DAY BY DAY: THE LIFE AND WORK OF EARLY PRIMITIVE METHODIST ITINERANTS
INTRODUCTION In this talk I am hoping to try to give you a bird’s eye view of what life was like for the early P.M. itinerant preachers. First I want to make it clear that P.M. had both men and women within the ranks of its ministry in the early days and therefore everything I mention applies to both sexes as a general rule. This may be surprising but it is true. I started on this search after I read an article in the WHS Proceedings by the late Rev. Wesley Swift in which he wrote: ‘We have been able to identify more than forty women itinerants, but the full total must be considerably more.’ I have now traced 90 and am sure that there are still more to be identified. It is difficult to trace the women
- M. Minutes often only have initials for e.g. A. God(o)win is found to be Ann; M. Bugden is Mary; E. Brown turns out to be Elenor and S. Willis rejoiced in the name of Sophia.
- M. Magazines give obituaries, memoirs, reports of chapels and circuit events – anniversaries.
- local histories and souvenir booklets.
- circuit plans
- local records – visited Record Offices – Durham – Truro (N-S) Shrewsbury – Norwich (W-E)
Let us imagine the life of one of these female travelling preachers, as they were called.
CALL First then it was necessary to feel a call from God to serve him. Sometimes those calls were very personal, in other cases the local church situation needed a prayer leader and anyone with any talent for public speaking was pressed into service and then often just ‘put on the plan’ e.g. Elizabeth Allen, Elizabeth Smith, Rebecca Tims, Lucy Hubbold and Mary Clarissa Buck and then went on to be a travelling preacher.
Some of the women were very doubtful about their call e.g. Mary Porteous kept it a secret for 2 years; Elizabeth Smith doubted after she was attacked by 2 clergymen, Lucy Hubbold was so diffident that she did not go to her first appointment, but went to the 2nd and was so upset she returned her plan, but finally became a travelling preacher.
In many cases these young women were very young – one as young as 14 – and they were not admitted unless they were under 45. Average age of the 20 I know most about was 19 – therefore it must have been quite an ordeal, so perhaps their doubts are not so surprising. Preachers had to hold to the P.M. doctrines and to be recommended by their local churches (Quarterly Meetings).
PROPRIETY The Connexion was very strict about ‘propriety’ and very anxious that no slander should arise. It was very unusual for women to wander the country preaching and they could easily have become the cause of gossip: ‘No preacher shall be allowed to take any female alone with him, nor to suffer any female so to accompany him (his own wife excepted) in going to or returning from any of his appointments; and the female preachers shall be under similar regulation.’
- ‘What shall be done if a preacher breaks this rule?
- He or She shall be admonished for the first offence or breach, and laid aside for the second offence or breach.’
DRESS Their dress was very simple – quaker style:
- ‘In what dress shall our travelling preachers appear in public?
- In a plain one. The men to wear single breasted coats, single breasted waistcoats, and their hair in its natural form; and not to be allowed to wear pantaloons, fashionable trowsers, nor white hats; and that our female preachers be patterns of plainess in all their dress.’
We are told that one of the early female preachers appeared at a camp meeting in semi-quaker garb – dove-coloured silk bonnet, scuttle shaped; they often wore a ‘ranter’s cap’ which was a white linen bonnet with two white tabs which hung down on either side of the face and a black dress. There are two interesting comments in Record Offices: ‘resolved that Miss Buck go to preach their sermons at Leek providing they will make her a present of a New Silk Dress. This Minute to be copyed and sent to them – to be black as she is in mourning.’ And ‘resolved that T. King speak to E. Quarton respecting her superfluous dress, and the necessity of keeping her promises and that if she do not improve she go home.’ This last comment is perhaps expanded when we read ‘in our judgement Sister— does not conform to rule in plainess of dress, with regard to her cap, watch guard and bag, and we request her to conform in future.’ Emma Quarton was in that particular circuit at the time, so it must refer to her.
