Chapter 19 » 19.05
A gathered people
During the next three or four years, George Fox travelled through the East Midlands and the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire and encountered religious groups of several kinds. In one group at Mansfield he met the former Baptist preacher Elizabeth Hooton (1600?–1672): ‘a tender people and a very tender woman’, he wrote later in his Journal. She was among his first ‘convincements’ and was the first woman to play a prominent part in the movement, suffering much in the Quaker cause, both in Britain and overseas. (A part of his testimony concerning her is to be found at 18.02.)
Elsewhere, George Fox met others who would prove to be significant. Late in 1651 William Dewsbury (1621–1688) described his own spiritual state as follows:
About the time when I was eight years of age, of my natural birth, the Word of the Lord came unto me. ‘I created thee for my glory, an account thou must give to Me for all thy words and actions done in the body’, which word enlightened my heart and opened the book of conscience in me… Then I ceased from my vain conversation … and began to read the Scriptures and books, and mourn and pray to a God I knew not where he was… They said he was above the skies, calling it Heaven, but I felt the hand of the Lord within me, executing justice upon the wicked in me, and what way ever I turned to seek him in observations, thither the flaming sword turned … to keep the way of the tree of life and executed the righteous justice of God upon me.
Then it pleased the Lord to order my friends to put me to keep the sheep, where I was retired from company, so my mind was kept in my mournful estate, where my great ease was in mourning to a God I knew not… [But] I could find no peace in that worship of God the world hath set up, as in receiving the bread and wine, which they told me was the seals of the covenant… Then I durst join no more in their practice in singing David’s conditions, which they called Psalms, for the light in my conscience let me see the evil of my heart, that I was not in David’s condition.
There was much speaking of God, but I met with none that could tell me what God had done for their souls, in redeeming them from the body of sin which I groaned under, and [which] separated me from the presence of God.