Sarah Crosby

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Sarah Crosby
Born 6 October 1729
Leeds, England
Died 29 October 1803(1803-10-29) (aged 74)
Leeds, England
Occupation Class leader (1752–1804) Preacher (1761–1804)
Religion Methodist

Sarah Crosby (6 October 1729 – 29 October 1804) was a Methodist preacher, and is considered to be the first woman to hold this title.[1][2][3][4] Crosby, along with Mary Bosanquet, are the most popular women preachers of Methodism.[5] Scholars such as Paul Wesley Chilcote consider Crosby to be the busiest female Methodist preacher, as she preached up until the day she died.[6] She was also renowned for being skilled at prayer,[7][8] which at the time was seen as a sort of religious art form.[9]

Early life

Crosby was born in Leeds on 6 October 1729.[6] Not much is known about her early life, aside from the fact that she enjoyed singing, dancing, and playing cards.[10]

Crosby did not become interested in religion until she began to attend Anglican services[11] when she was 14 years old.[10] She started to develop a fear of death,[12] which became pronounced when she was 17, perhaps because of a bout of illness.[13] As a result, Crosby devoted herself even more to religion, fearing that she would die and be sent to Hell.[14]


In 1750, Crosby married. Not much is known about Mr. Crosby, including his first name. Similarly, Sarah Crosby's maiden name is not known − she is always addressed as 'Mrs. Crosby.' The Crosbys' marriage did not last long; Mr. Crosby left Sarah Crosby on 2 February 1757, after seven years of marriage.[15][6][10][16] It is unclear why the Crosbys' marriage ended. Some speculate that Mr. Crosby was not a Methodist, and discouraged her from practicing her religion.[16] Others have said that Mr. Crosby introduced Sarah Crosby to John Wesley's writings,[6] which may have indicated that he was a Methodist. Mr. Crosby's religion remains unknown, as do most details about him. Other possible reasons for the end of Crosby's marriage include that Mr. Crosby might have been an alcoholic, or that he may have been unfaithful.[16]

Crosby met Mary Bosanquet in May 1757, and the two became lifelong friends.[6][17] During the summer of 1758 Crosby moved to the Moorfields, to live with Mary Bosanquet, Sarah Ryan, and Mary Clark, all of whom would become prominent female figures in Methodism. They worked together to assist the poor and disabled.[18]

Crosby had somewhat of a conflict with John Wesley's wife, Mary Vazeille. In 1758, Crosby wrote to Wesley and, in her letter, made harsh comments about Vazeille. Vazeille saw the letter and was angry and jealous, since she knew that Crosby and Wesley were great friends and often traveled together. It is unknown how but eventually the dispute was resolved, and Crosby and Wesley remained friends.[19] It is also unclear if Vazeille was correct in her thinking that Wesley was being unfaithful with Crosby. The matter was never again discussed by Crosby or Wesley.

In 1761, Crosby went on a mission to Derby, where she became the first woman to preach in Methodism.[20] She left Derby in April 1761, and it is unknown where she went afterward. However, it is known that Crosby was quite busy with church duties during 1762.[21] In 1763, she began working and living with Mary Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan at their orphanage, The Cedars, in Leytonstone.[22] Crosby followed the pair when they moved their orphanage to Cross Hall in Yorkshire in 1768.[23][24][25]

During the 1770s, Crosby traveled across England preaching;[26] she wrote that she had traveled 960 miles in the year 1777 alone.[27][28] Some of the time, she traveled with John Wesley.[29][30]

Mary Bosanquet, who had controlled most of the operations of Cross Hall, married and moved to Madeley. As a result, Cross Hall was closed in late 1781.[11] So, when Crosby returned from her travels, she went back to Leeds.[31] Constant traveling had taken a toll on her health.[32][33] Rheumatism was making it hard for her to write as well, so she started to record less entries in her diary.[19] Because of this, not much is known about the details of her later life.

