Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815)
Mary Bosanquet was born in Leytonstone, Essex, the daughter of a wealthy banker of Huguenot extraction. She was converted at an early age under the influence of one of the family servants. Her evangelical leanings caused a partial alienation from her family and at the age of 22 Mary left home. She lived for a while in London where she joined the Methodists.
In 1762 she moved back to her own house in Leytonstone where she founded a Christian community cum orphanage and school with Sarah Crosby and Sarah Ryan. Mary's detailed account of the running of the community is contained in A Letter to Mr John Wesley by "A Gentlewoman" published in 1764.
After experiencing financial difficulties, the community moved to Cross Hall in Yorkshire where John Wesley was a frequent visitor. Mary was accustomed to 'exhort and to read and expound the scriptures' and by 1771, with Wesley's reluctant approval, she had begun to preach, one of the first Methodist women to do so.
On 12 November 1781 she married the famous Anglican evangelical John Fletcher. From then until her husband's death four years later, the couple pursued a virtually joint ministry in Fletcher's parish of Madeley in Shropshire. Mary converted the tithe barn to use as a Methodist chapel and preached there regularly in addition to acting as a class leader.
Mary continued her ministry after Fletcher's death. She was allowed by the new Anglican Rector to remain at the Vicarage and to choose the curate who was to have charge of the parish. Her status as the most revered woman in Methodism shielded her to some degree from attempts by the leadership of the Church to minimise the role of women. With her long-time companion and confidant Mary Tooth, she maintained an extensive correspondence with Methodists of both sexes and was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the younger generation of female Methodists like Mary Taft.
After her death from cancer in December 1815, Mary was made the subject of a biography by the prominent Wesleyan minister Henry Moore and was also eulogised by Zachariah Taft in his important work Biographical Sketches of…Holy Women.
John Fletcher (1729-1785)
Fletcher was born in Nyon, Switzerland, the youngest of eight children. He studied classics at Geneva and after a short-lived attempt at a career in the military, arrived in England in 1750. He worked as a tutor to the two sons of Sir Thomas Hill of Shropshire and became involved with Methodism, coming to the attention of the Wesleys at a very early stage. Fletcher was converted in the winter of 1753-4 and took Anglican Orders three years later.
Fletcher became the Vicar of Madeley in Shropshire in 1760, much to the disappointment of John Wesley who had hoped that he would join the Methodist itinerancy. In addition to conducting a model parish ministry, Fletcher maintained his links with the evangelical movement. He was appointed one of the chaplains of the Countess of Huntingdon and acted for a time as President of her ministerial training college at Trefecca.
The Wesleys held Fletcher in very high regard. As early as 1761 it was proposed that he become their designated successor as leader of the Methodist movement and this remained John Wesley's hope, periodically expressed, until Fletcher's early death. Physically fragile and of a retiring nature, Fletcher himself was very reluctant to commit himself to a prominent role, although in his later years he did show more inclination to travel in support of the Methodists.
As a parish priest and pastor, Fletcher was regarded as a role model. The purity of his character and devotion to his parishioners overcame early suspicion of his high Christian standards. He introduced informal worship on Methodist lines but centred around complete devotion to the Church of England. He helped to found day schools and Sunday schools and was tireless in visiting the sick and needy. From 1781 his ministry was shared with his wife the famous woman preacher Mary Bosanquet and she continued the work after his death.
Fletcher's most enduring legacy has been in his interpretation of theology. He took the views of John and Charles Wesley and presented them in a systematic form which has had a lasting effect on Methodist doctrine. His arguments regarding Christian perfection and the baptism of the Spirit have been very influential in the development of holiness theology particularly in the American Pentecostal movement.
Mary Tooth (1777-1843)
Virtually nothing is known of the life of Mary Tooth before she moved to Madeley as Mary Bosanquet-FIetcher's companion. Based on the evidence of correspondence within the collection, this move took place in about 1809. There is also in existence a letter of 1798 addressed to Miss Tooth at a boarding school at Shiffnall in Shropshire. The contents of the letter indicate that she was already very concerned with spiritual matters. As she had at least one sister also living in Madeley, it may be assumed that the family were native to Shropshire. It is hoped that more details will emerge as the collection is catalogued.
Mary Tooth was the last of Bosanquet-FIetcher's live-in companions and confidants and also acted as her executrix. She was however very active in Methodist affairs in the Madeley and Bridgnorth area in her own right. After Bosanquet-Fletcher's death in 1815, she continued to correspond widely and was active in promoting the role played by women. Tooth herself was preaching as late as the 1830s and her obituary in the Methodist Magazine states that she was acting as a leader for three classes until a few days before her death on November 15th 1843.