The Missing Cross to Purity

The Life of William Dewsbury


1654.—William Dewsbury imprisoned at York— Circumstances attending his apprehension—Malice of the constable—Pursued to Crake, and there taken at midnight—His ill-treatment—Endures three months' imprisonment—Innocence—Imprisoned at Derby—Refuses to leave the prison without the magistrates intervention—Is thrust out accordingly— Brought before the mayor at Leicester— Put out of the town, but returns—Proceeds to Northampton—Thomas Andrews' treatment of him — seized by the high-constable, but set at liberty — Francis Ellington convinced—William Dewsbury is taken up on a charge of blasphemy, and committed to the common jail—Ellington's letter to Justice Pentlow.

IN the first month, 1654, we find this faithful man at York. He was cast into the prison of that city under the name of a seducer, with the following accusation, namely,—"for seducing the people of this nation, and for suspicion of blasphemy and breaking the public peace, in dispersing principles contrary to the truth of the gospel and peace of the nation." Edward Bowles, priest of York, was his accuser, who gave forth a paper, charging him with being, in addition to the other allegations, a ringleader of the persons called Quakers. As the general assizes were then being held, this paper was delivered by the foreman of the grand jury to Hugh Wyndham, who sat on the bench as judge of the criminal court. He immediately granted a warrant in open court for the apprehension of Dewsbury. The charges were serious, and the agitation of the public mind was at that time so great, in consequence of a plot that was suspected against Cromwell, that people were ready to believe without examination or proof; nor was there much benefit in general to be derived from the most straightforward explanation of facts and circumstances.

In the prosecution of his religious labors, William Dewsbury had proceeded in the meantime to Tholthorpe, where the constable, more like a ruffian than a peace-officer, came to attack him. While he was at a meeting, and was engaged with others in the solemn act of waiting upon God, the officer rushed in upon them, and with a manifest intention of injuring William Dewsbury, twice attacked him with an iron fork; "but," he says, "the Lord by his power chained him, and prevented his bloody intents." Thus disappointed, however, he proceeded to Kirby Hall, the residence of Thomas Dickenson, a justice of the peace, and there renewed his accusation, and procured another warrant for Dewsbury's apprehension and imprisonment, grounded in part on that issued previously by Judge Wyndham.

At Crake, a small town about twenty-five miles north-west of York, he was apprehended by John Lockwood, the high-constable, to whose hands, it would appear, the warrant had been committed. This officer, very unlike the former one, willing to save himself trouble, proposed his remaining with his friends that night, it being late, on condition of their becoming bound for his appearance the next day. But Dewsbury told them resolutely, that no man should be engaged for him, neither desired he favor at the hands of men; and turning to the constable, said, "If you have power over the body, do with it what you have power to do." But as the evening was advancing, he told him to stay at his friend's house until the next day; upon which he assured the officer of his readiness to go with him at the time appointed, if the Lord pleased.

This little season of respite afforded him and his friends an opportunity of sitting down together to wait upon God; an exercise at all times profitable, but never more so than in straits and difficulties. Thus engaged "in the night season, with many of the Lord's servants and children," "waiting on him who is worthy to be waited upon, and is good to the souls that wait upon him, to the souls that seek him," and the night being far spent under this exercise, they were surprised by the inhabitants of the town, with the high-constable at their head, (contrary to his own engagement), who surrounded the house, and attacking the doors and windows with great fury, determined to have the disposing of Dewsbury themselves. When, in their blind rage, they had got this innocent servant of the Lord into their hands, they urged him along the street, shouting from one alehouse to another, until they had found one into which entrance could be obtained. This done, they committed him to the custody of two men until the next day; and in the morning, he was brought before Dickenson, who, being unable to prove anything against him, committed him to York Castle, by virtue of the warrant previously issued by Judge Wyndham.

[In an original letter written from York Castle, the 2nd of the 5th month, William Dewsbury speaks largely in commemoration of the Lord's dealings with him, that he had seen much of his mighty power manifested, in carrying him along in the service of the gospel, wonderfully preserving and upholding his outward man many times, when he seemed given over to death; and though the plots and snares of evil men had abounded against him, yet were none of them suffered to prevail,—"it pleased my dear Father they had no power against me, until I had been amongst all the Friends in the east part of Yorkshire."—Editor. ]

Here, innocent of the commission of any real crime, he was detained a prisoner until the general assizes, which occurred on the 22nd of the 5th month following, when Judge Wyndham sat again upon the bench. On that occasion, for the truth's sake, and that nothing might lay unjustly either upon the holy cause itself or upon the sufferer for it, Friends, always courting investigation in open trial, anxiously interceded with the judge, for the prisoner to have the same advantages that thieves and murderers were allowed, namely, to meet his accusers face to face; and then, if the transgression of any just law could be proved against him, they were willing he should suffer for it, as he was also himself. Nothing could be more fair than this; and publicly accused as he was, and abused as he had been, he had a right to demand the protection of the law. The judge promised him a fair trial, but broke his engagement for William Dewsbury was never, on those charges, brought before him, but, at the conclusion of the assizes, was cleared by proclamation, and set at liberty on the 24th of the 5th month.

Thus did they treat this innocent man. He was apprehended as a criminal, abused as one whom the law had placed out of its protection, committed to prison upon vague and empty and malicious charges, without shadow of pretence of proof, detained there for a period of three months; and then, without being afforded the opportunity of defending his character, was set at liberty; no doubt, in order that his accuser, the priest Bowles, might escape the disgrace, which must have resulted from an impartial examination in open court.

[The following letter, addressed by William Dewsbury to Margaret Fell, will be interesting to the reader, as conveying his own account of these circumstances. It is copied from the original. — Editor.]

My dear Sister,

In the Lord Jesus, where my life is bound up with you, and all my brethren and sisters in the Truth of God in your family and elsewhere, my bowels of love salutes you all in the Lord, where my union is with you and your family and all my Father's children there and elsewhere. Oh, the eternal riches of the love of our God, who has created all things for his pleasure, and has chosen us in his free love, and has made us partakers of his eternal riches he has laid up for us in Christ Jesus; which love overcomes all things, and constrains to give up soul and body, a living sacrifice, unto the will of our heavenly Father, to dispose of them according to the counsel of his own will, who created them for his own glory, who alone is worthy of all glory, honor, power, and praises forever!

Dear sister, great has been the plots of Haman's nature, against the time of this assizes, to get anything against us, to bring us under their law, that their wills might be satisfied; but in all their secret plots and works of darkness, our heavenly Father has brought them to light. I was moved to write to priest Bowles. The Lord struck him with such terror that he could not tell what way to turn him, to cover his deceit; for the terror of the Most High was upon him, so that he wrote to Oliver Cromwell. When he sent the letter, Cromwell expressed these words, when he read it, 'They would have me to disown this people; shall I disown them because they will not put off their hats?' And the high-sheriff came to me to clear Bowles; but the power of the Lord cut the deceit in him, that he went from me in much rage, and said I was the most diabolical fellow, with many other bitter expressions. Then Bowles sent to Thomas Fairfax, who was once the generals of the army; and Bowles told him, he had brought him on in casting me into prison, and he might bring him off. And thus the fleshly man did fly to the arm of flesh; but my God, who is my refuge, pursued him with terror, and caused fearfulness to surprise the hypocrite which ever way he went. So they gave forth great words, what they would do at the assizes, as Haman did, who built the gallows for Mordecai; but the power of the Lord trampled upon them, and great fear surprised priest Bowles, the sheriff, and the judge; that as they were in trouble, to accomplish their design to cast my body into prison, [as they desired] to cover it with lying aspersions, when they had it there; and as the Philistines were plagued, while they had the ark of the covenant, until they sent it back, so were they: they dared not let me nor any of our friends come before them. And as the Philistines sent the ark back the same way it came, so were they that had cast me into prison by their false accusations, forced to make open proclamation in the court, and in the Castle-yard, when the country was met together, that if any had anything against me, to speak; thus clearing me of all these lying aspersions, they sent me a pass to go forth. And so the Lord takes the wise in their own craft .Praises forever be unto his great and glorious name, who is raising up his own seed in the hearts of his children to obey his will, and has kept us bold, valiant, and faithful in this day of trial. Captain Bradford, and Friends who were called upon service at this assizes, have been kept bold, valiant, and faithful in their measure, trampling upon proud flesh in its glory.

