Her Life

Despite being the most published woman writer of the eighteenth century (she may have out-published all male writers as well), Anne Dutton remains virtually unknown outside a small circle of Baptist historians and scholars, especially those interested in women who were active in the Evangelical Revival in England, Scotland, Wales, and America in the 1730s and ’40s. 

Anne Williams (her maiden name) was baptized at the All Saints Parish Church in Northampton on December 11, 1692.[1] At some point the Williamses began attending the Independent congregation at Castle Hill during the ministry of John Hunt. Anne was converted at the age of thirteen and joined the congregation two years later in 1707, having become an avid reader of the works of the High Calvinist Independent minister at Cambridge, Joseph Hussey. After Hunt’s departure from Castle Hill in 1708, Anne found the new minister, Thomas Tingey, unsatisfactory in regards to his theology and preaching, and soon made her way to a Baptist congregation led by John Moore that was meeting in a house near what was then known as “the Watering Place.” She joined the congregation in late 1710 and was baptized in 1713, just prior to the congregation’s move to a new chapel in College Lane (later College Street). 

On January 4, 1715, she married Thomas Cattle (Cattel) (b. January 7, 1691), a merchant originally from nearby Harlestone who was also a member at College Street.[2] Anne and her new husband settled shortly thereafter in London. By August 1715 she was attending the Baptist meeting in Curriers’ Hall, Cripplegate, led by John Skepp, a minister who, like Hunt, Hussey, and Moore, was also a High Calvinist. Anne became a transient member on October 1 of that year and officially joined the congregation on March 31, 1718, at which time she gave “a Large & very Choice account of the Work of the Spirit of God on her Soule to the great Joy of the Church.”[3] Anne was received into full communion with the congregation on April 6, 1718. For whatever reason, her husband never joined at Cripplegate. At some point his business took him to Warwick, where she felt that her spiritual situation declined. The Cattles soon returned to London, and not long thereafter her husband died, though no death record has yet surfaced. He must have died during or before the early months of 1719, for she writes in her spiritual autobiography that she returned about that time to Northampton to live with her parents. 

On November 2, 1719, she married Benjamin Brown Dutton (1691-1747) at the All Saints Parish Church in Northampton.[4] Dutton was the son of the Baptist minister at Eversholt, who apprenticed him in his youth to a draper and clothier in Newbury. While there, he was converted, an event that led to his calling to the ministry in 1709. He spent much of the next decade studying under ministers in Buckinghamshire, Westmoreland, Scotland, and London, having relocated to Northampton and the College Street congregation in 1719 upon the death of his father.  During his time in London, Dutton joined the Baptist congregation at Maze Pond on March 12, 1716 (the Church Book records his name as “Benjamin Dunton”). He was later censured by Maze Pond for falling into an unspecified sin (most likely his long-term attraction to alcohol). In January 1721 he applied for a letter of dismission so that he could join at College Street, but a decision by Maze Pond was postponed until June 21, 1722.

After her second marriage, Dutton lived for a time in Northampton and then around 1724 moved to Wellingborough where her husband had joined the Baptist church there under William Grant. For the next several years he ministered in Cambridgeshire (Whittlesey and Wisbech) until Anne's health fored their return to Wellingborough in 1728. While she lived in Wellingborough, he traveled much of the next three years to Arnesby, working under the Baptist church there. In 1731 he began preaching at Great Gransden (once Huntingdonshire but now Cambridgeshire) and a year later accepted the call to be the stated minister there. He sailed for America in 1743, ostensibly to raise funds for a new chapel in Great Gransden but also to promote his wife’s writings. Upon his return to England in 1747, his ship was lost at sea. Though saddened by her loss, Anne remained at Great Gransden and continued to publish.  Prior to her death on 18 November 1765 (it has been incorrectly given as 17 November since George Keith's "Account" of her final days was published in 1769), she was instrumental in the call of Robert Robinson to St. Andrew’s Street in Cambridge in 1759. Robinson wrote an admiring account of his visit with Dutton shortly before her death in a letter to John Robinson of Eriswell on 30 November 1766, now in the Crabb Robinson Correspondence, Dr. Williams’s Library, London. During her lifetime, Dutton published more than sixty titles, with another twenty-five works embedded in those volumes, easily making her the most prolific woman writer of the eighteenth century.

Her Writing Career

Her career spanned more than three decades, a remarkable achievement for any woman writer at that time. Given the sparse amount of remuneration her husband received as pastor at Great Gransden and the loss of at least at portion of that income after his death, Dutton most likely used monies from the sale of her works to supplement her meagre income, qualifying her as an early example of a professional woman writer. She was aided by her connections with a select coterie of dissenting printers and booksellers, which included John Oswald, Ebenezer Gardner, John Hart, John Lewis, Samuel Mason, and George Keith. Hart was Dutton’s sole printer from 1742 through 1762, and Lewis was her primary seller from 1743-54. Lewis corresponded with Dutton in the 1740s and was instrumental in presenting her works to the public and to the followers of Whitefield in England, Wales, Scotland, and America through his work at various times as editor, printer, and seller of The Christian Amusement (1740-41), The Weekly History (1741-42), An Account of the Most Remarkable Particulars relating to the Present Progress of the Gospel (1742-43), and The Christian History (1743-48). For more on Dutton's printers and booksellers, click here

