Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bennet, Joseph

BENNET, JOSEPH (1629–1707), nonconformist divine, the son of Joseph Bennet, rector of Warbleton, in Sussex, was born in 1629. He was educated at Tunbridge grammar school under Mr. Home, and on 30 June 1645 was admitted sizar for the master at St. John's College, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded B.A. in 1649–50. Having had the misfortune to lose his father at an early age, he was brought up by an uncle named Mr. English, of Brightling, who directed his studies to the church in order that he might present him to the living of that parish, of which he was patron. A rector was appointed ad interim, but when asked to vacate he refused, and Bennet did not succeed to the benefice until 1658. In the meantime he had acquired reputation as a preacher first at Hooe, and afterwards at Burwash, both in his native county. When the act of uniformity was passed he refused to comply with its demands, and was accordingly ejected from his living on 23 Feb. 1661-2. He stayed, however, at Brightling for twenty years, and opened a school, which flourished at first, until dispersed by the plague in 1665. While his successor in the living fled the parish for his own safety, Bennet remained at his post, and continued in unremitting attendance on the parishioners, who died in great numbers. This endeared him to the people of the neighbourhood to such a degree, that when the five-mile act came into operation no one could be found to inform against him, and he remained unmolested. 'His motto,' says Calamy, 'was, God's good providence be mine inheritance, which was answered to him; for when his family was increased he was surprisingly provided for, so that though he never abounded, he never was in any distressing want. He generally had a few boarders and scholars, which was at once a help and a diversion.' He afterwards undertook the charge of a nonconformist congregation at Hellingly, and latterly at Hastings, where he died in 1707. He does not appear to have been altogether free from the superstitious fancies of his day, if we may credit a tale of witchcraft long current at Brightling, in which he is represented as having played a conspicuous part. His eldest son Joseph (1665-1726), who officiated for many years in the English presbyterian congregation at the Old Jewry, London, died on 21 Feb. 1725-6.

[Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, 2nd ed., iii. 313-15; Admissions to the College of St. John the Evangelist, ed. J. E. B. Mayor, pt. i. 72, xxiii.; Lower's Worthies of Sussex, pp. 345-6; Sussex Archæol. Coll., xviii. 111-13, xxv. 156-7; MS. Addit. 6358, ff. 35, 44; Wilson's Dissenting Churches, ii. 331-8; Calamy's Funeral Sermon, pp. 35-47; Calamy's Historical Account of My Own Life, ed. Rutt, i. 348, ii. 487.]

G. G.