My dear Sister, the Lord God of power is with you, who has chosen you in his eternal love, to bear witness of his great and glorious name; and his eternal power rest upon you, to the threshing down of all deceit, that his tender plants may be watered with the streams of his eternal love running through you in the Lord Jesus, where you fare well, and there I am with you, your dear Brother, in the Eternal Being.

William Dewsbury

Site Editor's Comments : Margaret Fell's home, Swarthmore, was the cradle of the Quaker movement. She and her husband, Judge Fell, threw open their mansion to the early Quakers as the place of refuge and frequent meetings. Quakers from all over the world came there to learn and spiritually grow; Quakers from 5-6 different countries were a common occurrence. She was also the central point for most Quakers to write of their news, which she then faithfully answered and passed on the news to others. She was known as the Mother of the Quakers for her care, spiritual nurturing, and encouragement of so many. Eleven years after the death of her husband, Judge Fell, she married George Fox, the Father of the Quaker movement.

Being now "delivered from the hands of unreasonable men," he pursued his journey as the Lord directed him, declaring his word in Cleveland and other parts of Yorkshire, through Nottinghamshire, and so to Derby.

[It is satisfactory to be able here to introduce the greater part of a short letter to a Friend, which at least supplies us with some information with regard to his travels in the ministry at this precise juncture.—Editor.]

God is opening a door for his Truth in many great towns in Yorkshire, where it has been kept forth; as at Halifax, Leeds, York, Beverly, Hull; and since fulfilling the needs of my family that was on me, I have been pretty much in these great towns in my passing south, as Lincoln, Nottingham, Newark, Oakham, Leicester, Wellingborough,—large meetings in all parts,—a tender people is coming towards Zion, who has stood off,—Newark the least. At Leicester, we met at the Castle a very large people; that night, a large meeting at the White Hart Inn, where we lodge. If God will, I shall be at a general meeting at Northampton the next 3rd day, at Leicester the next 1st day after.

William Dewsbury had not, however, been at liberty more than a month, before his lot was again cast within the walls of a prison. For, as he was engaged in preaching to the inhabitants of Derby, he was seized, and carried before the general sessions of the town, which were then holding. This took place on the 24th of the 6th month. When brought into court, one of the justices, probably on account of his not taking off the hat, said to him, magisterially enough no doubt, " In whose presence do you now stand?" To which William Dewsbury, (I should conclude, from his general character, not lightly, but under a sense of its being proper at the time), replied, "In the presence of the everlasting God." On this, the jailer was commanded to take him away, and put him in prison, for disturbing the court, which was accordingly done. Towards night, the mayor sent for him, to inquire of him, what he came to do? He answered, "To declare the word of the Lord to the consciences of the inhabitants of Derby." The mayor then asked him, if he would go out of the town? This, Dewsbury refused to do, saying, "When the Lord orders me to go forth, then I shall go; until then, I shall stay." The mayor then commanded him to be returned to the prison. The next day, in the forenoon, one of the mayor's officers was sent to him, to say, that if he would go out of the town, and promise not to return, he would open the prison doors, and he might go forth; upon which, William Dewsbury, who had by this time proved himself to be a man of no ordinary courage, said in reply, "Out of the town I shall not go, until I am ordered of the Lord; and if you open the door, of the prison I shall not go, until the man who said he had authority to put me in, comes by the same authority and takes me out." Most likely the prisoner suspected a trap; how this was with the mayor, it is not easy to say. Whether he, conscious of his illegal proceedings, was intimidated by this resolute conduct on the part of William Dewsbury, or whether he acted from some other motive, is not known; but it is at least curious, that, shortly afterwards, the man under whose charge he was committed to prison, was sent to discharge him; who took him by the arm, not with entreaty, as was the case with Paul, when he with Silas was confined at Thyatira, but with much anger put him forth, and delivered him to another officer. This man had orders to put him out of the town; which he did, charging him with many threats, to depart and not return. But William Dewsbury, feeling himself to be moving under commands of a higher order, and knowing that he was not in the transgression of any righteous law, considered these but the words of vain men, and without regarding them, returned forthwith and continued in Derby until he was free in his spirit to leave it.

When this time arrived, he pursued his journey to Leicester; and there, on the 3rd of the 7th month, being the first day of the week, a large number of the people were collected together to hear him, to whom he declared the word of the Lord. "After the testimony of Jesus was finished to them," he proceeded to the public place of worship; and when the speaker had done, William Dewsbury preached the word of eternal life to the assembly, who heard him with much attention. But before he had finished his testimony, two officers laid hold of him, and with violence carried him before the mayor of the town; who committed him to prison without examination, and therefore without proof of any illegal or disorderly act.

The next day, he was again brought before the mayor and another in authority, who then examined him, but could find nothing that would warrant his detention. They however commanded the keeper of the common jail to put him out of the town, and, as the authorities of Derby had previously done, strictly charged him "to depart forth of their coasts;" with many threats, what they would do if he returned. But as before, without regarding the threats of man, in obedience to the command of the Lord, he returned to finish his testimony to the inhabitants of Leicester, of whose blood he had not previously felt himself clear.

As soon as William Dewsbury, in submission to those impressions from the Spirit of Truth, apprehended himself at liberty to leave Leicester, he pursued his journey into Northamptonshire, and proceeded to Wellingborough, on a visit to the flock of God scattered thereabout; where he tarried for a season, finding many in that neighborhood whose minds were opened to receive "the word of life with much gladness of heart." An occurrence took place in this town, which ultimately occasioned him some months' imprisonment at Northampton; and will serve to show, that his labors were sufficiently successful, to excite the displeasure and jealousy of a resident priest there, whose name was Thomas Andrews. As he was passing along the street, near the dwelling of the latter, the priest called to him, to give over deceiving the people, for fear that the plagues of God should fall upon him. To which Dewsbury replied, "If you say I deceive the people, show how I deceive them."

He answered, "You tell them there is no original sin." Dewsbury then required him to say, whether he heard him say so. But he, making no answer to that, the former told him, he must either prove what he had accused him of, or confess himself condemned of making a false accusation: he however hastened away, without giving any answer. About three weeks afterwards, namely, on the 29th of the 10th month, 1654, William Dewsbury having been absent from Wellingborough in the interval, felt it to be his religious duty, ("I was ordered of the Lord," he says), to return to the place again; and hearing there was to be a lecture in the house where Thomas Andrews was preacher, who had thus falsely and publicly accused him, for the Truth's sake he went there, entered the house, and stood in silence, until Andrews had done preaching, and had dismissed the people. He then took the opportunity of exhorting the congregation, who listened without opposition. After this, addressing himself to the priest, he called upon him, to make it manifest to the people, how he had deceived them, or to confess his error. Without offering any reply, he again retreated, "he fled away." Notwithstanding the reasonableness of this conduct on the part of Dewsbury, who was the offended party, he was haled out of the meeting-house, by a man more zealous than discriminating, into the yard; where he embraced the opportunity again afforded him, of preaching to the collected multitude, they standing quietly to hear him; until the high-constable made his appearance; who seized and conducted him as a criminal into the market-place, and threatened to bring a charge of blasphemy against him. When it was found that nothing could be proved against him, he was liberated. Whereupon he retired to the house of his friend Francis Ellington, and from an upper window therein, preached to the people collected below, many of whom received the word in much love. Ellington soon afterwards became his fellow-prisoner.

