20 Elizabeth Ashbridge

Sonya Parrish

Some Accounts of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge

Excerpts from Some Account (text does not include chapter or section distinctions that can narrow down the excerpts here)

SOME ACCOUNT OF THE EARLY PART OF THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH ASHBRIDGE,

WHO DIED IN TRUTH’S SERVICE AT THE HOUSE OF ROBERT LECKYAT KILNOCK IN THE COUNTY OF CARLOW, IRELAND, THE 16TH OF 5TH MONTH, 1755

WRITTEN BY HERSELF

My life having been attended with many uncommon occurrences, I have thought proper to make some remarks on the dealings of divine goodness with me. I have often had cause, with David, to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted;” and most earnestly I desire that they who read the following lines may take warning, and shun the evils into which I have been drawn.

I observed that there were several different religious societies; this I often thought of, and wept with desires that I might be directed to the one which it would be best for me to join. In this frame of mind passed my younger years. I was sometimes guilty of the faults common among children, but was always sorry, for what I had done amiss; and, till I was fourteen years of age, I was as innocent as most children. About this time, my sorrows (which have continued, for the greatest part of my life, ever since) began, by my giving way to a foolish passion, in setting my affections on a young man, who, without the leave of my parents, courted me till I consented to marry him; and, with sorrow of heart, I relate, that I suffered myself to be carried off in the night. We were married. My parents made all possible search for me, as soon as I was missing, but it was in vain. This precipitate act plunged me into much sorrow. I was soon smitten with remorse for thus leaving my parents, whose right it was to have disposed of me to their content, or who, at least, ought to have been consulted. But I was soon chastised for my disobedience, and convinced of my error. In five months, I was stripped of the darling of my heart, and left a young and disconsolate widow. I was now without a home. My husband had derived his livelihood only from his trade, which was that of a stocking weaver; and my father was so displeased that he would do nothing for me. My dear mother had some compassion for me, and kept me among the neighbors. Afterwards, by her advice, I went to a relation of hers, at Dublin. We hoped that my absence would soften my father’s rigor; but he continued inflexible; he would not send for me back, and I dared not to return unless he did.

The relation I went to reside with was one of the people called Quakers. His habits were so very different to what I had been accustomed to, that the visit proved disagreeable to me. I had been brought up in the way of the Church of England, and though, as I have said, I had a religious education, yet I was allowed to sing and dance, which my cousin would not permit. The great vivacity of my natural disposition would not, in this instance, suffer me to give way to the gloomy sense of sorrow and conviction; and therefore my present restraints had a wrong effect. I became more wild and airy than ever; my cousin often reproved me; but I then thought his conduct was the result of singularity, and would not bear it, or be controlled. Having a distant relation in the West of Ireland, I went to him. I now enjoyed all the liberty I wished; for, what rendered me disagreeable to my other kinsman, was quite pleasing to this. Between these two relations I spent three years and three months.

While I was in Ireland, I contracted an intimate acquaintance with a widow and her daughter, who were papists. We conversed very frequently about religion, each of us defending our peculiar tenets; and, though I was much given to gaiety, our discussions often made me thoughtful. The old woman told me of such mighty miracles, done by their priests, that I began to be shaken in my own belief; and thought that, if these things were so, they must, of a truth, be the apostles’ successors. She perceived the state of my mind, and, one day, exclaimed with rapture, “Oh! if I can, under God, be the happy instrument of converting you to the holy Catholic Faith, all the sins that ever I committed will be forgiven.” Sometimes I frequented her place of worship, but none of my relations knew what was the motive. The affair went so far, that the priest came to converse with me. Being young, and my judgment weak, I was ready to believe what he said; yet resolved not blindly to adopt their creed. I thought that, if their articles of faith were sound, they would not be against my knowing them; and, therefore, the next time I saw the priest, I told him, that I had some intention of becoming one of his flock, but wished first to know what I must agree to. He answered, that I must first confess my sins to him; and gave me till the next day to consider of them. I was not averse to this, conscious of having done nothing for which any one could harm me; and thinking that, if what he had said was true, the confession would be for my good. When he came again, I told all that I could remember; which, for my part, I thought bad enough; but he considered me, he said, the most innocent creature that ever-made confession to him. When I had done, he took a book, which he read, and told me, I was to swear I believed, if I joined them. I shall not trouble my reader with the recital of its ridiculous contents. What principally made me sick of my new intention was, that I was to swear I considered the Pretender to be king James’s son, and the true heir of the crown of England; and that all who died out of the pale of the popish church, would be damned. These doctrines startled me; I hesitated, and desired time to take them into consideration; but, before I saw the priest again, a change of circumstances freed me from the necessity of giving him an answer.

