Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ford, Thomas (1598-1674)

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FORD, THOMAS (1598–1674), nonconformist divine, was born at Brixton, Devonshire, in 1598. According to Wood he was entered, in Easter term 1619, a batler in Magdalen Hall, Oxford, as a member of which he proceeded B.A. 22 Feb. 1624, and M.A. 1 June 1627 (Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 414, 431). When taking orders he became ‘a very faithful’ tutor in his house for several years. His puritanical opinions, which he took no pains to conceal, subjected him to considerable persecution at the hands of Laud. Accepted Frewen [q .v.], then president of Magdalen College, ‘changed the communion-table in the chapel into an altar,’ as the puritans considered. Several of the preachers at St. Mary's inveighed against this innovation. Ford in his turn preached on 2 Thess. ii. 10, 12 June 1631, and offered some ‘smart reflections’ on making the eucharist a sacrifice, setting up altars instead of tables, and bowing to them. This plain speaking having excited the wrath of the Laudian party, the next Saturday the vice-chancellor (William Smith) called Ford before him and demanded a copy of his sermon. Ford offered to give him one if he demanded it ‘statutably.’ The vice-chancellor then ordered him to surrender himself prisoner at the castle. He refused to go unless accompanied by a beadle or a servant. The following Saturday the vice-chancellor sealed up his study, and afterwards searched his books and papers, but found nothing that could be urged against him, as Ford had taken care to secrete his private memoranda. In the meantime an information was sent to Laud, then chancellor of the university, who returned orders to punish the preachers. Thereupon a citation in his name was fixed on St. Mary's, 2 July, commanding Ford's appearance before the vice-chancellor on the 5th. Appearing on the day appointed he was pressed to take an oath, ex officio, to answer any questions about his sermon; but he refused it, because there were no interrogatories in writing. He again offered a copy of his sermon if demanded according to the statutes, and the next day delivered one, which was accepted. But on pretence of former contumacy the vice-chancellor commanded him again to surrender himself prisoner. Ford appealed from him to the congregation, and delivered his appeal in writing to the proctors (Atherton Bruch and John Doughty). They carried it to convocation, who referred the cause to delegates, a majority of whom, upon a full hearing, acquitted him of all breach of the peace. From them the vice-chancellor himself appealed to convocation, who again appointed delegates; but the time limited by statute expired before they could arrive at a decision. Laud then brought the cause before the king and council, who heard it at Woodstock 23 Aug. Ford, when questioned by the king, stuck manfully to his statement. In the end he was sentenced to quit the university within four days (Rushworth, Hist. Coll. pt. ii. vol. i. pp. 110–11). His popularity was such that many of the scholars, arrayed in their gowns, assembled at Magdalen to conduct him out of the city with all honour. The affair has been minutely set forth by Wood (Antiquities of Oxford, ed. Gutch, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 374–9), who is very severe on Ford for his ‘insolencies.’ Soon afterwards Ford was invited by the magistrates of Plymouth to become their lecturer. Laud was no sooner informed of this than he procured letters from the king forbidding the townsmen to elect Ford on pain of his majesty's displeasure, and another to the Bishop of Exeter, commanding him not to admit him in case he should be elected (Prynne, Canterburies Doome, pp. 175–6). Ford, finding the bishop bent upon excluding him from all preferment in England, embraced an opportunity of going abroad as chaplain to an English regiment under the command of Colonel George Fleetwood [q. v.], in the service of Gustavus Adolphus. He travelled with the colonel into Germany, and was for some time in garrison at Stode and Elbing. The English merchants at Hamburg invited him to be their minister, with the promise of a stipend of 200l. a year. But growing weary of life abroad he returned home. Laud having probably forgotten his existence, no opposition was offered to his institution to the rectory of Aldwinkle All Saints, Northamptonshire, 18 Oct. 1637, a preferment which he owed to Sir Myles Fleetwood (Bridges, Northamptonshire, ii. 210, where his name is misprinted ‘Forth’). In 1640 he was elected proctor for the clergy of the diocese of Peterborough in the convocation which framed the so-called ‘et cætera oath.’ He held his rectory for ten years; but on the outbreak of the civil war, after a short stay at Exeter, he retired to London, and was chosen minister of St. Faith's, and in 1644, on the death of Mr. Bolls, a member of the Westminster Assembly. Ford afterwards settled at Exeter, where he exercised his ministry with such success that ‘the whole city was mightily reformed, and a good relish of the best things appeared in the generality.’ He preached in the choir of the cathedral (as his brother pastors, Lewis Stucley and Thomas Mall, did in the nave), ‘but,’ relates Calamy, ‘he was once put out of it, in 1649, by Major-general Desborough, who quartered there, for refusing the “Engagement.”’ He was appointed minister of St. Lawrence, Exeter, and also acted as an assistant-commissioner for Devonshire. The enforcement of the Bartholomew Act in 1662 obliged him to desist from preaching publicly. A year later he was compelled by the Oxford Act to remove to Exmouth, about nine miles from Exeter, where he lived very privately. When the ‘Indulgence’ came out he returned to Exeter, but in feeble health. He died in December 1674, in his seventy-sixth year, and was buried on the 28th in St. Lawrence's Church, Exeter, near his wife, Bridget Fleetwood, and several of his children. His writings are as follows: 1. ‘Singing of Psalmes the duty of Christians under the New Testament, or a vindication of that Gospel-Ordinance in V sermons upon Ephesians v. 19,’ 12mo, London, 1659; 2nd edit., ‘with many additions,’ the same year. 2. ‘The Sinner condemned of himself: being a Plea for God against all the Ungodly, proving them alone guilty of their own destruction,’ 8vo, London, 1668. 3. ‘Scripture's Self-Evidence, proving it to be the only Rule of Faith’ (cited by Calamy). He preached once before the commons, 30 July 1645, and once before the lords, at a fast held 29 April 1646, and his sermons were undoubtedly published. Wood, who otherwise is grossly unfair to Ford, states that ‘a certain doctor of divinity of his time and persuasion, that knew him well, hath several times told me that this our author was a man of very great parts and of unbyassed principles, one and the same in all times and changes.’ Calamy's account of Ford is probably more correct than that given by Wood. According to the latter Ford was born about 1603, went to college at sixteen, and died in 1676.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 1096-8; Calamy and Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial (1802-1803), ii. 26-31; Brook's Puritans, ii. 395-6.]

G. G.