Sargent, John Grant (DNB00)

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SARGENT, JOHN GRANT (1813–1883), leader of the ‘Fritchley Friends,’ son of Isaac and Hester Sargent, was born at Paddington in 1813. His parents, who were members of the Society of Friends, removed to Paris in 1822, leaving their sons to be educated in boarding-schools at Islington and Epping. In April 1830 Sargent was apprenticed to John D. Bassett, a draper, at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. Having served his time, in October 1834 he joined his father, a coachbuilder and brickmaker, at Paris. In both these businesses he engaged, having Auguste Charlot as his partner in brickfields. In 1835 he discarded the quaker costume and attended Wesleyan services. Early in 1838 a Friends' meeting, promoted by his father, was begun at 24 Faubourg du Roule, the residence of Ann Knight. Sargent regularly attended it; he resumed the other usages of Friends early in 1839, and held his ground, though not unfrequently he was the only worshipper in the meeting-room. He would not sell bricks for fortifications. In 1842 he disposed of his businesses, intending to take to farming in England. He took part in 1843 and 1844 in religious missions to the south of France. Having studied farming at Kimberley, Norfolk, he married, and managed farms at Bregsell, Surrey (1846–51), and Hall, near Moate, co. Westmeath (1851–54). In 1854 he took a wood-turning mill at Cockermouth, Cumberland, and made bobbins; to this business he remained constant, removing to a similar mill at Fritchley, Derbyshire, in 1864.

He first spoke in a Friends' meeting at Clonmel on 23 Nov. 1851. His first publication, in 1853, was directed against the growing influence of the views of Joseph John Gurney [q. v.] The visit to England in that year of an American Friend, John Wilbur (1774–1856), who had been disowned by the New England yearly meeting for his opposition to Gurney, led Sargent to identify himself with the advocates of the older type of quakerism. His frequent business journeys were made occasions of urging his views on Friends, both in this country and on the continent. In April 1860, by circular letter from Cockermouth, he suggested the assembling of conferences. The first took place in London, 17 Oct. 1862, attended by seventeen persons; similar conferences were held, about three in a year, till 15 Oct. 1869. In 1868 Sargent and others visited America, to confer with the groups of primitive Friends, known as the ‘smaller bodies;’ they returned with the idea of separating themselves from the London yearly meeting. In January 1870 a ‘general meeting’ was initiated at Fritchley, and has since regularly met twice a year. Its members are known as ‘Fritchley Friends;’ some call them Wilburites. Sargent was clerk of the meeting and its leading spirit. In 1882 he was specially ‘liberated’ by the meeting for a second visit to America. On his return his health began to fail. He died at Fritchley on 27 Dec. 1883, and was buried on 29 Dec. in the Friends' graveyard at Furnace, Derbyshire. He married (December 1846) Catherine Doubell of Reigate, who survived him with several children. He published: 1. ‘An Epistle of Love and Caution,’ &c., Athlone [1853], 12mo (dated 2 June 1853). 2. ‘A Tender Pleading,’ &c., [1872], broadsheet. 3. ‘Further Evidences … of the Great Defection,’ Gloucester [1873], 8vo.

[Selections from the Diary and Correspondence of Sargent, 1885; Journal of John Wilbur, 1859, pp. 547 sq.; Hodgson's Society of Friends in the Nineteenth Century, 1876, ii. 379 sq.; Modern Review, October 1884; Correspondence of William Hodgson, 1886, pp. 316 sq.; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books, 1867, and Supplement, 1893.]

A. G.