This Friend was an extensive woolen manufacturer at Wellingborough. The manner in which he became acquainted with William Dewsbury, was this. In the pursuit of his business, he happened to be at a fair at Harborough in Leicestershire, where he heard, that a "Yorkshire man" was tarrying at a Friend's house in that town; and that he was that day intending to hold a meeting, in order to declare the word of the Lord to the people. To this meeting Francis Ellington went, and was effectually convinced that the word of the Lord was really preached on this occasion. For such was the power which attended, that it enlightened his understanding "to see the way of eternal life; for which," says he, "I had long sought in my imagination of the saints' conditions." When the meeting was over, yielding to a powerful impulse of religious unity, he desired William Dewsbury, as the Lord's servant, to come home to his house, as soon as he was free in his spirit so to do. Which appears to have been the occasion of the present visit.

But to proceed with our narrative. On the following day, the constable having procured a warrant for the apprehension of "one who is commonly called a Quaker," came to the house of Francis Ellington; and, despite the expressed oppositions of the latter, against his taking any person into custody on such a vague warrant as that in his possession, (for the name of the party to be arrested was not mentioned in the warrant), the constable laid his hands on William Dewsbury, although Joseph Storr was also present, and declared him to be the man he wanted, requiring him to go before a justice. This he was compelled to do the same day. He was conducted to the residence of Thomas Pentlow, who lived at Wilby, two miles off, and who appears to have been a rigid persecutor. Francis Ellington and Joseph Storr, willing to stand by their friend, in his present trial, accompanied him to the house. An additional reason why these Friends accompanied William Dewsbury was, that they had also a complaint to make against a woman in the service of the said justice, who a few days before had annoyed Ellington and others by abusing them in the street, and by throwing water, stones, and dirt at them. The justice, having examined William Dewsbury, and found on his person some papers addressed to Cromwell, then Protector, made out a mittimus, and sent him to the common jail at Northampton, there to await the assizes in the first month following. As the mittimus, among other allegations, was also said to contain a charge of blasphemy, Dewsbury was the more earnest to obtain a copy; which reasonable demand was, however, denied him. As to the complaint against the woman, which Ellington and his friends preferred before justice Pentlow, it procured them no redress. After calling them to account, for being found on his premises, he told them, the woman had served them right, for all he knew, and he would do nothing against her; and charged them to be forthcoming at the approaching sessions, as he should send a constable for them, that they might answer there for having come to his house. One account states, that Pentlow included Ellington's and Storr's names in the mittimus. In consequence of such treatment, Ellington a few days after wrote a letter to the justice, which offended him still more deeply, and was the ground of his shortly afterwards suffering for several weeks in company with other Friends in Northampton jail. An extract from Ellington's letter will serve as historical evidence of some transactions in connection with this memoir, and will also be interesting to many of my readers, I therefore present them with the following specimen."

Thus said the Lord God, 'Be wise ye kings, be instructed you who are judges (or justices) of the earth; serve the Lord in fear;' stand not in your own will when you judge between man and man, but stand in the will of God, and execute true judgment; for you must all give an account to him of your deeds done in the flesh, whether good or evil. Now the Lord begins to roar out of Zion, and to utter his voice from Jerusalem; and woe to all the inhabitants of the earth, said the Lord God. Now the time is come, that we shall no more say, 'The Lord lives that brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, the Lord lives, that has brought up and led the seed of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries where I have scattered them; and they shall dwell in their own land.' Jer 23:7-8. Now the Lord has made the tidings out of the north to trouble the inhabitants of Babel, and it will more trouble them yet,—it will make them gnaw their tongues for sorrow, and blaspheme the God of heaven, for their plagues shall be exceedingly great."

Now to the Light in your conscience, which Christ Jesus has enlightened you withal, am I commanded to write these words; that with it you may examine and see how you execute justice, and how you did execute justice upon those two faithful servants of the living God, whom you have committed to prison. The law of God in your conscience said, that he who preaches the gospel has a lawful calling, and is no vagabond, though he has no outward habitation, and the Spirit of truth made it manifest in the person of Christ; and he that said he abides in Christ ought so to walk as he himself walked; and he that is commanded of the Lord to preach the gospel, though he is a judge, justice, or whatever else, when God calls him, must leave father and mother, wife and children, and all, and must go and preach. For whoever he is that sets himself down in a parish, there to stay during his life, to preach, I affirm that person was never sent of God to preach, but is a false prophet; for there is not one such example in all the Scriptures, and Christ's commission is contrary to it.

But, blessed is the God of Heaven, the Lord has now raised both justices, colonels, captains, and many hundreds of others in the north, that go hundreds of miles preaching the gospel, as those you have sent to prison did. Although you imprison the servants of the living God, yet God will bring up others among us, that will be faithful in doing his message, in crying out against the sins of high and low, priest and people, in city and village, markets and steeple-houses. And they cry: Repent, and fear the living God, and return to the light of Christ in your own consciences, which convinces you of sins and of evil deeds. And for this, the wicked world persecutes them, to fulfill the Scriptures, in casting out their names as evil for the Son of Man's sake; but God has prepared them, and they can suffer more than the wicked world can inflict upon them. When the wicked have punished them, what they can, they will forgive [their persecutors] and pity them; and when they are beaten, they resist not; when they are cursed, they bless. Thus, the seed that the Lord has brought out of the north country, has grown to a thousand and ten thousand in all parts of England; and the high cedars begin to fall apace in England, to this mighty power of God; for the Lord is very terrible before the northern army, that the scornful world calls Quakers. Yet not one of these soldiers has so much as a stick in his hand; but they have a sword in their mouths, and with it they slay the nations.

Therefore, you who are called justices, you may put them in prison, but you cannot take away their swords; for they can slay as well in prison as without. One of them, through the power of God, dares encounter with thousands, and overcome them; him whom you have cast into prison, with his sword slew two mighty men and their families in Bedfordshire this last week; and he has slain me, and hundreds more in these parts; and now you have sent him to slay some in Northampton with this sword in his mouth, and I am sure the slain of the Lord will be many thereabouts. Happy would you have been, if he had slain you, when he was at your house; for you must be slain with the sword, or you shall never see your Savior.

Therefore, look to the light of Christ in your conscience, and to that light bring all your evil deeds, and to the sword of the Lord; and wait in this light for the power of Christ, to cross your will and imagination, and that power will lead you up to Christ, and then you will take up your cross to your own will. Until you do this, you are no disciple of Christ, profess what you will. For, if you profess more than you do possess, you are a hypocrite. Thus, in love to your poor soul, I am moved of the Lord to write this to you; and if you have an ear to hear, you will hear it.

So I remain a friend to that which is pure, of God, in your conscience,

Francis Ellington

By a letter in William Dewsbury's handwriting, addressed to George Fox about this time, it would seem there followed from the labors of this devoted servant "a great convincement," according to Ellington's apprehension; and an earnest desire prevailed among many, for Friends to come amongst them; and he intimates his belief, that a blessing will attend those, who being truly drawn and called, give up to the service. Another letter runs thus, "Many dear people has our Father in these parts, the harvest is great,—a mighty people our God is bringing forth here, to wait upon him for his wisdom to guide them to his praise and glory." [Nor is this from his own pen alone: John Whitehead, a zealous laborer, writes to George Fox from Wellingborough, of a mighty thirst on every side, great meetings, and many convincements."—Editor. ]


1655. Letter of William Dewsbury—Assizes—His trial, with other Friends, before Judges Hale and Wyndham—They refuse to enter into bonds, and are continued in prison—Observations on the trial, with remarks on the times—Apprehensions entertained respecting Friends—Anecdote respecting George Fox and Colonel Hacker—Two Letters of Dewsbury's.

THE following letter under the hand of William Dewsbury, contains a brief but somewhat detailed account of circumstances respecting him at this period; and will put the reader in possession of information connected with the transactions of the preceding chapter, which would otherwise be wanting, and could not be supplied from any other source.

