the preacher at church gatherings or aboard ships, reference his affection for “grace.” Daleson's April 1 report claims the term in these instances is really a name Wesley gave to a cat he found in the streets of London and adopted in 1739, a short time after his “heart was strangely warmed” at Aldersgate.

Few images include the feline next to the founding father of Methodism, but there has been the recent discovery of an icon purported to be hand-painted by a friend of Charles and John Wesley who was also a member of the Holy Club they created at Oxford University. It portrays John’s brother Charles holding a white cat with unique markings while John pets the animal. Daleson claims to have seen notes from John Wesley in which he says the cat’s markings remind him of the stain of original sin on all human’s souls.

A cat would seem to be one of the few creatures who could keep up the brutal pace that Wesley endured. John Wesley was known to cover up to 5,000 miles a year, whether walking for many miles or on the back of a horse, often reading or writing while riding. This type of travel was challenging and dangerous in Wesley’s day, but Methodism’s most famous preacher seemed to find it invigorating. The Wesley Center Online notes: “At Bristol, in September, 1788, he says that his friends, more kind than wise, would scarce suffer him to walk. ‘It seemed so sad a thing to walk five or six miles! I am ashamed that a Methodist preacher, in tolerable health, should make any difficulty of this.’” A small animal like a cat could easily sit in Wesley’s lap or even ride in his saddlebag. A cat could also handle the rough travel of a ship at sea without difficulty. And it is possible that Wesley could certainly have kept the animal out of the public eye thus explaining why few scholars have uncovered this interesting other side of the very serious and often somber religious leader.

Anyone who has had a cat as a pet knows that a cat might be fine with Wesley’s habit of rising at 4 or 5 a.m. as he wrote about in his 1747 book, Primitive Physick. Also, those who have studied Wesley’s Sermon 60 “The General Deliverance” share these notes: “Wesley gives reasons why we should spend time considering the condition and fate of animals. When we see how much God cares for creatures, we can rest assured God cares more for us. And because God cares for animals, we also should care for them.”

John Wesley taught that grace was a gift from God, and he apparently thought his furry friend Grace was also a gift from the Creator. It would be foolish to think otherwise, especially on April 1.

By the way, we wish everyone a Happy April Fool's Day, and we hope you enjoyed our silly story about John Wesley and his kitty. 

*Aileen Mildred is a freelance writer who frequently contributes to Best Friends Animal Society and other publications.