Hume, Sophia

views updated

HUME, Sophia

Born 1702, Charleston, South Carolina; died 26 January 1774, London, England

Daughter of Henry and Susanna Bayley Wigington; married Robert Hume, 1721 (died 1737); children: two

Born to a prosperous landowning family, Sophia Hume was raised in the Anglican tradition of her father and educated for a life of elegance in high society. She married a lawyer and prominent citizen of Charleston; they had two children. After her husband's death in 1737 and a series of illnesses, she became increasingly preoccupied with religion and the necessity to convert to Quakerism, the religious tradition of her mother and her maternal grandmother, Mary Fisher (ca. 1623-1698). She subsequently moved to England and joined the Society of Friends.

In 1747 Hume returned to Charleston, where in a series of public meetings she reproached the inhabitants for their sinful lives and called them to a life of simplicity as exemplified in Quakerism. In order to spread her concern for their salvation, she published, with the help of fellow Quakers in Philadelphia, An Exhortation to the Inhabitants of the Province of South Carolina (1748). This forcefully written but poorly organized appeal admonished Charlestonians to repent, to give up their diversionary, prideful, and ostentatious lives, and to seek good forms of recreation, live simply, and dress modestly. She made a special plea that females cease neglecting their children in their quest for diversion.

Cognizant that others perceived her as a heretic and a deluded, ridiculous madwoman, Hume argued that her case carried the authority of God and reason. Although she was a woman subordinate to man, she was a feeble instrument of God who was used as He saw fit. Her statements of faith were bolstered with numerous scriptural and literary references that demonstrated her erudition. Hume described her own conversion from a life of "forgetfulness of God" to the life of greater holiness. As a Christian, she had compassion for fellow sinners, but she was obligated to call their sinful conduct into question. She pleaded with Charlestonians and all Christians not to deny their eternal happiness for the momentary pleasures of this life.

Returning to England, Hume became a Quaker minister and wrote A Caution to Such As Observe Days and Times (1763). In this piece, she warned formal Christians, those who "observe days and times," that God may bring them suffering as He did the Jews in order that they learn that His power was in the heart and not the world. Believing that the world would be reformed when the hearts of the mighty were changed, she appended to this work An Address to Magistrates, Parents, Mistresses of Families, etc. In this she urged magistrates not only to witness Christ in their actions, but to restrain both the lower orders and higher ranks in society. Parents, masters, and mistresses who in their homes had roles analogous to magistrates should set a good example, provide for the physical and spiritual welfare of their charges, and acknowledge Christ. She warned that her advice should not be dismissed because it came from a woman.

In an attempt to reform the Society of Friends and help stave off the decline in membership, Hume published Extracts from Divers, Antient Testimonies (1766), a collection of early Quaker writings. In her introduction addressed to ministers, elders, and members of the Society, she urged them not to conform to the ways of the world but to become the "foundation for the church of Christ." In 1767 Hume went back to Charleston in an attempt to revive Quakerism there. Unsuccessful, she returned to England, where she died in 1774.

The principal theme of Hume's writing is the call to repentance and nonworldliness which she found exemplified in Quaker life. Through rejection of worldly pleasures, one came to enjoy the fruits of the spirit—joy, love, and peace—the highest of all pleasures. The rewards of simplicity, the universality of God's grace, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each person are emphasized in her work. While she maintained a very traditional attitude toward woman's role, her Christian belief spurred her to write and speak publicly in defense of religion.

Other Works:

The Justly Celebrated Mrs. Sophia Hume's Advice (1769).


Bowden, J., The History of the Society of Friends in America (1850). Gummere, A. M., ed., The Journal and Essays of John Woolman (1922).

Reference works:

NAW (1971).