While cataloguing the Central England Area Meeting archives, it has been fascinating to see how individuals referred to in the records pop up in other collections we hold (see Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project leaflet for a list of other Quaker collections). One such example relates to Catherine Payton Phillips (16 March 1727 – 16 August 1794), a Quaker minister and writer. She also campaigned for greater representation of women within the formal structure of the Religious Society of Friends, which eventually resulted in the establishment of Women’s Yearly Meeting in 1784.
Born in Dudley, Catherine first ministered at Dudley Preparative Meeting at the age of 22, and went on to preach throughout the country as well as in Ireland, Holland and America. Many of these journeys were recorded in the minute books of Chadwick Monthly Meeting when she applied for a liberation certificate to travel in ministry (see image above) and on her homecoming when she returned her certificate to the Monthly Meeting (see image below), with entries being made for several visits to Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, London, Yorkshire, Westmoreland, the west of England, the northern counties, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
The first time she travelled in ministry was in 1749 when she went to Wales, where she met her future husband William Phillips, a widower who worked in the Cornish copper mining industry as an agent. However, her sense of calling to ministry led her to reject any contact with him and it was not until 1772 that they married at Bewdley, Worcestershire. After their marriage, she moved to Redruth, where he lived and from where she continued to travel and minister.
The industrialist, Matthew Boulton (3 September 1728 – 17 August 1809), who spent a good deal of time in Cornwall as many of the Boulton and Watt steam engines were used in the copper mining industry, was friends with William and Catherine. After his wife’s death in 1783, Boulton wrote a number of letters to his daughter Anne when he was away on business, which are preserved in the Matthew Boulton and family papers (MS 3782). His letter of 17 August 1785 written in Chacewater describes a very large Quaker meeting at Truro, which he attended and where he heard Catherine preach:
Thou mayst remember I told thee in my last [letter] that there was to be a great meeting of Quakers at Truro, and a great meeting it was. Our Neighbour Dearman & his Wife were there, & many others that I knew from London, Bristol & Worcester. I did not go to the meeting till third day, when I heard our friend Catherine Phillips Preach with great energy & good sence for one hour & a half: although so weak in Body that she was obliged to lye upon the Bed for several Preceeding days, except at those hours she came to the meeting. Her worthy & good humour[e]d Husband sat faceing her, & I presume admired her very much. Continue reading