ANNE CATOR STEELE
The second wife of William Steele III (1689-1769), Anne Cator Steele was stepmother to the poet Anne Steele (1717-78) and her brother, William Steele IV (1715-85), the latter being the father of the poet Mary Steele (1753-1813). Anne Cator Steele’s marriage produced one daughter, Mary Steele Wakeford (1724-72), another of the poets within the Steele circle. Her husband, a prosperous timber merchant and farmer, succeeded his uncle, Henry Steele (1655-1739), as pastor of the Baptist congregation at Broughton in 1739. The two Steeles were not only ministers but also timber merchants and farmers; by the mid-1700s they were one of the wealthiest families and largest landowners in the Broughton area. Their impressive homes, Broughton House (formerly called ‘Pigeon House’) and Grandfathers, both of which still stand today. Anne Cator Steele began her diary in 1723 and continued it until just before her death in 1760; unfortunately, only three volumes, covering the years 1730-36, 1749-52, and 1753-60, have survived. Nevertheless, these volumes provide an intimate look at the familial, social, and spiritual joys and trials of the wife of a nonconformist minister/farmer/merchant in the West Country of England in the first half of the eighteenth century. In 1758 Anne Cator Steele began to complain of numbness, dizziness, loss of memory, and shortness of breath. She lived to see Theodosia’s Poems arrive at Grandfathers in late November 1759, an achievement that more than vindicated her premonition in 1733 that God might have ‘design’d some work for this his young servant’, Anne Steele. Mrs Steele died on 28 June 1760, aged 71. Jane Attwater would continue Anne Cator Steele’s tradition of diary-keeping and her Calvinist faith, and through her relations, the Whitakers of Bratton, she will pass it on to a circle of women writers that will eventually include Maria Grace Saffery, Anne Whitaker, Jane Saffery Whitaker, and Sophia Williams, linking the Steele and Saffery circles across two centuries of nonconformist life in the West Country. For a biographical sketch of Anne Cator Steele and her surviving correspondence and poetry, along with selections from her diary, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 8 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), pp. 15-74; see also John Broome, A Bruised Reed: The Life and Times of Anne Steele (Harpenden, Herts: Gospel Standard Trust Publications, 2007).
For selections from Anne Cator Steele's diary, click here; for selections from her hymns, click here; for selections from her poetry, click here; for selections from her prose meditations, click here; for selections from her letters, click here.