Setting out to write a common religious narrative encouraging conversion to Quakerism, Elizabeth Ashbridge (1713-1755), a prominent Quaker minister, produced a document called “Remarkable Experiences.” In it she not only recorded her religious search but also told of the highly unusual events that had shaped her life: eloping at fourteen, being kidnapped, preventing a shipboard mutiny, enduring a harsh term of indentured servitude, and suffering relentless religious persecution. Her experiences as an English immigrant, a servant, an itinerant, a Quaker, and a woman placed her far outside the colonial cultural mainstream.
In Peculiar Power, Cristine Levenduski, working outward from Ashbridge’s autobiography, reconstructs the social, religious, and historical forces that Ashbridge both resisted and turned to her advantage. She argues that Ashbridge’s otherness – more extreme even than the Quaker community’s self-consciously orchestrated “peculiarity” – allowed her to become an influential figure in early American culture. Drawing power from her marginalized position, Ashbridge became in her thirties a respected leader among Quakers, thereby breaking the “suffer and be still” silence imposed on eighteenth-century women.