In 1766, the Irish Protestant preacher Philip Embury, afire with the message of Charles and John Wesley, crossed the Atlantic and committed himself to spreading the word in America. With Embury as pastor, the first Methodist Society in the Colonies began in New York City in that year. Its first permanent house of worship, the John-Street Church, was dedicated in 1768.
From that time until the end of the Revolutionary War, Embury's society and a similar one in Frederic County Maryland carried the Methodist flame in the colonies. Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War was officially acknowledged by treaty between Great Britain and the United States, Wesley appointed an episcopate for the new country, and in 1784 the "Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States" was duly formed. Embury's society in New York City and Rev. Strawbridge's in Frederic County Maryland were the progenitors of the Methodist movement, which would spread rapidly over the original 13 states and their adjoining territories.
City of Buffalo 1848
In these early years, the territory west of the Genesee River in Western New York and Pennsylvania was largely unsettled by Europeans, and had few resources for travelers. The great difficulties and dangers faced by pioneers of that era are well illustrated by this story told by George Lane, a missonary appointed in to establish new Methodist classes in this region. Rev. Lane had set out in the Winter of 1808 from near the west end of Lake Erie, bound for Buffalo to meet eight citizens to begin the first Methodist class there. He and a family he traveled with were set upon by a vicious blizzard. In his diary he tells us:
"The wind blew like a hurricane. After traveling about 19 miles on land, and thence six on the ice of the Lake, the night closed in on us. What to do under those circumstances we could scarcely determine. The horses driven to the sleigh gave out. The snow had fallen to such a depth that it came above the body of the sleigh, which greatly increased the labor of the horses. What to do we knew not. After treading down the snow as well as we could, the owner of the horses took one side of the sleigh and I the other, and tried to force the horses through the drift, which was accumulating at a fearful rate. But the horses gave up the struggle and held still. The night was upon us, the weather excessively cold, our animals and ourselves exposed to great suffering. The wind was blowing a gale and we were opposite a ledge of 60 feet for some distance along the shore, against which the snow accumulated most fearfully. There seemed no path to land, yet to remain where we were even for a short time would be certain death."
They abandoned the sleigh, losing all it contained, and went on by foot and horseback, hoping God would save them. "Later we arrived safely at a public house kept by Mr. Ingleson, at Eighteen Mile Creek, and felt we were under unspeakably great obligations to our Almighty Preserver."
Such were the travails faced by early settlers and missionaries in the Genesee Conference. Officially recognized in 1808, the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States consisted in three districts, the Susquehanna, Cayuga and Upper Canada. The region along the shores of Lake Erie, including our home territory of Williamsville, New York, were originally part of the Upper Canada region. In 1810 there were 2,603 members of Methodist Societies in Upper Canada, and a total of 10,693 in all of the Gennessee Conference. By 1828 Upper Canada had been subdivided, and of the 31,949 Methodists in the Conference, some 2,999 souls were listed as citizens of the newly named Buffalo District. The Genesee District, and our Buffalo Region, played an early and significant role in the spread of Wesley's word in the New World.