On the 15th of the 7th month, which was nine weeks after we left Dublin, we arrived at New York. Here I was betrayed by the very men whose lives I had preserved. The captain caused an indenture to be made, and threatened me with jail, if I refused to sign it. I told him that I could find means to satisfy him for my passage without becoming bound. He replied, that I might take my choice, either to sign the indenture he showed me, or the one I had signed in Ireland should be in force. In a fright, I signed the former; for I had, by this time, learned the character of the woman who first induced me to think of going to America; she was a vile creature, and I feared that, if I fell into her hands, I should be used ill.

In two weeks I was sold. At first, I had not much reason to complain of the treatment I received; but, in a short time, a difference, in which I was innocent, happened, that set my master against me, and rendered him inhuman. It will be impossible for me to convey an adequate idea of the sufferings of my servitude. Though my father was not rich, yet, in his house, I lived well, and I had been used to little but my school; but, now, I found it would have been better for me if I had been brought up with less indulgence. I was not allowed decent clothes; I was obliged to perform the meanest drudgery, and even to go barefoot in the snow. I suffered the utmost hardship that my body was able to bear, and the effect produced on my mind had nearly been my ruin forever.

My master seemed to be a very religious man, taking the sacrament (so called) regularly, and praying every night in his family; unless his prayer-book could not be found, for he never prayed without it to my knowledge. His example, however, made me sick of his religion: for, though I had but little religion myself, I had some idea of what religious people ought to be. Respecting religion, my opinions began to waver; I even doubted whether there was any such thing; and began to think that the convictions I had felt, from my infancy, were only the prejudices of education. These convictions seemed now to be lost; and, for some months, I do not remember to have felt them. I became hardened, and was ready to conclude that there was no God. The veneration I had felt for religious men, in my infancy, was entirely gone; I now looked upon them in a very different manner. My master’s house was a place of great resort for the clergy; and, sometimes, those who came from a distance lodged with him. 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.”

But he who hath, in an abundant manner, shown mercy to me, (as will be seen in the sequel,) did not long suffer my mind to be perplexed with doubts; but, in a moment, when my feet were on the brink of the bottomless pit, plucked me back.

To one woman, and to no other, I told the nature of the difference which had happened, two years before, between my master and me. By her means, he heard of it, and, though he knew it was true, he sent for the town’s whipper to correct me. I was called in. He never asked me whether I had told any such thing, but ordered me to strip. My heart was ready to burst. I would as freely have given up my life as have suffered such ignominy. “If,” said I, “there be a God, be graciously pleased to look down on one of the most unhappy creatures, and plead my cause; for thou knowest that, what I have related, is the truth;” and, had it not been for a principle more noble than he was capable of, I would have told it to his wife. Then, fixing my eyes on the barbarous man, I said, “Sir, if you have no pity on me, yet, for my father’s sake, spare me from this shame; (for he had heard several ways of my parents;) and, if you think I deserve such punishment, do it yourself.” He took a turn over the room, and bade the whipper go about his business. Thus, I came off without a blow; but my character seemed to be lost. Many reports of me were spread, which I bless God were not true. I suffered so much cruelty that I could not bear it; and was tempted to put an end to my miserable life. I listened to the temptation, and, for that purpose, went into the garret to hang myself. Now it was I felt convinced that there was a God. As I entered the place, horror and trembling seized me; and, while I stood as one in amazement, I seemed to hear a voice saying, “There is a hell beyond the grave.” I was greatly astonished, and cried, “God be merciful, and enable me to bear whatsoever thou, in thy providence, shall bring or suffer to come upon me.” I then went down stairs, but let no one know what I had been about.

