Whitehead, George (DNB00)
|←Whitehead, David||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 61
WHITEHEAD, GEORGE (1636?–1723), quaker, was born at Sun Bigs, parish of Orton, Westmorland, in 1636 or 1637, and educated at Blencoe free school, Cumberland, after which he taught as usher in two schools. When about fourteen he heard of the quakers, to whom he was chiefly attracted by observing how they were reviled by unprincipled people. The first meeting he attended was at Captain Ward's at Sunny Bank, near Grayrigg chapel, where he first heard George Fox [q. v.] His presbyterian parents, at first much grieved at his turning quaker, grew afterwards to love the society, of which his mother and sister Ann died members.
After ‘bearing his testimony’ against professional ministers in Westmoreland from 1652 to 1654, Whitehead started about August 1654 as an itinerant preacher through Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire to Norwich. At Cambridge he met James Parnell [q. v.] At Norwich he visited Richard Hubberthorn [q. v.], a prisoner in the castle, and held meetings and public disputations; in spite of violent opposition and much contempt of his youth, many were converted to quakerism. In December 1654 he was haled out of St. Peter's Church for speaking after the sermon, and, being examined about water baptism, was imprisoned for more than eight weeks; soon after his discharge, in March 1655, he was again committed for visiting prisoners in Norwich Castle. In May he went to Colchester to see young Parnell in prison; in July, for defending a paper affixed to the church door of Bures, Suffolk, by his companion, he was committed for trial at Bury St. Edmunds. There he lay for three months; at the October sessions he was accused of being an idle wandering fellow, and fined 20l. On his refusal to pay he was remanded, and suffered much hardship in prison for fifteen months until his friends in London, especially one Mary Saunders, a waiting woman to Oliver Cromwell's wife, appealed to the Protector for an inquiry. Whitehead was examined on 22 May 1656, and again in June, but was not released until 16 Oct.
Worse treatment now befell him. At Saffron Walden he was set in the stocks, and at Nayland was condemned ‘to be openly whipped until his body be bloody.’ About May 1657 he went to the west of England, meeting Fox at Gloucester.
He now (1657), after three years' absence, returned to Sun Bigs, where many quakers had gathered, and large meetings were held winter and summer on crag sides or on the moors, until funds for building meeting-houses were forthcoming. He visited Swarthmore, Newcastle, Berwick, Alnwick, and Holy Island, the governor of which place—Captain Phillipps—and his wife both became quakers. Returning south, Whitehead was thrown into prison at Ipswich on the suit of a clergyman whom he had overtaken and discoursed with on the road. When sessions came he incensed the magistrates by pointing out the illegality of his accusation, and was sent back to gaol, whence he was only released, after four months, on the death of the Protector.
On 29 Aug. 1659 Whitehead held at Cambridge a public dispute with Thomas Smith, vicar of Caldecot and university librarian, who had already appeared as his opponent at a meeting in Westminster. Smith undertook to prove that Whitehead was a heretic. Whitehead displayed much skill in his reply, and in answer to Smith's two books, ‘The Quaker Disarm'd, or a True Relation of a late Public Dispute held at Cambridge’ (London, 1659, 4to), and ‘A Gagg for the Quakers,’ same place and date (replying to Henry Denne's ‘The Quaker no Papist,’ London, 1659, 4to), issued ‘The Key of Knowledge not found in the University Library of Cambridge, or a short Answer to a Foolish, Slanderous Pamphlet entituled “A Gagg for the Quakers,”’ London, 1660, 4to. This was only one of a long series of public disputes, usually culminating in literary effort, to which Whitehead was challenged at this time. Frequently they took place in the parish churches, sometimes in private houses. Thus, he was at Lynn on 15 Sept. 1659, and again on 13 Jan. 1660, appearing against Thomas Moor and John Horn, leaders of a small sect of Universalists or ‘Free willers,’ as Whitehead calls them. In reply to Horn he wrote ‘A briefe discovery of the dangerous Principles of John Horne and Thomas Moor, both teachers of the people called Mooreians or Manifestarians,’ London, 1659, 4to; ‘The Quakers no Deceivers, or the Management of an unjust charge against them confuted,’ 1660, 4to; and ‘The He-Goats Horn broken, or Innocency elevated against Insolency and Impudent False-hood,’ 1660, 4to. Other disputations took place at Fulham and Bluntisham. At Peterborough in April 1660 he had to be rescued from the mob by Lambert's old soldiers quartered in the town. Under the proclamation against conventicles he was soon in prison again, and in March 1661, while in Norwich Castle, he almost died of ague and gaol fever. A royal proclamation released him after sixteen weeks.
