Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Larkham, Thomas

LARKHAM, THOMAS (1602–1669), puritan divine, born at Lyme Regis, Dorset, on 17 Aug. 1602, of 'pious parents,' matriculated at Cambridge, and proceeded B.A. from Trinity Hall in 1621–2, and M.A. 1626. In 1622 he was living at Shobrooke, near Crediton, where he married. He was instituted vicar of Northam, near Bideford, on 26 Dec. 1626, and his puritan proclivities brought him into trouble. A petition against him was, he says (Sermons on the Attributes, Pref.), 'delivered [apparently about 1639] into the king's own hand, with 24 terrible articles annexed, importing faction, heresie, witchcraft, rebellion, and treason.' He was 'put into Star-chamber and High Commission,' and was proceeded against in the Consistory Court at Exeter 'under a suit of pretended slander for reproving an atheistical wretch by the name of Atheist.' Before 19 Jan. 1640–1 (when Anthony Downe was appointed to the living of Northam, 'void by cession or deprivation') Larkham fled with his family to New England, going first to Massachusetts, 'but not being willing to submit to the discipline of the churches there, came to Northam or Dover, a settlement on the river Piscataquis, Maine. Here he became minister, ousting Mr. Knollys.' In this capacity he signs first, among forty inhabitants of Dover, a petition dated 22 Oct. 1640, to Charles I, for 'combination of government.' Larkham's conduct in usurping the principal civil as well as religious authority led to much discontent and even open warfare, and commissioners from Boston (of whom Hugh Peters was one) were sent to arbitrate. They found both parties in fault. Larkham remained at Dover until the end of 1642, when, says Governor Winthrop, 'suddenly discovering a purpose to go to England, and fearing to be dissuaded by his people, gave them his faithful promise not to go, but yet soon after he got on shipboard and so departed. It was time for him to be gone.' There follows an account of the birth of an illegitimate child of which Larkham was admitted to be the father. 'Upon this the church at Dover looked out for another elder.' Larkham gives the exact date of his 'departure,' accompanied only by his son Thomas, as 14 Nov. Some time after his arrival in England he became chaplain in Sir Hardres Waller's regiment going to Ireland. According to his own story, he was at one time 'chaplain to one of greatest honour in the nation, next unto a king, had his residence among ladies of honour, and was familiar with men of greatest renown in the kingdom, when he had a thousand pounds worth of plate before him.' On 30 Jan. 1647–8 he came into Devonshire, proceeding in the following April to Tavistock, where Sir Hardres then had his headquarters. The vicarage of Tavistock had been vacant since George Hughes accepted a call from the people of Plymouth on 21 Oct. 1643. Larkham ultimately succeeded to the vicarage, certainly before 1649. According to the report of the commissioners, who, under the Act for Providing Maintenance for Preaching Ministers, visited Tavistock on 18 Oct. 1650, Larkham was elected by the inhabitants, and presented by the Earl of Bedford, 'who as successor to the abbey held all the great tithes and the right to present.' The earl had formerly allowed the vicar '50li per annum, but Larkham only received 19li from him.' An additional 50li per annum was, however, allowed him from Lamerton as tithe. On 15 Nov. 1649 he had been dismissed from his post as chaplain of Waller's regiment. According to his 'Diary' he had had 'differences about their irreligious carriage.' But he really seems to have been dismissed after a court-martial, which sat for two days at Plymouth, had found him guilty of inciting to insubordination. He seems nevertheless to have secured some other military post, for he speaks of receiving money in 1651 at a 'muster in Carlisle for my men;' and on 11 June 1652 he received eleven days' pay from Ebthery at Bristol, 'they being about to take ship,' for Ireland probably. He was thus absent from Tavistock almost the whole of 1651–2, and owing to his absence, and to his introduction after his return of novelties in the church, 'which would have wearied any but an Athenian Spirit,' his congregation showed much discontent. In 1657 Larkham attacked his chief enemies in a tract entitled 'Naboth, in a Narrative and Complaint of the Church of God at Tavistock, and especially of and concerning Mr. Thomas Larkham.' Five leading parishioners, who were especially abused, replied in 'The Tavistock Naboth proved Nabal: an Answer to a Scandalous Narrative by Thomas Larkham, in the name, but without the consent, of the Church of Tavistocke in Devon, etc., by F. G., D. P., W. G., N. W., W. H., etc.,' 4to, London, 1658 (Bodleian). Larkham in his 'Diary' calls this reply 'a heape of trash, full fraught with lies and slanders,' but the authors seem to have been justified in their denunciations of Larkham's affection for sack and bowls, which his 'Diary' corroborates. They also allude to his published attacks on tithes, although his 'Diary' proves that he made every effort to exact the Lamerton tithes from refractory farmers. Accusations of immorality in New England and at home had, it was further declared, been brought against him by one of the commissioners. Larkham retorted in a pamphlet called 'Judas Hanging Himself,' which is no longer extant, and his enemies answered him again in 'A Strange Metamorphosis in Tavistock, or the Nabal-Naboth improved a Judas,' &c., 4to, London, 1658, British Museum. But Larkham, who was 'out in printing Naboth 1l. 10s.' (Diary, October 1657), allowed the controversy to drop there. Already he had in the pulpit spoken of the neighbouring ministers as 'doing journey work,' and had asserted that 'many of them would sooner turn Presbyterians, Independents, nay Papists, rather than lose their benefices.' The celebrated John Howe, then of Great Torrington, openly protested against one of Larkham's sermons, which was afterwards published in his 'Attributes of God,' 1656.