Dutton's writings appeared in nearly 70 volumes during her lifetime, with another 25 separate compositions embedded in those volumes. She published 18 volumes of her letters and several formal discourses, many as formal letters, on important doctrines of Calvinism, such as assurance of salvation, justification, election, adoption, and genuine evangelical piety. A number of her works were polemical in nature, patterned after the thought and style of Calvinistic preachers of the Great Awakening she admired and with whom she corresponded, such as George Whitefield. Dutton’s canon of work encompasses many of the dominant genres popular among religious writers of the eighteenth century: personal diary, spiritual autobiography, hymns, long narrative poems, letters, and formal religious discourse and treatises. She was an ardent opponent of Wesley’s Arminianism.  Among her more popular works are A Narration of the Wonders of Grace, in Verse (1734), Letters on Spiritual Subjects, and Divers Occasions (1747), and A Brief Account of the Gracious Dealings of God with the Late Mrs. Anne Dutton (1750).  For her complete bibliography, click here

Her Bible and Her Church Book

It has long been believed that Anne Dutton bequeathed her personal bible to the Baptist hymn writer and poet, Anne Steele (1717-78) of Broughton, Hampshire. If true, the act would have created a conscious connection between the two Baptist women writers who shared a common heritage as Baptists as well as a “calling” to be writers. Unfortunately, the story is not true. It came to her most likely as gift from John Collins, an antiquarian and book collector from Devizes who joined the Broughton Baptist Church in 1765, the same year Dutton died. He acquired the bible from Dutton or her estate (her library and that of her husband was given to the Great Gransden Church) and at some later date gave it to Steele, who prompt

Anne Dutton was not only the most prolific woman writer of the eighteenth century but, among Baptist women, she was also among the most daring in asserting her right to publish her works for a transatlantic readership among dissenters and evangelicals. Some of her works were even addressed to a particular congregation of believers, such as George Whitefield’s Tabernacle in London or a group of converted enslaved persons on a South Carolina plantation. What is even bolder, however, and unprecedented in Baptist women’s history of the eighteenth century is her act of keeping the church minute book for the Baptist meeting in Great Gransden after the departure of her husband for America in 1743. He drowned upon his return to England in 1747, prompting her to make one of boldest moves, which was to assume her deceased husband’s role as keeper of the church book and, by default, filling his position among the leaders of the congregation at church meetings where matters of business for the congregation and cases of discipline for individual members were examined. At that time in Baptist congregations, women were not allowed in positions of leadership and would never have been allowed to keep and maintain the church book. Anne Dutton broke through that barrier in 1743, demonstrating her determination to continue the sense of shared ministry she brought to Great Gransden with her husband in 1732. She would continue to compose the entries for the book until 1759, having survived three short pastorates during that time before the ministry of Timothy Keymer began in 1755. Surprisingly, Keymer did not make an entry in the book until after 1759, the year following his ordination, which suggests that Dutton kept the book in her possession until that time. For the complete transcript of her unprecedented work as keeper of the Church Book at Great Gransden between 1743 and 1759, click here

Sources for Further Study

For more on Dutton, see John Cudworth Whitebrook, “A Bibliography of Mrs. Anne Dutton,” Notes and Queries (December 1916), 471-73; idem, “The Life and Works of Mrs. Ann Dutton,” Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society 7 (1921), 129-46; idem, Ann Dutton: A Life and Bibliography (London: A. W. Cannon, 1921); H. Wheeler Robinson, The Life and Faith of the Baptists, rev. ed. (London: Kingsgate Press, 1946; orig. ed., 1927), 52-60; and W. T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Kingsgate, 1932), 214–15; Stephen Stein, “Note on Anne Dutton, Eighteenth-Century Evangelical,” Church History 44.4 (December 1975), 485-491; Barbara J. MacHaffie, Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 84-85; JoAnn Ford Watson, “Anne Dutton: An Eighteenth Century British Evangelical Woman Writer,” Ashland Theological Journal 30 (1998), 51-56; idem, Selected Spiritual Writings of Anne Dutton: Eighteenth-Century, British-Baptist, Woman Theologian, 6 vols (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2003-15); Michael A. G. Haykin, “Anne Dutton and Calvinistic Spirituality in the Eighteenth Century,” The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth (July/August 2002), 156-57; Timothy Whelan, “Six Letters of Robert Robinson from Dr. Williams’s Library, London,” Baptist Quarterly 39 (2001-2002), 355-356; Joilynn Karega-Mason, “Anne Dutton: Eighteenth-century Calvinist Theologian,” M.A. thesis, University of Louisville, 2008; Michael D. Sciretti, “‘Feed My Lambs’: The Spiritual Direction Ministry of Calvinistic British Baptist Anne Dutton During the Early Years of the Evangelical Revival,” Ph.D. Diss., Baylor University, 2009; Huafang Xu. “Communion with God and Comfortable Dependence on Him: Anne Dutton’s Trinitarian Spirituality,” Ph.D. Diss., Southern Seminary, Louisville, 2018; Huafang Xu, "Anne Dutton 1692-1765," in The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910, vol. 4, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Terry Wolever (Springfield, MO: Particular Baptists Press, 2018), 104-25. See also Jane Shaw, “Religious Love,” in The History of British Women’s Writing, 1690-1750, ed. Ros Ballaster (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 192-93; Andrew M. Pisano, “Reforming the Literary Black Atlantic: Worshipful Resistance in the Transatlantic World,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 44 (2015), 81-100; and Wendy Raphael Roberts, Awakening Verse: The Poetics of Early American Evangelicalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020), 60-68.


[1] Northamptonshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1532-1812, Northampton, All Saints, Parish Registers, 1559-1722. Thomas Williams was listed as a “gardiner.”

[2]   Northamptonshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1532-1812, Northampton, All Saints, Parish Registers, 1559-1722.

[3]   Curriers’ Hall, Cripplegate, Church Book, 1692-1723, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, fols 93v., 106v. 

[4] Northamptonshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1532-1812, Northampton, St. Sepulchre, Parish Registers, 1566-1723.