Barritt, Mary (Mrs Taft)

Pioneer WM woman preacher, she came from a farming family, was converted at an early age and became convinced of the importance of communicating her faith to others. Even when her Superintendent threatened to expel her if she persisted in 'exhorting', she felt impelled to 'obey God rather than men'. She received many invitations and travelled extensively throughout northern England, despite much opposition. A number of her converts became itinerant preachers and missionaries and she was credited with the conversion of two future Presidents, Joseph Taylor, jun. and Thomas Jackson. She attended the Conferences in Manchester and Leeds, chiefly to meet itinerants sympathetic to female preaching.

In 1802 she married Zechariah Taft (1772-1848; e.m. 1801), an itinerant very supportive of her work. He encouraged her to preach in spite of the fierce controversy which led to the banning of women preachers by the 1803 Conference. He wrote three pamphlets on the subject and the two-volume Biographical Sketches of Holy Women (1825, 1828). In 1827 Mary published her own account of her work and this, with her subsequent career, shows that she was effectively another itinerant in her husband's circuits.

Zechariah Taft   Click to enlarge


'Various account having reached us here, respecting your good wife's preaching, and M. Benson's interference therewith, from motives altogether friendly to your interest and hers, we shall thank you, while the business is fresh upon your mind, to give us such a statement of it as may be depended upon. Has he thratened to call a District Meeting on the account? Or said anything of that meeeting suspending you till Conference? Have you written to him on the occasion? And what did you reply? Is your and dear Mrs. Taft's mind disturbed and cast down? And what have you resolved to do?'

[Taft added a note to the above letter: 'Answer - All is peace and harmony. Mr.Benson and myself are on the most friendly terms. Strange how false reports are spread abroad.']

(Original at Duke University)

'At the close of an evening service I used to call on the Rev. Zechariah Taft to conclude with prayer, whereupon he invariably nudged his wife, who was always surcharged with "the spirit of grace and of supplication," and she "forth from" her "breast did pour a mighty cry". If ever a daughter of Zion responded to the call, "Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid," it was this Dowager-revivalist of Methodism.'

Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903), p.285
  • M. Taft, Memoirs (1827)
  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1900, pp.63-64
  • Benjamin Gregory, Autobiographical Recollections (1903) pp.274-75
  • Leslie F. Church, More about the Early Methodist Preachers (1949) pp.163-9
  • Paul W. Chilcote, John Wesley and the Women Preachers of Early Methodism (1991)
  • Eric W. Dykes, 'Mary Barritt: the female evangelist from North Lancashire' in WHS North Lancashire Branch Bulletin, 49 (2009) pp.8-14
  • John H. Lenton, 'Mary Barritt Taft: A successful female revivalist?' in W.H.S. Proceedings, Vol. 62 part 1, February 2019, pp.15-34