21 July 1791

The Birmingham riots lasted from 14 July to 17 July [for a comment on Alcester, see Wykes, “‘The Spirit of Persecutors exemplified’: The Priestley Riots and the victims of the Church and King mobs,” Transactions of the Unitarian Society 20 (1991), p. 19: “It was also reported that Ragley Hall near Alcester was in danger because Lord Beauchamp was believed to be a friend of Priestley, though another account gave Beauchamp’s previous support for the repeal of the Test Act as the reason”]. According to the description and history of Birmingham in the Universal British Directory (vol. 2, p. 206), no mention is made of the attack on Harwood’s house or the Cannon Street chapel, but mention is made of the destruction of Priestley’s home, the Old and New Meetings (the two Presbyterian meeting houses), as well as the homes of John Ryland, Mr. Hutton, George Humphreys, William Russell, John Taylor, and a Mr. Hanks of Mosely. The account closes with these words: “Not a house but what belonged to dissenters was pulled down.”

E. Hopkins in Alcester to Revd S[amuel] Pearce, at “Mr Pearces Goldsmith,” Plymouth, dated July 21, 1791 [Mrs. Hopkins also adds “Mrs P” on the address section, as the postscript is clearly addressed to her; postmarked “Alcester,” but with no date]:

Alcester July 21st 1791

I am very sorry that my dear Mrs Pearces Letter did not reach us time enough to return an Answer to Bristol & regret that your Fears have been so much awakened, before we knew this we were congratulating you & ourselves that you were absent from such a scene of Confusion & Devastation, we did not hear till the Alarm was nearly over that your House had been in the least Danger, so that it was not in our Power to devise Means for the Security of your Property but we have been inform’d that Mr. Porter & some other Friends were so kind as to take every necessary Precaution to remove what was thought proper of your Furniture & interfere to preserve the House from the Cruel Depredators which threatened its Destruction you may now make yourselves quite easy suspecting it as the tumult is appeased & every Exertion made for the future Peace & Security of the Town & its Invirons---but the Broach that has been made must excite Simpathy & Regret in every benevolent Mind & the Sincerest Commiseration for those who have suffer’d so unjustly---you must excuse my entering upon the detail of Circumstances as I am by no means equal to it---our dr Frd Mr Harwood has suffered much and we can’t but feel deeply interested in the Distresses of one so deservedly distinguished in the Number of our Friends. You have I suppose heard they were obliged to quit their Habitation & leave it to the Merciless Rage of an incensed & cruel Mob who endeavor’d to make the Desolation more terrible but by the Exertions of the Servants they were prevented from destroying the Barn Stable & Ricks of Hay to which they did fire several Times but it was happily distinguished [she probably means “extinguished”] by those whose Efforts will I trust be rewarded. It is almost impossible for Imagination to Picture a Scene so awful & distressing as that in which our good Friends were involved last Sabbath day instead of going as usual to the Sanctuary of God to worship him whom they delight to serve they were witness to the Destruction of their House & Property by devouring Flame they left it on Saturday & went to Miss Turners[1] but were alarmed very early on Sunday Morng---when they removed all the Furniture they could but I fear they will find much of it wanting when Time & Leisure afford them Opportunity to examine what they have secured as soon as possible our good Friends with the three little Girls set out for B[irmingham] north after sending the 2 little Boys to the school they intended them to go to after the Holidays.

We hear Mr H. was remarkably supported & enjoy’d in his own Mind a Calm superior to every Expectation this should teach us the utility of Religion in the Hour of Distress nothing else surely could have had an equal Influence in alleviating the Mind under such Circumstances as h[e] is incapable of affording any Assistance to himself or Family he must have sunk but for the Aid of Divine Power & Goodness---but I know I need not expatiate on the necessity or superiority of the Comforts of Religion at all Seasons to you---you are convinced of this Truth & I trust feel its habitual Influence on your Mind to heighten every Pleasure as well as allay every Pain.

You have my best Wishes that you may now be pursuing your Journey under the most happy Auspices that it will terminate to your Satisfaction I shall rejoice to hear that your fears are Calm’d & that the Anxiety you have lately felt is succeeded by Pleasures increased by the warmest Gratitude for an Exemption & Preservation from Distresses in which we but for the divine Protection might have been involved we were alarm’d Sabbathday Eveng with various Reports of their coming hither & threatening to burn the Pres- Meeting House & Mr Ebertons---but happily their Designs (if they had such) were prevented & we are now quite at ease respecting it. Your Dr Father has been wishing to go to Birmingham this week to examine particularly into the state of things but could not wth Comfort do it my own Situation prevents my urging it as his Absence would be peculiarly painful & as there is no necessity for it hope you will not think it owing to Neglect or Inattention to your Interest was his Presence needed I would by no means hinder him. I am happy to say we are all well but feel an anxious Impatience to hear from you which we hope you will soon relieve. You & Mr P. will I hope accept our united Love & best wishes & be assur’d I am with sincere & affectonate Friendship


E Hopkins

You will I hope excuse haste & errors---as I wish to write another Letter this morng your Sister is hurt at not hearing from you

Text: Pearce Family Collection, F. P. C. D55, Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford.

Possibly a daughter of the Rev. JamesTurner, who pastored the Baptist meeting at Cannon Street in Birmingham from 1755 until his death in 1780.