Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jessey, Henry
JESSEY or JACIE, HENRY (1601–1663), baptist divine, was born on 3 Sept. 1601, at West Rounton, near Northallerton, North Riding of Yorkshire; his father was rector of Rounton. In 1618 he began his studies at Cambridge; and on 6 Nov. 1622 was admitted a ‘Constable's scholar’ of St. John's College, when he signed himself ‘Henricus Jacie Eboracensis.’ He applied himself to logic and philosophy; in 1622 he came under religious convictions and resolved to enter the ministry. He graduated B.A. in 1623. His father's death placed him in very straitened circumstances; he had to live on 3d. a day, out of which he contrived to pay for the hire of books. Hebrew and rabbinical literature were his favourite studies. He left Cambridge in 1624, and for nine years was tutor in the family of Brampton Gurdon (d. 1649), at Assington, Suffolk. While there he took up the study of medicine. In 1626 he graduated M.A. Wood thinks he was the ‘Henry Jacie, M.A.,’ who applied in 1627 for incorporation at Oxford; the result of the application is not known. In 1627 he was episcopally ordained; the pledges thus incurred weighed on his mind subsequently. He preached in various places and visited the poor, but declined taking any charge till, in 1633, he accepted the vicarage of Aughton, East Riding of Yorkshire, vacant by the deprivation of Alder for nonconformity. Jessey would not go so far in conformity as Alder had done; accordingly in 1634 he was deprived for disusing the ceremonies and for removing a crucifix. Sir Matthew Boynton of Barmston, East Riding of Yorkshire, engaged him as his chaplain to preach there and in a neighbouring village. With Boynton he went to London in 1635, and thence in 1636 to Hedgley House, near Uxbridge, Middlesex. He thought of emigrating to New England, but was induced to undertake, at midsummer 1637, the pastoral charge of a separatist congregation gathered in Southwark by Henry Jacob (1563–1624?) [q. v.], and lately ministered to by John Lathrop [q. v.], who had emigrated in 1634.
This congregation, founded in 1616, was independent in church government, bound by covenant to follow the divine directions ‘as he had made them known, or should make them known.’ In 1633 there had been a baptist secession from it. Jessey's settlement as pastor was followed by a like secession (1638). He examined the question, and while deciding for infant baptism, held immersion to be imperative. The controversy was revived in 1644; ultimately he adopted baptist views, and was immersed (June 1645) by Hanserd Knollys [q. v.] He did not, however, make baptism a term of communion.
For many years Jessey's church had to struggle against opposition, and frequently changed its place of meeting. On 21 Feb. 1638, at Queenhithe, the whole congregation was carried off by the bishop's pursuivants; the indignity was repeated elsewhere in the following May. Undaunted by these troubles the congregation in November 1639 despatched Jessey to South Wales, to assist Cradock and William Wroth in constituting an independent church (called the first in Wales) at Llanvaches, Monmouthshire. On 21 April 1640, while taking part in a general fast on Tower Hill, several members of Jessey's flock were committed to the Tower, and bound over to appear at the next sessions, but the prosecution was dropped. Too numerous now to meet together without discovery, the congregation divided by mutual consent, half going off (18 May 1640) with Praisegod Barbon [q. v.], who had been elder of a separatist church in Leyden. Samuel How (‘cobler How’) and Stephen More have been described as Jessey's colleagues, the probability being that on How's death (in 1640) his congregation joined with Jessey's till the appointment of More as How's successor in 1641. On 22 Aug. 1641 Jessey and five others were committed to Wood Street compter by the lord mayor, but released on appeal to parliament. On the surrender of Bristol to Prince Rupert (26 July 1643), some of the independents of Llanvaches, who had taken refuge in that city, removed to London; a number of them frequented the church of Allhallows the Great, of which Robert Bragg (d. 14 April 1704, aged 77), an independent, was rector. Jessey and others (one of whom, till 1653, was Christopher Feake [q. v.]) joined in keeping up a lecture twice a week at Allhallows. Edwards reports that in 1646 Jessey was present with Knollys at a meeting ‘about Aldgate,’ when an attempt was made to restore sight to a blind woman by anointing and prayer. In 1650 he was on a tour among churches of his communion in the north, and visited his aged mother at York.
Jessey projected a revised translation of the Bible, and made some progress in it. His memory for scripture was so minute and accurate that he was termed a living concordance. An order in council (1652) appointed him one of nine (including Cudworth and Owen) whose approval was required to sanction the publication of any new translation of the Bible. In addition to his other engagements, Jessey was in 1653 ‘teacher’ of a baptist church in Swan Alley, Coleman Street (not identical with Knollys's congregation in that street); he preached there on Sunday afternoons; George Burrett was his colleague. By appointment of this church, Jessey visited some thirty-six congregations in the eastern counties during the summer of 1653; he found them ‘sound in the faith,’ though differing about baptism and the use of hymns. In conjunction with John Simpson, a delegate from Bragg's church, he conducted, on 25 Aug., on board the General, off Aldborough, Suffolk, a public thanksgiving for the English victories over the Dutch fleet. A contemporary witness describes his preaching on 7 Feb. 1654 at Allhallows; he was ‘no Boanerges,’ but there was a crowded congregation. Once a week he preached at Ely House. He was one of Cromwell's ‘triers’ (20 March 1654) and ‘expurgators’ (28 Aug. 1654). In 1655 he visited a number of churches in the west of England on the invitation of ‘the saints in Bristol.’ At what date his Southwark congregation began to meet at St. George's, Southwark, is uncertain. Jessey preached there on Sunday mornings, and is supposed by Palmer and Wilson to have obtained the rectory, which was in sequestration. According to Walker, the sequestered rector was succeeded in 1657 by Alexander Pigel. It was in 1657 that Jessey distinguished himself by his charitable exertions on behalf of the distressed Jews in Jerusalem, collecting a sum of 300l., which he forwarded with good wishes for their conversion. His liberality to Jews was memorable on other occasions. He claimed for them the rights of citizenship and admission to fair business privileges. His general charities were extensive; some thirty families are said to have been dependent on his bounty.
