Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, Daniel
WILLIAMS, DANIEL (1643?–1716), nonconformist divine and benefactor, was born at (or near) Wrexham, Denbighshire, about 1643. Nothing is known of his father or of his education, but he was well connected. His mother was probably a daughter of Hugh Davies of Wrexham, grandfather of Stephen Davies (d. 1739), minister at Banbury, whom Williams in his will calls his ‘cousin,’ and makes a residuary legatee. His sister Elizabeth (d. January 1727–8) married Hugh Roberts of Wrexham, a landowner and currier. He says himself that ‘from five years old’ he did nothing but study, and ‘before nineteen’ was ‘regularly admitted a preacher’ (Defence of Gospel Truth, 1693, pref.). Visiting about 1664 Lady Wilbraham (d. 2 Nov. 1679) of Weston, near Shifnal, Shropshire, he accepted the offer of a chaplaincy to the Countess of Meath (Mary, d. 1685, daughter of Calcot Chambre of Denbigh). While in her service he preached regularly to an independent congregation at Drogheda, a survival of Cromwell's garrison. In 1667 he was called to the congregation of Wood Street, Dublin, originally independent, as colleague to Samuel Marsden (d. 1677), a moderate independent. From 1682 to 1687 Gilbert Rule [q. v.] was Williams's colleague, and from him Williams learned his admiration, always purely theoretical, of the presbyterian system, and (except in the matter of non-residence) of the Scottish universities. In 1683 Joseph Boyse [q. v.] also joined Williams, and for some years the Wood Street congregation was strongly manned. Its ministers met those of other dissenting congregations in a neutral association formed (1655) by Samuel Winter [q. v.] But on the outbreak of the troubles of 1687, Rule returned to Scotland, and Williams, who had so excited the animosity of Roman catholics that he thought his life in danger, made his way to London in September.
He reached London at a critical moment, when strong efforts were made to induce the dissenters as a body to endorse James's declaration for liberty of conscience, by a united address of thanks. At a conference convened for the purpose, Williams urged his brethren to discountenance any arbitrary power of dispensation, which would afford relief by ‘measures destructive of the liberties of their country.’ He carried the meeting with him, and fixed the policy of his party. The revolution of 1688 had no more earnest champion, and, though he never sought prominence as a public man, his accurate knowledge of men was of much service to William III in dealing with Irish affairs. Sir Charles Wolseley (d. 1714) [q. v.], who had known him in Ireland, said he ‘talked like a privy councillor.’
Williams was intimate with Baxter, and supplied for him at the Tuesday merchants' lecture, Pinner's Hall. At length, on the death (December 1687) of John Oakes, he succeeded him as minister of the presbyterian congregation at Hand Alley, Bishopsgate, founded by Thomas Vincent [q. v.] He held this charge till death. His preaching is said to have been unpolished, for he was never a man of letters, and his want of exact theological training was the main cause of the suspicions of his orthodoxy which led to embittered disputes among the London dissenters, raging for seven years. His congregation stood by him throughout, and he kept them in strict order. Theophilus Dorrington [q. v.] prints a peremptory letter threatening public excommunication to ‘a rich widow’ who had left his meeting for that of John Shower [q. v.] (Dissenters Represented … by themselves, 1710, p. 1; reprinted in Lewis's English Presbyterian Eloquence, 1720, p. 134).
On Baxter's death Williams and Thomas Woodcock (d. 1695), an ex-fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, were rival candidates for the Pinners' Hall lecture; the votes were equal, and Williams was elected by lot. He took up Baxter's controversy [see Howe, John, 1630–1705] against alleged antinomianism in the works of Tobias Crisp, D.D. [q. v.], and was attacked by a colleague in the lectureship, Thomas Cole (1627?–1697) [q. v.] The publication of his ‘Gospel Truth,’ 1692, 12mo (with the prefixed commendation of sixteen presbyterians), founded on his lectures, was the signal for general controversy at an unlucky moment, the presbyterian and most of the congregational ministers of London having just entered (1690) into a union, under ‘Heads of Agreement,’ drawn up by Howe. Nathaniel Mather [q. v.] wrote against Williams. A second edition (also 1692) of Williams's book was countersigned by forty-nine presbyterians (see Williams's letter to John Humfrey [q. v.], Add. MS. 4276, fol. 148). Hereupon Isaac Chauncy [q. v.] withdrew (17 Oct. 1692) from the ‘union,’ having laid before it a paper of exceptions to Williams's argument, signed by six congregationalists. In December 1692 a new series of doctrinal articles was added to the ‘Heads of Agreement,’ and published as ‘The Agreement in Doctrine among the Dissenting Ministers in London,’ 1693, 4to. It failed to satisfy the London congregationalists, who in 1693 left the ‘union’ (which was not broken in other parts of the country) and started a ‘fund’ of their own. Williams, who was freely accused of Arminian views and of Socinian positions on the atonement, wrote ‘A Defence’ (1693, 4to) against Chauncy and others. He further published ‘Man made Righteous,’ 1694, 12mo (lectures at Pinners' Hall). Refusing to resign the Pinners' Hall lectureship, he was dismissed (August 1694) by a vote of the subscribers. With him left William Bates, D.D. [q. v.], who had held office since the institution (1672) of the lecture, Howe, and Vincent Alsop [q. v.] These, with Samuel Annesley [q. v.] and Richard Mayo [q. v.], were appointed to a new lectureship (same day and hour) at Salters' Hall (cf. History of the Union, 1698).