In October 1659, to Larkham's disgust, a weekly lecture was established in Tavistock by his opponents, and the neighbouring ministers officiated. Larkham resisted the arrangement, but the council of state (State Papers, Dom. cxx. 226) ordered the justices living near Tavistock (17 March 1659–60) to take measures to continue the lectures, and to examine witnesses as to the 'crimes and misdemeanors' alleged against Larkham. The charges chiefly consisted of expressions he had used in sermons, in derogation of the restored Long parliament, and in contempt of Monck. The justices sat to hear evidence on 17 April, and Larkham was ordered to admit others to preach in the parish church. On 19 Oct. the justices met to consider whether he had been legally appointed to the vicarage of Tavistock, and he was bound over to appear at the Exeter assizes. On Sunday the 21st Larkham, in compliance with the Earl of Bedford's desire, resigned the benefice. He was nevertheless arrested on 18 Jan. 1660–1, and spent eighty-four days in prison at Exeter. On his release he returned to Tavistock, living with his son-in-law, Condy, and preaching occasionally in retired places, but left the town on being warned of impending prosecutions under the Five Miles Act. In 1664 he became partner with Mr. County, an apothecary in Tavistock, and carried on the business successfully after Mr. County's death. The last entry in his 'Diary' is dated 17 Nov. 1669, and he was buried at Tavistock on 23 Dec.

On 22 June 1622 he married Patience, daughter of George Wilton, schoolmaster, of Crediton. Of this marriage were born four children: Thomas, died in the West Indies, 1648; George, went to Oxford and became minister of Cockermouth; Patience, married Lieutenant Miller, who died in Ireland, 1656; and Jane, married Daniel Condy of Tavistock.

His works are, besides the tracts already mentioned:

  1. 'The Wedding Supper,' 12mo, London, 1652, with portrait, engraved by T. Cross. Dedicated to the parliament.
  2. 'A Discourse of Paying of Tithes by T. L., M.A., Pastour of the Church of Tavistocke,' 12mo, London, 1656. Dedicated to Oliver Cromwell.
  3. 'The Attributes of God,' &c., 4to, London, 1656, with portrait, British Museum. Dedicated to the fellows, masters, and presidents of colleges, &c., at Cambridge.

All his works are very scarce, especially the tracts. His manuscript 'Diary' from 1650 to 1669 has been edited, but much abbreviated and expurgated, by the Rev. W. Lewis.

[Larkham's manuscript Diary now in the possession of Mr. Fawcett of Carlisle; his Wedding Supper, Discourse on Tithes, and Attributes of God; History of Dover, Mass., by the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, i. 46; Governor Winthrop's History of New England, ii. 62; History of Massachusetts, by Thomas Hutchinson, i. 98; Provincial Papers of New Hampshire, vol. i.; Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, ii. 78; Episcopal Registers of Exeter; parish registers of Northam and Tavistock.]

E. L. R.