Embury, Philip (1728–73), methodist preacher, was one of at least four sons and one daughter of tenant farmer Andreas Imberger, a German Palatine immigrant of 1709. Embury was baptised (29 September 1728) a member of the Church of Ireland in Ballingrane, Co. Limerick. With his cousin Barbara Heck, Embury has been credited with being one of the first properly documented founders of methodism in America and chief instigator of the building of the first Wesleyan church in North America.
Tradition tells that Embury, a carpenter by trade, was educated in German within the Palatine community in Ballingrane and that he later attended an English school, probably in the town of Rathkeale. He may have first come in contact with John Wesley’s teachings in 1749 when Philip Guier, the burgomaster of Ballingrane, established a methodist society in his home village. Embury converted to methodism (25 December 1752) and was licensed as a methodist lay preacher in 1758, by which time a methodist chapel had been erected in the centre of the village square at Courtmatrix, one of the three original County Limerick Palatine settlements near Rathkeale. Embury is reputed to have done the carpentry for this building.
Embury married Margaret Switzer (1743–1807) on 31 October 1758 in the Church of Ireland, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick. Margaret was one of eight children and the only surviving daughter of Christopher and Elizabeth Switzer, Palatine tenant farmers of Courtmatrix. Philip and Margaret Embury had six children, only two survived to adulthood: Samuel (1765–1853) and Catherine (c.1767–1831).
The Emburys were among twenty-five or more young Palatines forming a company to set up a linen business in North America. In June 1760 they left Limerick for New York on board the Pery and arrived on 10 August. In New York the Emburys lived in Barrack Street and Philip worked as a teacher of reading, writing and arithmetic (in English) while they petitioned for 25,000 acres of land on which he and his friends could set up their linen and hempen manufactory. The Emburys at first attended Trinity Lutheran Church, Rector Street (later Cliff Street), New York, where the first three of their children were baptised between 1761 and 1765. In 1766 the Emburys and others of the Irish Palatine community became members of the new Lutheran Christ Church, built on the corner of Frankfurt Street and William Street, where Embury and Barbara’s husband, Paul Heck, appear on the list of original subscribers.
Between 1760 and 1765 Paul Heck’s brothers Jacob and John, and Barbara’s brother, Paul Ruttle, arrived with some other Palatines from Limerick, and tradition tells that Barbara was horrified when she came across the newcomers gambling at cards, and implored Embury to preach to them. He began preaching at first in his own home to his family and friends (1766) and then, as his congregation grew, he preached in the city barracks and in a sail-rigging loft on Horse and Cart Street. He is also known to have preached in the Poor House. From 1767 onwards another Irishman, half-pay officer Captain Thomas Webb, assisted him. Dublin methodists, Charles White and Richard Sause, joined them shortly afterwards. Embury and the other English and Irish methodists raised subscriptions and in March 1768 purchased a lot in John Street, where they built a chapel, the design of which is said to have been drawn up by Barbara Heck who also, tradition says, whitewashed the interior. This was the first chapel in the world to be named after John Wesley. Embury is reputed to have constructed the pulpit, and he and Paul Heck also carried out other interior woodwork.
On 30 October 1768 he preached his first formal sermon there. The Emburys moved into an old Dutch-style house on the property, which was then used as a parsonage. In November 1769 Wesley sent preachers who formalised the situation and John Street chapel was transferred to Wesley’s Methodist Connexion on 2 November 1770, six or seven months after Embury and his compatriots had moved to Camden Valley (present-day White Creek), Charlotte County, New York, where they had leased land from a prominent lawyer of Irish descent. Embury was appointed justice of the peace for Albany County (1770) and for Charlotte County (1772). He was also appointed one of the commissioners of roads for Charlotte County. Embury and a fellow methodist, Thomas Ashton, formed a methodist society at Ashgrove and a class at West Camden (1770). For the next three years he continued to preach, sometimes travelling to outlying areas to do so. He died of pleurisy in August 1773, leaving a wife and four children, and is buried in Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York. His oldest son Samuel later became a methodist preacher in Upper Canada.
There are portraits of Philip and Margaret Embury dated 1773 at John Street United Methodist Church, New York.