MONEY/STIPENDS/SALARY Here we find inequality: single man – 3.15.0d a quarter plus board and lodging married man – 12/- a week (7.16.0d) plus a small expense allowance and 15d a week for each child under 8. females – 2.0.0d a quarter; later 2.2.0d (1823) and 2.20.0d (1831), after they had travelled for 2 years. The men’s continued to rise more steeply. Often Circuits were so poor that they could not even afford these salaries: ‘to a large extent the preachers were responsible for raising their own salaries and they were encouraged to improve their circuits, not only ‘for the work’s sake’, but also with the carrot of obtaining their full salaries. For e.g. Elizabeth Smith when she started to travel was appointed to open a mission in Radnorshire. Nothing having been said about salary, perhaps with supreme faith (or foolhardiness) she did not ask about it, however, as she set off she was told she would have to raise her own salary of 2 guineas a quarter. Again, when she was missioning in the Brinkworth area money was so short that she often went to bed hungry rather than embarrass the circuit.
Several Minutes preserved in Record Offices provide other instances of the financial straits in which circuits found themselves. Those in which women were involved include Durham Circuit in 1846 when Elenor Brown was ‘given liberty to collect to meet our present deficiency’ and again in 1847 it was recorded ‘that Sister Brown have liberty according to her request to solicit private subscriptions towards her deficiency in salary being 1.1.0d’ Deficiencies in salaries are also shown for Matilda Archer (1839,1840) in the Ludlow Circuit; for Sarah Price (1828) in Redruth; for Mary Gribble (1835) and Ann Woodward (1835,1836,1837) in St. Austell. Mary Porteous ‘begged’ on behalf of the North Shields Circuit.’
One particular instance is that of Sarah Price in Redruth, when in Sept. 1828 she received: ‘Sallery 6s. 4 d; travelling expenses 1s.6d; lodging 4s.0d for the quarter. and remember that her total salary for the quarter would only have been 2.2.0d – so she did badly.
The Connexion realised these difficulties and set up a fund to help those who did not get their full salary. The preachers were encouraged to sell the books, tracts and pamphlets produced by the Church and they were entitled to 10% of what they sold.
ILLNESS Because the work was so hard and the strain often made the preachers ill a fund was set up to help circuits whose preachers were unable to work and to help the preacher. Only those circuits and people who paid into the fund got anything out of it and again although both sexes paid in equally the women were paid out less: 14/- a married man; 10/- a single man; 6/- female
JOURNALS – all had to keep a Journal and present it to the Quarterly Meeting. Unforunately very few extracts of women’s Journals survive, but here are 3:
ANN BROWNSWORD: ‘Wed. 15th March 1820. I preached at Hampton Heath, out of doors to a well behaved congregation. It was very dark, but we had some lanterns hung up.’
ANN STANNA: Wed. 21st Feb 1821. At Barton…..5 or 6 young men had come nearly 4 miles intending to pull me down. But while I looked steadfastly on them and spoke a few words, one of them turned as pale as death and began to tremble and observed that if what I said was true, he did not know where to hide his head; but he intended to persecute no more.’
SARAH SPITTLE: Wed. 16th 1822. I preached at Red Lake… There was a young woman who had been at service and was going home and who, hearing that a woman was going to preach, came to the preaching house and drank tea with me. She heard me preach: and after preaching and prayer meeting were concluded, the people requested her and me to stop all night. After supper I noticed her bonnet on the table, which was very dressy. I made a remark upon it. We slept together. I asked her if she ever prayed or saw herself as a sinner. She replied, ‘Not till to-night. I will take the bunch off my bonnet if you will give me the liberty to speak with you.’ I said, ‘By all means…’
CIRCUIT PLAN I’m not going to talk about this merely to say that the women worked equally with the men in all services, both Sunday and weekday, except for Holy Communion services. Great distances were travelled -e.g. 3 services in 3 different villages 2 miles apart; or 3 miles apart. It must have made a very tiring day (10.00 am; 1.00 pm; 6.30 pm or similar – little time for refreshment or rest etc.)