The first parliament after the Restoration brought in a bill (13 & 14 Car. II, cap. 1) for the suppression of quakers as ‘dangerous to the public peace and safety.’ Whitehead, Edward Burrough [q. v.], and Hubberthorn appeared before the committee several times in May 1661 to protest against its conditions. They were also heard at the bar of the house, 19 July, on the third reading. The bill, which forbade five quakers to meet for worship, passed; but although their meeting-houses were locked up, were turned into soldiers' quarters, or pulled down, the quakers continued to meet in the streets or in private houses.
From this time to 1672 Whitehead spent most of his time in prison. Once, while in White Lion prison, he was charged with being concerned in the Westmorland ‘Kipper Rigg Plot’ (cf. Ferguson, Early Cumberland and Westmorland Friends, pp. 4 seq.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663–4, pp. 632, 640). He lodged at this time, when at liberty, at the house of Rebecca Travers [q. v.] in Watling Street, and laboured in and about London. When, under a new act (16 Car. II), imprisoned quakers were sent to the colonies, he held meetings on board the transport ships at Gravesend. All through the plague he visited those in prison. In 1670 he married a pious widow ‘divers years’ older than himself, who was ‘like a mother to him.’
In the spring of 1672 Whitehead and his friend Thomas Moor had an audience with Charles II at Whitehall. Whitehead explained their conscientious objection to swearing, and consequent inability to take the oath of allegiance. In the end an order was given on 8 May to prepare a bill for the royal signature which should contain the names of all prisoners committed before 21 July. The instrument, upon eleven skins of parchment, and with the names of 480 prisoners eleven times repeated, is now the property of the Meeting for Sufferings (cf. Whitehead, Christian Progress). By this patent John Bunyan was released from Bedford gaol. Delays occurring in obtaining lists of the prisoners, it was not until 13 Sept. that the document was sealed (cf. Barclay's Letters, p. 184). Whitehead made great exertions to obtain the release of quakers under this patent, visiting himself Chelmsford, Bury St. Edmunds, Norwich, and Hertford.
In little over a year, however, this indulgence was withdrawn. On 21 March 1679–80 Whitehead and Thomas Burr were taken from a meeting at Norwich and sent to gaol. When brought before the magistrates five weeks later, Francis Bacon, the recorder, refused to allow the mittimus to be read, and offered them the oath of allegiance. Whitehead's able and dignified defence is in his ‘Due Order of Law and Justice pleaded against Irregular and Arbitrary Proceedings ....’ London, 1680, 4to.
Whitehead had many interviews with Charles II. In 1673 he pleaded for Fox's liberation from Worcester gaol. On 16 Jan. 1679–80, with William Mead [q. v.], he presented details of the persecution Friends suffered by being confounded with papists, and showed how parliament had prepared a special clause for their relief in the bill of ease, but had been prorogued before the bill reached the upper house; on 17 Feb. 1681–2 he introduced some Bristol quakers to report the state of things there; in February 1682–3, with Gilbert Latey [q. v.], he described the sufferings of numbers in an underground dungeon at Norwich; on 25 April 1683 they saw Charles at Hampton Court, when he asked for an explanation of their peculiar language and wearing of hats, their own meanwhile having been gently removed by a court official and hung upon the park palings; on 8 Aug. Whitehead presented an address from the society clearing themselves from participation in the ‘Rye House plot.’ The last interview occurred only a few weeks before Charles's death, when, as Whitehead owns, he left fifteen hundred quaker men and women in prison, with hundreds more despoiled of their estates.
Shortly after James II's accession Whitehead represented this to him; three or four months later, accompanied by Robert Barclay, he had a second interview. James issued (15 March 1685–6) a warrant for their release. Whitehead next procured from James II the appointment of two commissioners, who sat at Clifford's Inn in June 1686 and effectually crushed the iniquitous trade of the ‘informers.’ The king also granted him a royal mandate for the stay of pro- cesses in the exchequer by which quakers were fined 20l. a month and two-thirds of their estate for absence from their parish church. Assisted by Latey and William Mead and by the lord treasurer (Hyde, earl of Rochester), he succeeded in getting the fees of the pipe office reduced from the ‘many hundreds demanded’ to 60l. The result of several interviews with James II was a declaration for liberty of conscience on 4 April 1687.
