Saturday, September 21, 2013

Voiceless Women: Lives of the Wesley Sisters (Part 2)

The following are the stories of the lives of Susanna Wesley's seven daughters. For further reading, see Part 1, Voiceless Women: Susanna Wesley's Daughters.

Emilia, "Emily"

Emilia Wesley was a good scholar, talented and smart, well-read and capable. John, who became a university professor, said she was the best expert on Milton he ever heard.

Emilia was five or six when the family moved to Epworth. As the oldest sister, she was typically responsible and her parents depended on her; she lived at home well into her twenties. Emilia cared for her mother and baby Kezzy after the Fire, managed the parsonage when her mother was ill (with meager resources), tended the clock and locked up the house at night, took leave from her teaching job to nurse her married sister Sukey through an illness. She was fond of her mother, and had strong maternal feelings for John, who arrived when she was eleven. Though she was a dutiful daughter, she was also the most critical of her father, especially of his financial irresponsibility, describing the family’s circumstances as those of “intolerable want and affliction”.

She fell in love with one of John’s friends from his student days at Oxford. The romance lasted three years before her brother Sam apparently interfered, insisting that they break up. Emily was heartbroken. She coped by concluding that Leybourne had not really loved her and they would not have been happy together; however, she never really got over her disappointment.

Emily was nearing forty when she felt compelled to support herself and took a teaching job in London. However, her employer did not treat her well or compensate her properly. After corresponding with her brothers and receiving some encouragement and a loan, she gave her employer notice and started her own school in Gainsborough, which she operated until at least 1735. Back home, her mother missed her dependable companion considerably.

There was another romance in Emilia’s life, but her brother John meddled this time. His disapproval was partly because the man in question was a Quaker, though Emilia described him as “a faithful friend, a unique companion, and a keen lover”.

Emily was 44 when she eventually married Robert Harper, the Epworth apothecary, but she was even poorer with him than she had been with her father. Emilia even had to sell some of her clothes to buy food. Politically, they were strong opposites, which only added to the friction between them. They had a daughter, Tetty, but she apparently died in childhood.

Harper disappeared, leaving his wife penniless, after which Emilia (and her favorite maid, to whom she was much attached) was supported by her brothers, residing in London at the Preachers’ house adjoining a Methodist chapel. Towards the end of her life, dementia softened her memory and sweetened her temper.

Susanna “Sukey”

A good girl, a bit romantic, and very pretty. She and Hetty were very close. Disappointed regarding the prospect of financial aid from an uncle, Sukey impulsively married Richard Ellison, Esq. a local landowner who farmed his own estate. But though she bore him several children, their union was far from happy.

Richard was too “uncultivated” and “morose” for his strong, smart, and vivacious wife. He was also physically abusive, reportedly even when they lived with her parents while she was pregnant. Her mother described him as “little inferior to the apostate angels in wickedness” and blamed Uncle Matthew for Sukey’s throwing herself away on this man who was only a “plague” to her and an “affliction to the family”.

When the Ellison’s home was destroyed in a fire, Sukey called it quits. It must have stirred traumatic flashbacks from her childhood. Like her own family years before, the Ellisons separated to live with relations for a time. Sukey never lived with her husband again, but hid in London with her children, refusing to see Ellison or answer his letters. A master manipulator, he tried to flush her out of hiding by publishing a report of his death in the paper. She immediately went down to Lincolnshire to pay her last respects to the dead, but turned around when she encountered her living husband and realized the ruse.

The two were never reconciled; Sukey lived with her children, and accepted financial aid from her brother John. Ellison later found himself in financial straits after his land flooded, drowning his animals and ruining his crops, and cast himself on the mercy of his brothers-in-law, whom he found more inclined to generosity than was his wife.

Mary "Molly"

Molly was crippled by a childhood injury, thought to be due to her nurse’s carelessness. She was good-tempered, in spite of her disability. Hetty adored her. During the Rectory Fire, someone broke out the parlor window and threw her and Hetty out to safety.

One of Rev. Samuel Wesley’s former students, a John Romley, was given supervision of a charity pupil, John Whitelamb. Romley introduced Whitelamb to his former instructor, who then taught the studious boy Greek in a matter of months. Wesley warmed to Johnny Whitelamb, taking him into his home as his amanuensis and putting him to work designing and engraving plates for Dissertations on the Book of Job. Wesley then sponsored Johnny’s education at university, where John Wesley was by now a Fellow. Susanna called him “poor starveling Johnny”; he could not even afford a gown for his ordination. After his ordination, Rev. Sam Wesley made Johnny his curate in Wroote.

