Links To The 'Religious Revival'
Lady Abney was of an Independent religious faith (known as 'Congregational', after the 1830s), as was her husband Sir Thomas Abney and long-term houseguest Dr Isaac Watts. Throughout the year when Sir Thomas held office as Lord Mayor, and Mary Abney was Lady Mayoress, they both had to practice occasional conformity to the Church of England, as required by law. Similarly, as Lady of the Manor, Mary Abney had to uphold the general conformity of the parish church of the Stoke Newington Manor.
Privately, as an Independent, she was close friend of the religious revivalist Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon who formed her own independent religious group within the independent Methodist movement, despite her best efforts to compromise and work with the Anglican authorities. The Countess financed many revivalist causes, including the independent preacher Whitefield; and in her later years, she helped sponsor the visit to Britain of the African slavery abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, following which he settled and married.
Lady Abney, who died before the non-denominational causes of slavery emancipation and missionary work overseas became central to evangelical revivalists, is mainly remembered as the sponsor of the first notable hymnologist, Isaac Watts whose famous hymns include O God our help in ages past. Lady Abney's close association with Isaac Watts drew her into a circle of many independent religious thinkers of her day, notably Philip Doddridge. As one of Watts' main benefactors from the early 18th century onwards, and probably his sole benefactor from 1734 until his death on 25 November 1748, Lady Mary Abney was the quiet eminence behind Watts work as a poet and scholar, enabling him to concentrate on the preparation of many learned books for both children and adults, which becomame standard texts in the New World as well as in Britain. Following Isaac Watts' death Lady Mary Abney built a memorial to Watts in Bunhill Fields, which she co-financed with Sir John Hartopp.
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