During the colonial era of our country's history, what we know today as Cockspur Island was called Peeper Island. It was a small slice of land that just peeped a little ways out of the water, hardly noticeable by those who made their way to Savannah. Simply put, Peeper, or Cockspur, Island was an uninhabited island of marsh mud. Anyone who made their way to the port city of Savannah via the Savannah River navigated right past this island. This included notable people such as James Oglethorpe, George Whitefield, Button Gwinnett, Nathaniel Greene, and in 1735, John Wesley, founder of Methodism in America. John Wesley did not merely sail past Peeper Island but made a stop here on his way to Savannah. It is this island where he would preach his first sermon on American soil.
John Wesley made his way to America from England with a zeal for preaching the Word and saving souls. He was invited in part by the famous historical figurehead James Oglethorpe. From the moment John Wesley stepped aboard the ship headed for America, he spent the whole of his American journey in much frustration. En route to America, the ship hit severe weather causing Wesley to fear for his life. He observed a group of Moravians who weathered the storm calmly, even singing songs of praise. Confusion set in for Wesley, perhaps even questioning his own faith. Once in America, Wesley's strict churchmanship tended to push more people away than attract them to Methodism. Unable to reach people as he had hoped, Wesley's frustration grew. Adding insult to injury, he became very fond of a particular lady who did not return the same feelings. When she married another man, Wesley banned her from Holy Communion causing further outrage and opposition from colonists. Further disillusioned, John Wesley fled back to England after just two short years in the colony of Georgia. Despite his feelings of failure, John Wesley left an indelible mark on America. The Methodist church remains one of the largest sects of Protestant Christianity in America today.
The John Wesley Memorial was erected and dedicated here, on a northeastern portion of the island, in 1950 by the Georgia Society of the Colonial Dames of America. It is a concrete cross that sits atop an 8-foot column of brick. Inscribed on the memorial are words from Wesley’s journal recounting his 1736 landing here on Cockspur Island:
“…about eight in the morning I first set foot on American ground. It was a small uninhabited island...over against Tybee, called by the English Peeper Island. Mr. Oglethorpe led us through the mooring land on the shore to a rising ground,...chose an open place surrounded with myrtles, bays, and cedars, which sheltered us from the sun and wind, and called our little flock together to prayers."