Charity work

The Cedars

Plaque to The Cedars on the site where it once stood

The Cedars was founded on 24 March 1763 by Sarah Ryan and Mary Bosanquet,[34] and after a few months Sarah Crosby began to live and work there.[22] The Cedars was modeled after John Wesley's orphanage, the Kingswood School.[35]

The women at The Cedars helped to care for 35 children and 34 adults, most of whom were dirty, unclothed, ill, and/or uneducated.[36] Education at The Cedars included instruction in manners, reading, religion, writing, nursing, and domestic skills in order to prepare the children for life beyond the orphanage.[37] The children were subject to harsh physical punishment if they misbehaved.[38]

Because there was no Methodist Society in Leytonstone,[39] Mary Bosanquet and Crosby instituted nightly Scriptural readings and prayer. The women asked John Wesley to send them a preacher in order to have a more religious environment inside of the orphanage. Wesley sent a Mr. Murlin to preach, and soon The Cedars became a Methodist Society.[27] Despite this, Bosanquet and Crosby continued to hold their own religious services on Thursday nights, and began to attract large crowds.[40] Bosanquet and Crosby were so successful that The Cedars became a center of Methodism in Leytonstone.[10] Methodist men began to express opposition toward Bosanquet and Crosby's activities, though they were not able to stop them.[41]

In 1768, the orphanage was moved to Yorkshire, to a farm named Cross Hall.[23][24][25] The decision was made due to increasing costs, to give a better environment for the children, and to seek out fresh air for Sarah Ryan, who was becoming seriously ill.[42][43]

Cross Hall

Cross Hall was founded in 1768.[24] The move was made from The Cedars to Cross Hall in order to decrease costs (since the women would be able to grow their own food), give the children a nice environment, and hopefully improve Sarah Ryan's failing health.[42] However, Bosanquet and the other women had little-to-no experience with farm life, and growing their own food did not prove to be as successful as they had hoped. Additionally, shortly after arriving at Cross Hall, Sarah Ryan died.[43]

Cross Hall not only served as an orphanage but also became a Methodist center.[24] Crosby, Mary Bosanquet, Sarah Ryan, Sarah "Sally" Lawrence, and Mary Tooth took residence there. Often, Elizabeth Ritchie, Susanna Knapp, and other prominent Methodist women visited.[44]

Bosanquet closed Cross Hall on 2 January 1782 following her marriage to John Fletcher. All of the children were either moved to new homes or found an occupation before the orphanage was closed.[45][43]

Experiences with the Methodist Church

The Foundery, the Methodist chapel where Crosby first began to lead classes

In the winter of 1749, Crosby heard both George Whitefield and John Wesley, the founders of Methodism, preach in London.[6][46] Though she heard the two founders speak, she was not instantly converted. She held negative views of Wesley and Methodism, which were common at the time. But, after reading some of Wesley's work, she became interested in the religion.[24] Crosby was converted to Methodism on 29 October 1749.[6]

Crosby joined the ranks of the parishioners at The Foundery, a Methodist Society, in October 1750.[6] She began to lead her own Methodist classes in 1752.[47][48][16]

In 1761, in Derby, Crosby became the first woman to preach in Methodism.[20]

Crosby was a traveling preacher during the 1770s.[26] From the 1780s on she was stationed in Leeds.[31] In 1793 she moved in with her friend and fellow preacher, Ann Tripp.[49][19] Their house was near a Methodist meeting-place, the Old Boggard House, where she taught two Methodist classes a week.[49][50] Crosby, along with Ann Tripp, helped to lead The Female Brethren, an association of female Methodist preachers.[32][51][49][19]

Up until she died, Crosby was still incredibly active in the Methodist Church. She led classes, went to meetings, and preached during the week before her death.[50]


Shortly after becoming a class leader, Crosby had vision of Jesus whilst praying. In her vision, Jesus said: "Feed my sheep." Crosby interpreted this vision as God calling her to preach.[34]

Crosby's first experience with preaching came in Derby in February 1761. She went to the town on a missionary quest and was instructed to lead classes. The first class that she led went well, and had less than 30 students.[52][6] However, the following Sunday, over 200 people attended her class.[53][1][6][54] Usually, in a class setting, Crosby would have given individualized advice to a small group of less than 50; however, since there was such a large crowd, she could not do so and decided to preach instead.[55] Her preaching consisted of reading a hymn, praying, and telling a story of how God had impacted her life.[56] On February 13, she preached again.[52][42]

Crosby wrote to John Wesley to tell him of what she had done and to get his advice.[57][52] He replied on February 14, approving of her actions, but cautioned her − he was wary of what others might think if he allowed women to preach in his religion, so he advised Crosby to try to refrain from the language and mannerisms of preaching as much as she could.[58] According to many scholars, this marked the beginning of John Wesley's acceptance of women preachers in Methodism, and made Crosby the first woman to receive this title.[59]

While living and working at Cross Hall, Sarah Crosby, along with Mary Bosanquet, began to hold Methodist meetings and preach at night.[60][61] Some Methodists opposed this practice, but Crosby and Bosanquet continued until Cross Hall's closure.[41] Crosby's and Bosanquet's preaching at Cross Hall would become the impetus for Wesley allowing women to preach in Methodism in 1771.[62]

