William Hammett was ordained by John Wesley in 1786 to undertake work in the New World, in Newfoundland, but a violent storm blew his ship off course, and he fetched up in the West Indies. There he began a blessed and successful preaching ministry.

In 1791 Thomas Coke took him to America. By Christmas he had separated from the Methodist parent body, taking some twenty members with him. It seems that Hammett felt that the Methodists, led by Francis Asbury, had repudiated the authority of John Wesley and separated from the mother Church. Desiring to remain a loyal Methodist, Hammett called his people the Primitive Methodist Church. It was, however, not recognised by the British Conference. Its original centre was Charleston, and it included both Black and White members. It spread to Georgetown, Wilmington (South Carolina), Savannah, and the Bahamas.

Other ministers joined the new Church. and helpers came from the West Indies, where Hammett’s earlier ministry had been blessed. Its first known conference was held in 1794.

Sadly, things began to go wrong. Hammett became a slave-owner. There were accusations of drunkenness against him, including one published by Lorenzo Dow, who was sued and found guilty of criminal libel as a result.
After Hammett’s death in 1803 most of his people were absorbed back into the Wesleyan or Methodist Episcopal Churches.

A fuller account of his work in the West Indies and America can be read in the journal Methodist History (October, 1971), where there is an article by D. A. Reily (from which the information for this brief summary has been taken), which may also be read on-line via this link Methodist-History-1971-10-Reily.pdf (14.83Mb).

It is important not to confuse this now vanished connexion with the ‘real’ Primitive Methodist churches in the USA, initiated when the British Primitive Methodist Conference sent preachers to America, whose website is http://www.primitivemethodistchurch.org/ .