The Methodist Church (1787). Dr. Thomas Coke with three other itinerant Methodist preachers, John Baxter and William Hammet, arrived in Dominica, landing at Portsmouth on 5 January 1787. Coke and his party traveled on to Roseau where they met a mulatto woman – Mrs. Webley – who had been converted in Antigua under the preaching of John Baxter. She opened her house to the missionaries, and it was there that Coke preached to a packed audience.
Coke left the island a few days later but without leaving a missionary. He did not return to Dominica until the 19 December 1788, nearly two years later. When he did so, he found that a small Methodist Society had been established. Mrs. Webley had gathered and kept together a little Society of about twenty persons, some of whom had been members of Methodist Societies in Antigua and St. Kitts. Although Dr. Coke seemed to have doubted whether the Methodist venture on this island would prove successful because Roman Catholicism was strongly entrenched, he decided to appoint a missionary to Dominica.
Although the Rev. William McCornock was appointed and a few weeks later commenced his ministry, he died within six months. Malaria and yellow fever took its toll on many of the early missionaries; out of the first ten missionaries appointed to Dominica, eight died within a few years and the other two had health problems and had to leave. Sometimes, several months and even years elapsed between the death of one minister and the stationing of another. However, Mrs. Webley kept the Methodist Society going during those tough times.
The small Methodist Society in Dominica continued to experience other difficulties. Eight years after the first missionary was appointed to Dominica, the White planters and some other influential community leaders began to oppose the Methodists because of their anti-slavery stance. Then there were financial difficulties: it took such a long time for the Methodist Society to pay for the house that had been secured as its meeting place that the original owner reclaimed possession of the property. Shortly afterwards, the house was destroyed by a hurricane.
In 1814, the denomination’s leaders in England thought it best to abandon the Dominica Mission. The trouble stirred up by the planters against the Methodists resulted in a decline in attendance and membership. There were only six members left and all of them were women, and three of them could not write. However, in that year, a White planter named Daker, who had been a Methodist formerly, was converted and joined the Society and worked hard to maintain it. In that same year, also, the Society lost its minister, and it was not until 1816 that he was replaced. The new minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Boothby, and Mr. Daker decided to secure a new building for the Society. In 1817, Methodist work was permanently established in Portsmouth, and shortly afterwards a piece of land was obtained from the government for the erection of a chapel.
Meanwhile, the property in Roseau was in danger of being taken over by the mortgage holders who were pressing the Methodists for financial and other reasons. However, in 1818, the chairman of the Methodist District persuaded the Missionary Committee in London to cancel the debt. The Dominica Methodists breathed a sigh of relief.
In 1822, the Roseau Methodist Chapel was built on this property, and in 1824 the work spread to Marigot after land was secured at Lasoye Point. In 1819, the Methodist Church in Dominica was referred to as “an old wreck against which the waves are perpetually dashing.” The troubles and sufferings persisted despite the efforts of the Societies. In the yard behind the Methodist Church in Roseau are the tombstones erected over the graves of missionaries and their families who died while serving on this island. Inside the church are several tablets commemorating the service of several key laymen.
During 1959, the Marigot Methodist Church was expanded to house the growing congregation, which became the largest Methodist congregation on the island. In 1960, the erection of a chapel at Clifton was completed. Congregations were also established in Layou, Castle Bruce, Wesley and Hampstead/Calibishie. The congregation at Grand Bay no longer meets. The Methodist Church established Wesley High School for girls in 1926, located in the capital city.