Dear Friends,

Be not troubled at the Lord's disposing of us, in suffering the devil to cast us into prison; for with you we are in the liberty of the Spirit, in the eternal unity, which cannot be separated. I have declared to you of the Lord's ordering of us to his praise and glory. On the 10th day of the 11th month, Joseph Storr, my fellow-prisoner, and I were carried forth of the prison to the sessions, which were held at Northampton. There, was John Parker, (who fined my brother Thomas Aldam), and more, called justices, who were in great enmity against the Truth. But the witnesses, that had sworn against me, as they said, for blasphemy, did not appear against me. The Lord smote them with terror; the lying spirit dared not appear. Then they were confounded in that they charged against me; and many Friends appeared in much boldness for the Truth. One Justice Crutt and James Nagill, who are great in the outward; their dwellings are in Bickering Park, Bedfordshire; and one Edward Hackney, an attorney at Kettering in Northamptonshire.

There had not been above three meetings with me; yet the enmity of John Parker and those with him, required bondsmen to be bound for me for they said I had written strange papers to the Lord Protector, and if I would not find men to be bound for me, I should go to prison again. I then required of them, to read me a law I had transgressed; but they would not, but called for bondsmen. I answered, "There shall not any be bound for us; here are our bodies, do with them what you have power to do." They commanded the jailer to take us away. We were not allowed to speak any more, but taken and put into prison; and a copy of our mittimus we cannot have; but were denied both by the jailer and of the men called justices, when it was demanded of them in open court. But the wrath of man turns to the praise of God. For the Truth of God was much spread abroad that day, and a mighty thirst was raised up in the hearts of many towards the name of the Lord; praises forever be to him, whose ways are past finding out. He takes the wise in their own craft, and overturns them in their own devices, to their everlasting shame and contempt; but to the glory of his name, who alone is worthy, God over all, blessed forever!

William Dewsbury

William Dewsbury together with Joseph Storr, (whose name was included in the mittimus for no other crime than that of being present at the examination of his friend), being committed to prison, were confined there among thieves and murderers, twelve steps under ground, until the quarter-sessions on the 10th of the next month; when, so far from receiving any mercy at the hands of the justices, they were again refused a copy of their mittimus, and committed to appear at the next assizes about two months afterwards. Francis Ellington now being added to their number, and Henry Williamson, who had been sorely beaten and abused for attempting to speak to the people at the public house of worship after the officiating priest had done, was also sentenced to drink of the same cup. The assizes commenced the 10th of the 1st month, 1655, when the prisoners, Dewsbury, Storr, and Williamson, were brought to the bar,\ before Judges Matthew Hale and Hugh Wyndham, who were then associated in the same commission. The following examination thereupon took place.

  • Judge Hale. Are you Dewsbury?
  • William Dewsbury. Yes, I am so called.
  • Judge. Where do you live?
  • William Dewsbury. I have a wife and three children at Wakefield in Yorkshire.
  • Judge. What interest do you have in this country to do, that you did not stay in your own country with your wife and children?
  • William Dewsbury. I stayed in that country with my wife and children, until the Father revealed his Son in me, and called me forth from my wife and children to declare his word of eternal life, which he has manifested to my soul in the great work of regeneration, in the new covenant of life in Christ Jesus. The everlasting gospel I am sent to preach to those that dwell upon the earth.
  • Judge. I fear it is a delusion, and your own fancies, and not the truth.
  • William Dewsbury. Time will make it manifest.
  • Judge. You draw people together, and act against ministry and magistracy.
  • William Dewsbury. As you stand in the presence of God, take heed of hearkening to false accusations. Ministry and magistracy, which is of God, I own; but those that are called ministers of Christ, and walk contrary to Scripture, I disown.
  • Judge. But who are they that walk contrary to Scripture?
  • William Dewsbury.They that abide not in the doctrine of Christ; but have the chief place in the assemblies; stand praying in the synagogues, love greetings in the market-places, and are called of men, masters,—which practice Christ cried woe against; and they that walk in it, walk contrary to Scripture.
  • Judge. These are small things to speak of.
  • William Dewsbury. There is nothing small the Lord commands.
  • Judge. You say well. (To the court.) What have you against these men?
  • William Dewsbury. This is it we would have manifest, what law we have transgressed.
  • Judge. Produce what you have against them, and I shall proceed according to law.
  • Clerk of the Peace. Here are papers which Dewsbury and Storr had, which are against the Lord Protector.
  • William Dewsbury. The papers they took from me, which they say are against the Lord Protector, was the word of the Lord I was moved to write, which I sent to him privately with care, the one in the 4th month in last year, and the other has with care been privately delivered to him; and privately I kept the copy of the papers, until I was apprehended by virtue of a warrant granted forth by Justice Pentlow,—and there was not any name, but for one whom he had in scorn called a Quaker; and with that warrant the constable had me before him, who commanded the constable to see if I had any money; which was done, and my money taken from me, and after a little time he gave it to me again. Then they took those papers from me, which I had privately on me in a letter-case, which here they publish publicly as an evidence against me.
  • Judge. Read the paper. (When part of it was read.) Give over; that paper is not to be published.
  • William Dewsbury. It is not my mind they should be published. The Spirit of truth that gave them forth, did direct them privately to the hands of the Lord Protector.
  • Judge. How dare you write to him in such an high language, as from the Spirit of the Lord.
  • William Dewsbury. They in whom the Spirit of the Lord is, write from the Spirit, and he that has not the Spirit of Christ is none of his.
  • Judge. But I fear it is not from the Spirit, for many pretend the Spirit, and the divine light, and revelations; but how shall we know they are the truth according to the Scriptures?
  • William Dewsbury. The Scriptures cannot be known but by the pure divine light of Christ, which enlightens every one that comes into the world; of which pure light Christ has given to every one a measure, to try the spirits in them, whether they be of God or not. Every spirit that confesses Christ come in the flesh is of God; but he that denies Christ come in the flesh, is the spirit of antichrist. And this light gave the Scriptures forth, which light leads to Christ, who reveals the Father to the soul which gives up to be guided by him. So comes the soul to know God by the revelation of Jesus Christ, in whom they are known, that walk in the Spirit, by their fruits in all their words and works. And the prophet Amos, that had the Spirit of the Lord, and from the Spirit declared the word of the Lord to the King of Israel, the people could not bear his words.
  • Judge. You say well, if you do as you say; but this, it may be, will be expected, and I think it will be fair, to give bail for your appearance at the next assizes.
  • William Dewsbury. First make manifest what law we have transgressed, before bail is required.

    [ After this the prisoners were set aside, and the judge proceeded to other business; but in the evening, when the court was ready to break up, the jailer asked the judge what he should do with those Yorkshire men?]

  • Judge. Bring them before the court.

    [Which was done. Then some in the court said, "Take off their hats;" and two of their hats were taken off; and as they were about to take off William Dewsbury's, the judge said, "Let it be on," and told them put on the hats of the other two again, which was done at his command. He then spoke to William Dewsbury.]

  • Judge. Now I see what you are, and your disguise and form of fair words is seen, and you are not the man you pretend to be.
  • William Dewsbury. Disguise and formality I deny; but the power of God I own and witness, in which I stand, and am subject to it, and to the ordinance of man for conscience sake.
  • Judge. Now you are commanded. Take off your hat.
  • William Dewsbury. Honor is not in pulling off the hat, but in obeying the just commands of God; and my hat offends not any; but who are offended at it, may take it off; I shall not resist them. But there is not any Scripture that expresses any honor to be in putting off the hat.
  • Judge. What! must we do nothing but what is expressed in Scripture, for our apparel, what we shall put on?
  •  William Dewsbury. Yes, the Scripture said, “Let your adorning be with modest apparel.” 
  • Judge. Are you judge, that stand with hat on, and will not take it off, as other prisoners do?
  • William Dewsbury. What I do, God is my witness, I do it not in contempt to any, but in obedience to the power of God for conscience sake.
  • Judge. If you will not stand as prisoners, I will not do anything concerning you; but here I found you, and here I shall leave you.
  • William Dewsbury. We have been above ten weeks in the low jail, and not the breach of any law found against us and we do stand subject to the power of God, what he allows you to do with us.

Thus far as relates to the present examination of William Dewsbury. On the 12th of the same month, the Judges Wyndham and Hale being together upon the bench, they called for the prisoners, Dewsbury, Storr, and Williamson.

