Nelson, John (1707-1774) (DNB00)

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NELSON, JOHN (1707–1774), methodist, was born in October 1707, in the parish of Birstall, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and brought up to his father's trade of stonemason. He has given in his ‘Journal’ a detailed account of the religious perplexities which troubled him from the age of nine or ten. He married at nineteen, but did not overcome his religious anxieties till he heard John Wesley preach in Moorfields in 1739. He returned at the end of 1740 to his native place, and began himself to preach and pray with his neighbours. Wesley was convinced by the sincerity and success of Nelson and others that he ought formally to recognise the work of lay preachers, and in May 1742 he visited Birstall, lodged in Nelson's cottage, and preached to his converts. Nelson now became the most successful and assiduous of Wesley's evangelists. He kept for a year or two a journal of his experiences, which gives a minute and vivid picture of his labours in Yorkshire, Cornwall, and other parts of the kingdom. An attempt was made to get rid of him by pressing him for a soldier, and he was for some months moved about the country with his regiment till Charles Wesley, by finding a substitute, persuaded the authorities to release him. From 1750 to 1770 Nelson was stationed as official preacher to methodist societies in London, Bristol, Birstall, Leeds, Derby, Yarm, and York, and paid one visit to Ireland. In 1773 he was stationed in the Leeds circuit, where he died of a fit of apoplexy on 18 July 1774, and was buried at Birstall. As a preacher Nelson showed a power and exercised an influence scarcely inferior to Wesley's. He was specially at home with the poor and ignorant.

The portion of the ‘Journal’ relating Nelson's experiences as a soldier was printed first under the title of ‘The Case of John Nelson’ (2nd edition, 1745). A revision of the ‘Journal’ to the forty-second year of the author's life was printed in 1767, with the title ‘An Extract of John Nelson's Journal; being an Account of God's dealing with his Soul, from his Youth to the forty-second year of his Age, and His working by him: likewise the Oppressions he met with from People of different Denominations. Written by himself.’ This went through many editions. Nelson's grandson re-edited it as ‘Memoirs of the late Mr. John Nelson of Birstal,’ Birmingham, 1807. These memoirs, with additional fragments and letters, were again edited in vol. i. of ‘The Lives of Early Methodist Preachers; chiefly written by themselves. Edited, with an Introductory Essay, by Thomas Jackson’ (3rd edition 1865). The ‘Letter to the Protestant-Dissenters in the Parish of Ballykelly in Ireland’ is wrongly attributed to Nelson of Birstall. A portrait of Nelson, etched by Harrison, is mentioned by Bromley.

[The editions of the Journal above mentioned; Tyerman's Life and Times of Rev. John Wesley, 2nd edition, 1872, passim, vols. i. ii. and iii.; m'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopædia, under ‘Nelson, John (1),’ where there are serious errors; Steven's Hist. of Methodism, passim; Skeats's Hist. of the Free Churches of England; Yorkshire Weekly Post, 27 Oct. 1894.]

R. B.