Elizabeth Catlett (1769–1834) was born at Chatham, Kent, England to George (1742-1774), and Sarah Catlett. George was a brother of Mary Catlett, John Newton’s wife. Elizabeth's mother Sarah died, then George died in 1774, at which time she was adopted by John and Mary Newton, who still lived in Olney.
"In December , Mrs. Newton lost by death her brother, Mr.George Catlett. This rendered a journey to London necessary. They stopped at Whetstone for the night, 'and,' says Mr. Newton, 'had an agreeable family meeting. Expounded the 23rd Psalm, and prayed with the master and mistress of the inn.'"
"'My brother,' says Mr. Newton, 'has left a sweet orphan girl about five years old (her mother died two years ago), which we now, in dependence upon the Lord, and the clear call of His providence, cheerfully adopt for our own. Oh, may He by His grace adopt her into His chosen family!'"
In the fall of 1776 Elizabeth was committed to the care of Mrs. Martha Trinder’s Girl’s Boarding School in Northampton. John Newton wrote letters to her which became the first part of the “twenty-one letters” (1779-1781).
"On the 3rd of August, Mr. Newton committed his little orphan niece, Miss Catlett, to the care of his friend Mrs. Trinder of Northampton, and he expresses his earnest desire that she may be an early partaker of spiritual blessings."
"In September, Mr. and Mrs. Newton paid their annual visit to Northampton. 'Preached the four mornings of my stay, and on Friday evening, when there was as large a company as the house would hold. The Lord puts great honour upon Mrs. Trinder in owning her prayers and discourses to the awakening of many of her scholars. Oh may my child share the blessing.'"
In 1781, Elizabeth was transferred to the Highgate School, which became the second part of the twenty-one letters (1881–1883).
When John’s wife Mary died in 1790, Elizabeth started her care of John Newton.
“Miss Elizabeth Catlett . . . who became highly essential to his comfort during his latter years, when his sight began to fail, attending him in his walks, reading to him at home, assisting him at table, and rendering him every service of a dutiful daughter.”
She had a nervous disorder in 1801 that lasted 12 months. She was first treated at Mr. Ring’s at Reading and then at Bethlehem Hospital. John expresses his feelings:
“I sensibly miss my dear secretary, for my eyes are now so dim that I write with difficulty, and cannot easily read my own writing, nor a letter from a friend unless written in a large hand and with black ink.”
After this she returned home and recovered.
She married Joseph Smith (1766–1825) at St. Mary Woolnoth Church on May 2, 1805. Joseph Smith was an optician and worked at the Royal Exchange Building. The couple remained at the Colman Street Buildings with John Newton, who by that time needed much assistance.
After John Newton died in 1807, the couple continued to live at the Coleman Street Building. After Joseph’s death in 1825, Elizabeth had the company of her good friend Elizabeth Doxsey living with her.
Elizabeth was a person who went about doing good and helping the poor.
Elizabeth was a person of faith as stated in her last will and testament.
"The poor likewise will miss her greatly. To them she was an assiduous and benevolent friend. She delighted to follow her Lord in going about doing good."
“First and principally I humbly commend my soul to Almighty God and fully confess that I am a sinner having no hope of salvation but in the merits and intercession of the compassionate Lord and Redeemer who came into the world to seek and save such as fell their lost and helpless estate and condition.”
Having no children they left money to various friends, family, missionary societies, Bible societies and the London orphans.
- Bull, Josiah. John Newton of Olney and St. Mary Woolnoth, An Autobiography and Narrative. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1868.
- Bull, Josiah. Letters by the Rev. John Newton of Olney and St. Mary Woolnoth. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1869.
- The Last Will and Testament of Elizabeth Smith of Coleman Street Building in the city of London.