  • Judge Wyndham. Take off their hats.
  • Judge Hale. Read the evidence against them. [Which having been done as before.] What say you, did you speak these words?

William Dewsbury then related his encounter with the priest Andrews, and the circumstances which led to the disturbance in the market-place at Wellingborough; asserting the breach of the peace and the tumult to have been caused by his accusers, and not by him. The examination then proceeded.

  • Wyndham. Dewsbury, you are well-known in the north and in Yorkshire; there I have heard of you; but where were you born?
  • William Dewsbury. My natural birth was in Yorkshire.
  • Judge W. Do you begin to cant? Is there any other birth?
  • William Dewsbury. Yes. "Except ye be regenerate and born again, ye cannot see the kingdom of God." Which birth I witness.
  • Judge W. At what place in Yorkshire were you born?
  • William Dewsbury. My natural birth was at a town called Allerthorpe, nine miles from York, towards Hull.
  • Judge W. Where have you been your time?
  • William Dewsbury. When I was thirteen years of age, I was bound apprentice to a cloth maker in the west part of Yorkshire, at a town called Holdbeck, near Leeds.
  • Judge W. Did you serve your time?
  • William Dewsbury. I did stay until the time was near expired, and then the wars began in this nation, and I went into the service of the Parliament.
  • Judge W. Do you deny all Popish tenets?
  • William Dewsbury. Popish tenets I deny; and all tenets contrary to the pure doctrine of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Judge W. Do you own the Scriptures to be a rule to walk by?
  • William Dewsbury. The Scriptures I own; and the pure light and power of Christ Jesus that gave them forth, to guide in an holy conduct according to the Scripture; and he that walks contrary to it is condemned by it.
  • Judge W. Could you not stay in your own country, and keep your opinions to your self; but you must go abroad in the country, and in these parts, to delude the people, and to make a disturbance?
  • William Dewsbury. Deluding I deny. I would have you make it manifest what delusion is. But truth I witness: and the things I have heard and seen I am sent to declare; which disturbs not the peace of any, but who walk not in the Truth, whose peace must be disturbed and taken away.
  • Judge W. But if you and Fox had it in your power, you would soon have your hands imbued in blood.
  • William Dewsbury. It is not so. The Spirit of truth which we witness in us, is peaceable, and neither does violence or sheds blood; and all that are guided by the Spirit of truth, the light and power of Christ, their hands are bound from offering violence, or shedding of blood.
  • J. Storr. It is well known in this nation—their sufferings and stonings — and they never lift up a hand against any.
  • Judge W. It is because you have not power; but here is evidence against you for breaking the peace. Will you give bond for your appearance at the next assizes?
  • William Dewsbury. It is the liberty of the law of this nation, that all that profess the faith of Christ Jesus, may walk in uprightness to their faith in him, without any breach of the laws. And I require a law may be read to us that the evidence brought against us is the breach of; that by the law we may be convinced of the transgression of it, before any bail may be required of us.
  • Judge W. We are judges, and we conceive and judge what is charged against you, to be a sufficient ground to require bail of you, for your appearance at the assizes.
  • William Dewsbury. Though you are judges, you are judges of a law, and are to judge according to law, which is your rule to judge by, and that law I would have you to read us; and if we have transgressed it, judge us according to it.
  • Judge W. You are transgressors of the law, in that you are not subject to government and authority in not pulling off your hats.
  • William Dewsbury. We are subject to the government and the power of God, and to the ordinance of man for conscience sake, but show us in Scripture, which is a true testimony of the power of God, in which we stand, that putting off the hat is required in subjection to authority; and read us a national law, which is the ordinance of man, that requires such a thing.
  • Judge W. It is the practice and custom of the nation.
  • William Dewsbury.The customs of the heathen are vain.
  • Judge Hale. From the evidence which has been read, we expect bond for your appearance, as has been required, at the next assizes.
  • William Dewsbury. Not any law have we transgressed. If you know the breach of any law by us, let it be read, that we may know the ground, what bail is required for; and what we are to answer at the next assizes.
  • Judge H. What say you, Storr? Will you enter into bond for your appearance at the next assizes?
  • Storr. Where are those that have given evidence against me, that I may answer to the particulars of those things charged against me.
  • Judge H. If you will give bail for your appearance at the assizes, then shall those that have informed against you appear face to face.
  • Storr. We are bound by a stronger tie than any outward bond.
  • Judge H. What say you, Williamson? Will you enter into bond for your appearance at the next assizes.
  • Williamson. I am not of any ill behavior; but am bound to good behavior by the power of God.
  • Judge H. If you will not find sureties, you must lie here until the next assizes. Look to them, jailer.

They were accordingly conducted back to prison, and there confined eleven weeks in the nasty low jail, as before, among felons, until another assize. In the meantime several others of their friends were committed to prison. Although it is difficult, no impossible, to reconcile such a result with the principles of straightforward justice, it is due to the judges and others in authority in those turbulent times, and in particular to the character of Judge Hale, to observe, that Friends then were not so well understood as they have been since. This, in fact, was one of those instances, in which too little discrimination was exercised, and the innocent were accordingly made to suffer with and for the guilty. For, despite it was then, as it has ever been, a matter of religious principle among Friends, not to interfere in political questions, or to mix themselves up as partisans in the agitations of the times about temporal things; yet their free and uncompromising censure of many of the principles as well as practices of the day, rendered it difficult for superficial or prejudiced observers, to distinguish their object from that of other classes of agitators. And when, during the unsettled state of the government, both before and subsequent to the protectorate, it is remembered that the principles of Friends respecting the national ministry, both as to its appointment and its maintenance, struck at the very root of the union of church and state, it is not to be doubted, that many thought they had serious and sufficient grounds for concluding, that the views of this Society were unfriendly to the government itself. This, however, could never sanction the many unjust and arbitrary proceedings under which, as in the present instance, they were made to suffer.

It will still further illustrate the fact, which has been pretty clearly displayed by the preceding trial, that considerable fears of a political nature were entertained respecting Friends at this time; if the reader is informed, that while these matters were transacting in Northampton, George Fox was no less a cause of apprehension in Leicestershire. For as he was about to hold a meeting at Whetstone, near Leicester, Colonel Hacker, who afterwards as one of the judges of King Charles, suffered at Tyburn, sent a company of horse to seize him, on suspicion of his being engaged in a plot then in agitation against Cromwell. In the course of the examination which followed, Needham, Hacker's son-in-law, observed to his father, in reference to Fox, that he had reigned too long, and it was time to have him cut off. George Fox, having remonstrated against such a surprising conclusion and declared his innocence, Hacker asked him if he would go home and stay there. But he refusing to bind himself to do one thing or to refrain from another, Hacker said, "Then I will send you to my Lord Protector tomorrow morning, by Captain Drury, one of his life-guards."

What follows is no less interesting than remarkable. The next morning, when George Fox was delivered to Captain Drury, he desired to speak to the Colonel before he went; which was allowed, and he was brought to his bed-side. Hacker told him to go home, and keep no more meetings; which G. Fox refusing to do, he said, "Then you must go before the Protector." Whereupon George kneeled at his bed-side, and prayed the Lord to forgive him: for he looked on the colonel's case to be like that of Pilate, who would wash his hands of the guilt of the measure, to which he was stirred up by the priests. And, therefore, George Fox further told him to remember what he had then said, when the day of his misery and trial should come upon him,—a day little anticipated by Needham, when he made to his father the above-mentioned observation respecting G. Fox's career. This is by no means a solitary instance of George Fox's foresight, whenever it was derived. Captain Drury, though a man of light behavior, and disposed to ridicule George Fox and Friends, behaved himself so far courteously to his prisoner, as to allow him to visit William Dewsbury in the jail of Northampton, when he passed through that town.

