Scope and Content

From John Thornton in Clapham to John Fletcher at Mrs [Elizabeth] Johnson's house near St James' Church, Barton, Bristol. He is very grateful for Fletcher's kind favours of 25 January and 24th inst. - the latter being about the King's business required immediate action and Thornton endeavoured to 'expedite matters as much as possible'. Reference is made to the books being forwarded. Dr [Isaac] Watt's little "Songs for Children" is a very fine and valuable composition - Thornton is pleased that Fletcher had such a demand for them. He hopes that Fletcher will like Thornton's "pilgrim", which is just completed. He can send some if Fletcher likes. Spiritual matters are discussed, with particular reference to the need for tolerance and forbearance in the face of differences in religious opinion.

'I agree with you that a good spelling book is much wanted, but I have no interest with the society to forward such a publication and my appearing for it could I think retard than forward such a publication. I am a speckled bird and my demands are so considerable for books that they would expel me if they could consistently do it.'

He has directed this letter via dear Mrs Johnson's - may the Lord raise up many such. 'I have, I trust, one near me of these widows indeed, but all I can say wont picture her so well as a transcript from a letter I received from her yesterday. She lives only about 2 miles from here and teaches a school - "Sir ... give me leave to relate to you in a few instances the loving kindness of my Covenant God - to his poor dust in his providential care ...' Spiritual matters are discussed in detail, with regard to the spiritual journey of Thornton's unnamed female correspondent against the background of a sick husband, declining business and little money. She provides several examples of the Lord's care, such as finding a handkerchief in her shop with a guinea tied in one corner.

This poor woman moved to her present residence with her son at the desire of her only relative, 'who had both the will and power to support her in the decline of life, and as she wrote in a former letter: 'it pleased God about 2 years since to call her home before she had prenticed my son or made any reserve for him or me, left me destitute of anything but what real religion affords to support myself or son. By a collection he was apprenticed, I am, if spared, to find him in clothes all his apprenticeship, but when I look back and see how it has been accomplished that he has not wanted clothes, nor his poor mother, sustenance, I am filled with wonder, love and praise ...'

Thornton is enclosing £20 to assist the poor in Fletcher's vicinity in this time of great sickness, as Fletcher sees fit.



  • Elizabeth Johnson (1720-98) was the daughter of a West India Merchant resident in Bristol. Disinherited by her father when she joined the Methodists, she lived on an annuity bequeathed to her by her uncle. Johnson was described by the Wesleyan minister John Valton as one of the three most pious women in Methodism. Her home in Hilgrove Street was a centre of the movement in the city of Bristol and she was a described by John Wesley as 'deep in grace, and lives like an angel here below'. Johnson was one of the conservative wing of Methodism opposed to separation from the Church of England. Her memoir was published in 1799 as An Account of Mrs Elizabeth Johnson. Source: A Biographical Dictionary of 18th century Methodism by Samuel Rogal (Edwin Mellen Press 1997)
  • John Thornton (1720-90) was a wealthy philanthropist and supporter of the early evangelicals. Thornton inherited a substantial fortune that he increased through wise investment. He was very frugal in his personal life and gave away between £2000 and £3000 per year to good causes. He was particularly noted for buying church livings in order to appoint deserving clergymen. He presented John Newton to the parish of St Mary Woolnoth and was a generous friend of the poet William Cowper. His son Henry was a close friend and political ally of William Wilberforce. Source: Dictionary of National Biography