Book Review by Roger Sawkins, Queensland Regional Meeting

A Yorkshire Quaker; an introduction to his life, Ministry and writings



In his three-score years and ten, Joseph Wood filled over 100 large notebooks with his beautiful copperplate handwriting. Together with over 600 letters he received, these papers were handed down through his family and are now being transcribed for publication next year in four volumes totalling over 1000 pages.

Pamela Cooksey first became interested in Joseph when researching the history of her house. She discovered that he had visited the then owner in 1778 and so decided to find out more about him. Using these papers, she has written this introduction to his life and it is an amazing window into Quaker activities and beliefs at the turn of the 19th century.

At the age of 17 Joseph decided to ‘submit himself to the will of the Lord and devote his life to serving Him’. He was recognised as a Minister by High Flatts Meeting at the age of 29 and spent the next 42 years travelling in the Ministry around the Midlands and North of England and Wales.

Joseph was a clothier, but did more than just arrange manufacture and distribution of clothing. He also had his own flock of sheep and a large household who looked after the business while he travelled. Following the death of his parents, sisters and brother, he thought of his household servants, housekeeper and husbandmen as his ‘family’.

He never married, explaining at the age of 52:

Marriage is lawful to all by the laws of man; but I believe not expedient to all. It is a comfortable state to those who are rightly joined together therein, and some are rendered more useful thereby. There are others who have been useful before, that have been little use afterwards; the necessary cares and concerns of their family preventing their growth and usefulness. It is far easier to keep the mind stayed upon the Lord whilst single, saith a worthy friend in his Journal; than when weighed down with the encumbrance of a growing family … And therefore I believe there are such in the present day as Christ foretold which hath made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, believing they might from the situation Providence had placed them in be more useful in their day, age and generation.

He was not a wowser, however, and liked tea, coffee, rum, brandy, tobacco and snuff. In December 1816, he and Robert Shillitoe went on a ‘religious visit’ to 40 Public Houses in the Barnsley area. They recorded the names of each pub, and the name of its owner (which includes 8 women), although it is not explained what a ‘religious visit’ to a Public House entails!

He also writes of his beliefs, insisting on the total submission of the will to ‘the Lord’s will’, ‘the Lord’s way’ and ‘the Lord’s time’. He was concerned at ‘the ever-present threat of the Devil to the soul’ and the need to be ‘strengthened to resist the Devil and cause him to flee’.

Pamela Cooksey’s book gives a wonderful insight into the beliefs and activities of a very active British Quaker 200 years ago. Some aspects are substantially different from today, others are remarkably similar. Either way, the book is a revealing read.

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