Bishop Thomas Coke (1747-1814) was the first American Methodist bishop. He was born in the Welsh town of Brecon, the son of a wealthy apothecary. He was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, and took Anglican orders in 1772. Coke was driven from his curacy in 1776 because of his evangelical leanings and he then joined with the Methodists. He swiftly rose to become John Wesley's chief assistant and it was widely assumed that Wesley intended Coke to be his successor.
In 1784 Wesley appointed him to be "Superintendent" of American Methodism and during his first trip to the United States later that year Coke ordained Francis Asbury to be his colleague. The two became the first two American Methodist bishops. A modern day printing company for the United Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian Churches as well as Disciples of Christ was created combining the surnames of Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to make Cokesbury (the official printing company for the listed denominations).
Coke was to make repeated visits to the United States during the next twenty-five years. He travelled extensively on preaching tours and, while he was never fully accepted because of what Americans viewed as his divided loyalties, he nevertheless played a significant part in shaping the American Church.
Coke served two terms as President of the Wesleyan Conference in Britain and also presided regularly over the Irish Conference. Arguably most significant contribution was however in the field of overseas missions. He was seen as a conservative; he is criticised by the historian E. P. Thompson for his surrender under any government pressure. According to D. M. Valenze, Coke lived through particularly trying times for the Methodist movement. Lowther highlighted this when explaining the genesis of the Primitive Methodist movement. The pressures of the French Revolutionary wars were causes of a conservative shift in Methodist strategy.
In addition to his work abroad in the United States, he made four tours of the West Indies and promoted missionary ventures in Canada, West Africa and Gibraltar. He was also an author; writing on such subjects as a multi-volume commentary on the Bible and a history of the West Indies. Coke died while en route to India as the leader of the first Methodist mission to that country. He is known as the "Father of Methodist Missions".
- Thomas Coke: Apostle of Methodism (1969) by John Vickers ( ISBN 0716201283)
- The Story of American Methodism: A History of the United Methodists and Their Relations (1974) by Frederick Abbott Norwood ( ISBN 0687396417)
- The Heritage of American Methodism (1999) by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn ( ISBN 0687055008)
- From Wesley to Asbury: Studies in Early American Methodism (1976) by Frank Baker ( ISBN 0822303590)