Whitehead's continued efforts were crowned by the act of toleration passed in the first year of William and Mary. This he keenly scrutinised in draft, and, because the precise standing of the quakers was obscure, drew up a short creed and expounded it to the committee of the house. Many quakers still remaining prisoners, Whitehead, introduced by Daniel Quare [q. v.] the clockmaker, made a personal appeal to William III. The king was duly impressed by Whitehead's reference to the toleration of Mennonites in Holland, and a few weeks later released the quakers by act of grace. Whitehead then set about obtaining an alteration of the law which precluded quakers from taking any legal action, from proving or administering wills, from taking up their freedom in cities or corporations, and in some places from exercising any electoral rights. He had now, besides Edmund Waller (son of the poet), many influential friends in both houses, and was warmly congratulated outside when leave to bring in a motion passed by a large majority. The affirmation bill, drawn up by Sir Francis Winnington [q. v.], became law on 20 April 1696. This act, passed for seven years, was made perpetual in 1727. When the poll act obliging every dissenting preacher to pay 20s. quarterly was about to be renewed in 1695, Whitehead's influence prevailed for the introduction of a new clause exempting Friends, who have no paid preachers.
Although the status of the Friends was now legally much improved, a complete misunderstanding of their tenets still prevailed. In reply to a series of pamphlets by Edward Beckham, D.D., rector of Gayton Thorpe, and two other Norfolk rectors, Whitehead wrote his ‘Truth and Innocency Vindicated,’ 1699, 4to, and ‘Truth Prevalent,’ 1701, 4to, containing a well-reasoned and able defence of their civil and religious principles. A little later he issued, with Mead, ‘The People called Quakers truly represented … with a Brief Enquiry into a Persecuting Pamphlet lately delivered to the Members of Parliament stiled “A Winding Sheet for Quakerism”’ (by Edward Cockson, rector of Westcot Barton), London, 1712, 4to.
Whitehead's autobiography ceases on 18 Aug. 1711. His health was failing, but he was able to present the society's address to William III on his return from Holland in 1701; to Queen Anne on her accession; to George I on a like occasion, and also in 1716 on the suppression of the Scots rebellion. In an interview with the Prince of Wales (George II), he urged toleration and liberty of conscience, for which he had pleaded in person with seven English sovereigns. He died on 8 March 1723, in his eighty-seventh year, and was buried in the quakers' burial-ground at Bunhill Fields on 13 March.
Whitehead's first wife, Anne Downer (widow of Benjamin Greenwell), whom he married at Peel Meeting in Clerkenwell on 13 May 1670, was a minister as early as 1660. She travelled two hundred miles on foot preaching, and was prominent in settling the order of the separate women's meetings. She died at Bridget Austell's, South Street, 27 July 1686. Whitehead published a little memoir of her, ‘Piety promoted by Faithfulness,’ 1686, 12mo. His second wife, Ann, daughter of Captain Richard and Ann Goddard of Reading, was, when she married him at Devonshire House on 19 July 1688, an orphan keeping a shop in Whitechapel, ‘an honest and virtuously inclined maid.’ By neither had he any surviving issue.
It is almost impossible to overestimate Whitehead's share in the foundation of the Society of Friends, or his influence on the development of national religious liberty. Without the mysticism of Fox, Barclay, or Pennington, he addressed his acute legal knowledge and literary gifts to establishing the sect on a sound civil and political basis. His works were almost entirely controversial and written to confute existing attacks upon quakers. In the titles of his chief writings given below may be traced all the principal features of their creed. 1. ‘David's Enemies Discovered,’ and 2. ‘Cain's Generation Discovered,’ both London, 1655, 4to, against Jonathan Clapham's books in defence of singing Psalms. 3. ‘The Path of the Just cleared, and Cruelty and Tyranny laid open,’ 1655, 4to. 4. ‘Jacob found in a Desert Land,’ 1656, 4to. 5. ‘A Brief Treatise,’ 1658, 4to, in answer to Richard Baxter's ‘Sheet for the Ministry.’ 6. ‘An Unjust Plea Confuted. … In answer to a book called Moses and Aaron, or the Ministers Right and the Magistrates Duty, by Daniel Pointell [rector of Staplehurst, Kent],’ 1659, 4to. 6. (With James Nayler) ‘The True Ministers living of the Gospel, distinguished from the False Ministers living upon Tithes and forced Maintenance,’ 1660, 4to, in answer to John Bewick, rector of Staindrop. 