Methodism Arrives in New Paltz

“The world would come to an end…”

by Anna Louise Bates, PhD, Church Historian

How and why did the first Methodist preachers come to New Paltz?  The Rev. Elijah Woolsey, a Methodist circuit rider who preached in New Paltz in 1801, kept a journal and wrote a memoir about his life.  His memoir describes how his father, Revolutionary War veteran Captain John Woolsey, invited the first Methodist preachers to the towns of Marlborough and New Paltz in 1786.  Elijah recalled a conversation between his father, a trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Marlborough, and his mother, that he overheard when he was a young teenager. (Coles, 1845)  Elijah’s father claimed that the Presbyterian trustees were “out of humor” because they could not keep their minister any longer. “He … told them [the trustees],” recalled young Elijah, “… that there were sixty or seventy Methodist preachers in New-Jersey, and that they were great preachers ….”   Remembering his father’s apparent enthusiasm during that conversation, he reflected: “Having read in the Scriptures that the gospel of the kingdom must be preached in all the world for a witness, and then shall the end come, I thought that those preachers were great and good men, and that they had begun at the southern extremity of the world, and were making their way to the north, and when they gained the northern extremity, the world would come to an end.”

Sometime after Captain Woolsey’s conversation with his wife, he invited Methodist preachers, who were working on a circuit emanating from New Jersey, to come and preach in Marlborough, located near the Hudson River, approximately twelve miles southeast of New Paltz.  Methodist classes formed in and around that area and travelling circuit preachers made Marlborough a regular stop on the newly  formed East Jersey Circuit. 

Regarding New Paltz, Captain Woolsey’s daughter, Phoebe, married Hendricus Deyo, a descendant of one of New Paltz’s oldest families.  We are not sure whether Captain Woolsey suggested that Methodist preachers visit his daughter’s family in New Paltz, or whether daughter Phoebe, or her husband, asked for them.  We know that they came, though, and that the world did not end, even after the Methodists expanded their preaching far north of New Paltz, into Canada and other places.