InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Access Author Profile Pages by:
 Resource Centers
Textbook Site for:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Elizabeth Ashbridge

Although little is known about Elizabeth Ashbridge beyond what is recorded in her brief autobiography, Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge...Written by her own Hand many years ago (1755), the narrative itself provides a portrait of a remarkable woman whose spiritual questing and marital trials reveal much about religious imperatives and gender roles in eighteenth-century American culture. Born to Anglican parents in England, Ashbridge lived a rather adventurous adolescence. Eloping at fourteen, an act prompting permanent estrangement from her authoritarian father, she became a widow within months of her marriage. Banished from her parents’ home, she spent several years in Ireland, where she began to seek religious enlightenment. At nineteen she emigrated to the colonies as an indentured servant, hoping to begin a new life. The first part of the Account records these experiences and presents a protagonist who even as a young girl showed signs of the fervent independence and spiritual predilection that would mark her adult life as a convinced (that is, converted) Quaker.

Lamenting that the Anglican ministry was closed to women, she turned to other denominations but found little consolation among the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Catholics with whom she worshiped in search of spiritual truth. Her appeals to the priestly patriarchy of various churches were met with imperious indifference. Ashbridge’s indenture to a cruel master whom she had taken for “a very religious man” augmented her sense of the hypocrisy of much that passed for piety; it also impelled her to buy her freedom and marry a worldly suitor named Sullivan who “fell in love with me for my dancing.” Not long after, visiting Quaker relations in Pennsylvania, she embraced their religion, a commitment that profoundly changed her.

Despite her initial distaste for the practices of the Society of Friends, which sanctioned—against her early ecclesiastical and social tradition—the preaching of women, Ashbridge was drawn to the beauty and eloquence of the faith, and her conversion is told with simple power. Her newfound spiritual mission made her a more somber and self-directed woman, alienating the husband who had loved her for her mirthful nature. The remainder of the narrative is a poignant account of Ashbridge’s struggle to observe her new faith against the growing anger and abuse of her husband. Not until Sullivan’s death, told in the Account, and her eventual union with Aaron Ashbridge, himself a Quaker, did she find the marital and spiritual harmony she had for so long sought.

Elizabeth Ashbridge’s Account underscores the importance of life-writing as a tool of female vindication in a patriarchal culture. For its candor and emotional power, for the integrity of the religious sensibility it conveys, and for its illuminating portrayal of domestic relations in colonial America, the narrative merits a significant place in our literary history.

Liahna Babener
Central Washington University

Wendy Martin
Claremont Graduate University

In the Heath Anthology
from Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge, . . . Written by Her Own Hand Many Years Ago (1755)

Other Works

Cultural Objects
There are no Cultural Objects for this author.
Would you like to add a Cultural Object?

There are no pedagogical assignments or approaches for this author.


"Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge"
  The entire text of Ashbridge's autobiography.

Elizabeth Ashbridge
  A brief literary introduction to Ashbridge and the Quaker Religion.

Perspectives in American Literature
  A list of secondary materials.

Secondary Sources