Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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O'KELLY, James, clergyman, born in 1735; died 16 October, 1826. He is identified with the history of Methodism, but nothing is known of his youth and early manhood. He is first heard of at the " Christmas Conference" at Baltimore in 1784. In 1789 the bishops proposed that a council of presiding elders be convened, and it was held at Baltimore, 1 December, 1789. O'Kelly sat in this body, and subsequently, by strongly opposing certain of its measures, he did much to discredit councils. Notwithstanding this, Bishop Asbury, who was in favor of them, deemed it wise to call a second, but only ten elders attended, and a third was never held. O'Kelly labored heartily in favor of a general conference, and to him the Methodist church owes " that essential and valuable constituent of its polity." He wrote letters to Thomas Coke, Wesley's ambassador, securing his co-operation, and in consequence brought these two fathers of American Methodism to the verge of antagonism. Seeing that a crisis had been reached, which he could not prudently ignore, Asbury sacrificed his personal wishes and consented to the holding of a general conference. It was called for 1 November, 1792, and O'Kelly introduced a resolution to modify the bishops power of appointment to the extent of allowing to any preacher who should feel dissatisfied with the place assigned him an appeal to the conference. This was rejected by a large majority, and O'Kelly sent in his resignation and withdrew. Several of O'Kelly's adherents also left the conference, and he subsequently organized a "Republican Methodist Church," afterward called the "Christian Church." In 182.9 it included several thousands in its membership, most of them in North Carolina and Virginia. From 1782 till 1792 O'Kelly was stationed almost constantly in Virginia, and presided over a large district of the best circuits in the connection, it could, therefore, not have been for personal reasons that he urged the right of appeal from the bishop to the conference. I[e was opposed to slavery, and denounced it. Throughout southern Virginia and the adjoining counties of North Carolina his influence was very great, and "he scrupled not to use it in building up Iris own cause."
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