The insertion, at the close of this chapter, of parts of two original letters from William Dewsbury, besides conveying further information as to him and his colleagues, may tend to illustrate the foregoing sentiments of our author, relative to the alarm which certainly at this juncture took hold of the minds of the people at large, but especially some classes, whose church system seemed endangered by the rapid spread of Friends and their principles through the land. These letters are dated from Northampton common jail, the 3rd of the 7th month, and 15th of the 8th month, 1655. It seems that often, when their persecutors had sent Friends into prison, they found "Jerusalem such a burdensome stone," as Dewsbury expresses it, that they could "not easily cast it off;" the tendency of which he describes as grinding them to powder. They found and felt that they had wronged these oppressed people, and how to deliver themselves of their prey, and deliver their own characters too, was sometimes not an easy matter.

Friends feared the faces of no man, nor could be brought to bow to the corrupt wills of any, whether magistrates or others; they stood to their testimony when they found they must bear it, on any particular occasion, or in any particular manner, for the Lord and his Truth, against the deceit and oppression of man towards man in the things of God. They could neither make unrighteous concessions nor low compromises, nor enter into recognizances, nor pay fines or fees, for doing what they considered their duty; but were ever willing cheerfully to suffer for what nothing short of this sense of duty could have induced them to do.

It appears by one of these letters, that the justices made use of the jailer, to see if he could get any words from any of the prisoners, that could be construed, as though they would enter into bonds for good behavior, and intimated they should then forthwith be set at liberty. But the jailer, though he would often meet others of the prisoners, could not endure William Dewsbury's piercing eye and high-toned virtue, often endeavoring to avoid him, and would even run from him when he saw him drawing towards him, sooner than encounter him, and sometimes was not seen by him for more than a week. And this was the case with the person periodically officiating as minister among the prisoners; for Dewsbury had protested against him and his doctrine, after he had delivered his discourse, on which, as he relates it, "fear surprised the hypocrite," so that "he stood trembling, and was not able to answer a word." Upon this, the justices actually declared in the open court of the sessions, that the minister "dared not come to preach any more, unless some course were taken with these Quakers;" so an order was given to lock them down in the dungeon, which was done always after, during the hour of preaching. Dewsbury adds:

“The dread of our God is upon them, their heart fails them; and their torment is daily increased, to see the Lord's work prosper, which goes on in mighty power all over these parts, and all the nation over. Friends grow in the power of our God. They come from London, and many places on every side to visit us, though they hear that they cannot be suffered to come at us:—and the wisdom of our God is much in it, who in patience keeps them with boldness to sit at the jail-door, for a testimony against them; which adds much to their torment. The jailer threatens them; and some are ordered of the Lord to go to the justices to bear witness against their wickedness; and they every one would put it off from themselves, and deny what they have done. We have all things we need in the outward. Three in bonds with me maintain themselves, two brothers, called Marmaduke and Joseph Storr, and one Francis Ellington, who is by trade an upholsterer; and Thomas Goodair is in the town jail, and maintains himself.

I have not been free to receive any money of Friends here towards my necessities, which has much confounded my adversaries, that my life should be given up for their souls' good, and not to receive money of them to supply my wants; but in some places I paid for what I needed, where they were not able in the outward. As to some that had wealth in the outward, but had parents who said they would be destroyed with receiving me, and that their trading would fail in the world; contrary to their minds, I was ordered of the Lord to pay them in full for what I had, that the gospel might not be burdensome. I am supplied at all times with what I need, and so shall my wife and children be, according to the word of the Lord, which was sealed to me eight or nine years ago, when a house and garden-grounds were taken from me by this persecuting spirit, which then would not let me have the benefit of the law, but called me heretic, and said, I might not be allowed to have an outward being in this nation. Thomas Goodair was kept in the power and wisdom of our God, in the day when he was brought before the rulers of this town for a testimony against them. Thomas Stubbs is in great service, and is preciously carried forth in the life. Richard Farnsworth has come up among these Friends in these parts; much service the Lord has for him among them. There is a great convincement upon many people in these parts, and a great thirst wherever such Friends come on every side. The harvest is mighty, but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send faithful laborers into his harvest."

The last of these communications, with some omissions, runs thus:—

My dear sister, our Father has covered the faces of his enemies in these parts with shame, and has exalted his Son over all their heads,—they tremble before his power in his saints, and our God has ordered them in pure wisdom. Many he moves to come to visit us. Captain Bradford, as he marched up to London, was allowed to quarter in the town; and came to the jail door, to see if he might come to visit us in prison. The jailer was very untoward at the first, yet being somewhat afraid, asked him if he had any command in the army; he answered him, ' What I have, it matters not in this thing for this I declare to you, whatever command I have in the army, my sword shall not open the jail doors; and if you do not open them, I shall not come in. In meekness and patience he stood, until the Lord commanded the jailer's spirit, that he let him come in; and in precious wisdom he was carried in the town, which did much confound them. Most of the time that he stayed, he was with us, and the prison was most of the time full of officers and soldiers. About seventeen weeks before that time, few were allowed to come visit us, though some came about one hundred miles. About the week following after Captain Bradford left, was the general sessions; and several Friends from Bristol came, along with our dear brother, John Audland, and some from London, and Justice Crook, and certain others in the area, who, in the power of the Spirit of our God, tread on the heads of these who persecute him in his children, so that they trembled before the presence of the Most High in them.

And two young men that are in bonds, who were brought before the men that sat at the sessions, the Lord manifested his power in them, that those called justices were confounded before all the people; but the time of their freedom out of bonds had not yet come. Here are certain precious hearts, who have lived in great pleasures and honors in the world, who are now laying them down willingly at the feet of Jesus. I am moved to lay their case before you, that you may write to them. Justice Crook's wife is precious in her measure, and many of the handmaids of the Lord are very beautiful in the power of our God, who is carrying his work over all, where he sends his children."

William Dewsbury


1655. Epistle — Assizes—Prisoners tried before Judge Atkins—Refuse to enter into bonds—Remanded to prison—Detained six months.

DURING William Dewsbury's confinement in Northampton jail, he did not spend his time in idleness; for besides several pieces, suited to that particular period, which he wrote for the promotion of the cause he had so zealously espoused, he also addressed epistles in various directions for the edification of the church, and to supply the place of his personal labors, in extensively publishing the truth to those who were prepared to receive it. The whole of one, and parts of another of these epistles, it is now my intention to lay before the reader.

Site Editor's Comment: The following extract from Dewsbury's letters is a most outstanding writing, describing the workings of the Spirit to teach, convict, and lead to salvation, while waiting on the Lord in silence; he particularly relates the process in precise scriptural language:

All people who desire to know the living God, let the time past suffice in which you have followed men who have deceived you, and cease from them; and turn to the true Prophet, whom Moses the servant of the Lord declared, the Lord God would raise up, Deut 18:15, his elect and chosen servant, to raise up the tribe of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; whom he has also given for a Light to the Gentiles, and to be his salvation to the ends of the earth. Whom Isaiah the prophet also declared, the Lord would raise up, to open the fountain of life and salvation to all that thirst, Isa 55:1-3, and is now witnessed by all that hearken to his counsel, who calls,' Ho!' to every one that thirsts,' come you to the waters, and he that has no money, come you buy and eat, yes, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfies not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness: incline your ear and come unto me; hear, and your souls shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.' " All people, look no longer forth; the glad tidings of the gospel of eternal salvation is heard within, in this day of the Lord's mercies, in which he is teaching his people himself, as was declared by the prophet Isaiah 54:13, and is now witnessed by all the children of light, whose minds are turned within to wait on the Lord for his teaching, to establish them in the covenant of life and peace, who is performing his promise, which he declared by his servant the prophet Jeremiah to all that wait on him; namely,' This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, in those days, said the Lord; I will put my law into their hearts, and write it in their inward parts, and will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall no more teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, said the Lord; for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.'

