Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clayton, John (1754-1843)

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CLAYTON, JOHN (1754–1843), independent minister, was born at Wood End Farm, Clayton, near Chorley, Lancashire, 5 Oct. 1764. He was the only son of George Clayton, a bleacher, and had nine elder sisters. He was educated at Leyland grammar school, where strong party feeling led to frequent fights between 'protestant' and 'catholic' sets of schoolboys. In these encounters Clayton's tall figure and natural courage made him conspicuous. He was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, Boultbee, an apothecary in Manchester; but at the end of four years he ran off, and made his way to the house of a married sister in London. He was taken to hear the Rev. William Romaine preach, and his 'conversion' followed. Clayton was introduced to the Countess of Huntingdon, and sent by her to Trevecca College, of which she was the foundress. The students of Lady Huntingdon's Connexion went forth in streets and market-places as preachers, and were sometimes roughly handled. On one occasion Clayton rode post from Wales to London to convey a message from his patroness, countermanding an order which she had given for the building of a new chapel. He became a popular preacher, and on account of symptoms of pulmonary disease was sent to take charge of her chapel at Tunbridge Wells. He also preached frequently in London. In 1777 he sought episcopal ordination, but difficulties arose which led him to desist, and a perusal of Towgood's 'Letters on Dissent' decided him to throw in his lot with nonconformists. This was a great disappointment to the countess, who addressed a long letter to him on the subject of his secession. He became an assistant to Sir Harry Trelawny, a Cornish gentleman, who was also minister of a presbyterian congregation at West Looe. Trelawny afterwards became a Unitarian, then an Anglican clergyman, and finally a catholic. Clayton's Calvinism soon led to a separation from Trelawny, and he accepted an invitation to succeed the Rev. Samuel Wilton, D.D., as pastor of the Weigh-house Chapel. This he accepted in preference to a 'call' from Edinburgh, and was 'ordained' 25 Nov. 1778. He married, in July 1779, Mary, the eldest daughter of Mr. George Flower. Three of his sons afterwards attained distinction in the congregational ministry, the Rev. John Clayton, jun., the Rev. George Clayton, and the Rev. William Clayton.

The minister of the Weigh-house was a man of methodical habits, and living at Highbury Place, Islington, once stated that for thirty years together he never heard the clock strike nine in London. Jacob Thornton, the Clapham philanthropist, took Clayton in his carriage to preach to the convicts at the Woolwich hulks. He had for supporters two officers with loaded carbines. 'Gentleman' Barrington, the pickpocket, was one of the auditors, and at the close commented upon the sermon in the words : 'Well, doctor, I see that with you it is all faith and no works.' To this Clayton retorted : 'The very last place in which I should have expected to find the merit of works pleaded would be his majesty's hulks for convicted felons.' He was appointed in 1793 one of the preachers at the merchants' lecture. He held a similar office at Fetter Lane, Holborn, and Hare Court, Aldersgate. His literary remains are not very important. In addition to a share in the ordination service of his sons and other ministers, he published 'A Counter Statement relative to a late Withdrawment from a Dissenting Independent Church,' London, 1804. This refers to his conduct in regard to one of his flock who had a taste for the theatre, and sometimes travelled on Sunday. The Rev. Richard Cecil [q. v.] is reported to have said : 'Clayton, I have long respected you, but I have never before envied you. I own I do now envy you, because I hear that you have applied the discipline of the church to a man that rides in his coach.' Clayton published : 1. 'The Snares of Prosperity,' to which is added an 'Essay upon Visiting,' London, 1789. 2. 'The Duty of Christians to Magistrates,' London, 1791, a sermon which led to a controversy, and provoked from Robert Hall his fine vindication of liberty, entitled 'Christianity consistent with a Love of Freedom.' 3. 'The great Mercies of the Lord bestowed upon Britain,' London, 1802. 4. 'The Antidote of Fear ; a Sermon,' London, 1804.

Clayton's brother-in-law, Benjamin Flower, the editor of the 'Cambridge Intelligencer,' brought an action against Clayton's son, the Rev. John Clayton, jun., who had circulated statements made by his father imputing to Flower forgery, or its equivalent. The case was tried before Lord Mansfield 25 July 1808, and the verdict of the jury awarded 40s. damages just enough to carry costs. About 1820 Clayton bought a small estate at Gaines in Essex, and in 1826 he resigned the charge of the Weigh-house, after a pastorate of forty-eight years. Upon this occasion a service of plate was presented to him by the hands of the lord mayor. His wife died 11 Jan. 1836, and he died 22 Sept. 1843. He is buried in Bunhill Fields.

His eldest son, the Rev. John Clayton, jun., referred to above, was pastor of the Poultry Chapel, London, and died at Bath 3 Oct. 1865, aged 85. He published some sermons and a treatise on 'The Choice of Books,' 1811.

[Aveling's Memorials of Clayton Family, 1867 ; Jones's Bunhill Memorials ; General Catalogue of the British Museum. The quarrel between the Flowers and the Claytons is referred to in Flower's Life of Robinson of Cambridge, as well as in his Statement of Facts, 1808.]

W. E. A. A.