John Nelson, was a stonemason who was converted by John Wesley to Methodism whilst working in London and who returned to Birstall and became one of Wesley’s most important preachers. Methodist preacher, born at Birstall, Yorks and baptized on 17 August 1707. A travelling stonemason, he was ‘like a wandering bird, cast out of the nest’ until he heard John Wesley preach at Moorfields, London, in 1739. Having found spiritual peace, he returned to Birstall and founded the first Methodist society there in 1741.
Wesley travelled to West Yorkshire in 1742 to encourage him in the work and found that ‘the whole town wore a new face … and [God’s] word sounded forth to … all the West Riding of Yorkshire’.
Episcopal visitation returns for 1743 confirm the profusion of Methodist activity around Birstall unparalleled elsewhere in the diocese. Nelson preached initially from the doorway of his cottage, often still wearing his leather apron. His opponents had him impressed for military service in 1744, but his discharge was secured by the Countess of Huntingdon. During his lifetime, and he became a frequent companion of Wesley in his travels, as far afield as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. In 1751 Wesley found ‘the societies of Yorkshire, chiefly under the care of John Nelson. He died suddenly at Leeds on 18 July 1774.
21 July 1751: ‘John Nelson comforted our hearts with his account of the success of the gospel in every place where he has been preaching, except Scotland. There he has been beating the air for three weeks, and spending his strength in vain. Twice a day he preached at Musselburgh, to some thousands of mere hearers, without converting one soul.’
Charles Wesley, MS Journal