However, when I had served about three years, I bought out the remainder of my time, and worked at my needle, by which I could maintain myself handsomely. But, alas! I was not sufficiently punished. I released myself from one cruel servitude, and, in the course of a few months, entered into another for life, by marrying a young man who fell in love with me for my dancing; a poor motive for a man to cause a wife, or a woman a husband. For my part, I was in love with nothing I saw in him; and it seems unaccountable to me, that after refusing several offers, both in this country and Ireland, I should at last marry one I did not esteem. My husband was a schoolmaster. A few days after we were married, we went from New York to a place called Westerly, in Rhode Island, where he had engaged to keep a school. With respect to religion he was much like myself, without any; and, when intoxicated, would use the worst of oaths. I do not mention this to expose him, but to show the effect it had on myself. I saw myself ruined, as I thought, in being joined to a man I did not love, and who was a pattern of no good to me. We thus seemed hastening towards destruction, when I concluded, if I was not forsaken of heaven, to alter my course of life. To fix my affection on the divine being, and not to love my husband, seemed inconsistent. I daily desired, with tears, that my affections might be directed in a right manner, and can say that, in a little time, my love was sincere. I resolved to do my duty to God, and, expecting I must come to the knowledge of it by the scriptures, I read these sacred writings with a determination to follow their directions.

While we were in Boston, I went, one day, to the Quaker’s meeting, where I heard a woman friend speak, at which I was a little surprised. I had been told of women’s. preaching, but 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 never be a preacher.” Thus, was my mind occupied while she was speaking. When she had done, a man stood up, who I could better bear. He spoke sound doctrine on good Joshua’s resolution, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” After sitting down, and remaining silent awhile, he went to prayer, which was attended with something so awful and affecting, that it drew tears from my eyes.

I now began to think of my relations in Pennsylvania, whom I had not yet seen.

When I came to Trent-town Ferry, I felt no small mortification on hearing that my relations were all Quakers, and, what was worst of all, that my aunt was a preacher. I was exceedingly prejudiced against this people, and often wondered how they could call themselves Christians. I repented my coming, and was almost inclined to turn back; yet, as I was so far on my journey, I proceeded, though I expected but little comfort from my visit. How little was I aware it would bring me to the knowledge of the truth!

I went from Trent-town to Philadelphia by water, and from thence to my uncle’s on horseback. My uncle was dead, and my aunt married again; yet, both she and her husband received me in the kindest manner. I had scarcely been three hours in the house, before my opinion of these people began to alter. I perceived a book lying upon the table, and, being fond of reading, took it up; my aunt observed me, and said, “Cousin, that is a Quaker’s book.” She saw I was not a Quaker, and supposed I would not like it. I made her no answer, but queried with myself, what can these people write about? I have heard that they deny the scriptures, and have no other bible than George Fox’s Journal. . .. denying, also, all the holy ordinances. But, before I had read two pages, my heart burned within me, and, for fear I should be seen, I went into the garden. I sat down, and, as the piece was short, read it before I returned, though I was often obliged to stop to give vent to my tears. The fulness of my heart produced the involuntary exclamation of, “My God, must I, if ever I come to the knowledge of thy truth, be of this man’s opinion, who has sought thee as I have done; and must I join this people, to whom, a few hours ago, I preferred the papists. 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, l beseech thee to direct me 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 people, thus beloved of God!” After having collected myself, I washed my face, that it might not be perceived I had been weeping. In the night I got but little sleep; the enemy of mankind haunted me with his insinuations, by suggesting that I was one of those that wavered, and not stead-fast in faith; and advancing several texts of scripture against me, as that, in the latter days, there should be those who would deceive the very elect; that of such were the people I was among, and that I was in danger of being deluded. Warned in this manner, (from the right source as I thought,) I resolved to be aware of those deceivers, and, for some weeks, did not touch one of their books. The next day, being the first of the week, I was desirous of going to church, which was distant about four miles; but, being a stranger, and having no one to go with me, I gave up all thoughts of that, and, as most of the family were going to meeting, I went there with them. As we sat in silence, I looked over the meeting, and said to myself, “How like fools these people sit; how much better would it be to stay at home, and read the Bible, or some good book, then come here and go to sleep.” As for me I was very drowsy; and, while asleep, had nearly fallen down. This was the last time I ever fell asleep in a meeting. I now began to be lifted up with spiritual pride, and to think myself better than they; but this disposition of mind did not last long. It may seem strange that, after living so long with one of this society at Dublin, I should yet be so much a stranger to them. In answer, let it be considered that, while I was there, I never read any of their books, nor went to one meeting; besides, I had heard such accounts of them, as made me think that, of all societies, they were the worst. But he who knows the sincerity of the heart, looked on my weakness with pity; I was permitted to see my error, and shown that these were the people I ought to join.