TRAINING they learnt on the job; received ‘Advice’ from older
t.ps.; articles in the Mags e.g. a series of articles ‘On Preaching’ was both spiritual and practical: ‘Always strive to be at your appointments in time to take tea…Keep a solemn, grave yet cheerful deportment…Begin divine service exactly at the appointed time….if any get converted or find peace with God, take down their names, and their residence, and go to them next day…’
Visiting was considered to be of prime importance. It was emphasised that 5 families a day should be visited. The P.Ms. were very keen on ‘conversation preaching’ and it was practised by both preachers and the ordinary members – invited into houses – to next villages, towns etc. and so it spread e.g. Sarah Kirkland went to Ambaston, invited to Chaddesden and then onto Derby; a woman heard Elizabeth Smith at Shefford then invited her to her own village of Market Illsley. Cottage prayer meetings were a feature – good practising ground for embyro leaders and preachers – number of women came in by this route.
SERMONS the texts used were all capable of evangelical interpretation e.g. ‘Thou fool this night thy soul shall be required of thee’; ‘For many are called but few are chosen’; ‘Ye must be born again’;’Prepare to meet thy God.’
On the whole their language was plain, down to earth and easily understood by all. Emphasised that all were equal before God and this was one of the appeals of P.M. which on the whole appealed to the lower/poorer classes. No barriers between rich and poor or social class in the chapel. All were sinners and all could be saved – this gave people self respect and a sense of worth. Gave them comfort and hope.
WORDS AND MUSIC camp meetings attracted large crowds who wouldn’t darken the doors of a chapel. For practical reasons they were ususally held in the summer. Many folk went out of curiosity, especially when it was announced that a woman was about to preach or pray. Popular preachers and women very quickly gathered a crowd. The preaching was plain, simple, short, energetic, and direct. Hymns were often sung to popular tune of the day e.g. ‘And soon the reaping will come…’ to the tune ‘Rule Britannia’, many hymns were adaptable to the occasion e.g. ‘save poor sinners could be ‘save our children, parents, families etc.
- WOMEN as I said earlier I have traced 90 women, but have only found biographies/obituaries for 20. These records vary in length and in the information they give. They are very religious and stereo-typed.
Briefly they were all born before 1816.
Sarah Kirkland, 1st female t.p.; retired before stations started p.1 para 3; p.2 para 2
Sunday School great influence in the case of 7, but only Mary Ball went to one – she came from Belper – early centre of P.M.
ANOTHER 12 (see notes on p.5) to be used if required.
THE REST little information, often just stations.
MISSIONARIES – Ruth Watkins – went to U.S.A. in 1829, sailed on 19th June and arrived on 31st July. Sent back reports of her experiences and impressions of America. Reported to have married an Episcopal minister. Anne Wearing also in USA. Martha Doncaster went with her husband John Ride to Australia and Anne Godwin with hers, Henry Green, to N.Z.
OTHERS – many women worked as hired local preachers. It seems that when there was a need and a circuit had the money they took out preachers for just a quarter or so e.g. Hannah Summerlands in Burton-on-Trent. I suspect, but it is difficult to prove that many t.ps. wives were originally t.ps in their own right.
DECLINE – we have seen that there many more women travelling preachers than apparent at first + h.l.ps. and others who were paid but not stationed. Women were welcomed and used – there was no sex barrier in the early days. The peak was in 1834 when 26 were stationed.
Chapel building purpose built with many activities – local opportunities – life of the community. Size of the building was a status symbol – felt men were better able to deal with officials etc.
- social change – P.M. centred on rural areas and small village communities. Little villages were heads of circuits e.g. Scotter, Shefford, Cwm. Drift from the land/ Victorian attitudes/standards.
- conformism – moving nearer to the other denominations – female travelling preachers an embarrassment