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.
It is customary when a member of the Religious Society of Friends moves from one meeting to another, for the receiving meeting to investigate the Friend’s conduct before accepting them into the meeting. This is done via certificate of removal, produced by the meeting of origin. The certificate of removal provided by Chadwick Monthly Meeting for Falmouth Monthly Meeting in 1772 provides us with considerable insight into how highly thought of Catherine Phillips was, and the extent to which her ministry was valued:
To Friends of the Monthly Meeting of Falmouth and Quarterly Meeting of Cornwall.
As our Much Esteemed Friend Catherine Phillips is by Marriage removed to you.
From an Abundant affection we find our Minds engaged to send this short Testimonial respecting her Viz.
We are convinced beyond a doubt of her being rightly called to the Ministry, and that she also hath been a diligent and faithful labourer in the gift wherewith it hath pleased Divine wisdom to endow her in the exercise whereof she hath been often abilitated, awfully, powerfully, and wonderfully, to declare, of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
To the humbling our hearts and contriting our Spirits before him.
Her many Travils and perils for the spreading of Truth and promotion of holiness, her tender watching for good and reproving for Evil, her Examplary Life and conversation together with that cogency, perspicuity and love wherewith she endeavoured to perswade mankind to walk in the footsteps of the flocks of the companions of Christ, and endeareth her to Us.
May the sweet Sweet refreshing seasons, in which the Father & fountain of all our mercies hath favoured us to rejoice with her ever remain recent with Us and excite fervent aspiration unto that rectitude of Soul which will in time be productive of peace, and opese admittance into the glorious regions of endless Felicity.
Earnestly desiring Divine goodness the only sure help, the rock of ages, and foundation of all righteous generations may preserve her blameless and harmless and continue her an honourable Instrument in his Church.
Believing your Christian care and assistance will not be wanting in such future services she may in the ordering of Providence be appointed to. In Gospel love we greet and bid you farewell.
Signed on behalf of the Chadwick Monthly Meeting held at Stourbridge in Worcestershire the 21st of the 12 Month 1772 […]
The health of Catherine Phillips worsened after her husband’s death and she died in 1794. She was buried at Come-to-Good Friends burial ground. Her Memoirs were published by her step-son, James Phillips.
Eleanor, Project Archivist