Mary Barritt (Taft) (1772 –1851)
Mary was born in 1772 near Mount Pleasant on the hillside between Barnoldswick and Colne. She had a strong personality and an inflexible will. At the age of twenty-two Mary heard John Wesley preach which resulted in her joining the Methodists. Her father did not approve and after many failed attempts to get her to change her mind he stated that she must leave the Methodists or leave his house. Mary chose to leave her home and she was homeless until she married Zechariah Taft in 1802.
Mary had a deep Christian commitment from which she never wavered. Like her older brother of 16 years, John Barritt, who she admired greatly, she joined the Colne Methodist Society. After leading prayers at class meetings and other activities, Mary began to preach and it is said that ‘she preached with masculine eloquence and womanly tenderness’. Many people didn’t agree that women should be allowed to preach so when a new minister arrived in the Colne Circuit, Lancelot Harrison and began denouncing women preachers, William Sagar, a Colne Methodist stalwart (whose son later married into the Barritt family) responded with ‘It is at peril of your soul that you meddle with Mary Barritt; God is with her and fruit is appearing wherever she goes’. Her husband Zechariah not only encouraged Mary personally, but he was one of the strongest advocates of women preachers, at a time when the Wesleyan Conference was making annual pronouncements against women preachers. He wrote many pamphlets and books in their support.
It was quite an honour for Mary to be asked to preach before the Methodist Conference. At the end of the sermon Dr Adam Clarke said ‘Well done Mary, go on with your preaching and the Lord will own and bless your efforts’. In 1801 John Gaulter wrote a letter stating ‘We have had the Reverend Mary Barritt here: and, as usual, a mighty stir! And, consequently, a number of professions of conversion: and, as you may believe, we are neither worse nor better for it’. Four years earlier when Mary was preaching in York it began to rain heavily so she prayed for the rain to cease and it did so.
Mary preached in Colne, Burnley and wider and she played a major part in converting local people to Methodists. On March 15th 1801, and again two weeks later, Mary took part in the services of a great revival, in which she says that above fifty members were added to the society in Burnley in two days. In 1805 Zechariah was appointed the minister in Burnley. In August 1805 Mary wrote in her autobiographical ‘ We arrived safely at Burnley, in the Colne Circuit, ………………… I felt greatly favoured in being stationed among my old friends and in my native county;’.
Mary’s evangelism was no mere revivalism. She always demonstrated her sheer physical courage and endurance, preaching in a variety of places e.g. barns, dye houses, town halls etc. Like Wesley she followed up her converts with meticulous care and saw that they were established in classes and integrated them into the life of the Society. It is significant that several of her converts became travelling preachers and missionaries, and many became local preachers. Mary’s favourite text was heavily underlined in her pocket Bible ‘ You are not your own; you were bought with a price; wherefore glorify God’.
‘Throughout her long preaching career’ wrote Wesley F Swift, ‘Mary Barritt (Taft) was frequently the object of criticism and sometimes abuse. But her sense of call never left her, and whatever may have been the Methodist legality or otherwise of her activities the fact remains that her ministry was responsible for the conversion of hundreds, if not thousands’.
History of Wesleyan Methodism in Burnley and East Lancashire by B Moore JP.
This Remarkable Family - A study of the Barritts of Foulridge by Edwin Thompson June 1981