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

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SIMPSON or SYMPSON, WILLIAM (1627?–1671), quaker, a native of Lancashire, joined the Society of Friends about 1656. In that year he received money from the common fund to go to Scotland (Swarthmoor MSS.) He was at first one of the denunciatory section of Fox's followers, and accepted biblical interpretation in the most literal manner. In accordance with a prophetic call which he supposed himself to have received, he went about in the streets and to people's houses exhorting them to repentance. On 1 April 1657 he was arrested at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, as a wandering person and sent to Lancaster with a pass. In the same year he was expelled from Evesham by the mayor. Two years later he returned thither, and passed naked through the streets as a sign of the spiritual denudation of the people. He also appeared in sackcloth in Cambridge, Colchester, Waltham, and London, sometimes with his face blackened as a type of the moral darkness that prevailed. Such eccentricities he practised for about three years, often at great danger to his life, for he was stoned and whipped, as well as put in the stocks, and imprisoned. Simpson describes his state of mind thus: ‘The thing was as death to me, and I had rather, if it had been the Lord's will, have died than have gone on in this service.’

After the Restoration, the fanatical spirit seems to have entirely left him. He became a vivacious preacher, and one with whom more temperate quakers cordially agreed. He was frequently interrupted in his meetings. On 10 May 1670, while preaching at Westminster, he was pulled down by soldiers and fined. On the 29th he was driven by soldiers from Devonshire House, and on 19 June, while preaching in the street at Ratcliffe because the meeting-house was barricaded against the quakers, he was arrested and carried before Justice Rycroft, who fined him 20l. On 8 July following Simpson set sail with John Burneyeat [q. v.] from Gravesend on a visit to Barbados. He died there of fever on 8 Feb. 1761, and was buried in a garden at Bridgetown, belonging to Richard Forstal, a quaker. Simpson was married, and a son survived him.

He published: 1. ‘A Declaration unto all, both Priests and People,’ 1655, 4to. 2. ‘A Declaration to all Rulers and People.’ 3. ‘From one who was moved … to go a Signe among the Priests and Professors of Christ's Words … naked from Salvation and Immortality, and as black as spiritual Ægyptians and Æthiopians,’ London, 1659, 4to. 4. ‘A Discovery of the Priests and Professors,’ 1660, 4to. 5. ‘Going naked a Signe,’ 1660, 4to, 1666, 4to, 1671.

[A Short Relation concerning the Life and Death of William Simpson by W. Fortescue, London, 1671, 4to, with additions by George Fox and others; Besse's Sufferings, i. 408–10, ii. 60, 61; Burneyeat's Journal; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, ii. 575; MSS. at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street.]

C. F. S.