Molly and John Whitelamb were married in December, 1733. Molly died in childbirth within a year. The family rather forgot Johnny after that. Years later, after hearing John Wesley preach in his town, Whitelamb wrote to him and expressed how deeply he felt his debt to the entire Wesley family, how highly he esteemed them, and how he had felt ignored by

The cold shoulder may have been due in part to the Wesleys not knowing how to accept changes in Whitelamb’s religious views. Sometime after his ordination, and probably after the loss of his wife, Whitelamb’s faith was undermined by doubts and he became a deist. When John heard of Whitelamb’s passing in 1769, he said “O, why did he not die forty years ago, while he knew in whom he had believed!”

Mehetabel "Hetty" 

Smart, a poetic genius, educated in language, witty, funny, pretty, and popular with suitors. She was a favorite of her Uncle Matthew, neither of them being as religious as the rest of the Wesley family. It was she who roused the family the night of the Rectory Fire, a piece of the roof falling onto her bed and burning her feet. (Samuel Wesley had actually heard cries of “Fire” coming from the street, but ignored them, not realizing they meant his house!)

Her superior education suiting her well for teaching, Hetty went away to work as a governess. From there, her story reads like a Jane Austen novel. Through her employer, she met a young lawyer to whom she developed a strong attachment. Her father interfered, strongly opposing the match based on information which caused him to believe the gentleman was “unprincipled”. This did not dissuade Hetty, or her boyfriend.

At 27, Hetty attempted to elope, twice, apparently with the lawyer. The latter adventure involved her spending a night with her boyfriend, only to discover that he was not serious about marrying her. When she returned to her parents’ home several months pregnant, she was disgraced and her father forbid her to set foot in the house. He quickly married her off to a journeyman plumber, William Wright, in October of 1725. Only her sister Mary took her side and attempted to dissuade their father from forcing the match. Her sisters were not allowed to attend the wedding, two weeks after being bridesmaids at Nancy’s wedding.

Unwelcome at the rectory, Hetty stayed with her sisters when she visited from out of town and remained estranged her from her father for many years. When Susanna went to visit the Wrights at Anne’s place in Wroote a year later, she requested to speak to Hetty in private. Hetty was unenthusiastic and reserved. Susanna told her daughter she forgave Hetty’s offenses against her; Hetty failed to see how she was in need in her mother’s pardon, but kept her thoughts to herself. Her mother proposed a reconciliatory meeting with her father, but Hetty was not optimistic, foreseeing only more unbearable reproach (her mother thought a father’s rebuke ought not be called reproach, especially since he was a pastor and had a duty to call people out). Hetty repeated that she had no wish for reconciliation with her father and had no interest in ever seeing him again.

Susanna wrote to Hetty’s little brother John after the interview and said if Hetty were truly penitent, she would submit herself to her father. She pointed out to John that Sam did not “restrain” the other girls from spending time with Hetty as they pleased. John later wrote to their brother Sam that their parents and some of the sisters believed Hetty had faked penitence earlier. With this family scenario in mind, John had written a sermon for his parents’ benefit, attempting to explain that even if this were the case, Hetty still deserved to be treated with “some tenderness”.

Hetty tried running a school the next year, but after that failed, the mismatched couple moved to London. Hetty was extremely unhappy in her marriage, in her words “a living death”, and wished she could have given one of her eyes to her father to avoid being compelled to marry Wright. The pair were not equals in any way; he was uneducated, ill-tempered and inconsiderate while she was both brilliant and depressed. He was considered an honest workman in the town, but he spent his evenings away carousing, which wounded his wife. Their several children died young; Hetty believed this was due to her husband’s lead works, which also harmed his own health and probably Hetty’s, as well.

A brilliant, bitter and sometimes biting poet, Hetty had some of her work published in magazines. Other pieces she burned. She and her father eventually resumed correspondence. She also nursed her Uncle Matthew at the end of his life and he left her a generous bequest in his will.

Later in life, Hetty looked for solace in religion and told a neighbor she looked forward to death because “we, the Methodists, always die in transports of joy!”

In 1903, an English literature professor at Cambridge turned Hetty’s story into a historical novel.

Anne "Nancy"

Comparatively little is known about Anne. She was born around the time of the first rectory fire.

