Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth
William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth (June 20,1731 - July 7,1801) was a British statesman who is most remembered for his part in the government before and during the American Revolution. For King George III, Legge was the 2nd Secretary of State for the Colonies, serving from 1772 to 1775. He was a large donor to and the leading trustee for the English trust which would finance the establishment of Dartmouth College, formed to educate the children of the natives and of 'English youth' in the New Hampshire wilderness. Dartmouth College is named in his honor. His role in Black Country Methodism is mentioned in David Hallam's book "Eliza Asbury", the mother of Bishop Francis Asbury
Extract (by permission) from www.francisasbury.org
It was a vicar of All Saints Church, West Bromwich John Rann, who, when apparently very drunk, rode his horse through an open air meeting being addressed by John Wesley. using "unseemly words" in 1743.
The All Saints Church was then under the patronage of the First Earl of Dartmouth. Some years later a new Earl used this patronage to secure the services of Edward Stillingfleet.
William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth, was one of the most influential and highly placed Methodists of his time. He held at various times the offices of Colonial Secretary, President of the Board of Trade and President of the Royal Society.
Legge was born in 1731 and suceeded his grandfather, the first Earl, to the peerage in 1750 at the age of nineteen. Selina, the Countess of Huntingdon invited the Earl to hear George Whitfield, a contemporary of John Wesley's, speak at her home in 1755. As a student at Oxford Legge had contact with the Methodist Holy Club and would already know the Evangelical Stillingfleet brothers, Edward and James.
When Dartmouth became a Christian - "born again" as we would say today - he immediately came into conflict with many of his aristocratic friends and relatives who disowned him and treated his Methodist "enthusiasm" with contempt, especially his uncle Henry Legge, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Countess of Huntingdon used her good offices to smooth relations between the Earl and his uncle.
What must have outraged many aristocrats was the ease with which the Earl was prepared to attend Methodist meetings. In eighteenth century England, especially in rough industrial areas like Wednesbury and West Bromwich, it would have been unheard of for the local titled landowner to mix socially with the kind of manual workers who made up the local Methodist society - miners, nailers, gun-makers, drovers. However the Earl attended these meetings and insisted that whilst at them he should simply be addressed as "Brother Earl"
Between them Dartmouth and Stillingfleet did much to protect and nurture the Methodist movement in the Black Country. To some extent the Methodist Society in West Bromwich was the idealisation of what John Wesley hoped to achieve - a vibrant Methodist Society as part of a wider parish life, with activities co-inciding, rather than competing, with the parish church.
Stillingfleet brought many leading Methodists and Evangelicals to All Saints, all of whom deeply impressed the young Francis Asbury. They included John Mansfield, William Talbot, Henry Venn, John Cennick and William Hawes.
Meanwhile the Earl of Dartmouth rose to become an influential figure in 18th century British history. American readers will be aware that he was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies between 1772 and 1775, resigning when war with the colonies became inevitable following the Declaration of Independence.
Dartmouth was a strong supporter of education and fully supported attempts to establish a school for Native American and Black students in New Hampshire. Dartmouth College was the last educational institution endowed during the Colonial period but sadly lost its way, becoming an "Ivy League" private college for the new elite of the United States.
His faith continued to be a source of opposition and ridicule. William Cowper wrote of "one who wears a coronet and prays". A music hall song lampooned both the Countess of Huntingdon and Dartmouth: "You I love my dearest life...More than Dartmouth loves field preachers, More than Huntingdon her preachers".
The Dartmouth archives at the Salt Library Stafford include many letters of thanks, testifying to the Earl's generosity. Letters in this collection include original correspondence with John Wesley, John Flether and other Methodist preachers such as Thomas Rankin, the latter of which demonstrates that the rebellious colonialists were right to be suspicious of English preachers and clergy. Another letter is signed "Miss Phillis Wheatley, A Negro".
Sadly there are no letters from Francis Asbury, nor any evidence that Asbury and the Earl were ever in correspondence. It would be fascinating to know whether the young Francis Asbury ever met the Earl, who by 1760 would have been aged 29 to Francis's 15 years.
The Dartmouth family lived in the Sandwell Valley at Sandwell Hall. Their home was very near to the ruins of Sandwell Abbey and the original Sand Well. The house has since been demolished due to mining subsidence.
However Sandwell Valley Park Farm, excellently run by the Sandwell MBC, was the estate farm set up by the first Earl to provide for his table. Well worth a visit but very little about the second Earl and his contribution to Methodism and nineteenth century history.
Another relic of the Dartmouth estate is the gatehouse to the estate which can be found on the traffic island at the junction of the M5 and the A41.
© David Hallam 2004
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