In 1769, Wesley wrote to Crosby, allowing her to give pieces of spiritual advice, or exhortations, in her preaching.[63][64][65]

In 1771, Wesley formally allowed Methodist women to preach in public.[35] This was the direct result of a letter written by Mary Bosanquet to John Wesley, defending hers and Sarah Crosby's preaching at Cross Hall.[62] Bosanquet argued that women should be allowed to preach in Methodism when they experienced an 'extraordinary call,' or permission, from God.[62] Mary Bosanquet's letter to John Wesley is considered to be the first true defense of women's preaching in Methodism.[62] It is also considered to be the argument that persuaded John Wesley give women the provision to preach.[62] Scholar Thomas M. Morrow argues that Wesley only allowed women to preach because they were successful in converting people; he did not have a change of heart, and did not allow women to preach in order to make any sort of statement.[66] According to Morrow, Wesley only did this in order to expand his religion.

On 13 June 1771, Wesley wrote to Crosby with instructions on how to lead public meetings, since she could now officially preach.[55]

Throughout the 1770s, Crosby traveled and preached.[26] Apparently, she was quite popular, and often spoke to hundreds at her sermons.[67] She once even spoke to a crowd of 500-600 people in the rain, despite losing her voice and being sore from traveling.[68]

Crosby's preaching was not welcome everywhere, however, and her preaching at Cross Hall was not the only instance in which her work was opposed. During the summer of 1770, John Wesley went to preach at a church, and was told that he would not be allowed to because the parishioners had heard about a Methodist woman preaching nearby. Sarah Crosby had recently been to a nearby church in Huddersfield, but had only led a class there and did not preach. Wesley did not seem to be angered by the ordeal, and told Crosby that their preaching would be welcomed elsewhere.[61]


Leeds Parish Church, where Sarah Crosby was buried.

On 24 October 1804, at the age of 75, Sarah Crosby died in Leeds.[69][70] She was buried in a shared grave at Leeds Parish Churchyard with her colleagues Sarah Ryan, and later, Ann Tripp.[70]


One of the houses of the Methodist Girls' School in Ipoh, Malaysia was named after Crosby.



  1. ^ a b English 1994, p. 32.
  2. ^ Burge 1996, p. 10.
  3. ^ Burton 2008, p. 161, 162.
  4. ^ Chilcote 2007, p. 63.
  5. ^ Krueger 1992, p. 76.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chilcote 1993, p. 62.
  7. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 118.
  8. ^ Lloyd 2009, pp. 32-33.
  9. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 48.
  10. ^ a b c d Burge 1996, p. 8.
  11. ^ a b Culley 2009.
  12. ^ Taft, Wesley & Vickers 1992, p. 26.
  13. ^ Taft, Wesley & Vickers 1992, p. 27.
  14. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 10.
  15. ^ Mack 2008, p. 145.
  16. ^ a b c d Brown 1983, p. 168.
  17. ^ Brown 1983, p. 170.
  18. ^ Chilcote 1993, pp. 62-63.
  19. ^ a b c d Brown 1983, p. 174.
  20. ^ a b Baker 1949, p. 78.
  21. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 123.
  22. ^ a b Baker 1949, p. 77.
  23. ^ a b Lloyd 2009, p. 26.
  24. ^ a b c d e Chilcote 1993, p. 72.
  25. ^ a b Burge 1996, p. 17.
  26. ^ a b c Chilcote 1993, p. 90.
  27. ^ a b Mack 2008, p. 152.
  28. ^ Lloyd 2009, p. 36.
  29. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 91.
  30. ^ Brown 1983, p. 173.
  31. ^ a b Chilcote 1991, p. 166.
  32. ^ a b Tucker 2010, p. 242.
  33. ^ Brown 1983, p. 95.
  34. ^ a b Chilcote 1993, p. 68.
  35. ^ a b Chilcote 2007, p. 32.
  36. ^ Burge 1996, p. 14.
  37. ^ Brown 1983, pp. 55, 56.
  38. ^ Brown 1983, p. 55.
  39. ^ Brown 1983, p. 44.
  40. ^ Chilcote 1993, pp. 69-70.
  41. ^ a b Chilcote 1993, p. 70.
  42. ^ a b c Chilcote 1991, p. 129.
  43. ^ a b c Brown 1983, p. 58.
  44. ^ Krueger 1992, p. 43.
  45. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 103.
  46. ^ Brown 1983, p. 167.
  47. ^ Collins 1996, p. 338.
  48. ^ Burton 2008, p. 162.
  49. ^ a b c Burge 1996, p. 32.
  50. ^ a b Brown 1983, p. 175.
  51. ^ Chilcote 1993, p. 106.
  52. ^ a b c Chilcote 1993, p. 64.
  53. ^ Tucker 2010, p. 240.
  54. ^ Brown 1983, p. 171.
  55. ^ a b Jensen, Carolyn Passig (2013). The Spiritual Rhetoric of Early Methodist Women: Susanna Wesley, Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, and Hester Rogers (Doctor of Philosophy thesis). Proquest. P. 120.
  56. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 13.
  57. ^ Lloyd 2009, p. 33.
  58. ^ Chilcote 1991, pp. 121-122.
  59. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 122.
  60. ^ Hargreaves 2005.
  61. ^ a b Chilcote 1993, p. 69.
  62. ^ a b c d e Chilcote 1993, p. 78.
  63. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 42.
  64. ^ Eason 2003, p. 22.
  65. ^ Tucker 2010, p. 241.
  66. ^ Morrow 1967, p. 15.
  67. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 152.
  68. ^ Chilcote 1991, p. 153.
  69. ^ Krueger 1992, p. 77.
  70. ^ a b Burge 1996, p. 33.