She married John Lambert, a land surveyor, shortly after Hetty’s abrupt marriage in 1725. They rented a red house not far from her family and made it “very pretty and comfortable”. Later, they moved to London. Despite John’s slight drinking problem and some financial challenges at times, Anne is thought to have had the happiest marriage of the Wesley sisters. No record remains of any Lambert children.

Martha "Patty", "Pat"

Her sisters and Charles believed she was Susanna’s favorite. Patty enjoyed her mother’s company and listening to her teach. She was calm and serious like her brother John, less playful and mischievous than the rest of her siblings, less inclined to the sharp satire on which they thrived. Patty was sensitive, compassionate, and shared her brother’s strong tendency toward self-denial.

Patty was living with her Uncle Matthew in London when she met Wesley Hall, an Anglican minister like her father and one of her brother’s students at Oxford, and they were secretly engaged. When he later visited Epworth with her brothers and met Kezzia, he was smitten and began openly courting her with the family’s blessing. They were engaged and nearly married before his conscience drove him to break up with Kezzy and return to Martha. Too embarrassed to confess the truth, he told the family God had given him a revelation that he was to marry Martha, not Kezzia. Loyal to their baby sister Kezzy, the Wesley brothers took Hall’s change of plans very badly and Charles even sent Patty a lengthy and nasty poem accusing her of incest (by taking her sister’s husband).

Patty eventually sent her mother a full account of the business, Susanna understood and said it was all fine if Uncle Matthew had given his permission, and Kezzy relinquished any claim on Mr. Hall. The Wesley brothers did not hear the whole story and nursed a grudge on Kezzy’s behalf for years afterward. When the tale was told, however, even Charles had to acknowledge that Patty was completely justified.

After the marriage, Kezzy moved in with Patty and Mr. Hall. It was there she met and was courted by a gentleman, but he died before they could be wed. Kezzy’s health was delicate, and she passed away, still living in her sister’s home, in 1741.

The Rev. Hall turned out to be, no surprise, fickle and shallow, a man of impulse rather than intellect, “one of the worst and most unkind of husbands”. He was inconsiderate, deceitful, violent and abusive. He had an affair with Patty’s seamstress, which Patty only discovered when the girl went into labor in their home. Patty ordered the servants to call a doctor, but they refused, under the circumstances. Patty ended up going herself for a midwife and paying for the girl’s care, before traveling to London to calmly confront her husband. Another time, Hall brought home an infant he had sired elsewhere and ordered Patty to care for it until he could arrange for another situation.

Patty bore Hall ten children, nine of which were buried as infants. Their only surviving child, his father’s namesake, died of smallpox at 14 years of age. By then, his uncles John and Charles were sponsoring his education and he was living away from home. His illness may have been exacerbated by the neglect of those at the house where he boarded. His mother was called, but did not arrive in time to say goodbye to her last son.

Many affairs later, Mr. Hall abandoned his wife and moved to Ireland “with one of his mistresses” and Patty never saw him again, though their marriage officially lasted forty years, until Hall’s death. Deserted by her husband, Patty was financially dependent on her brothers’ generosity. In later years, the talented and Patty was a favorite of Dr. Samuel Johnson and kept company with other literary figures in his circle.
It excited her surprise that women should dispute the authority which God gave the husband over the wife. "It is," said she, "so clearly expressed in Scripture, that one would suppose such wives had never read their Bible." But she allowed that this authority was only given after the fall, not before : but " the woman," said she, "who contests this authority should not marry."  
                                                                (Adam Clarke's Memoirs of the Wesley Family)

Kezzia "Kezzy"

Born a month after the Rectory Fire. Kezzy went with her eldest sister to work at Mrs. Taylor's school for a while. Her health was always fragile, however, and stress made her ill. She longed for more education, but was frustrated by lack of time (when she was working) or money (when living at home).

After her short-lived love affair with Wesley Hall, she forgave him and relinquished all claim on him to her sister Patty. Kezzy lived with Patty and Mr. Hall for five or six years until her death. Charles blamed Hall for her early death (he suspected a broken heart). Kezzia did have a boyfriend later on, but he died before they could marry.


  1. This is sickeningly sad. :-( We sure never read these stories. :-(

  2. Those who pine for earlier eras should remember that those time periods were not kind to women and children. Domestic abuse, abandonment, and unhappy marriages tormented women and their offspring back then just as they do now, if not moreso.

  3. Amazing and compelling.