Clergyman. Capers was born on January 26, 1790, in St. Thomas Parish near Charleston, the son of William and Mary Capers. His father, a rice planter, and his maternal grandfather, John Singeltary, were early converts to Methodism in South Carolina. Educated in Georgetown and at Roberts Academy in Stateburg, near his family’s summer home, Capers entered South Carolina College in 1805. In 1808 he left college to read law in the office of Judge John S. Richardson. That same year he was converted at a Methodist camp meeting, joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was admitted on trial to the South Carolina Conference. On January 13, 1813, Capers married Anna White. The couple had a daughter and a son before Anna’s death in December 1815. On October 31, 1816, Capers married Susan McGill of Kershaw District.
Capers became one of the most influential Southern Methodist preachers of his generation. He founded the Asbury Mission to the Creek Indians in Alabama in 1821 and served as its superintendent until 1824. Appointed to Charleston in 1825, he edited the Wesleyan Journal until 1827. In 1828, while serving as presiding elder of Charleston District, he traveled to England as American representative to the British Methodist Conference. In 1829 he led in the creation of missions to slaves on lowcountry plantations, and in 1833 he published a catechism for the oral instruction of the slaves. From 1837 to 1840 he edited the Southern Christian Advocate, established for Methodists in the South by the General Conference of the denomination. As secretary of the Southern Missionary Department of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1840 to 1844, he extended the mission to slaves to every southern state. In 1844 the eighty missionaries under his supervision cared for more than 22,000 slave members.
In the tumultuous General Conference of 1844, in which the church divided into Northern and Southern branches, Capers was a leading proponent of the Southern cause. In May 1846 he was elected one of the first bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Though his episcopal duties took him across the South, he maintained a residence at Box Cottage in Anderson. Capers died there on January 29, 1855, and was buried at the Washington Street Church in Columbia. His son Ellison Capers and his grandson William Tertius Capers became bishops of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and Texas, respectively.
Mathews, Donald G. Slavery and Methodism: A Chapter in American Morality, 1780–1845. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965.
Reily, Duncan A. “William Capers: An Evaluation of His Life and Thought.” Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1972.
Wightman, William M. Life of William Capers. Nashville: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1858.