7. ‘The Authority of the True Ministry in Baptizing with the Spirit,’ 1660, in answer to Samuel Bradley, a baptist. 8. ‘The True Light expelling the Foggy Mist of the Pit,’ 1660, in answer to Francis Duke. 9. ‘A Serious Account in XXXV Evident Reasons .... why the .... Quakers cannot go to worship at .... churches and chappels ....’ 1661, 4to. 10. ‘The Pernicious Way of the Rigid Presbyter and Anti-Christian Ministers Detected,’ 1662, 4to, in answer to Cresswell, Whately, and Matthew Caffin. 11. ‘The Law and Light within are the most sure Rule or Light, which sheweth the right use and end of the Scripture,’ n.d., in answer to William Bridge. 12. ‘The Conscientious Cause of the Sufferers called Quakers Pleaded and Expostulated,’ 1664, 4to. 13. ‘No Remission without Repentance,’ 1665, 4to. 14. ‘The Light and Life of Christ within, and the Extent and Efficacy thereof Demonstrated,’ 1668, 4to, in answer to William Burnet. 15. ‘The Divinity of Christ and Unity of the Three that bear Record in Heaven,’ 1669, 4to. With a Preface by George Fox, in answer to books by Thomas Vincent, William Madox, Thomas Danson, Edward Stillingfleet, and John Owen. 16. ‘Christ ascended above the Clouds, His Divinity, Light in Man,’ 1669, 4to, replying to John Newman's ‘Light within.’ 17. ‘A Serious Apology for the Principles and Practices of the People called Quakers,’ 1671, 4to, against Thomas Jenner and Timothy Taylor; pt. ii. by William Penn. 18. ‘The Nature of Christianity in the True Light asserted,’ 1671, 4to. 19. ‘The Dipper Plung'd, or Thomas Hicks his Feigned Dialogue between a Christian and a Quaker proved an Unchristian Forgery consisting of Self-contradictions and Abuses against the … People called Quakers,’ 1672, 4to. 20. ‘The Christian Quaker,’ 1673–4, fol. pt. ii. (pt. i. is by Penn); 2nd ed. 1699, 8vo, reprinted Philadelphia, 1824, 8vo. 21. ‘Enthusiasm above Atheism, or Divine Inspiration and Immediate Illumination asserted,’ 1674, sm. 8vo. 22. ‘A Serious Search into Jeremy Ives Questions to the Quakers,’ 1674, 8vo. 23. ‘The Quaker's Plainness detecting Fallacy,’ and 24. ‘The Timorous Reviler Slighted,’ 1674, 8vo, in answer to ‘The Quaker's Quibbles,’ by Thomas Thompson. 25. ‘The Case of the Quakers concerning Oaths defended as Evangelical,’ 1675, 4to. 26. ‘The Way of Life and Perfection livingly demonstrated,’ 1676, 4to. 27. ‘The Real Quaker a Real Protestant,’ 1679, 4to. 28. ‘Judgment fired upon the Accuser of our Brethren,’ 1682, sm. 8vo. 29. ‘Christ's Lambs defended from Satan's Rage, in a Just Vindication of the People called Quakers,’ 1691, 4to, in answer to John Pennyman [q. v.] 30. ‘The Contemn'd Quaker and his Christian Religion defended,’ 1692, sm. 8vo. 31. ‘The Divine Light of Christ in Man,’ 1692, sm. 8vo. 32. ‘The Christian Doctrine and Society of the People called Quakers, cleared from the Reproach of the late division of a few … in America (signed by seven others),’ 1693, sm. 8vo, reprinted in Sewel's ‘History,’ translated into Dutch by him, 1755, 12mo, and into German, Amsterdam, 1701, 12mo. 33. ‘An Antidote against the Venome of the Snake in the Grass,’ 1697, sm. 8vo, and 34. ‘A Supplement upon Occasion of what the Snake calls,’ 1699, 8vo; these two in answer to Charles Leslie [q. v.] He also wrote five books in reply to Francis Bugg [q. v.], and three answering George Keith [q. v.], both apostate quakers; as well as innumerable epistles and testimonies, or biographical accounts. Several of his sermons were taken down and printed.[The Christian Progress of that ancient servant George Whitehead, historically relating his Experience, Ministry, &c., edited by Joseph Besse, London, 1725, 8vo, is invaluable for the quaker historian. Much of it is reprinted in Tuke's Memoirs of Whitehead, 2 vols. York, 1830; Sewel's History of the Rise, &c., i. 102, 104, 115, 116, 152, ii. 171, 287, 402, 410, 416, 434, 453, 467, 471; Fox's Journal, pp. 124, 204, 342, 458, 469; Ferguson's Early Cumberland and Westm. Friends; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1658–9 p. 159, 1663–4 pp. 632, 640, 1664–5 p. 35, 1672 pp. 489, 490; Smith's Catalogue; Barclay's Letters of Early Friends; Besse's Sufferings, passim; Gough's Hist. of the Quakers; Whiting's Persecution exposed; Beck and Ball's London Friends' Meetings, pp. 174 seq.; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.]