Villainous attacks were now made on Williams, who was accused (1695) of immorality. He courted investigation, and for eight weeks a committee of presbyterian ministers sat in Annesley's meeting-house at Little St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, examining into the minutest particulars of Williams's conduct from boyhood. The committee reported to the general body, who on 8 April 1695 found Williams ‘intirely clear and innocent.’ Grateful to Edmund Calamy, D.D. [q. v.], for an important piece of evidence procured by his means, Williams made him his assistant at Hand Alley. On the failure of the attack upon Williams's morals, the charge of socinianising on the atonement was persistently pressed by Stephen Lobb [q. v.] Lobb invoked the authority of Edward Stillingfleet [q. v.], who, on being appealed to, thought Williams more orthodox than Lobb (cf. Stillingfleet, Works, 1710, iii. 2, 272). Lobb then quoted Jonathan Edwards, D.D. [q. v.], as against Williams; Edwards wrote (28 Oct. 1697) to Williams, taking his side. He was never suspected of heterodoxy on the person of Christ, and it is significant that Duncan Cumyng, M.D., who first discovered the heresy of Thomas Emlyn [q. v.], was his almoner for Ireland. His last publications in this controversy were ‘An Answer to the Report,’ 1698, 8vo, and ‘An End to Discord,’ 1699, 8vo (cf. Nelson, Life of Bull, 1713, p. 259).
In 1700 Williams revisited Ireland. In 1701 he interested himself in the settlement of James Peirce [q. v.] at Cambridge. In March 1702 he headed a joint address from the ‘three denominations’ on the accession of Anne; it was the first occasion on which the three bodies thus acted together (Calamy, Abridgement, 1713, p. 621). Williams opposed the bill against ‘occasional conformity,’ and did his utmost, without avail, to prevent the extension (1704) of the sacramental test to Ireland. Calamy, in 1704, submitted to him the manuscript of the ‘introduction’ to the second part of his ‘Defence of Moderate Nonconformity.’ In this tractate Calamy frankly declared for ‘a meer independent scheme’ of church government; knowing that Williams, almost alone among London ministers, held ‘the divine right of presbytery,’ he begged for his criticisms. Williams replied that the publication was ‘seasonable,’ and therefore he would not answer it, though he could do so ‘with ease.’ The diploma of D.D. (dated 2 May 1709) was sent to Williams from Edinburgh, and in the same month from Glasgow (in a silver box). He had written to William Carstares [q. v.] declining the proposed honour. A proposal for a nonconformist academy at Hoxton was discountenanced by Williams, who was in favour of sending divinity students to Scotland for their education. He was anxious for the establishment of a residential college at Edinburgh, and offered 500l. towards the estimated cost.
Williams had long been intimate with Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford [q. v.], who, soon after his accession to power (1710), offered Williams 1,000l. for distribution among dissenting ministers as royal bounty. He declined the boon (Calamy, Own Life, ii. 471). He distrusted Oxford's loyalty to the Hanover succession. On the accession of George I Williams again headed the ‘three denominations’ with a loyal address to the throne (28 Sept. 1714). This was his last public act. His health till 1709 had been good; he now rapidly declined, leaving most of his work to John Evans (1680?–1730) [q. v.], his assistant from 1704. The sarcastic picture of him by John Fox (1693–1763) [q. v.] as ‘the figure of a man in black sitting alone at a large wainscot table, smoking a pipe … without moving either his head or eyes to see who or what we were … the greatest bundle of pride, affectation, and ill manners I had ever met with’ (Monthly Repository, 1821, p. 194; Devonshire Association Report, 1896, p. 139), refers to a period (1715) when ‘bodily disorders greatly embittered life, and began, in a manner unusual to him, to sequester him’ (Wilson, ii. 207).
