Hester: The story of Mrs Hester Ann Rogers (Née Roe)

Much has been written recently about Methodist women by Phyllis Mack, Paul Chilcote and Norma Virgoe (e.g. Angels and Impudent Women, 2007). David Avery gives a convincing portrait of one of them, linking her story with a fine local study of his native Macclesfield which became a centre of the Industrial Revolution, Anglican Evangelicalism and Methodism with its factory owners and the labour aristocracy’ which Wesley criticised for their wealth, but used it!

Hester Ann Roe (1756-1794) was the daughter of Rev James Roe, curate of St Michael’s. His brother, Charles Roe, was a leading entrepreneur in the silk and copper industries. He attracted David Simpson to Macclesfield and Christ Church was built for him. His trenchant evangelical preaching deeply influenced the young Hester, but conversion came through Methodism, to her mother’s deep concern. Her religious experience was very much ‘the religion of the heart’ featuring conversion, the joy of assurance and sanctification – perfect love. This made her one of the women who easily related to John Wesley, whom she met in 1776 and then had correspondence with. Her published writings did not criticise Methodism but Avery uses much other material which shows her honesty. There were some ‘crackpots’ in early Methodism!

James Rogers, the Itinerant Methodist Preacher, came to Macclesfield in 1782. His first wife died and very quickly he and Hester married (too quickly some said!). James and Hester ministered then in Ireland at Dublin and Cork, very different from Macclesfield, and then in London at City Road. Hester was to be Wesley’s housekeeper and was present at his death bed in 1791.

Hester’s writings, set out fully here, show the vital part in early Methodism of ‘Class Meetings’, often led by women like Hester, the ‘Bands’ for those seeking ‘perfect love’ and the ‘Love Feasts’. We learn much about the deaths of many young children and their mothers, like Hester who died in 1794 after six pregnancies. But women such as Hester were not confined to their homes and 68% of Methodists were women.

This book, well researched, clearly written and readable gives a fine picture of Methodism at the end of the eighteenth century and of one of the important role models for women at the time with their ‘affectionate but temperate’ view and practice of sex. We learn also of Wesley’s extempore style of preaching in places like Macclesfield. Hester’s funeral was led by Dr Thomas Coke who saw her as pastor but not preacher. I commend this book heartily.

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