  • Baker, Frank (1949). "John Wesley and Sarah Crosby". Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society. XXVII: 76–82.
  • Brown, Earl Kent (1983). Women of Mr. Wesley's Methodism. Edwin Mellen. ISBN 978-0889465381.
  • Burge, Janet (1996). Women Preachers in Community: Sarah Ryan, Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet. Foundery Press. ISBN 9781858520629.
  • Burton, Vicki Tolar (2008). Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley's Methodism: Reading, Writing, and Speaking to Believe. Baylor University Press. ISBN 9781602580237.
  • Chilcote, Paul W. (2007). Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women's Writings. Kingswood Books. ISBN 9780687334162.
  • Chilcote, Paul Wesley (1991). John Wesley and the Women Preachers of Early Methodism. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810824140.
  • Chilcote, Paul Wesley (1993). She Offered Them Christ: The Legacy of Women Preachers in Early Methodism. Eugene, O.R.: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 1579106684.
  • Collins, Vicki Tolar (Spring 1996). "Walking in Light, Walking in Darkness: The Story of Women's Changing Rhetorical Space in Early Methodism". Rhetorical Review. 14.2: 336–354.
  • Culley, Amy (8 October 2009). "Crosby, Sarah". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  • Eason, Andrew (2003). Women in God's Army: Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 9780889208216.
  • English, John C. (October 1994). "'Dear Sister': John Wesley and the Women of Early Methodism". Methodist History. 33.1: 26–33.
  • Hargreaves, John A. (22 September 2005). "Fletcher [née Bosanquet], Mary". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  • Jensen, Carolyn Passig (2013). The Spiritual Rhetoric of early Methodist Women: Susanna Wesley, Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, and Hester Rogers (Doctor of Philosophy thesis thesis).
  • Krueger, Christine L. (1992). The Reader's Repentance: Women Preachers, Women Writers, and Nineteenth-Century Social Discourse. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226454887.
  • Lloyd, Jennifer (2009). Women and the Shaping of British Methodism: Persistent Preachers, 1807–1907. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-1-84779-323-2. JSTOR j.ctt155j83t.
  • Mack, Phyllis (2008). Heart Religion in the British Enlightenment: Gender and Emotion in Early Methodism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521889186.
  • Morrow, Thomas M. (1967). Early Methodist Women. London: Epworth Press.
  • Taft, Zachariah; Wesley, John; Vickers, John A. (1992). "Mrs. Sarah Crosby". Biographical Sketches of the Lives and Public Ministry of Various Holy Women : Whose Eminent Usefulness and Successful Labours in the Church of Christ, Have Entitled Them to be Enrolled Among the Great Benefactors of Mankind : in Which are Included Several Letters from the Rev. J. Wesley Never Before Published. Methodist Publishing House.
  • Tucker, Ruth A. (2010). Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310877462.

Further reading

  • Taft, Zachariah; Wesley, John; Vickers, John A. (1992). "Mrs. Sarah Crosby". Biographical Sketches of the Lives and Public Ministry of Various Holy Women : Whose Eminent Usefulness and Successful Labours in the Church of Christ, Have Entitled Them to be Enrolled Among the Great Benefactors of Mankind : in Which are Included Several Letters from the Rev. J. Wesley Never Before Published. Methodist Publishing House.

External links

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