At the Restoration Jessey was removed from St. George's. He retained his preaching appointments at Allhallows, and held a conventicle at Anchor Lane, probably also at Swan Alley. Though there is no evidence that he was in any sense a Fifth-monarchy man, yet his former connection with Feake, and Venner's connection with Swan Alley, brought him under suspicion. His favour to Jews and his habit of noting and expecting providential interpositions also told against him. His house was searched and himself placed under arrest on 28 Dec. 1660, by order of Monck. On 27 Nov. 1661 he was again arrested on a warrant, examined by the privy council, and detained in custody at Lamb Inn, St. Clement Danes, till the end of December. In August 1662 he gave information of ‘an intended rising in London’ to the lord mayor and others, and after some delay he was himself arrested on 30 Aug. and not released till March 1663. He then went over to Holland to secure the independent rights of some of his people who had lately emigrated thither. In the following August, after his return to London, he fell into a low fever. He died unmarried on 4 Sept. 1663. His body lay in state at Woodmongers' Hall, Duke's Place, and his funeral in Bethlehem New Churchyard (now part of Liverpool Street, opposite Broad Street Station) was attended on 7 Sept. by four or five thousand persons. A broadsheet elegy was circulated, with the title ‘A Pillar erected to … Henry Jesse,’ &c. Some Latin verses, intended as an epitaph, are given in his ‘Life.’ His portrait, engraved by James Caldwall [q. v.] for the first edition of Palmer, shows him in Geneva gown, broad collar, and double skull-cap; his features are plain and strong without harshness; he wore a pointed beard, and shaved the middle of the upper lip. Over his study door he wrote:
Amice, quisquis huc ades,
Aut agito paucis, aut abi,
Aut me laborantem adjuva.
He published: 1. ‘A Catechism for Children’ (Wood). 2. ‘The Scripture Kalendar,’ &c., 1645, 8vo. According to his ‘Life,’ this was issued each year till 1664; his object was to supersede not only the ‘popish’ saints' days, but the ‘heathenish’ names of months and days of the week. 3. ‘The Exceeding Riches of Grace … in … Mrs. Sarah Wight,’ &c., 1647, 8vo (Wood); 1658, 12mo. 4. ‘The Storehouse of Provision for … Cases of Conscience,’ &c., 1650, 12mo. 5. ‘Scripture Motives for Kalendar Reformation, partly urged formerly by Mr. J. B.,’ &c., 1650, 8vo. 6. ‘Description … of … Jerusalem,’ &c., 1653, 4to (WOOD); 1654, 4to, with map. 7. ‘The Lord's Loud Call to England,’ &c., 1660, 4to. Posthumous were: 8. ‘Miscellanea Sacra,’ &c., 1665, 8vo. 9. ‘A Looking-glass for Children,’ &c., 1673, 8vo (additions by H. P.); 1674, 8vo (Wood). In 1650 he translated an account ‘Of the Conversion of … East Indians,’ &c. He contributed an epistle and indices to ‘An English-Greek Lexicon … of … the New Testament,’ &c., 1661, 8vo, in which Joseph Caryl [q. v.] and seven others were concerned. His letters to the Jews and scheme for a revised translation of the Bible are printed in his ‘Life,’ which mentions other writings of his. It was Constantine Jessop [q. v.], not Henry Jessey (as Wood says), who wrote the preface to Grayle's ‘Modest Vindication,’ 1655, 4to. The opinion that Jessey had a hand in ‘Annus Mirabilis,’ &c., 1660, 4to, and subsequent years, has no better foundation than his admission in 1661 that he had long been in the habit of collecting notes of remarkable events. He spells his name ‘Henrie Jessey’ (Hexham Records); the forms Jessy and Jessie appear on some of his title-pages; other forms are noted above.
[The Life and Death of … Jessey, 1671 (anon.), is the source of later biographies; its substantial accuracy is shown wherever it is possible to test it by contemporary records. Edwards's Gangræna, 1646, iii. 19; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 982; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), i. 435; Calamy's Account, 1713, p. 35; Calamy's Continuation, 1727, i. 45 sq., 88; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, 1714, ii. 170; Crosby's Hist. Engl. Baptists, 1738 i. 307 sq., 1740 iii. 41 sq.; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, 1775 i. 108 sq., 1802 i. 83, 129 sq.; Wilson's Diss. Churches of London, 1808 i. 41 sq., 417, 1814 iv. 140; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, 1822, ii. 341; Records of Broadmead, Bristol (Hanserd Knollys Society), 1847, pp. 42, 51; Canne's Necessity of Separation (Hanserd Knollys Society), 1849, p. xii; Records of Hexham (Hanserd Knollys Society), 1854, pp. 345 sq.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1652–4, 1660–3; Barclay's Inner Life of Relig. Societies of the Commonwealth, 1876, pp. 154 sq.; Rees's Hist. Prot. Nonconf. in Wales, 1883, p. 60; information from R. F. Scott, esq., St. John's College, Cambridge; the early registers of Rounton are lost.]