Bownas, Samuel (DNB00)

BOWNAS, SAMUEL (1676 – 1753), quaker minister and writer, was born at Shap, Westmoreland, on 20 Nov. 1676. His father, a shoemaker, died within a month of Samuel's birth, leaving his mother a house to live in and a yearly income of about 4l. 10s.; there was another son about seven years old. Hence Bownas got little education; in fact, he could just read and write. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to his uncle, a blacksmith, who used him harshly; afterwards to Samuel Parat, a quaker, near Sedbergh, Yorkshire. Bownas's father had been a persecuted quaker, who held meetings in his house; his mother brought him up with a deep regard for his father's memory, and took him as a child to visit quaker prisoners in Appleby gaol. But the lad was fonder of fun than of meetings, and grew up, as he says, 'a witty sensible young man.' The preaching of a young quakeress, named Anne Wilson, roused him from the state of 'a traditional quaker,' and he very shortly after opened his mouth in meeting, 'on that called Christmas day,' about 1696. He had still some three years of his apprenticeship to serve; on its expiry he got a certificate from Brigflats monthly meeting to visit Scotland on a religious mission. His heart failed him while on the way, and the work fell to a companion, but he made missionary visits to many parts of England and Wales, supporting himself by harvest work. At Sherborne, in Dorsetshire, he met with his future wife. He started for Scotland in good earnest on 11 Aug. 1701. Of this journey he gives a graphic account, telling how he was put into the Jedburgh tolbooth as a precautionary measure, the officer remarking, 'I ken very weel that you'll preach, by your looks.' In March 1702 he sailed for America, arriving in Potuxant river, Maryland, at the end of May. Preaching here, he soon received a written challenge from George Keith,who had left the quakers in 1692. After leading a sect of his own, Keith had received Anglican orders in May 1700, and was now an ardent (and not unsuccessful) advocate of episcopacy. Bownas wrote declining ' to take any notice of one that hath been so very mutable in his pretences to religion;' but he distributed a tract (whether original or not does not appear) in answer to one by Keith. Keith got him prosecuted for his preaching, and on 30 Sept. 1702 he was put into the county gaol of Queen's County, Long Island, as he would not give bail, ' if as small a sum as three-halfpence would do.' On 28 Dec. the grand jury threw out the indictment, but Bownas was held in prison, where he learned to make shoes, and had a visit from an 'Indian king, as he styled himself,' who discoursed with him about the good Monettay, or God, and the bad Monettay, or Devil. A seventh-day baptist, John Rogers, also came to confer with him. On 3 Sept. 1703 he was set at liberty. After further travels in America he returned home, reaching Portsmouth in October 1706. He was married in the spring of 1707; his wife's name is not given; she died in September 1719. He visited Ireland in 1708, and was put into Bristol gaol for tithes by the Rev. William Ray, of Lymington, in 1712, but was soon let out; after all, the parson outwitted Mrs. Bownas, and got 101. for tithe, a sore subject with the poor woman on her death-bed.

In February 1722 Bownas married his second wife, a widow named Nichols, of Bridport, where he henceforth resided, though he still travelled much. Visiting America again in 1726, he met Elizabeth Hanson, of 'Knoxmarsh, in Kecheachy, in Dover township,' New England, from whom he obtained particulars of her captivity (with her children) among the Indians in 1724. The substance of the story was afterwards printed. The London reprint of this 'Account of the Captivity, &c.,' 1760, 8vo (2nd edition, same year; 3rd edition, 1782; 4th edition, 1787), purports to be 'by Samuel Bownas,' but it is a mere reissue, with a new title, of an American publication, 'God's mercy surmounting Man's Cruelty, &c.,' which Bownas expressly says that he first saw in Dublin. He got home again on 2 Aug. 1728, travelled in the north and in Ireland; lost his second wife on 6 March 1746; and continued to travel at intervals till within a few years of his death, which took place at Bridport on 2 April 1753. He was a tall man, with a great voice, ready in retort, more given to scriptural argument than some of the earlier Friends. He wrote:

  1. Preface (dated Lymington, 2 June 1715) prefixed to Daniel Taylor's 'Remains,' 1715, 8vo (edited by Bownas).
  2. 'Considerations on a Pamphlet entituled, The Duty of Consulting a Spiritual Guide, &c.,' 1724, 8vo (in reply to a Lincolnshire clergyman named Bowyer).
  3. 'A Description of the Qualifications necessary to a Gospel Minister, &c.,'1750, 8vo; 2nd edition, 1767, 8vo (with appendix); 3rd edition, 1853, 16mo (with new appendix).
  4. 'Account of the Life, Travels, … of Samuel Bownas,' 1756, 8vo (this is an autobiography to 2 Sept. 1749, with preface by Joseph Besse, and testimony of the Bridport monthly meeting), reprinted 1761, 8vo; 1795, 12mo; Stamford, 1805, 12mo; 1836, 16mo; Philadelphia, 1839: 1846, 8vo.

[Life, ed. of 1846; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, 1867, i. 308, 912, ii. 703; Smith's Bibliotheca Anti-Quak. 1872, p. 82.]

A. G.