Before [Sullivan] reached me, he heard I was turned Quaker; at which he stamped, and said, “I had rather have heard she was dead, well as I love her; for, if it be so, all my comfort is gone.” He then came to me; it was after an absence of four months; I got up and said to him, “My dear, I am glad to see thee.” At this, he flew into a great rage, exclaiming, “The devil thee, thee, thee, don’t thee me.” I endeavored, by every mild means, to pacify him; and, at length, got him fit to speak to my relations. As soon after this as we were alone, he said to me, “And so I see your Quaker relations have made you one;” I replied, that they had not, (which was true,) I never told them how it was with me. He said he would not stay amongst them; and, having found a place to his mind, hired, and came directly back to fetch me, walking, in one afternoon, thirty miles to keep me from meeting the next day, which was first day. He took me, after resting this day, to the place where he had hired, and to lodgings he had engaged at the house of a churchwarden. This man was a bitter enemy of Friends, and did all he could to irritate my husband against them.

Though I did not appear like a friend, they all believed me to be one. When my husband and he used to be making their diversions and reviling, I sat in silence, though now and then an involuntary sigh broke from me; at which he would say, “There, did not I tell you your wife was a Quaker, and she will become a preacher.” On such an occasion as this, my husband once came up to me, in a great rage, and shaking his hand over me, said, “You had better be hanged in that day.” I was seized with horror, and again plunged into despair, which continued nearly three months. I was afraid that, by denying the Lord, the heavens would be shut against me. I walked much alone in the woods, and there, where no eye saw, or ear heard me, lamented my miserable condition. Often have I wandered, from morning till night, without food. I was brought so low that my life became a burden to me; and the devil seemed to vaunt that, though the sins of my youth were forgiven me, yet now I had committed an unpardonable sin, and hell would inevitably be my portion, and my torments would be greater than if I had hanged myself at first.

When meeting-time came I longed to go, but dared not to ask my husband’s leave. As the Friends were getting ready themselves, they asked him if he would accompany them, observing, that they knew those who were to be his employers, and, if they were at meeting, would speak to them. He consented. The woman Friend then said, “And wilt thou let thy wife go too;” which request he denied; but she answered his objections so prudently that he could not be angry, and at last consented. I went with joy, and a heavenly meeting it was. My spirit did rejoice in the God of my salvation. May I ever, in humility, preserve the remembrance of his tender mercies to me.

By the end of the week, we got settled in our new situation. We took a room, in a friend’s house, one mile from each school, and eight from the meeting-house. I now deemed it proper to let my husband see I was determined to join with friends. When first day came, I directed myself to him in this manner: “My dear, art thou willing to let me go to meeting?” He flew into a rage, and replied “No you spa’n’t” Speaking firmly, I told him that, as a dutiful wife, I was ready to obey all his lawful commands; but, when they imposed upon my conscience, I could not obey him. I had already wronged myself, in having done it too long; and though he was near to me, and, as a wife ought, I loved him, yet God, who was nearer than all the world to me, had made me sensible that this was the way in which I ought to go. I added, that this was no small cross to my own will; but I had given up my heart, and I trusted that He who called for it would enable me, for the remainder of my life, to keep it steadily devoted to his service; and I hoped I should not, on this account, make the worse wife. I spoke, however, to no purpose; he continued inflexible.

I had now put my hand to the plough, and resolved not to draw back; I therefore went without leave. I expected he would immediately follow and force me back, but he did not. I called at the house of one of the neighbors, and, getting a girl to show me the way, I went on rejoicing, and praising God in my heart.

Thus, for some time, I had to go eight miles on foot to meeting, which I never thought hard. My husband had a horse, but he would not suffer me to ride on it; nor, when my shoes were worn out, would he let me have a new pair; but, though he hoped, on this account, to keep me from meeting, it did not hinder me: –I have tied them round with strings to keep them on.

