Burneyeat, John (DNB00)

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BURNEYEAT, JOHN (1631–1690), quaker, was born in 1631 at Crabtreebeck, near Loweswater, Cumberland. Until he became a quaker his history is unknown. From a scanty journal he kept we learn that he was an uneducated, hard-working farmer, sensitively religious, and, like so many of his fellow north-countrymen, dissatisfied both with the formality of the Anglican church and the narrowness of the puritans. When George Fox and a number of his followers went into Cumberland in 1653, Burneyeat attended some of their meetings, and being, to use his own words, ‘convinced of the blessed truth,’ became a Friend. For the next few years he continued his farming, and, although ‘he was diligent in attending meetings,’ and occasionally ‘testified’ publicly, he does not appear to have been either imprisoned or fined. In 1657 he felt it his duty to take a more prominent part in the affairs of the sect, and, in obedience to what he deemed a divine command, attended a service at Aspetry ‘Steeple-house,’ where, the preacher propounding some subtle questions, he attempted to reply, and was promptly turned out. From this time he constantly attended and disturbed services, with the result that he was frequently threatened and occasionally beaten. Towards the end of this year he was imprisoned at Carlisle for brawling, though in fact he had been merely a silent attendant at the service at which he was arrested; but, after being detained for nearly six months, was discharged without trial. In 1658 he made an unsuccessful attempt to plant quakerism in Scotland, and then, after spending a few months on his farm, he made a similar effort in Ireland, where he was imprisoned several times for short periods, and was more than once nearly starved to death in crossing what were then almost uninhabited parts of the island. Burneyeat was a born missionary, and in 1660 felt ‘moved’ to visit America. For nearly two years he resisted the impulse, until, its strength increasing, he sought out George Fox and consulted him on the matter. Shortly afterwards he was again arrested and sent to prison for refusing to take the sacrament, and was treated with considerable harshness. According to his own account he was released at the end of fourteen weeks, because ‘there was a bowling-alley before the prison door, where several of the magistrates and others used to come to their games; and hearing my voice they were offended and sent me away.’ In 1664 he sailed from Galway for Barbadoes, where he was occupied for several months in endeavouring to counteract the heretical practices which John Perrot had introduced among the quakers in that island. From Barbadoes he went to Maryland, and thence to Virginia. Here, too, he found Perrot's heresies had been planted, and the greater part of his time was occupied in rooting them out. When this was done he visited the Friends in New England, and in 1667 he returned to his native country. The next three years were occupied with journeys which embraced the greater part of England, Ireland, and Wales. According to Besse's ‘Sufferings,’ in 1670 he was fined 20l. for speaking at a meeting at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate; and, as he repeated the offence a fortnight afterwards, he was sent to Newgate. A few months later he and William Simpson, the author of the far-famed ‘Going Naked a Sign,’ again sailed for America, where Burneyeat stayed as an unpaid preacher for several years. A feeling of much bitterness had developed among the American Friends against their brethren in England, and especially against ‘George Fox and his papers of wholesome advice,’ and, hearing that Fox and some of his immediate followers were coming to America, Burneyeat set himself the task of allaying ill-feeling, and was so successful that when Fox and his companions landed they received a hearty welcome from the colonists, nor through the whole of their protracted stay does there appear to have been the slightest display of animosity. At Rhode Island Burneyeat with several other quakers took part in a dispute with Roger Williams, who complains, and not without reason, that he was barely permitted to speak, and who, to justify his position, wrote a book entitled ‘George Fox digg'd out of his Burrows,’ in reply to which Burneyeat, in conjunction with Fox, published ‘A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched,’ a work which at the time enjoyed considerable popularity. Burneyeat accounts for the fulness with which the dispute is recorded by asserting that it had been taken down in shorthand. In 1673 he left America, and, returning to England, spent most of his time in visiting and overlooking various quaker societies. In the following year he was one of the Friends chosen to inquire into and settle the dissensions in Westmoreland caused by the eccentricities of Story and Wilkinson, but his efforts were utterly futile. Somewhat later he again visited Ireland, where in 1683 he married. During the same year the Irish authorities became troubled by the rapid increase of quakerism in that island, and Burneyeat, who was the most active disseminator of the creed, was arrested at a meeting and sent to prison, though no formal charge seems to have been brought against him. After two months he was unconditionally released by order of the Earl of Arran. In 1688 his wife died, and was buried near Dublin. From this time Burneyeat appears to have resided almost entirely in Ireland, and, though he continued to preach, his high character protected him from legal molestation. He died in 1690, and was buried at the New Garden burial-ground, near Dublin, having been a quaker minister for twenty-three years. All the various ‘testimonies’ to him which remain concur in representing him as a fine type of man, humble, patient, earnest, and moderate. ‘And in all his travels,’ says one of these ‘testimonies’ quaintly, ‘into whose house he entered he was content with such things as were set before him, were they ever so mean, which was great satisfaction to many poor, honest Friends among whom his lot was cast.’ He left one son, Jonathan, who became a quaker minister at the age of twelve, and died in Cumberland in 1723. Unlike so many of the early Friends, Burneyeat was not a voluminous writer; but though his scholarship was small and his literary style poor, his works were much esteemed during the early part of the eighteenth century, owing to their earnest spirit of piety.

The following is a fairly complete list of his works: 1. ‘A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched; being an answer to a slanderous book entituled “George Fox digg'd out of his Burrows,”’ &c. By John Burneyeat [and George Fox], 4to, 1679. 2. ‘An Epistle from John Burneyeat to Friends in Pennsylvania,’ &c. 4to, 1686. 3. ‘The Innocency of the Christian Quakers manifested,’ &c. By John Burneyeat [and Amos Strettel], 4to, 1688. 4. ‘The Holy Truth and its Professions defended,’ &c. By John Burneyeat [and John Watson], 4to, 1688.

His collected works were published in 1691 under the title of ‘The Truth exalted in the Writings of that Eminent and Faithful Servant of Christ, John Burneyeat, &c., with Prefaces to the Reader and several testimonies from various Friends in England, Ireland, and America.’ No life of Burneyeat has ever been published, and the scanty remnants of his history can only be gleaned from the testimonies of his friends and occasional references in the works of himself and his contemporaries.

[Fox's Journal; Wight's Quakers in Ireland; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books; MSS. in the Library of the Meeting for Sufferings, Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street.]

A. C. B.