Ellwood, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Ellman, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
ELLWOOD, THOMAS (1639–1713), quaker and friend of Milton, born at Crowell, Oxfordshire, in October 1639, was younger son of Walter Ellwood, by his wife, Elizabeth Potman,' both well descended but of declining families.' He had two sisters and a brother, all older than himself. From 1642 to 1646 the family lived in London. At seven Thomas went to the free school at Thame and proved himself 'full of spirit' and fond of a waggish prank.' He was removed at an early age to save expense, became an expert in all field sports, and afterwards reproached himself with much thoughtless dissipation. But his worst crime seems to have been an endeavour to run a ruffian, who insulted his father, through the body with a rapier. His brother and mother both died in his youth. In the autumn of 1659 a change came over him. He and his father paid a visit to Isaac Pennington, son of Alderman Isaac Pennington, the regicide, who lived at the Grange, Chalfont St. Peters, Buckinghamshire. Pennington's wife, Mary, widow of Sir William Springett, had been intimate with the Ellwoods while they lived in London, and her daughter Gulielma had often been Thomas's playmate in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Young Ellwood and his father found that the Penningtons had lately become quakers - a sect of which little had then been heard. Desirous to learn something of the quaker doctrine, a second visit of some days' duration was paid in December 1659, when Thomas attended a quakers' meeting at a neighbouring farmhouse and made the acquaintance of Edward Burrough [q. v.] and James Nayler [q. v.] Burrough's preaching conquered Ellwood, and after attending a second quakers' meeting at High Wycombe he joined the new sect and adopted their modes of dress and speech. His father strongly resented his son's conversion, thrashed him for wearing his hat in his presence, and kept him a prisoner in his house through the winter of 1660. At Easter the Penningtons managed to remove him to Chalfont St. Peters, where he stayed till Whitsuntide. He attended quakers meetings with great assiduity, and late in 1660 was divinely inspired, according to his own account, to write and print an attack on the established clergy entitled 'An Alarm to the Priests.' He afterwards visited London and met George Fox the younger.
About November 1660 Ellwood invited a quaker of Oxford named Thomas Loe to attend a meeting at Crowell. Loe was at the moment in prison in Oxford Castle, and Ellwood's letter fell into the hands of Lord Falkland, lord-lieutenant of the county. A party of horse was sent to arrest him: he was taken before two justices of the peace at Weston, refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and was imprisoned for some months at Oxford in the house of the city marshal, a linendraper in High Street named Galloway. His father procured his release and vainly tried to keep him from quakers' meetings for the future. In April 1661 the elder Ellwood and his two daughters left Crowell to live in London; at Michaelmas the son sold by his father's directions all the cattle and dismissed the servants. For a time he lived in complete solitude. He often visited Aylesbury gaol, where many of his quaker friends were in prison. At a quakers' meeting held at Pennington's house he was, for a second time, arrested, but was soon discharged. For no apparent reason he was immediately afterwards arrested as a rogue and vagabond by the watch at Beaconsfield while walking home from Chalfont St. Peters, but was released after one night's detention.
Early in 1662 Ellwood was attacked by smallpox, and on his recovery went to London for purposes of study. His friend Pennington consulted Dr. Paget in the matter, and Paget arranged that he should read with the poet Milton, who 'lived now a private and retired life in [Jewin Street] London, and having wholly lost his sight kept always a man to read to him.' Ellwood obtained lodgings in Aldersgate, near Milton's house, and went 'every day in the afternoon, excepting on the first day of the week, and sitting by [the poet] in his dining-room read to him in such books in the Latin tongue as he pleased to hear me read.' Milton taught Ellwood the foreign mode of pronouncing Latin. After six weeks' application Ellwood fell ill, went to Wycombe to recruit, and returned in October 1662. On the 26th of that month he was arrested at a quakers' meeting held at the Bull and Mouth in Aldersgate, and was confined till December in the old Bridewell in Fleet Street. At first he was so ill supplied with money that he was in danger of starvation, but his father and the Penningtons forwarded him a few pounds, and he made 'night waistcoats of red and yellow flannel' for a hosier of Cheapside. On 19 Dec. he was taken before the recorder at the Old Bailey, declined to take the oath of allegiance, and was committed to Newgate. His plea of illegal detention was overruled. In Newgate he was 'thrust into the common side' to share the society of 'the meanest sort of felons and pickpockets.' The unsanitary condition of the prison caused the death of a quaker, one of Ellwood's many companions. At the inquest the foreman of the jury expressed deep disgust at the prisoners' treatment. Ellwood was consequently removed to the old Bridewell, where he lived under easy discipline till his discharge in January 1662-3.
