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Mary Weston: Quaker minister


Click play above to hear all about Mary's life and relationships.

Podcast written and narrated by Naomi Pullin, Warwick University.

Mary Weston (neé Pace), 1717-1766

Mary Weston was a Quaker preacher and missionary who undertook extensive ministerial work in the British Isles and the American colonies between 1735 and 1756. Whilst her itinerant lifestyle was by no means unusual in the model of Quaker womanhood that it represented, her intense piety, combined with her decision to leave her young family in the care of her husband whilst travelling to the colonies separated her somewhat from her eighteenth-century contemporaries. The accompanying podcast, which focuses on Mary’s American voyage between 1750 and 1752, explores and contextualises these experiences of female Quaker ministry in more detail.

The biography of Mary Weston’s life and experiences can be pieced together from the spiritual journal she penned during her life-time. Whilst the journal itself was designed for the instruction of future generations of ministers and was not overtly secular in its outlook (preferring to detail spiritual exercises and the places, people and meetings visited), the journal is nevertheless a rich source for understanding the culture of eighteenth-century Quakerism at this time. Moreover, when viewed in conjunction with the personal correspondence that she sent to family and friends during and after her American visit, we can piece-together the personality and inner-most thoughts and desires of a remarkable woman, who placed her spiritual calling before her natural impulse to stay at home and tend to her young family.

Mary Weston (neé Pace) was born in Southwark, London in 1717. Her parents, Joseph and Ann Pace, owned a prosperous linen-drapery business. Whilst providing their six children with an honest Quaker education, it was one which favoured training in business, rather than religious instruction. As Mary grew older, she recorded her increasing disillusion with her commercially-orientated upbringing, which neglected ‘strict Education [...] in various Branches of that Christian Testimony.’ Thus as a teenager, she underwent deep spiritual trials whereby she described herself ‘in an undone Condition without a Saviour.’[1] She consequently spent the rest of her life striving for redemption and acceptance within the Quaker church and became an approved minister by the age of twenty-three. In June 1735 she embarked upon the first of many religious visits to Quaker meetings across the British Isles, on this occasion accompanied by the Irish ministers Elizabeth Hutchinson and Abigail Bowles (later Watson) to Quaker meetings in Kent and Sussex.

In 1741, at the age of twenty-nine, she married Daniel Weston (1707-1755) of London. Daniel was a cooper and wealthy merchant with extensive connections to the Quaker merchant community in Philadelphia. The relationship that evolved between Mary and Daniel was unmistakably one that was grounded in affection and mutual support. Daniel Weston, like many of his male contemporaries, accepted his wife’s absence from the family home as a crucial aspect of her obligations as a pious woman. Indeed, he proved to be a powerful influence on his wife’s career and supported her impulse to travel on ministerial service to the American colonies in July 1750 — providing her with both the necessary emotional backing and financial assistance she required for her journey. His correspondence with members of Mary’s host family in Philadelphia reveal his patient resignation to her work, as well as his concern to hear about his wife’s progress and welfare during her travels across the colonies. Mary’s initial journey to the American colonies lasted until at least June 1752, during which time Daniel was happy to convey reports of friends and family back in England, as well as dispatch writing equipment, clothing, money and other articles which she required for her journey.

However, separation and travel on account of her divinely-appointed work was by no means a liberating or pleasurable experience for this itinerant minister. The extant writings that she sent to Daniel whilst she was travelling in America combined expressions of loneliness with her desires to be reunited with her husband and daughter, who she describes as 'dearer to me th[a]n Life it self.'[2] The need for contact with her family stemmed from the fear that Mary, her six-year-old daughter, would forget her mother as a result of their separation. Indeed, shortly after her return to England in July 1752, Mary confided to Israel Pemberton Junior that ‘my Polly [Mary] [...] had almost personally forgotten me.’ Nevertheless, she explains that her safe return to the family home in Wapping was:

a joyefull meeting [...] to us all when favour’d to behold ye faces one of another again, after such innumerable vicissitudes which had pass’d Thro, dureing our Long sepperation.[3]

Whilst no further ministerial work is recorded in Mary’s journal after her return from the Colonies, the personal correspondence that both she and her husband maintained with their American acquaintances revealed that she continued to travel throughout England. When at her London home in Wapping, Mary replicated the support and kind hospitality that she had received during her travels in America by opening up her family home to travelling ministers. The American ministers Margaret Ellis and Margaret Lewis, for example, were reported as having stayed with Mary and Daniel for five weeks when they first landed in England before commencing their voyage to the northern counties.

Little is known about Mary after the death of Daniel in 1755. She married Jeremiah Waring in 1765, known for his independent wealth: ‘having a competence for his own limited desires, he never embarked in trade on his own accounts.’[4] After only one year of marriage, Mary died in 1766, at the age of 54. She was buried at Ratcliff Friends Burying Ground and was survived by her daughter Mary. The testimonial which Mary Weston’s daughter wrote after her death described her mother as

a faithful Labourer according to her Measure in her day is now gone to reap the reward of her Labours.[5]

Mary Weston junior (later Eliot) remained an active member of the Quaker community, but does not seem to have become a recognised minister.

[1] London, Library of the Religious Society of Friends, MS Vol 312 Mary Weston’s Journal, p. 1.

[2] MS Vol 312 Mary Weston’s Journal, Letter sent from Mary Weston to Daniel Weston from New York (3 August 1750), p. 45.

[3] Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Collection 484A Pemberton Family Papers, Mary Weston to Israel Pemberton Jr. from Wapping, London (23 July 1752), Volume 8, fol. 32.

[4] Cited in Rebecca Larson, Daughters of Light: Women Quaker Preaching and Prophesying in the Colonies and Abroad, 1700-1775 (New York: Knopf, 1999), p. 317.

[5] MS Vol 312 Mary Weston’s Journal, paper written by Mary Weston’s daughter, Mary Weston junior, shortly after the death of her mother in 1766, loose folio.

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