Williams died at Hoxton (where he had a house with ‘a large court, in which, when Fox visited him, stood his coach) on 26 Jan. 1715–16. Evans preached his funeral sermon. He was buried in ‘a new vault’ in Bunhill Fields, near the City Road entrance, west side; his tomb, with its long Latin inscription, is kept in good repair by his trustees (for the inscription, see Defoe, p. 85, and Calamy, Continuation, ii. 981). His portrait (in which it is difficult to see the philanthropist) was presented in 1747 to Dr. Williams's Library by the daughters of John Morton (d. 1746), linendraper, an original trustee; an engraving by James Caldwall [q. v.] is in some copies of the first edition of Palmer's ‘Nonconformist's Memorial,’ 1778, ii. 640. He married, first (license dated 16 Oct. 1675), Elizabeth (she signs ‘Eliza’), daughter of Sir Robert Meredith of Green Hills, Kildare, and widow of Thomas Juxon (d. 2 Oct. 1672) of East Sheen, parish of Mortlake, Surrey, whose daughter and heiress, Elizabeth (d. 1722), married, as her second husband, John Wynne (d. 1715); to Mrs. Wynne Williams in his will left a silver basin ‘as having been her father's.’ The first Mrs. Williams died, without issue by Williams, on 10 June 1698, aged 62, through grief at the death of her sister Alice, dowager countess of Mountrath. He married, secondly, in 1701, Jane (d. 1 Jan. 1739–40), elder daughter of George Guill, a Huguenot refugee merchant, and widow of Francis Barkstead (son of John Barkstead [q. v.]), by whom she had a son Francis and daughters Mary and Elizabeth, but none by Williams; her portrait, with several portraits of the Barksteads, was given (1750) to Dr. Williams's Library by Benjamin Sheppard (her grandson). Her sister Susanna was married to Joseph Stennett [q. v.], the seventh-day baptist.
Besides the works noted above, and numerous funeral, thanksgiving, and other sermons, Williams published: 1. ‘The Vanity of Childhood and Youth … Sermons to Young People,’ 1691, 8vo. 2. ‘A Letter to the Author of a Discourse of Free Thinking,’ 1713, 8vo (defends the eternity of hell torments). 3. ‘Some Queries relating to the Bill for preventing the Growth of Schism,’ 1714, 8vo. His will directs his trustees to reprint his works ‘all such as are not controversial,’ at stated intervals for two thousand years. Five of his books were to be translated into Latin, and No. 1 above also into Welsh. There is a collection of his ‘Practical Discourses,’ 1738–50, 5 vols. 8vo. The ‘Gospel Truth’ was translated into Latin by Q. A., and published as ‘Veritas Evangelica,’ 1740, 8vo; reissued with five other pieces by Williams, translated by James Belsham (d. 1770) in ‘Tractatus Selecti,’ 1760, 8vo.
By both his marriages Williams acquired considerable properties, and while in Ireland he had been the recipient of handsome legacies. On himself he spent comparatively little, and having no children he devoted the bulk of his estate (estimated at 50,000l.) to charitable uses. His will (dated 26 June 1711; codicil, 22 Aug. 1712), besides provision for his widow, numerous legacies, bequests for the poor in various places, endowments for presbyterian chapels at Wrexham and Burnham, Essex, for St. Thomas's Hospital, for the universities of Glasgow and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and for mission societies in Scotland and New England, goes on to nominate as trustees thirteen presbyterian ministers (of whom seven took the conservative side in the non-subscription controversy of 1719) and ten laymen. The trusts were chiefly for scholastic and religious purposes (including an itinerant preacher in the Irish language) and for a library. After two thousand years (or earlier in the event of the suppression of protestant worship) the income of the property is to revert to the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to support almshouses. Interlineations in the will and the fact that the codicil was not attested led to complicated contentions with the heir-at-law, Williams's sister, Mrs. Roberts. A chancery suit was begun by the trustees in 1717, and others followed. Mrs. Roberts at length accepted, in satisfaction of her claims, an annuity of 60l. (a permanent charge on the trust), and on 26 July 1721 a decree of the rolls court established the will. The trust was administered under the directions of the court of chancery for about 140 years. It has since been modified by the endowed schools commissioners and the charity commissioners. Bursaries at Carmarthen College, valuable scholarships tenable at Glasgow, and divinity scholarships tenable in any approved theological college, are, within certain limits, regulated by the trustees.
In addition to his own library Williams had purchased (for over 500l.) that of William Bates, D.D. He directed the purchase or erection of a ‘fit edifice,’ and a payment of 10l. a year to a librarian. Defoe hoped it might become ‘the compleatest library in Britain.’ To Calamy is due the establishment of the library on a more important scale than Williams had in view. In September 1727 a site was purchased in Red Cross Street. The building was completed by subscription, the sum sanctioned by chancery being insufficient. On 8 Dec. 1729 the trustees first met in the library; a librarian was appointed on 20 April 1730. Till the secession of unitarians in 1836 from the ‘three denominations’ [see Yates, James] the Red Cross Street Library (see engraving of its front in Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 1794, p. 416) was the headquarters of London dissent. Here were kept the London dissenting registers of birth and baptism (now at Somerset House). Among many important additions to the library were the bequest of nearly two thousand volumes by William Harris (1675?–1740 [q. v.], the gift of 2,400 volumes from the collection of George Henry Lewes [q. v.], and the deposit of a theosophic collection (a thousand volumes) by Christopher Walton [q. v.] In 1864 the library (then containing twenty thousand books and five hundred volumes of manuscripts) was removed to temporary premises in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. It was transferred in 1873 to a new building in Grafton Street, W.C., and in 1890 to University Hall, Gordon Square, W.C. Among its treasures (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App.; Athenæum, 26 Dec. 1874) are the original minutes of the Westminster Assembly, a fine first folio Shakespeare (Notes and Queries, 7 Dec. 1872, p. 447), and a cast of the face of Oliver Cromwell, taken after death.