From that date till 1669 Ellwood resided with the Penningtons as Latin tutor to their young children, and he managed their estates in Kent and Sussex. He consented to the sale of Crowell by his father, and thus acquired a little ready money. In June 1665 he hired a cottage for Milton at Chalfont St. Giles, where the poet lived while the plague raged in London. On 1 July he was arrested while attending a quaker's funeral at Amersham, and spent a month in Aylesbury gaol. On his discharge he paid Milton a visit, and the poet lent him the manuscript of 'Paradise Lost.' Ellwood, when returning the paper, remarked, ' Thou hast said much of "Paradise Lost," but what hast thou to say of "Paradise Found"?' When Ellwood called on Milton in London in the autumn, he was shown the second poem, called 'Paradise Regained,' and Milton added, 'This is owing to you, for you put it into my head by the question you put to me at Chalfont, which before I had not thought of.' Pennington was in prison at Aylesbury for nine months during 1665 and 1666; his household was broken up, and Ellwood staved with his pupils at Aylesbury, Bristol, and Amersham. From 13 March 1685-6 till 25 June Ellwood was himself imprisoned once again at Wycombe for attending a meeting at Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire. On 28 Oct. 1669 he was married according to quaker rites to a quakeress named Mary Ellis. On her death in 1708 she was stated to be eighty-five years old, and was therefore Ellwood's senior by sixteen years. His father resented the ceremony, and declined to make any provision for his son, contrary to a previous promise. Meanwhile Ellwood actively engaged in controversy both within and without the quaker community, and grew intimate with the quaker leaders, Fox and Penn. The latter married his friend. Gulielma Pennington. In 1668 he lent assistance to George Fox in his attempt to crush John Perrot, leader of a body of dissentient who insisted on wearing their hats during worship, and he travelled with Fox through the west of England on an organising expedition. In 1670 he was present at the debate at High Wycombe between Jeremy Ives, a baptist, and William Penn. When the Conventicle Act became law in July 1670, and the quakers were at the mercy of corrupt informers, Ellwood energetically sought to circumvent their tricks, and proceeded against two named Aris and Lacy for perjury. In 1674 he was busily engaged in a controversy with Thomas Hicks, a baptist, who had written against quakerism. Ellwood issued many broadsides charging Hicks with forgery. He also wrote much against tithes from 1678 onwards, and attacked with great bitterness one William Rogers, who in 1682 ignored the authority of Penn and Fox, and denied their right to control the quaker community. Ellwood's account of his own life ceased in July 1683, when he was protesting against the injustice of treating quakers' meetings as riotous assemblies, and had himself just been threatened with prosecution for seditious libel because he had warned the constables to beware of informers. His father died about 1684 at Holton, and Ellwood was charged by his enemies with absenting himself from his funeral. But he behaved dutifully, according to his own account, to the last. He lived in retirement at Amersham for the greater part of his remaining years, writing constantly against internal divisions in the quaker ranks, and denouncing with especial vigour in 1684 the heresy of George Keith. In 1690 he edited the journal of his friend, George Fox, and was long engaged on a history of the Old Testament. In 1707 and 1708 distraints were levied on him for the non-payment of tithes. His wife, 'a solid, weighty woman' (according to Ellwood's biographer), died 5 or 9 April 1708, and he himself died 1 March 1713-14, at his house. Hunger Hill, Amersham. Both were buried in the Friends' burying-place at New Jordan, Chalfont St. Giles.
His numerous works include the following; 1. 'An Alarm to the Priests,' 1660. 2. 'A Fresh Pursuit,' 1674, and 'Forgery no Christianity.' 1674, two tracts attacking Thomas Hicks, the baptist. 3. 'The Foundation of Tithes shaken,' 1678; 2nd edition, 1720. 4, 'An Antidote against the Infection of William Rogers' Book,' 1682. 5. 'A Caution to Constables... concerned in the execution of the Conventicle Act,' 1683, 6. 'A Discourse concerning Riots,' 1683, 7. 'A Seasonable Dissuasive from Persecution,' 1683, 8. 'Rogero Mastix,' 1685. 9. 'An Epistle to Friends,' 1686, 10. 'The Accouut from Wickham,' 1689. 11. 'Thomas Ellwood's Answer to... Leonard Key,' 1693?l2. 'Deceit Discovered,' 1693. 13. 'A Fair Examination of a Foul Paper,' 1693, deals with the heresies of Rogers, John Raunce, and Leonard Key, who issued scandalous statements about Ellwood. 14. 'A Reply to an Answer lately published to [William Penn's] "Brief Examination and State of Liberty,"' 1691. 15. 'An Epistle to Friends... warning them of George Keith,' 1694. 16. 'A Further Discovery of that Spirit of Contention... in George Keith,' law. 17. 'Truth Defended,' 1695. 18. 'An Answer to George Keith's Narrative,' 1696, deals with George Keith's dissenting views. 19. 'A sober Reply on behalf of the People called Quakers to two petitions against them,' 1699 and 1700. 20. 'The Glorious Brightness of the Gospel Day,' 1707, 21. 'Sacred History, or the Historical Part of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament,' 1705, fol. 22. 'Sacred History, or the Historical Part of the New Testament,' 1709. Both these works were reprinted together in 1720, 1778, 1794, and (New York) 1834. 23. 'Davideis: a Sacred Poem in Five Books,' 1712, 1722, 1727, 1749, 1763, 1796, begun before 1688, and before the author had read Cowley's 'Davideis.' 24. 'A Collection of Poems on various subjects.' n.d. 25. 'The History of the Life of Thomas Ellwood... written by his own hand,' first published in 1714, with a supplement by J[oseph] W[yeth], continuing the work from 1683, where the autobiography stops abruptly, till the date of Ellwood's death in 1713-14. A number of testimonies are prefixed: 'An Answer to some Objections of a Moderate Enquirer,' i.e. Robert Snow, and an 'Account of Tythes in General,' appear towards the close. Ten other pieces are enumerated at the end of the volume, in a list of manuscripts 'left behind him.' The autobiography, which includes many hymns and religious verses, has been reprinted many times (2nd edition, 1714; 3rd edition, 1765; 4th edition, 1791; 5th edition, 1825; 6th edition, 1855). The first American edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1775. Professor Henry Morley included it in his ' Universal Library',' 1885. Testimonies by Ellwood concerning Isaac Pennington (1681), George Fox (1694), and Oliver Sansom (1710), are published in the respective lives. An interesting volume in Ellwood's handwriting, belonging to Anna Huntley of High Wycombe, includes an elegy on Milton.[Ellwood's Autobiography described above; Smith's Friends' Books; Masson's Life of Milton; Bickley's George Fox (1884); Maria Webb's Penns and Penningtons, 1857.]