Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eaton, Samuel

EATON, SAMUEL (1596?–1665), independent divine, third son of Richard Eaton, vicar of Great Budworth, Cheshire, was born in the hamlet of Crowley in that parish. He was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. 1624, M.A. 1628. He took orders and was beneficed, but being unable to conform to the regulations of the church as interpreted by Laud, he accompanied his eldest brother Theophilus [q. v.] to New England in 1637, and became the colleague of John Davenport [q. v.] at New Haven. A difference of opinion afterwards arose between him and Davenport. At the convention of 4 June 1639 (O. S.) Eaton took exception to the fifth article of the constitution, which limited the right of voting and of holding public office to church members only on the ground that ‘the free planters ought not to surrender this power out of their hands.’ After his brother and Davenport had replied, he found so little support that he withdrew his dissent. The following year he set out for England with the design of gathering a company to settle Toboket, afterwards Branford, of which a grant had been made to him. On his way he preached for some time in Boston, but declined an invitation to settle there permanently. Arrived in England at a time when his own party was everywhere triumphant, he found more encouragement to remain there than to return to the ‘wilderness.’ He soon showed himself a vigorous asserter of independency. Annexed to Sir Thomas Aston's ‘Remonstrance against Presbytery,’ 4to, 1641, are ‘Certain Positions preached at St. John's Church in Chester, by Mr. Samuel Eaton, a minister lately returned from New England, upon Sunday, being the third day of January 1640,’ also ‘Certyn other Positions preached by the same man at Knuttesford, a great Market Toune in the same County.’ Aston bears unwilling testimony to Eaton's powers as a preacher in asserting that by his ‘doctrines many of the common people are brought into that odium of the Book of Common Prayer, that divers of them will not come into the church during the time of divine service.’ In August 1641 ‘the New England Mr. Eaton’ is reported as having delivered at Barrow, Cheshire, a violent tirade ‘against the bishops and their government’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1641–1643, p. 77). He became an assistant to the parliamentary commissioners of Cheshire. He was afterwards chosen teacher of a congregational church at Dukinfield in Cheshire, whence he removed to the neighbouring borough of Stockport, where he preached in the free school (ib. 1654, p. 293). In this place he had difficulty with his people, some of whom, says Calamy, ‘ran things to a great height, and grew wiser than their minister’ (Nonconf. Memorial, ed. Palmer, 1802, ii. 361). Upon being silenced in 1662 he attended the ministry of John Angier [q. v.] at Denton, near Manchester, where, it is said, many of his old hearers who had disliked him much while he was their minister ‘were wrought into a better temper’ (ib.) He died at Denton 9 Jan. 1664–5, aged 68, and was buried in the chapel there on the 13th. He left no children. In his funeral sermon (Oliver Heywood, Works, v. 509) he is stated to have suffered not only from the persecution which raged against the silenced ministers, being ‘several times brought into trouble and imprisoned,’ but from grievous bodily affliction; he had ‘been dying many years.’ Eaton joined Timothy Taylor, his colleague at Dukinfield, in writing ‘A Defence of sundry Positions and Scriptures alledged to justifie the Congregationall-way; charged at first to be weak … and unsufficient, by R[ichard] H[ollingworth] M.A., of Magd. Coll. Cambr. in his examination of them; but upon further examination, clearly manifested to be sufficient, etc.,’ 4to, London, 1645. Hollingworth published ‘An Epistle’ in reply the following year, whereupon his antagonists retorted with ‘The Defence of sundry Positions and Scriptures for the Congregational-way justified, etc.,’ 4to, London, 1646, to which Hollingworth made ‘A Rejoynder’ in 1647.

Eaton's separate writings are: 1. ‘The Oath of Allegiance and the National Covenant proved to be non-obliging: or, Three several Papers on that subject; viz. (1.) Two Positions … (2.) An Anwer to the said Positions. (3.) A Reply to the said Answer, etc.,’ 4to, London [1 July], 1650, in refutation of a pamphlet which had appeared in the previous February entitled ‘A Vindication of the Oath of Allegiance’ by ‘the Author of the Exercitation concerning Usurped Powers.’ 2. ‘A Friendly Debate on a weighty subject; or, a Conference by writing betwixt Mr. Samuel Eaton and Mr. John Knowles concerning the Divinity of Jesus Christ: for the beating out and further clearing up of truth,’ 4to, London, 1650. For printing and publishing this tract John Whittell, girdler, of Milk Street, London, had to appear before the council of state in July of that year (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1650, p. 518). Thomas Porter, ‘minister at Whitchurch,’ replied the following year in ‘A Serious Exercitation.’ 3. ‘Paper concerning the Godhead of Christ,’ 8vo, London, 1650, written to rebut the Socinian arguments of John Knowles. A more elaborate reply was 4. ‘The Mystery of God Incarnate; or the Word made Flesh cleered up: or, A Vindication of certain Scriptures … from the corrupt Glosses, false Interpretations, and sophisticall Argumentations of M. John Knowles, who denies the Divinity of Christ. Also, Certain Annotations and Observations upon a Pamphlet entituled A Confession of Faith concerning the Holy Trinity, etc., whereunto is annexed the attestation of Philip Nye [and others],’ 12mo, London, 1650. 5. ‘Vindication, or further Confirmation of some other Scriptures, produced to prove the Divinity of Jesus Christ, distorted and miserably wrested and abused by M. John Knowles,’ with a discourse, 8vo, London, 1651. 6. ‘The Quakers Confuted; being an Answer unto nineteen Queries propounded by them, and sent to the Elders of the Church of Duckinfield in Cheshire. … Together with an Answer to a Letter which was written … by one of them (R. Waller) [with the Letter],’ 4to, London, 1654. This venomous attack was answered anonymously during the same year, and was glanced at by George Fox in his ‘Great Mystery,’ 1659, and ‘Journal.’ Eaton's writings were favourably regarded by the council of state, who, convinced of his ‘merit and good affection,’ augmented his stipend on two occasions (ib. 1651, p. 213, 1654, p. 293). He has a place in the ‘Athenæ Oxonienses,’ because his relations informed Wood that he had been educated at Oxford, ‘but in what house they could not tell.’

[Savage's Genealogical Dict. of First Settlers of New England, ii. 97; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 672–4; Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702, bk. iii. pp. 213–14; Calamy and Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, 1802, ii. 361–362; Bacon's Thirteen Historical Discourses, pp. 19, 22–3, 59–62; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. i. 516–17, ii. 93–4, 138; Hanbury's Historical Research concerning the most Ancient Congregational Church in England, 1820, p. 54.]

G. G.