Who Was William Watters?

Reverend William Watters (October 16, 1751-March 29, 1827)  was born in what is now Harford County, Maryland. He was converted to Methodism in 1771 and at the age of 21 began his itinerancy when he accompanied  Robert Williams to Norfolk, Virginia. At the first American Methodist Conference in Philadelphia in 1773, Watters was appointed to a circuit, making him the first officially-appointed American Methodist itinerant. He served circuits in Maryland and New Jersey before returning to serve in Virginia.

William Watters played a crucial role in keeping the rapidly emerging Methodist movement together during the American Revolution. Watters took an oath of allegiance to the new nation at a time when most Methodist itinerants were under suspicion of Tory sympathies. By 1777 all English-born itinerants sent to America by John Wesley had returned home with the exception of Francis Asbury, who was in seclusion in Delaware. Their departure stirred independent sentiments among the young American itinerants. Watters served as an effective intermediary between these fervent American circuit riders and Asbury and Wesley. Watters’ leadership built support for Asbury’s authority during this critical time of birth for a new nation and a new church.

In 1778, Watters married Sarah Adams of Falls Church, Virginia, whose parents had opened their home to the traveling Methodist ministers. He continued his itinerancy until 1783 when he “located” to a farm in what is now McLean. With the exception of the years 1801-1806, when he served as minister to  Methodist churches in Alexandria, Georgetown, and Washington, D.C., Watters remained an active local preacher until his death in 1827.

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