Introduction to the Letters of Eliza Fenwick and Mary Hays

Eliza Fenwick's 84 surviving letters to Mary Hays begin in 1798. Most were published by A. F. Wedd in The Fate of the Fenwicks in 1927, but nearly all the material in the letters relating to Mary Hays and her family members in London was unfortunately excised by Wedd, effectively burying for nearly a century important biographical information on Hays. During the first decade of the 19th century, Fenwick moves from London to Penzance to Ireland and back, always enmeshed in financial difficulties caused by John Fenwick's alcoholism and inability to find steady and productive work. In 1812 Fenwick moves from London to Ireland once again, this time serving as a governess to the Honner family near Cork. In 1814 she joins her daughter Eliza, her husband William Rutherford, and their young child in their home in Barbados, where Fenwick begins a new life directing a day and boarding school for daughters of wealthy West Indian families. Fenwick's correspondence continues until near the end of the 1820s, at which time she was living and operating a rooming house in New York City prior to her removal to Upper Canada (what would soon become Toronto) and eventually to Providence, Rhode Island, where she died in 1840. Hays's contact with Fenwick appears to end in 1828, most likely by Fenwick's own choice, for Hays and others would make efforts to find her into the mid-1830s but to no avail.

The letters that passed between Fenwick and Hays between 1798 and 1828 and Eliza Ann Fenwick to her mother after her departure to Barbados in 1811, along with other materials, including letters by Fenwick to her friends, the Moffats in New York City, can be found in the Fenwick Family Papers, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library, New York City. These letters formed the basis of A. F. Wedd's Fate of the Fenwicks in 1927, and were eventually returned to surviving members of Fenwick's family in America after Wedd's publication. A complete set of these letters with notes, along with other letters by John and Eliza Fenwick, see Fenwick-Hays Letters at For a biographical account of Fenwick, see Isobel Grundy's "Introduction" to her edition of Fenwick's Secresy (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1998), 7-35. The first complete biography of Fenwick is forthcoming by Lissa Paul, Eliza Fenwick: Early Modern Feminist (University of Delaware Press, 2019); see also Lissa Paul, "A Place to Call Home: Journeys of Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840)." Book 2.0 8, 1 & 2 (Fall 2018), 35-47. See also John Lenton, John Wesley’s Preachers: a Social and Statistical Analysis of the British and Irish Preachers who Entered the Methodist Itinerancy before 1791 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 342.