Dickinson, James (DNB00)

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DICKINSON, JAMES (1659–1741), quaker, born in 1659 at Lowmoor House, Dean, Cumberland, was the son of quaker parents of fair means and position, both of whom he lost when very young. He seems to have had more than the average education, and from his earliest years to have been very susceptible to religious influences and somewhat of a visionary. When nineteen he felt it his duty to become a quaker minister, of which body he was a birthright member. His first effort was at a presbyterian meeting at Tallentire, near Cockermouth; when being put out of the conventicle he continued his discourse through the window until thrown down and injured by the congregation. Till 1682 he chiefly laboured in the north of England, but in this year he visited Ireland and did much to strengthen the footing quakerism had already gained in Ulster. In 1669, after visiting Scotland, he went to New Jersey for a few months, and subsequently made a prolonged preaching excursion in England, frequently being ill-treated, but escaping imprisonment. At an open-air meeting in the Isle of Portland he was seized by a constable and was dragged by the legs along the road and beaten till almost dead (see Piety Promoted). On his recovery he visited Holland, being chased on the way by a Turkish ship. Dickinson claims to have had a ‘sight of this strait’ and to have been assured that he should not be captured. As he could not speak Dutch, and was obliged to speak through an interpreter, his visit was not successful. After another tour in England and Ireland he went into Scotland and laboured for some time with Robert Barclay of Ury, at whose death, which was occasioned by a disease contracted during this journey, he was present. Dickinson now sailed for Barbadoes in a ship which formed part of a convoy, the whole of which, with the exception of the ship he was in and two others, was captured by the French fleet, and these only escaped through a succession of fogs. After staying in Barbadoes a sufficient time to visit the different quaker meetings in the island, he went on to New York, and thence travelled through the New England states. Of this journey he gives a full and graphic account in his ‘Journal.’ At Salem he was successful in partially healing the dissensions the defection of George Keith had caused among the Friends. In 1692 he left for Barbadoes in a ship so leaky that he barely escaped shipwreck. He returned to Scotland in 1693, and then visited most of the quaker meetings in the south of that country and England. He shortly afterwards married a quakeress, whose name is not positively known; and a few weeks after his marriage he went to London, when, hearing of the death of Queen Mary, he was ‘commanded’ to go through the streets, crying ‘Wo, wo, wo from the Lord!’ but does not appear to have been molested. In 1696 he again visited America, returning the following year, and from that time till 1702 chiefly laboured in Ireland. In 1713 he visited America for the last time, returning to England at the end of the following year, and until 1726, when he lost his wife, was engaged in a series of preaching excursions in England and Ireland. He had for some time been in a weak state of health, and his grief at the death of his wife brought on an attack of paralysis, which closed his active ministry, although he continued to attend to the affairs of the Society of Friends in the north, and on several occasions was present at the yearly meeting in London. Until about a year before his death an increase in his disorder totally incapacitated him. He was buried on 6 June 1741 in the Friends' burial-ground near his house at Eaglesfield, Cumberland, having been a minister for sixty-three years. He was a powerful and successful preacher, and his careful avoidance of party questions, his humility, prudence, and blameless character caused him not only to escape persecution, but to be one of the most prominent and respected members of the second generation of quaker ministers. His writings, with the exception of his ‘Journal’ published in 1745, are unimportant.

[Dickinson's Journal, W. & T. Evans's edition, 1848; George Fox's Journal, 1765; Besse's Sufferings; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books; Rutty's History of the Friends in Ireland; Bowden's History of the Society of Friends in America.]

A. C. B.