WOOSTER, HEZEKIAH CALVIN, Methodist minister; b. 20 May 1771, probably in Massachusetts, son of Edward Wooster; d. 6 Nov. 1798 in the United States.
Hezekiah Calvin Wooster was one of several early Methodist itinerants who emerged from obscurity in the United States and preached briefly with immense effect in Upper Canada. Nothing is known of his early years except that he was converted in 1791 and achieved sanctification or holiness in 1792. He was taken on trial in 1793 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, received into full connection in 1795, and ordained elder two years later. In 1793–94 he was on the itinerant list for the Granville, Mass., circuit and he was subsequently stationed in New Jersey and New York. In 1796 he was appointed to the Oswegatchie circuit in Upper Canada and appears to have worked there and throughout the rest of the eastern part of the province until his failing health impelled him to leave in June 1798.
In the two years he remained in Canada, Wooster became known as a man totally dedicated to his calling. To him, as to his Methodist brethren, nothing was more urgent than to awaken people to their spiritual desolation and to lead them toward conversion and sanctification. By these terms the Methodists meant that the Christian life has two phases-the initial break with one’s sinful past, and the attainment of Christian perfection or holiness, in which stage one’s life would be fully oriented towards the good. John Wesley believed that this entire process was the consequence of the Holy Spirit’s intervention in the individual soul, but he was persuaded that holiness could be attained only in the context of devoted spiritual and moral preparation. For less sophisticated ministers such as Wooster, the new and holy life was initiated by a sequence of intense emotional experiences which they perceived to be the consequence of being smitten directly by the power of God. Hence their preaching was intended to induce their listeners to participate in a series of pentecostal experiences.
A man of fervent piety whose preaching “was not boisterous, but solemn, spiritual, powerful,” Wooster was an effective evangelist. When exhausted from exertion and later from illness, he whispered or relied on an interpreter to convey his words. His exhortation “Smite them, my Lord; my Lord smite them,” had a dramatic impact on his audiences. One testified: “I felt it like a tremour run through my soul, and every vein, so that it took away my limbs’ power . . . .” In others his words stirred ecstasy followed by peace and changed lives. Thus to his contemporary Nathan Bangs* “he was the happy instrument of kindling up such a fire in the hearts of the people, wherever he went, particularly in Upper Canada, that all the waters of strife and opposition have not been able to quench it.” Wooster’s brethren recorded that “He was a man of zeal, grace, and understanding, but of a slender habit of body, and [he] could not endure all the hardships of travelling, and great exertions in preaching, which zeal, attended with a great revival of the work of God, exposed him to . . . .”
Wooster brought a measure of comfort and a new sense of direction to many who were isolated, fearful, and overwhelmed by the demands of daily life in a wilderness. Those who heeded his words may well have lived together more harmoniously and have had a greater concern for each other. More broadly, by his teaching and example Wooster contributed in a small way to the early growth of the Methodist connection in British North America and especially to the formation of a heroic myth which helped to shape and sustain its development.
Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Methodist conferences, annually held in America; from 1773 to 1813 inclusive (New York, 1813), 120, 149, 222. Nathan Bangs, A history of the Methodist Episcopal Church (4v., New York, 1839–41), II, 83–85. J. [S.], Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries . . . (5v., Toronto, 1867–77), I, 49, 50. Abel Stevens, History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America (4v., New York, 1864–67).