Therefore, everyone that desires to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, turn your minds within, and examine your hearts, search and try your ways with the light that Christ Jesus has enlightened you withal, that shows you in your hearts what is sin, that pride and covetousness, lying and swearing, dissimulation and cheating, vain and idle communications, foolish jesting and unbelief, are sins. These things you know to be sins in your own consciences, by the righteous law of God in the heart, that reproves you for them in secret. There is your teacher, the Spirit of the Lord within you; which, in this mighty day of his power, he is pouring upon all flesh, according to his promise declared by the prophet Joel 2:28-29, and is now witnessed by his sons and by his daughters, who walk in the light, and are led and guided by his Spirit within them, which keeps the conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. "Hearken, everyone, diligently to the counsel of the Lord, the light that witnesses for God in the conscience; give up to be guided by it; then you will need no more to be taught of men, neither shall your teacher be removed into a corner any more; but your eye shall see your teacher, and 'your ear shall hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right hand or to the left,' as was declared by the prophet, Isaiah 30:20-21, which is now witnessed :— and that is the living word of God within you, which has raised desires in you towards God. Everyone in whom such desires are raised, wait in the light and power within, which has raised the desires; and the Lord will then strengthen you, and give you power to wait on him in the way of his judgments, until the carnal, earthly, sensual mind, which has led you to delight in lusts and pleasures, and in created enjoyments, below God, is cut down and slain by the word of God within which is a sharp and two-edged sword, to slay down the first man, which is of the earth, earthy; and then will you come to witness a being 'the slain of the Lord.' The sentence of death will be passed upon the first man that has led you from God, and on all the strength, wisdom, and righteousness you had in him; and in the power of the Spirit, you will be brought, in the true sense of the poverty of your spirits, to hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, to prize and love him, and to judge and deny self with his light, and in it to wait for his power to guide you in every word and work."

William Dewsbury

[ The following letter of advice to an individual, of some station, Judge Fell, of Swarthmore, the Editor ventures to interpose between these two addresses. It is copied from the original.]

To Judge Fell.

From the common jail in Northampton, 7th of 3rd month, 1655


That which calls for purity in you is dear to me, and with it I suffer, which often secretly groans in you for deliverance. And while you lend your ear to the pure counsel of the holy Seed, you are almost persuaded to lay your crown in the dust at the feet of Christ, who is Zion's King and Judge; and to follow him daily in the cross, that you might come to the crown your eyes in measure to see what is given to all that are faithful in walking in obedience to the will of God, in what he makes manifest. Blessed would you be, if you did stand faithful in the pure counsel of the holy God; he would wholly persuade you by his unlimited power, and guide you with boldness to deny yourself, and the wills of all men in the world. To the pure light of Christ in your conscience I speak, which will witness me:—you turn from it your ear, and [are left] to the enemy of your peace, who draws you into consultations with flesh and blood, which set before you the way of Truth to be hard and strait to walk in, that you are not able to walk faithfully in it in what is manifest to you. Hearkening to this lying spirit, it draws your mind to seek refreshment in the visible things the Lord has made you steward over, so to forsake the living mercies which the Lord God of heaven and earth has manifested to his faithful children in your family and elsewhere, that stand in his counsel. In tender bowels of love to your soul, his arm is stretched forth to embrace you in his free covenant of life in Christ, if you diligently incline your ear to his counsel, the light, and wait for his power to guide you in perfect obedience to the measure received; then would your talent daily increased, and the victory witnessed over the power of the prince of this world, to tread on his head in the power of Christ; then would the wisdom of the Father, be given in the state and condition he has placed you in, to be a faithful steward over the unrighteous mammon, to use it in its right place for which it is created; and then he will make you partaker of the true substance, Christ the fullness of all things.

Dear Friend, as you tender the glory of the living God and welfare of your soul, and as you will eternally answer before him, slight not the day of your visitation; for the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with you. Be tender over the least motion of the Spirit of Christ, from where the light comes; in it wait with boldness, for Christ to guide you in all your ways, in faithful obedience to the will of God. His eternal power bring you under Christ in you to rule, to the praise and glory of the Father of lights, God over all, blessed forever. In tender love to your soul I write you, who am often with you in spirit, who am known by name,

William Dewsbury

The other epistle bears internal evidence of having been addressed exclusively to the members of the newly gathered society. While its design is, on one hand to encourage and strengthen the simple-hearted and faithful, though among those might be the weak of the flock; on the other, the language of rebuke is freely employed towards such as, through hastiness, impatience, or lack of watchfulness, were in danger of injuring themselves, and thereby of introducing the body into suffering, and of bringing discredit on the cause itself. It is from the pen, not of a learned man, but of an experienced Christian.

Dear Friends, servants and children of the most high God, whom he has called and chosen out of the world; be faithful, all of you, in his counsel. Wait for his power, to guide you in all your thoughts, words, and works, in his pure fear and in obedience to his will. I charge you in his presence, be valiant for your freedom, in dwelling in the power of the living God; that he may arm you against the fiery darts of the devil, to resist him in his appearances in all his wiles, who goes about like a roaring lion, to draw you every way, seeking to get your minds from that which is pure, into the visible things, there to captivate your affections, to satisfy your wills in created and perishing objects, or in the knowledge of the Truth in the fleshly wisdom. (These) feed with the swine upon the husks, the form and image of what you have enjoyed, or what you see in the vision but do not enjoy in the possession, and speak, in a drunken spirit, words without knowledge. With these, there sits a painted beast, the will at liberty, out of the cross.

You whose condition this is, are the foolish virgin, turned from the pure wisdom of God, the light of Christ that convinced you of sin; and now appears in the outward formality, in the sight of men with a lamp like the wise virgins; but not dwelling in the power of God, lacks the oil of joy and gladness in the power of his love. This, the wise virgins have in their lamps, which exercises their consciences and keeps all their affections in order unto the Spirit of truth, which bridles their tongues not to utter words before the Lord; but in true silence to wait upon him, until his Spirit moves them to declare his mind, from the living power the soul possesses and enjoys in Christ, the husband of the wise virgins. He by his power keeps the lamp of his bride trimmed, the Lamb's wife, she always breathing and thirsting for him to manifest his power to take away sin and renew the image of God; and in Christ Jesus, the soul's life, to witness the perfect man to reign in her forever.

You who hunger and thirst after righteousness are beloved for you are the children of the kingdom of my Father. With you my life is bound up; and to you this is the word of the Lord,—fear not, lift up your heads, and wait in the light with boldness. In it, look up to Christ, your King; he will appear as the lightning from the east unto the west, and you shall behold him subjecting your wild nature to himself. He will heal your infirmities, and satisfy your thirsty souls, and give you the end of your hope, the salvation of your souls. You shall sit down with him in the kingdom of the Father, to rejoice in the power of eternal love and life, which is in his presence forever and ever; and this is the children's bread, that comes down from heaven.

But you foolish virgins, who sit in the outward form and profession of the Truth, your lamps are empty of the power of God, which should cast down your wills and keep them in the daily cross. Thus you are possessed with a dull, sottish, drowsy, earthly, careless spirit, which is weary of waiting on the Lord in silence. You have no oil in your lamps, you are turned from the light that would lead you to the power of God, which would preserve in the true thirsting, to wait for the refreshment that is in his presence. Thus, while you are sitting in a silent meeting among the wise virgins, who feed on the immortal bread which comes down from heaven, the flesh and blood of Jesus, you are imprisoned and starved for lack of food, which daily strengthens them (the wise virgins) in the power of God, and gathers all their hearts together in one, where the union is in the invisible Being, in silence, rejoicing together in the Lord.

To the consciences of you foolish virgins, I speak; you are strangers to the life the wise virgins enjoy. Though you come among them, your life is in beautifying the outside of the lamp in words, being quickly spoken; but the fear of God is not before your eyes, but your wills are out of the cross. A false joy arises in you, speaking what you do not possess, priding and glorying in other men's lines, and contending for the Truth, with that mind that is out of the Truth. So you become as trees, with leaves and blossoms, which bear no fruit. Here your folly is made manifest; while you speak to others, yourselves are under reproof, in that you are strangers to the life of God. I charge and command you, silence flesh. Speak not before the Lord, you foolish ones, while the worker of iniquity reigns in you, whom the Lord will destroy, unless you repent. Therefore, all Friends, who make mention of the name of the living God, examine your hearts, search them, and try your ways with the light that comes from Christ; with it, read your condition in the book of conscience. There, you will see how you stand in the presence of the living, pure, holy God; whether in the state of the foolish virgins, that are turned from the light of Christ, which convinced them of sin, and getting into the form of the Truth, but an enemy to the cross, so make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience; or whether you are in the state of the wise virgins, who love the light, and wait in it to dwell in the power which chastises that nature, which would draw from the light and defile your garments. But in the daily cross your souls are kept pure and chaste, to follow the Lamb wherever he goes; and you enter with him into the rest prepared for the people of God, where the foolish virgins shall not come, until they, from their foolish wisdom, return into true obedience to the Father of light.

