Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Benn, William

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BENN or BEN, WILLIAM (1600–1680), divine, was born at Egremont in Cumberland, in November 1600. He was educated at the free school of St. Bees. He was, on the completion of his course at this celebrated school, 'transplanted thence to Queen's College, Oxford,' where, says Anthony à Wood, 'if I am not mistaken, he was a servitor.' On a presentation to the living of Oakingham in Berkshire, he left his university without taking a degree. But he found on going to Oakingham that one Mr Bateman, his contemporary at Oxford, had got another presentation to it. Rather than go to law about it, they agreed to take joint charge and to divide the income. This they did with mutual satisfaction for some years. But Benn, having been chosen as her chaplain by the Marchioness of Northampton, living in Somersetshire, left Oakingham to Bateman, and continued with his lady-patron until 1629. In that year, 'by virtue of a call from John White, the patriarch of Dorchester,' he went to Dorchester, and by White's influence was made preacher of All Saints there, where, Anthony à Wood informs us, he 'continued in great respect from the precise party till Bartholomew's day, an. 1662, excepting only two years, in which time he attended the said White when he was rector at Lambeth in Surrey, in the place of Dr. Featley, ejected.' Besides his constant preaching in his own church he preached 'gratis on a week-day to the gaol prisoners,' and, his auditory increasing, he himself built a chapel within the gaol for their better accommodation.

In 1654 he was one of the assistants to the commissioners for ejecting 'scandalous, ignorant, and inefficient ministers and schoolmasters.' After his ejection by the Act of Uniformity, he remained at Dorchester 'to the time of his death; but for his preaching,' says Wood, 'in conventicles there and in the neighbourhood, he was often brought into trouble, and sometimes imprisoned and fined.' He died on 22 March 1680, and was buried in the churchyard of his own former church of All Saints. He published only 'A sober Answer to Francis Bampfield in Vindication of the Christian Sabbath against the Jewish, id est the observance of the Jewish still.' It is a masterly little treatise in the form of a letter (1672). After his death a volume of sermons entitled 'Soul Prosperity,' on 3 John 2 (1683), was published, and is one of the rarest of later puritan books.

[Calamy; Palmer's Nonconf. Mem. ii. 126–7; Hutchin's Dorset; Wilson's Hist. of Dissenters, iii. 436; Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iii. 1278; Benn's publications.]

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