About John Emory

Born in 1789 in Queen Anne County, Maryland, John Emory was reared by pious parents and studied for a career in law, apprenticing himself to a neighboring attorney at the age of sixteen. According to an unfinished autobiography he had begun before his death, however, Emory "embraced religion" at the age of seventeen and, at the age of twenty-one, entered the Methodist itinerancy. For three years he rode throughout Maryland as a circuit-riding preacher. Bishop Francis Asbury, the first American Methodist bishop, had charge over Emory's appointments and made annual notes in his records about Emory's character: "John Emory-classic, pious, gifted, useful, given to reading" [1811].

Beginning in 1813, Emory settled into more sedentary service as minister of important churches in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., including Foundry Church, where, later, President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, would worship. Emory journeyed to England in 1820 to forge closer relationships between the British and American branches of the church. Appointed in 1824 to the Methodist Book Concern (located then in New York), he founded the influential Quarterly Review. 

Having continued his education largely on horseback-reading while traveling from church to church-Emory was instrumental in establishing Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and in helping to raise the standards of education required of Methodist itinerants in the middle of the nineteenth century. Early on, prompted largely by the sense of the importance of study to the soul's well-being, he became a strong advocate of educating women as well as men. He was offered a number of college presidencies but when, in 1831, he was elected president and professor of moral science at Randolph Macon College, he declined because he felt the arduousness of the office would finally undo his perennially fragile health. 

Emory was elected to the episcopacy in 1832. Two years later he traveled south to Washington, Georgia, to preside over the meeting of the Georgia Annual Conference. The next year, on December 16, 1835, Bishop Emory was killed in a carriage accident, the brakes apparently failing on a long and steep hill. But the Bishop's leadership and character had left a deep and unforgettable impression on the Georgia Methodists. For when Ignatius Few organized a college chartered almost a year to the date since Emory's death, the founders decided to honor the Bishop's memory by naming the college for him. Emory and Henry College, in Virginia, also bears his name.