Fawcett, Benjamin (DNB00)

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FAWCETT, BENJAMIN (1715–1780), dissenting minister, was born at Sleaford, Lincolnshire, on 16 Aug. 1715. He was the youngest of ten children. He entered Doddridge's academy at Northampton in 1738. In March 1741 Doddridge sent him to Whitchurch and Chester to collect evidence for an alibi in the case of Bryan Connell, then under sentence of death for murder (executed 3 April). In the same year Fawcett became minister of Paul's Meeting, Taunton, where he was ordained on 16 June 1742, forty ministers being present. Doddridge went down to take part in the ordination, and was presented to Fawcett's future wife, on whose charms of fortune (‘a good 1,400l.’) and person he descants to Mrs. Doddridge; the lady needed nothing but a little more colour, ‘which now and then I gave her.’

In 1745 Fawcett removed to Kidderminster. Here Doddridge visited him in 1747, and found his work prospering ‘in an amazing degree.’ He had 316 catechumens. He seems to have retained his popularity to the close of his life. For the use of his people he published abridgments of many of Baxter's practical writings, and edited some other religious works. He was very zealous in founding country congregations. Some of his notions were unconventional. Job Orton, who retired to Kidderminster in 1766, was scandalised when ‘a drum-major of the Northamptonshire militia’ was allowed to preach in Fawcett's pulpit, and ‘a learned, worthy minister’ shut out. A few years before his death Fawcett published some ‘Candid Reflections,’ in a letter to a friend, probably Orton. The publication is irenic in design, its main point being the diversity of ways in which the doctrine of the Trinity may be stated. Orton, who saw the manuscript, warned Fawcett that its publication ‘would for ever ruin his reputation among the warm, zealous people.’ Nevertheless, as the work was printed at Shrewsbury, it is probable that Orton assisted in bringing it out. It led to a controversy with William Fuller, an independent layman, which was continued by Samuel Palmer after Fawcett's death. In July 1780 Fawcett was prostrated by illness; the disease was supposed to be stone, but was in reality an ulcer. He died in October. His funeral sermon was preached on 18 Oct. by Thomas Tayler of Carter Lane. On his death his congregation divided, the independents retaining the meeting-house, and an Arian secession building a new place of worship.

Between 1756 and 1774 Fawcett published many sermons, the first being:

  1. ‘The Grand Enquiry,’ &c., 1756, 8vo.

His most important pieces were:

  1. ‘Candid Reflections on the different manner in which the learned and pious have expressed their conceptions concerning the doctrine of the Trinity,’ &c., Shrewsbury, 1777, 8vo; second edition, enlarged, Shrewsbury, 1778, 8vo; an ‘appendix’ to the second edition, Shrewsbury, 1780, 8vo.
  2. ‘Observations on the Causes and Cure of … Religious Melancholy,’ &c., Shrewsbury, 1780, 8vo.

Fawcett's son Samuel was ordained at Beaminster, Dorsetshire, in 1777; he became a unitarian, and retired from the ministry, living on his private estate near Bridport. From 1801 to 1816 he was unitarian minister at Yeovil, where he died on 14 Dec. 1835, aged 81.

[Funeral Sermon by Tayler, as cited by Palmer in Appendix iii. to Orton's Letters to Diss. Ministers, 1806; Orton's Letters, ii. 72, 107, 152, 171, &c.; Wilson's Diss. Churches, 1808, ii. 161; Humphrey's Corresp. of P. Doddridge, 1830, iii. 549 sq., iv. 90 sq., v. 423 sq.; Murch's Hist. Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West. of Engl. 1835, pp. 217, 255; Christian Reformer, 1852, p. 224; Stanford's Philip Doddridge, 1880, p. 103; manuscript letters of B. Fawcett; tombstone at Yeovil.]

A. G.