Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Towgood, Michaijah

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TOWGOOD, MICHAIJAH (1700–1792), dissenting minister, second son of Michaijah Towgood, M.D. (d. 1715), was born at Axminster, Devonshire, on 17 Dec. 1700. His father was the younger son of Matthew Towgood (d. 1669?), schoolmaster at Shaftesbury (originally, according to Walker, a tailor and parish clerk), who held the sequestered rectory of Hilperton, Wiltshire, from 1647 to 1660, when he obtained the rectory of Semley, Wiltshire, from which he was ejected (1662) by the uniformity act. Matthew was a presbyterian; his elder son, Stephen (d. 1722), was an independent. Towgood was at school with Thomas Amory (1701–1774) [q. v.], and with him entered (25 March 1717) the Taunton academy under Stephen James and Henry Grove [q. v.] On leaving he was called to succeed Angel Spark (d. October 1721) as minister of the presbyterian congregation at Moreton Hampstead, Devonshire, where he was ordained on 22 Aug. 1722. He had six hundred hearers, including sixty county voters, and devoted himself systematically to pastoral work. Accepting at Christmas 1736 a call to Crediton, Devonshire, in succession to Josiah Eveleigh (d. 9 Sept. 1736), he removed thither in January 1737. Here he began that series of controversial publications which culminated in his ‘Dissenting Gentleman's Letters’ (1746–8) in reply to John White, perpetual curate of Nayland, Suffolk. This work made his reputation, and was long a classic compendium of nonconformist argument.

On the death of James Green (1749), Towgood became colleague (1750) to his first cousin, Stephen Towgood (son of Stephen Towgood, his father's elder brother), as pastor of James's meeting, Exeter. The position was influential, and the duties were light; Bow meeting had its two pastors, John Lavington [q. v.] and John Walrond; the four preached in rotation at the two places. James's meeting had been purged of heresy in 1719 by the exclusion of Joseph Hallett (1656–1722) [q. v.] and James Peirce [q. v.] Towgood, originally orthodox, had always been for doctrinal tolerance; he was now a high Arian, of the type of Thomas Emlyn [q. v.], and, like Emlyn, he rendered worship to our Lord. He got the terms of membership relaxed; and in May 1753 the Exeter assembly quashed its resolution of September 1718 requiring adhesion to a trinitarian formulary.

In 1760 Towgood's congregation left James's meeting for the newly built George's meeting (still standing) in South Street. In the same year he took part in the establishment of the new Exeter academy for university teaching. A building for the purpose was given by William Mackworth Praed; the library of the Taunton academy (closed October 1759) was removed to it. Towgood took the department of biblical exegesis. The institution lasted till the death (December 1771) of its divinity tutor, Samuel Merivale [see under Merivale, John Herman}]. On the death (1777) of his cousin, Towgood had as colleague James Manning (1754–1831), father of James Manning [q. v.] serjeant-at-law. He resigned his charge in 1782, and was succeeded after an interval by Timothy Kenrick [q. v.] He died on 1 Feb. 1792. He married (about 1730) a daughter of James Hawker of Luppitt, Devonshire, and had four children, of whom a daughter survived him; his wife died in 1759. His son Matthew (1732–1791) was educated at Bridgwater under John Moore (d. 31 Dec. 1748), was minister at Bridgwater (1747–1755), afterwards merchant, and ultimately (1773) a banker in London, where he died in January 1791, leaving issue.

Towgood published, besides single sermons: 1. ‘High-flown Episcopal and Priestly Claims Examined,’ 1737, 8vo, reprinted in Baron's ‘Cordial for Low Spirits,’ 1763, 12mo, vol. iii. 2. ‘The Dissenter's Apology,’ 1739, 8vo (against John Warren, D.D.). 3. ‘Spanish Cruelty and Injustice,’ 1741, 8vo. 4. ‘Recovery from Sickness,’ 1742, 8vo, often reprinted. 5. ‘Afflictions Improved,’ 1743, 8vo; prefixed is a graphic account of a fire which destroyed West Crediton. 6. ‘The Dissenting Gentleman's Answer,’ 1746, 8vo; second letter, 1747, 8vo; third letter, 1738 [i.e. 1748], 8vo; postscript, 1750, 8vo (all anon.); collected with author's name and title: ‘A Dissent from the Church of England fully justified,’ 15th edit., Newry, 1816, 12mo, has important appendices by William Bruce (1757–1841) [q. v.] and Andrew George Malcom, D.D. [q. v.]; abridged by author, with title, ‘A Calm Answer,’ 1772, 8vo. 7. ‘An Essay … of the Character and Reign of King Charles the First,’ 1748, 8vo; 1780, 8vo; 1811, 12mo. 8. ‘The Baptism of Infants,’ 1750, 8vo; supplement, 1751, 8vo. 9. ‘Serious and Free Thoughts on … the Church,’ 1755, 8vo. 10. ‘The Grounds of Faith in Jesus Christ,’ 1784, 8vo. Three papers by him signed ‘Paulus’ are in ‘The Old Whig,’ 1739, vol. ii. Nos. 83, 90, 91. His portrait, by John Opie, has been engraved. He had a slight impediment in speech, which he never entirely overcame, though he was an effective preacher.

Matthew Towgood (fl. 1710–1746), first cousin of the above (elder son of Stephen), was schoolmaster at Colyton (1710?–16), minister at Shepton Mallet (1716–29) and at Poole (1729–35), but left the ministry and became a brewer. He published a few pamphlets, but is remembered only for his ‘Remarks on the Profane and Absurd Use of the Monosyllable Damn,’ 1746, 8vo.

[Manning's Sketch of Life, 1792 (abridged in ‘Protestant Dissenter's Magazine,’ 1794, pp. 385, 425); Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, ii. 384; Calamy's Continuation, 1727, ii. 833; Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 1798, p. 241; Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, 1803, iii. 374; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, i. 321; Murch's Hist. Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West of England, 1835, passim; Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, 1840, i. 391 sq.; Axminster Ecclesiastica, 1874; Clayden's Samuel Sharpe, 1883, p. 20; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 170, 175, 206.]

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