Caton, William (DNB00)

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CATON, WILLIAM (1636–1665), quaker, was probably a near relation of Margaret Askew, afterwards wife of Thomas Fell, vice-chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. At the age of fourteen he was taken by his father to the judge's house at Swarthmore, near Ulverston, to be educated by a kinsman who was then tutor to the Fell family. The boy was made a companion to the judge's eldest son, and was sent with him to a school at Hawkshead. In 1652 George Fox paid his first visit to Swarthmore Hall, and Caton embraced quakerism. He now refused to study on the ground of its being a worldly occupation, and Margaret Fell employed him at Swarthmore to teach her younger children and act as her secretary. When he was about eighteen, Caton was chosen one of the quaker preachers for the district of which Swarthmore was the centre, and in his ‘Journal’ he relates that he was often ‘beaten, buffetted, stocked, and stoned’ by the people of the places in which he attempted to preach. In 1654 he left Swarthmore in order to become an itinerant preacher. Towards the end of the year he was joined by John Stubbs, with whom he proceeded to Maidstone. Here they were both sent to the house of correction and harshly treated, when, the only charge against them being that of preaching, the magistrates were compelled to release them (a

full account of this is preserved in the MSS. of the Friends of East Kent). About the middle of 1655 Caton made an attempt to plant his doctrines in France, but went no further than Calais on account of the difficulty he found in preaching through an interpreter, and returned to England without delay. After a preaching tour, which lasted some months, he went to Holland, hoping to convert the Dutch, though he was as ignorant of their language as he was of French. At Flushing and Middelburg he found English congregations, and was roughly handled at both places for interrupting their services. At the end of 1655 he was again in England. He next made an attempt to promulgate quakerism in Scotland, and was the messenger from the Friends in England to General Monck. Early in 1656 Caton was imprisoned for a short time at Congleton. Towards the end of this year he returned to Holland, and, after some adventures, determined to settle in Amsterdam, where there was a small quaker community. He spent some time between England and Holland. In a letter preserved in the ‘Swarthmore MSS.’ he gives a brief interesting account of the ceremonies attending the proclamation of Charles II in 1660. At the end of 1660 he had an interview with the ‘prince palatine’ at Heidelberg, to plead for liberty of conscience. About 1662 he married Annekin Derrix or Derricks, a Dutch quakeress. On a later journey to Holland he was forced to take shelter in Yarmouth Roads, where he landed, and was imprisoned for nearly five months for refusing the oath of allegiance. His letters give a graphic account both of the storm and of his severe treatment in prison. Little more is accurately known of his life, except that he returned to Holland. His last known letter is dated 8th month 1665 (O.S.), and Barclay, in his reprint of Caton's ‘Journal,’ states that there is reason to believe that he died towards the end of 1665. Caton stands out in marked contrast to most of the early quakers, for though an enthusiast he was far from being a fanatic. He wrote largely, both in English and Dutch, and his style was more simple and pointed than that of most of the seventeenth-century Friends. In England, Holland, and Germany his works were for more than a century very highly esteemed, and his ‘Journal,’ a somewhat wordy and tedious work, is still a popular book among the Friends.

His principal works were: 1. ‘A True Declaration of the Bloody Proceedings of the Men of Maidstone,’ 1655. 2. ‘The Moderate Enquirer resolved … by way of Conference concerning the condemned People commonly called Quakers,’ &c., 1659 (translated into Dutch as ‘Den matelijcken Ondersoeker voldaen’ in 1669). 3. ‘Truth's Character of Professors …’ 1660. 4. ‘An Epistle to King Charles II sent from Amsterdam in Holland, the 28 of the 10 month, 1660.’ 5. ‘William Caton's Salutation and Advice unto God's Elect,’ 1660. 6. ‘An Abridgement; or a Compendious Commemoration of the Remarkable Chronologies which are contained in that famous Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus,’ 1661 (reprinted as ‘An Abridgement of Eusebius Pamphilius's Ecclesiastical History’). 7. ‘The Testimony of a Cloud of Witnesses,’ &c., 1662. 8. ‘Two General Epistles given forth in Yarmouth Common Gaol,’ 1663. 9. ‘A Journal of the Life of … Will. Caton, written by his own hand’ (edited by George Fox), 1689. Besides the above Caton wrote a large number of small books and tracts in High and Low Dutch, which have never been translated; the most important is ‘Eine Beschirmung d'un schuldigen,’ 1664.

[The foregoing account has been chiefly compiled from Caton's Journal; Tuke's Life of Caton (Biographical Notices of Friends, vol. ii.); Webb's The Fells of Swarthmore Hall; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books; Sewel's History of the Rise of the Society of Friends; and manuscripts in the Swarthmore Collection at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street, London.]

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