Bennis, Elizabeth ('Eliza', née Patten)

Born into a Presbyterian family in Limerick, she was influenced in her early teens by Alleine's Alarm to the Unconverted. One of Wesley's earliest women helpers in Ireland, she was the wife of Michael Bennis, Master of the Corporation of Sadlers in Limerick. Influenced by hearing a sermon by Robert Swindells, the first WM preacher to visit Limerick, on St. Patrick's Day, 1749, she was actively involved in the growth of Irish Methodism, notably in Limerick and Waterford, and acted as spiritual adviser to many. She coreresponded with John Wesley between 1763 and 1776 and kept him informed of Irish developments. In 1769 her appeal to the Conference for a preacher to be stationed in Limerick was successful. She upheld many dispirited missionaries by her sound and independent advice; notably John Stretton, a layman converted through her in Waterford and whom she nurtured spiritually and intellectually after he moved to Newfoundland. Late in life, following her husband's death and the failure of his business, she emigrated to Philadelphia with her son Thomas (1756-1812), who published her correspondence after her death. She died in June 1802. Three volumes of her spiritual journal have come to light in recent years and are now in print.

  • John Wesley, Letters
  • Elizabeth Bennis, Christian Correspondence (Philadelphia, 1809)
  • C.H. Crookshank, Memorable Women of Irish Methodism in the Last Century (1882) pp.20-30
  • Dudley Levistone Cooney, 'The Bennis Family of Limerick and Philadelphia', in WHS (Irish Branch) Proceedings 11 (2005/06) pp.18-27
  • Rosemary Raughter (ed.), The Journal of Elizabeth Bennis, 1749-1779 (Blackrock, Co. Dublin, 2007)
  • Oxford DNB

Entry written by: RPR
Category: Person
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