Thursday, September 12, 2019

Minister Charity Wright Cook, September 13, 2019

A person travels the world over
in search of what they need, 
and returns home to find it.
~George Moore

In recent posts I have written about a cluster of 6 ministers in our family tree from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The last in this cluster of 6 was Charity Wright Cook (1745-1822). She was born on the American frontier in a Quaker settlement Feb 13, 1745 near what is today Frederick, Maryland. She was the 7th child of two Quaker ministers, John Wright and Rachel Wells Wright, and the grandchild of Quaker minister James Wright. We are related to her through my GG Grandmother Malinda Wright Davis (1846-1920).

Charity was from a devout Quaker family where she learned about faith, the community of believers and the need to spread the good news to all the world. One has to admire her grandparents James and Mary Wright. How do you explain six members of their family becoming life long ministers? James was a minister, as were two of their children, and a daughter-in-law, plus two of their grandchildren. James and Mary obviously did an extraordinary job of creating a family atmosphere of love, devotion and fidelity to the cause of the faith. It was a family culture that bore great rewards. This cluster of 6 ministers from one family deserves celebrating today. They are part of the reason we are the family we have become all these years later.


Here's Charity's story: As a young child, her family moved to North Carolina to help settle a new Quaker community at Cane Creek, west of Chapel Hill. When 15 years old her family moved again to help settle yet another Quaker community in Bush River, Newberry County, South Carolina. There, at just 16 years old, she married Isaac Cook, with whom she shared 58 years of married life, and had 11 children.

Drawing of a Quaker woman preacher 
in 18th Century America. Nearly a third of all 
Quaker ministers were women at this time.
Charity was a very gifted, personable, and faithful individual. In the first 10 years of her married life she bore 5 of their 11 children, she became a leader in the local Quaker community, she learned how to read and write (not all children were taught to do so), and she was accepted into the ministry of the Quakers. During the Revolutionary War, Charity began her ministerial career as an itinerant preacher, visiting Quaker communities to encourage, support, inspire, sometimes challenge, and always build up the fellowship. Over the ensuing 44 years she made 25 religious journeys, being away from home for nearly 8 total years. Her husband Isaac Cook was the perfect stay at home dad, who supported her ministry, managed their family farm, and oversaw the care of their children during her many absences.

A Woman of Strength and Fortitude. Charity was supported financially on her journeys by her own resources, her local faith community, as well as the larger Quaker fellowship. She was well received wherever she went. She crisscrossed the United States visiting every region where Quakers were established, which included every state in the Union at that time. Through the 1770s, 80s and 90s this inspired woman from the backcountry of the American frontier made a name for herself among Quakers everywhere. Charity clearly had an uncanny ability to relate to people in all walks of life. She hobnobbed with the Pennsylvania Quaker elite and rubbed shoulders with less sophisticated folks on the frontier. Her normal travel pattern was to have a female partner, plus two men appointed to chaperone them. On a few of her journeys she traveled with her sister, Quaker minister Susannah Wright Hollingsworth.

As the 18th century drew near to a close, Charity had 20 years experience in religious travels, and had become one of the best known itinerant preachers of her time. The hardships she encountered on her journeys are hard for us to appreciate: rough roads, severe weather, marauding Indians, slow arduous travel, the Revolutionary War, emotional struggles, longing for home, saddle soreness, separation from family and friends, illness and much more. But Charity was up to the task. She was not just a gifted minister, she was a woman of spiritual strength and physical stamina. She had an unwavering call from God that kept her on the move accomplishing great things as the years went by.

The USS Severn, the ship on which Charity Wright Cook 
sailed to England in December, 1797.
A Dream Journey. In October, 1797, her "dream journey" began when she sailed on the USS Severn from New York Harbor for Liverpool, England. For four eventful years she traveled across Europe, visiting Quaker communities throughout England, Germany and Ireland. She preached and visited and challenged and exhorted her fellow believers across the Atlantic. She spent many hours in people's homes providing pastoral care and spiritual guidance. Charity created a bond that lifted their spirits and nurtured her soul. It was a trip of a life time that took its toll on her. In Dublin, Ireland, November, 1799 she developed small pox which almost took her life. She was down for several weeks before getting back on the road. It was nonetheless the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of her life. She returned to the U.S. in December, 1801 and immediately made her way home to Bush River, South Carolina for a happy reunion with her husband and 11 children, from whom she had been separated for 5 years.

She arrived while the family was in worship. Her husband Isaac was on the preachers and elders bench on the men's side of the church. Charity crept in and sat on the preachers bench on the women's side of the church. When Isaac heard his wife praying, he suddenly recognized her voice. In an act that shattered protocol, he jumped up and ran to the women's side of the church. Right there in front of God and everybody he gave a big kiss to his wife whom he had not seen in several years. He received some stiff criticism from a few in attendance. But he would have none of it. It was a moment he had been anticipating for a long time, and nothing would stop him.

Pipe Smoking Women. Charity was a vibrant, outgoing person who loved life. Among her personal habits was smoking a pipe, which was not uncommon for women in early America. My GG Grandmother Margaret Williams Spear (1845-1904), who lived a century after Charity, was also known to be a pipe smoker. Among Quakers tobacco use was allowed, if done "privately and moderately." Charity, however was known to smoke her pipe in public which caused quite a stir among some.

A story is told about Charity having a dream one night. She dreamed she died and stood at the pearly gates ready to enter heaven. The gatekeeper looked in the Book of Life and said her name was not there. "But it must be there," she protested. The gatekeeper checked again. "You are not listed," he had to tell her. "Please," she insisted, "Check one more time. There must be some mistake." So he went back and checked one last time. He returned and said, "I found your name at last. I couldn't see it the other times I looked because it was obscured by all the tobacco smoke." As a result of this dream Charity gave up smoking her pipe.

Exodus to Western Ohio. After getting readjusted to life with her family, Charity spent another four years making religious visits, but closer to home in South Carolina. In 1805 Charity and Isaac and their family joined others in the mass migration that saw nearly all the Quakers leave Newberry and relocate on the Western frontier. As I mentioned in my last post, an apocalyptic preacher named Zachary Dicks proclaimed impending doom for the Quakers in South Carolina and was taken quite seriously. As a result Charity and Isaac Cook and their family were part of the 500 mile exodus to Western Ohio.

Caesar's Creek Friends Burial Ground in Ohio
where Charity Wright Cook is buried.
The last 17 years of Charity's life were spent as part of the Caesar's Creek Monthly Meeting, in Warren County, Ohio northeast of Cincinnati. Even there, late in life, she continued her work of traveling to visit and support Quaker communities in the larger region. She made her last religious journey at 75 years old. Her son Joseph was so concerned he insisted on accompanying her on this, her 25th and final trip. After 44 years in active ministry she finally retired ending a remarkable career. Two years later she died at Caesar's Creek, Ohio, a few days short of her 77th birthday, and is buried at Caesar's Creek Friends Burial Ground.

A History of Remarkable Ministers. This summer I have written about a total of 12 ministers I have identified in our family tree. Of all those ministers, Charity stands out as one of the most remarkable. Her dedication to the faith, her energy in serving, her stamina through many trials, her ability to balance career and family, her inspired and vibrant personality -- it all adds up to an amazing life well lived. We have a wonderful history of remarkable ministers in our family tree. They have contributed to the spiritual strength that our family exhibits even today.

Though Charity Wright Cook lived long ago, we have extensive information about her from several sources, including her biography written in 1981 by Quaker author Algie Newlin. Titled Charity Wright Cook: A Liberated Woman, it is a valuable source that I used extensively in writing this post.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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