Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Quaker Women Series: Elizabeth Ashbridge



Elizabeth Ashbridge wrote her autobiography in a time when Quaker literature was censored.  She chose not to publish her work, circulating it among Friends, and in doing so, kept the language that richly describes her spiritual journey. 

Born in Middlewich in Cheshire, England in 1713, to “honest parents: Thomas and Mary Sampson,” Elizabeth Ashbridge had an “awful regard for religion and religious people.”  She considered herself a normal child; well behaved, for the most part, and when she did wrong, she knew it and was sorry for it. 
  
She eloped when she was fourteen and was widowed that same year.  She lived with relatives inIreland, before securing passage to America by becoming an indentured servant.  She married an abusive drunk, and suffered the consequences of becoming Quaker, like many Friends in the 18th Century (being ostracized by family, abused by husbands, public ridicule and abuse, anything to try and deter them from remaining Friend).    

Elizabeth saw a lot of hypocrisy among Christians, which gave her a very jaded view and opinion of them:
The observations I made on their conduct confirmed me in my atheistical opinions. They diverted themselves in the evening with cards and songs, and a few moments after, introduced prayers and singing psalms to Almighty God. Often did I say to myself, "If there be a God, he is a pure Being and will not hear the prayers of polluted lips." 

When she was twenty-two years old, she attended a Quaker meeting, “I heard a woman Friend speak, at which I was a little surprised. I had been told of women's preaching, but I had never heard it before, and I looked upon her with pity for her ignorance and contempt for her practice, saying to myself, "I'm sure you're a fool, and if ever I turn Quaker, which will never be, I will not be a preacher."
Elizabeth longed for something more than the church was offering, so she sought Truth.  While visiting family in Philadelphia, she read a Quaker book and went from darkness to light!

O, thou God of my salvation, and of my life; who hath abundantly manifested thy long suffering and tender mercy, in redeeming me as from the lowest hell, I beseech thee to direct use in the right way, and keep me from error; so will I perform my covenant, and think nothing too near to part with for thy name’s sake. O, happy peoples thus beloved of God!”

This decision only made her life more miserable.  “Sullivan became enraged when a church warden suggested that his wife would become a Quaker minister.  Ashbridge tells us that her husband, ‘in a great rage, struck her and told her that she had better be hanged on that day.’”  

Widowed (again) in 1740, the next years were spent paying off her husband’s debts and traveling as a minister.  In September 1746,Elizabeth married Aaron Ashbridge, a prominent Quaker at Goshen.  From homeless in Ireland, to indentured servant, to abused wife, to Quaker minister and Elder, Elizabeth’s life shows the transforming power of God. 


Elizabeth was obedient to God and answered his call to travel abroad where she ended up dying on a mission.  Her life, so dramatically written, is an example for us not to allow bitterness to take root.  I am reminded that most of early Friends lives were not “easy.”  Perhaps, that is a lesson as well – living a life committed to Jesus comes at a price.  


Included below are sources used in the writing of this post.  

References:
Ashbridge, E. (edited 1846). Some account of the life of Elizabeth Ashbridge. Friends Library. Retrieved from: http://articles.ochristian.com/article4096.shtml
Ashbridge, E. “Who must I join”: Elizabeth Ashbridge, an 18th-century Englishwoman becomes a Quaker. Retrieved from: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6511.
Levenduski, C. (1991). Remarkable experiences in the life of Elizabeth Ashbridge: Portraying the public woman in spiritual autobiography [E-reader version]. Great Britain: Gordan and Breach Science Publishers, S.A.
Madden, E. (1999). Quaker Elizabeth Ashbridge as `The spectacle & discourse of the company'.  Early American Literature, 34(2), 186-186.
Tarter, M. (2005). Reading a Quakers’ book: Elizabeth Ashbridge’s testimony of Quaker literary theory. QUAKER STUDIES, 1363-013X.

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