Dear children of the Lord God, be valiant, bold, and faithful in your measures; that in the light, life, and power of God, you may stand in the day of great trial, which the Lord will bring upon all you that make mention of his name. For power will be given to the beast to exalt his horn, even to the host of heaven, for the clearing of the sanctuary of the Lord. Then will the foolish virgins and painted beasts, that are enemies to the cross of Christ, who have defiled the sanctuary of the living God, come before him among his saints and children. From among them shall they come, trembling before the power of the beast, when he utters his voice and commands all to worship his image. But then shall all you, children of the most high God, whom he has called to be faithful to him, rejoice in his eternal power; who will keep you at that day in rest and peace, in the Ancient of Days; who will sit to judge in righteousness all who withstand the rising of his glory; and of his dominion there shall be no end. Friends, meet together in the true silence of your spirits; wait in the light for the unlimited Spirit of the Lord, to manifest his power in you, and bruise the serpent's head in all his appearances in you, and put an end to sin and bring in everlasting righteousness. That, in Him you may grow, in the pure nature of the most high God over all, blessed forever, amen. God Almighty keep you all faithful in his eternal power in himself, to bear his name in righteousness. That his name may be written in your foreheads, and all that see you, may witness you to be the righteous seed that the Lord has blessed. His eternal power and presence keep you in the eternal unity of the Spirit and bond of peace, where I am with you in the unchangeable love and life.

William Dewsbury


I desire you to let this be read in your meetings, with a good understanding, in the fear of the Lord; for this is the day, “I will make a separation between the wise and the foolish, between those that fear the Lord, and those that fear him not,' said the Lord God Almighty.

At the time of the assizes, which were held the 21st of the 5th month, William Dewsbury was called to the bar, his name being associated with no less than six others, who were imprisoned under similar charges. Seeing the prisoners one and all standing before him with their hats on, the Judge, Edward Atkins, after a short pause, asked the jailer, if those were prisoners. On being answered in the affirmative, the judge asked him, if it were his practice to bring prisoners before the court in that manner, and told him he deserved to be fined ten pounds, for bringing them before the court covered. The jailer replied, "If you command me, I shall take off their hats." This being done, and having ascertained which of the prisoners was Dewsbury, (for, it appears, both now and on the previous trial, that his preaching had produced a great sensation in those parts of the country where he had traveled), the following examination took place.

  • Judge. What are you here for?
  • Prisoner. The mittimus will express what I was committed for, but a copy of it I am denied by the keeper of the jail.
  • Judge. What is your name?
  • Prisoner. Unknown to the world.
  • Judge. Let us hear what that name is, that the world knows not.
  • Prisoner. It is known in the light, and not any can know it, but him that has it; but the name the world knows me by, is William Dewsbury.
  • Judge. What countryman are you?
  • Prisoner. Of the land of Canaan.
  • Judge. That is afar off.
  • Prisoner. No, it is near. For all who dwell in God, are in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven. There the soul is in rest, and enjoys the love of God in Christ Jesus, in whom the union is with the Father of light.
  • Judge. That is true. But are you ashamed of your country? Is it any disparagement for you to be born in England?
  • Prisoner. No. For the Truth's sake, I am free to declare, according to the knowledge of the world, my natural birth was in Yorkshire, nine miles from York, towards Hull.
  • Judge. You pretend to be extraordinary men, and to have an extraordinary knowledge of God.
  • Prisoner. We witness the work of regeneration to be an extraordinary work, wrought in us by the Spirit of God.
  • Judge. But the apostles wrought with their hands in their callings.
  • Prisoner. They had callings in the world, some were fishermen, Paul a tent-maker; but when they were called to the ministry of Christ, they left their callings to follow Christ, where he led them by his Spirit to preach the word; and I had a calling in the world, as they had, and in it did abide, until the Father revealed his Son in me, and called me from my calling I had in the world, to preach the eternal word he had made known to me, in the great work of regeneration.
  • Judge. Why did you not abide in your own country, and teach people in those pails?
  • Prisoner. There I did stay, until I was called from there to go where I was led by the Spirit of the Lord. And as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons and daughters of God, and they that have not the Spirit of Christ are none of his.
  • Judge. You say well; for we must in charity conclude that everyone in this place has the Spirit of God in them; but how do you know that you are guided by the Spirit of God?
  • Prisoner. They that have the Spirit of God are known by their fruits. And he that believes in Jesus Christ and is guided by his Spirit, has the witness in himself.
  • Judge. That is true; yet, despite, I see by your carriage, that what my brother Hale did at the last assizes, in requiring bonds for your good behavior, he might justly do it; for you are against magistrates and ministers.
  • Prisoner. Show us where we are against them.
  • Judge. (To Robert Grey, Clerk of the Peace), What have you against these men?
  • Grey. Here is information, given in upon oath by Mr. Robert Beeton, that William Dewsbury, on the 29th of December 1654, went into the church at Wellingborough and stood with his hat on in the time of sermon and prayer. And after the minister had done, he spoke these words, "The priests preach for hire, and the people love to have it so: but what will you do in the end thereof?" with other railing words, which made a disturbance among the people.

The judge was then proceeding to examine some of the other prisoners, having first threatened what he would do before he left the town against those who disturbed the ministers, when William Dewsbury said, "It is the liberty of the law of this nation, that any one who is brought a prisoner, before those who sit to judge their cause, may speak for themselves, to witness the truth against the false information given in against them; and that liberty I take, to manifest the ground and cause of my going into the steeple-house at Wellingborough." He then related how the priest Andrews had attacked him in the public street, which he told the judge had given occasion to his visit to the public meeting-place, strongly asserting his conduct to have been no breach of any law of this nation. The conduct was then resumed as follows:

  • Judge. But in that you are found wandering in the country, you break the law; for there is an ancient, old law, that if any did go from their dwellings to travel in the country without a certificate from some justice, they were to be taken as wandering persons.
  • Prisoner. If there is any such law, read it to us. And if there is such a law, you know in your conscience it is contrary to the Scriptures. For the apostles and ministers of Christ went to and fro in the country, preaching the word of eternal life, and there were added to the church daily such as should be saved; and the number of saints and brethren was daily increased. And the law which is in force in this nation does allow all that profess faith in Jesus Christ, to have free liberty to walk in the faith; which is according to the Scripture.
  • Judge. You have an eloquent tongue, and you are proud of it.
  • Prisoner. Pride I deny; but the Truth I witness, which will judge pride, and torment all who live in it until it is destroyed.

To this the judge made no answer, but proceeded to examine the other prisoners; who, without any accuser appearing against them, and without proof of the breach of any law, were required to enter into bonds for their good behavior; which, as it not only involved an acknowledgment of their guilt, but was intended as a check to those proceedings, in which they believed it to be their religious duty and calling to be diligently engaged, they refused to do. They were accordingly remanded to prison, and there detained until the 11th month 1655, being a period of nearly six months, subjected also to the aggravated trial, that of their friends being denied the liberty of visiting them. As they were leaving the court, William Dewsbury, turning to the judge, spoke as follows;

With what measure you inflict on us, it will be measured to you again; and the Lord God of heaven and earth will judge between you and us, and will give unto you and every one of you, according to the works you have done, and in that day you shall know what is now declared to be the Truth: the Lord has spoken it, in whom we trust, and He will deliver us.

The names of the other prisoners were, Joseph Storr, Henry Williamson, John Whitehead, Marmaduke Storr, Thomas Cockett, and Francis Ellington.

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