Elizabeth Ash Hopkins

The two letters by Elizabeth Ash Hopkins transcribed below mention John Harwood (d. 1792). Harwood was originally from London and was a member at the Baptist congregation meeting at Grafton Street, where he was received as a member on 17 November 1767 (see Grafton Street Church Book, 1766-1774, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, f. 41). Harwood moved to Birmingham in 1778 and soon became a deacon at Cannon Street. Like Mr. Hopkins, he too was a grocer and chandler, operating a business in High Street at one point in partnership with Thomas King, also a member at Cannon Street and in 1796 the treasurer of the Baptist Missionary Society (see Universal British Directory, vol. 2, p. 222; Pye’s Birmingham Directory for 1791, p. 35.) Harwood’s wife died in 1781. In the late 1780s he lost most of his sight, and at the time of the Priestley Riots in 1791, he lived in a house owned by Mr. William Piddock, in King’s Heath, which he had previously licensed for public worship. Arthur S. Langley, in Birmingham Baptists Past and Present (London: Kingsgate Press, 1939), writes that “From the house of Mr. Hutton the intoxicated crew proceeded to that of Mr. William Piddock, in King’s Heath, inhabited by an inoffensive blind man, John Harwood, a Baptist; and this ended their work on Saturday, the 16th” (130). Harwood would move to Mosely soon after this, where he would reside till his death. Langley says that “he would go, as long as he was able, and invite the villagers, rich and poor, to attend a service at his house as often as he could secure a minister. No doubt, therefore, the Rev. S. Pearce would come. At any rate, we know that some of the villagers were brought to Christ and joined Cannon Street Church, after baptism on a profession of their faith” (Langley 130).

In an obituary which appeared in John Rippon’s Annual Register for 1793, the writer says of Harwood, “As his religion was a matter of choice, so the profession of it he esteemed his honour: he had fortitude to avow and defend it, on every proper occasion, and to reprove sin wherever, and in whomsoever, he discovered it” (vol. 1, p. 495). When he lived at Mosely after the trouble in Birmingham, he had his house licensed again as a place of worship, and from his meetings there two of the villagers were eventually baptized into the church at Cannon-street (1. 495-96). He was generous with his money too, and “by an unwearied liberality he proved that the hand of avarice never receives wealth with more readiness than the hand of christian benevolence dispenses it” (vol. 1, p. 496). A few years before his death he lost the use of his sight, and became generally frail. “Through a tedious illness, he seldom discovered any degree of impatience, and whenever he detected his heart in an unbecoming frame, he would chide himself, and bemoan his imperfections” (vol. 1, p. 496). Although “he was often upbraided by the licentious on the one hand, and the legal on the other, his friends had the satisfaction of seeing him, whilst he rejoiced in sovereign mercy, by a life of scriptural obedience, put to silence the reproaches of ungodly men. His faith was such as purifies the heart, and works by love” (vol. 1, p. 496). According to a letter in the Isaac Mann Collection, No. 47, dated 27 May 1792, from Pearce in Birmingham to the Baptist Association at Upton-on-Severn, he notes that John Harwood has recently died (incorrectly spelled “Hanwood” by the editors of the “Calendar of Letters, 1742-1831, collected by Isaac Mann,” Baptist Quarterly 6 [1932-33], 181). He also reveals that less than a year after the Riots he was still very much into the politics of reform, praising “the wonderful events of the age,” and declaring that all those interested in Zion’s welfare will rejoice “that these things are bringing about universal liberty, universal righteousness and universal peace.” See also Alfred Fairfax Morgan, Kith and Kin. [The History of the Morgan Family] (Birmingham: Charles Cooper, 1896).

For more on the life of Elizabeth Ash Hopkins, click here for her entry in the Biographical Summaries.