In 1789, when he was just eleven years old, a young man recognised his need for salvation, and six years later at the age of seventeen he responded to an even deeper call of Christian commitment 1 – this was a young man who would radically change the face of Methodism in Cornwall; a young man who, when he was presented to the elderly John Wesley, was blessed by the Methodist Patriarch with these words, "May he be a blessing to hundreds and thousands"2 – the name of this young man was William O'Bryan.
Both of William's parents, William & Thomasine Bryant 3 were Wesleyan Methodists at Luxulyan in the St Austell district of Cornwall - being Methodists at this time still meant regular attendance at the parish church – and it was under the ministry of a Wesleyan local preacher that young William made his juvenile commitment to Christ. Following attendance at Class Meetings and his fateful meeting with Wesley, the deeper commitment to Christ that he made was expressed in terms of initially taking friends and neighbours to the Methodist meetings, and eventually becoming a Methodist local preacher himself. This evangelistic preaching ministry began after a personal crisis in 1808. 4 By all accounts, even at this early age, O'Bryan's preaching met with considerable success, and before long he had formed a new Methodist society at Newquay, as well as establishing regular preaching opportunities in several other Cornish villages.
In 1810, he attended the Wesleyan District meeting and applied to become a full-time itinerant preacher, but was turned down and told to keep to his original calling as a part-time local preacher. Dissatisfied with this rejection, he began to compile his own plan of preaching engagements. The outcome of this was that following the next Quarterly District meeting; O'Bryan was formally excluded from membership of his own Society. This was extremely harsh, as the Chapel to which he attended had been built by himself, on land also provided by him. At the same time he also surrendered the Newquay Society that he had formed.
With his links with Wesleyan Methodism being formally concluded, he focussed his attention on his evangelistic work in the Luxulyan area, where he had inherited his father's tinning business. But in 1814, he made the decision to devote himself entirely to his evangelistic work.
1. The West Country Preachers: a history of the BCs 1815-1907 by Michael J L Wickes, page 8
2. The Early Bible Christians by Richard Pyke, page 16f
3. The O'Bryans originally hailed from Ireland, but in the due course of time they anglicised the name to Bryant. William however reverted to the original pronunciation and spelling - although his gravestone in New York bears the name 'William Bryant'.
4. The death of his son: Wickes, page 10