Finding that all the means he had yet used could not alter my resolutions, he several times struck me with severe blows. I endeavored to bear all with patience, believing that the time would come when he would see I was in the right. Once he came up to me, took out his penknife, and said, “If you offer to go to meeting tomorrow, with this knife I’ll cripple you, for you shall not be a Quaker.” I made him no answer. In the morning, I set out as usual; he did not attempt to harm me. Having despaired of recovering me himself, he fled, for help, to the priest, whom he told, that I had been a very religious woman, in the way of the Church of England, of which I was a member, and had a good certificate from Long Island; that I was now bewitched, and had turned Quaker, which almost broke his heart; and, therefore, he desired that, as he was one who had the care of souls, he would come and pay me a visit, and use his endeavors to reclaim me, which he hoped, by the blessing of God, would be done. The priest consented, and fixed the time for his coming, which was that day two weeks, as he said he could not come sooner. My husband came home extremely pleased, and told me of it. I replied, with a smile, I trusted I should be enabled to give a reason for the hope within me; yet I believed, at the same time, that the priest would never trouble himself about me, which proved to be the case. Before the day he appointed came, it was required of me, in a more public manner, to confess to the world what I was. I felt myself called to give up to prayer in meeting. I trembled, and would freely have given up my life to be excused. What rendered the required service harder on me was, that I was not yet taken under the care of friends; and was kept from requesting to be so, for fear I should bring a scandal on the society. I begged to be excused till I had joined, and then I would give up freely. The answer was, “I am a covenant-keeping God, and the word that I spake to thee, when I found thee in distress, even that I would never forsake thee, if thou wouldst be obedient to what I should make known unto thee, I will assuredly make good. If thou refusest, my spirit shall not always strive. Fear not, I will make way for thee through all thy difficulties, which shall be many, for my name’s sake; but, be faithful, and I will give thee a crown of life.” To this language I answered, “Thy will, O God, be done; I am in thy hand, do with me according to thy word;” and I then prayed.

My husband now thought that if he was in any place where it was not known he had been so bitter against friends, he could do better. I objected to this, fearing it would not be for his benefit. Frequently, in a broken and affectionate manner, he condemned his ill usage of me. I answered, that I hoped it had been for my good, and therefore desired he would not be afflicted on that account. According to the measure of grace received, I did what I could, both by example and precept, for his good. My advice was for him to stay where he was, as I was afraid he would grow weaker in his good resolutions, if he removed.

All I could say would not avail. Hearing of a place at Borden-town, he went thither, but was not suited. He next removed to Mount Holly, where he settled. We had each of us a good school; we soon got our house pretty well furnished, and might have done very well. Nothing seemed wanting to complete my happiness, except the reformation of my husband, which I had much reason to doubt I should not see soon. It fell out according to my fears. He addicted himself much to drinking, and grew worse than before. Sorrow was again my lot, I prayed for patience to bear my afflictions, and to submit to the dispensations of Providence. I murmured not; nor do I recollect that I ever uttered any harsh expressions except on one occasion. My husband coming home a little intoxicated, (a state in which he was very fractious,) and, finding me at work by a candle, he put it out, fetching me, at the same time, a box on the ear, and saying, “You don’t earn your light.” At this unkind usage, which I had not been used to for the last two years, I was somewhat angry, and said, “Thou art a vile man.” He struck me again; but my anger had cooled, and I received the blow without so much as a word in return. This also displeased him, and he went on in a distracted like manner, uttering such expressions of despair as, he believed he was predestined to damnation, and he did not care how soon God struck him dead. I said very little, till, at length, in the bitterness of my soul, I broke out into these expressions: “Lord, look down on my afflictions, and deliver me by some means or other.” My prayer was granted, but in such a manner that I thought it would have killed me. He went to Burlington, where he got drunk, and enlisted to go as a common soldier to Cuba, in the year 1740. I had drunk many bitter cups, but this seemed the bitterest of them all. A thousand times I blamed myself for making such a request, which I was afraid had displeased God, who had, in displeasure, granted it for my punishment.

Having been obliged to say much of his ill-usage to me, I have thought it my duty to say what I could in his favor. Although he was so bad, I never thought him the worst of men. If he had suffered religion to have had its perfect work, I should have been happy in the lowest situation of life. I have had cause to bless God, for enabling me, in the station of a wife, to do my duty, and now that I am a widow, I submit to his will. May I still be preserved by the arm of Divine Power; may I never forget the tender mercies of my God, the remembrance of which often boweth my soul in humility before his throne, and I cry, “Lord! what was I, that thou shouldst have revealed to my soul the knowledge of thy truth, and have done so much for one who deserved thy displeasure? Mayst thou, O God, be glorified, and I abased. It is thy own works that praise thee; and, of a truth, to the humble soul, thou makest every bitter thing sweet.”

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