Friday, March 08, 2019

Ann Crowley

Ann Crowley was born on May 8th 1765 at Shillingford, Oxfordshire, the sixth of the eight daughters of William Crowley, a mealman and maltster, and his wife Catherine Stiles. Ann felt that her Quaker family helped her struggle with what she perceived to be spiritual weakness. She confesses in her journal to a desire to dress fashionably, which she refers to as 'adorning the frail body with apparel inconsistent with the simplicity of truth'. She also loved music but put this aside as a 'worldly pleasure'. She dated her religious awakening from the age of 16 and found it confirmed by the shock of her father’s sudden death the following year, 1783, from an apoplectic fit at the age of 66. 
Wallingford Meeting House near Shillingford, built in 1724

Ann lived with her mother and unmarried sisters ‘in great harmony and tender affection’ but the family was further broken up when three of her sisters married, two of them to brothers. The death of her older sister Mary Ashby in 1791 aged 28, after less than two years of marriage, also gave Ann’s mind a serious turn and she began to feel that she might be called to the ministry. A few months later two visiting travelling ministers, Deborah Darby and Rebecca Young from Coalbrookdale, asked Ann to accompany them on their journey and under their influence she first spoke in meeting. 

Ann gradually extended her ministry, accompanying more experienced ministers and visiting local meetings. Her first longer journey was to Wales in 1794 with Mary Stevens of Staines, and the American Friends George and Sarah Dillwyn. Ann kept a careful note of the number of miles they travelled and meetings they attended. In 1795 Ann’s mother died after a stroke and this made it necessary for the remaining sisters to move house. Ann, as the eldest at home, felt that she should organise this, but she had ministerial commitments. The worry made her ill, but she recovered when a house in Uxbridge and her next journey in the ministry were both decided on. 
Uxbridge Meeting House window

Three weeks after she returned to her new home Ann’s family was again shaken by the death of her sister Catherine Ashby aged 36, who left a husband, Thomas, and six children in need of care. The aunts took turns to stay with their bereaved brother-in-law and his family in Staines, near London, but Ann did not take much part in this arrangement. Instead, in 1797, she left home to accompany Phoebe Speakman of Pennsylvania on her travels in the ministry throughout England, Scotland and Wales. The journey covered 4000 miles and took nearly two years, leaving Ann ill and exhausted.

In the next few years Ann continued to travel extensively, but eventually her health broke down and she was forced to remain at home for three years. In 1810 Ann went with Priscilla Hannah Gurney, who she had travelled with before, to Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, but her health was still in a very feeble state and she was confined to home again on her return, although this gave her the opportunity to nurse her younger sister Rebecca in her last illness until she died in 1814. 
View of Hastings in 1814

After travelling in the ministry again in 1815 and 1816 Ann was taken ill once more and again spent some time at home. In 1818 both Ann and her youngest sister Martha became dangerously ill and as they slowy recovered their doctors recommended warm baths and sea air for both of them. They went together to Hastings for some months which seemed to have a good effect. 

On her return Ann was never strong enough to travel in the ministry away from home again, although she attended local meetings when she could and was faithful to what she called her ‘little testimony’. Her health was very bad and she suffered much pain. During the last few weeks of her life her breathing was affected and she found speech difficult, so it was felt as a relief to herself, her family and friends when, after extreme suffering, she died on April 10th 1826 aged 60.

The two themes of Ann Crowley's life were family and ministry, but it was clear to her and to those around her that her religious calling always came first and that this was 'in right ordering'.

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