Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Owen, James

585301Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 42 — Owen, James1895Alexander Gordon

OWEN, JAMES (1654–1706), presbyterian minister, second son of John Owen, and elder brother of Charles Owen [q. v.], was born on 1 Nov. 1654, at the farmhouse of Bryn, in the parish of Abernant, Carmarthenshire, the birthplace of James Howell [q. v.], the author of ‘Epistolæ Ho-elianæ,’ whose nephew, James Howell, a clergyman, was his godfather. His grandfather had served in the royalist forces during the civil war; his parents were strongly attached to episcopacy, but their nine children all became nonconformists. James, after passing through a country school, was grounded in classics at Carmarthen by James Picton, a quaker, from whom he went to the Carmarthen grammar school. About 1672 he took a course of philosophy under Samuel Jones (1628–1697) [q. v.] He looked forward to the ministry, but was undecided about conforming, his first deep convictions having been received (about 1668) from a nonconformist preacher. After acting as a tutor, he spent six months with Howell, his godfather, who did his best to remove his scruples. He decided for nonconformity, and placed himself with Stephen Hughes (d 1688), ejected from Meidrym, Carmarthenshire, and afterwards congregational minister at Swansea, who had a great reputation for training preachers. Owen's preaching attracted the notice of the ecclesiastical courts, and on the advice of Henry Maurice (d. 30 July 1682) of Merthyr Tydvil, Glamorganshire, he removed to North Wales, settling at Bodwell, near Pwllheli, Carnarvonshire. After nine months' work here, his position became unsafe. Travelling by night, he made his way to Hugh Owen (d. 1699, aged 62), at Bronycludwr, Merionethshire, and preached as his assistant for some little time.

In November 1676 he became chaplain to Mrs. Baker of Swinney, near Oswestry, Shropshire, and at the same time took charge of a nonconformist congregation founded at Oswestry by Roland Nevet (d. 8 Dec. 1675), the ejected vicar. He was ordained by presbyters in October 1677. From Oswestry he conducted a North-Wales mission, having a monthly lecture at Ruthin, Denbighshire. In 1681 he was challenged to a public discussion on ordination by William Lloyd (1627–1717) [q. v.], then bishop of St. Asaph. The discussion took place in the town-hall, Oswestry, on 27 Sept. 1681; Lloyd was supported by Henry Dodwell the elder [q. v.], and Owen by Philip Henry [q. v.] (see report in Williams, Life of Philip Henry, 1825, pp. 380 seq.). Lloyd in 1688 acquainted Owen with the invitation to William of Orange, saying they had been ‘angry brethren,’ but must now make common cause. After the Toleration Act, Owen removed his Ruthin lecture to Denbigh, and set up others at Llanvyllin, Montgomeryshire, and Wrexham, Denbighshire. He had great difficulty in getting his meeting-places licensed, and was often disturbed. In 1690 he started at Oswestry, an academy for training students for the ministry, which was supported by the London presbyterian fund. In 1696, and again in 1699, he was invited as assistant to John Chorlton [q. v.] at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. These invitations he declined; but early in 1700 he became minister of High Street Chapel, Shrewsbury, as co-pastor with Francis Tallents [q. v.] He continued his academy at Shrewsbury, and kept up his lecturing in Wales. For thirty years he had been subject to calculus, and died of this disorder on 8 April 1706. His funeral sermon was preached (11 April) by Matthew Henry [q. v.] His portrait is prefixed to his ‘Life’ by his brother, Charles Owen, D.D. [q. v.] He married, first, at Oswestry, on 17 Nov. 1679, Sarah George (d. January 1693), by whom he had seven children, of whom two survived him; secondly, in 1693, the widow of Alderman R. Edwards of Oswestry (she died in August 1699); thirdly, on 12 Aug. 1700, Elizabeth, daughter of John Wynne, of Coperlemy, Flintshire, and widow of John Hough of Chester.

He published, besides a Welsh piece (1693?) on duties of ministers and people, and a thanksgiving sermon (1696) in English: 1. ‘Trugaredd a Barn,’ &c. [mercy and judgment], 1687, 8vo; reprinted 1715, 8vo. 2. ‘Bedydd Plant o'r Nefoedd,’ &c. [infant baptism from heaven], 1693, 8vo (the first book in Welsh on the baptist controversy; answered by Benjamin Keach [q. v.], in ‘Light broke forth in Wales,’ &c., 1696, 8vo; Owen replied in 1701). 3. ‘A Plea for Scripture Ordination,’ &c., 1694, 12mo (prefaced by Daniel Williams, D.D.). 4. ‘Tutamen Evangelicum,’ &c., 1697, 8vo (defence of No. 3 against Thomas Gipps [q.v.]) 5. ‘Remarks on a Sermon … by … Gipps,’ &c., 1697, 4to. (Gipps thought Chorlton assisted Owen in this able pamphlet). 6. ‘A further Vindication of the Dissenters from the Rector of Bury,’ &c., 1699, 4to. 7. ‘An Answer to the Rector of Bury's Letter,’ &c., 1699, 4to. 8. ‘Moderation a Virtue,’ &c., 1703, 4to (a defence of ‘occasional conformity’). 9. ‘Moderation still a Virtue,’ &c., 1704, 4to. 10. ‘The History of the Consecration of Altars,’ &c., 1706, 4to. 11. ‘Vindiciæ Britannicæ,’ &c., 1706, 4to (in answer to Lloyd's ‘Historic Account,’ 1684). Posthumous were: 12. ‘The History of Images and Image Worship,’ &c., 1709, 8vo. 13. ‘A History of Ordination,’ &c., 1709, 8vo (completed by Charles Owen, D.D.) He translated the Westminster Assembly's shorter catechism into Welsh, 1701, wrote a preface to John Delme's ‘Method of Preaching,’ 1701, and supplied Calamy with his account of the Welsh ejected divines.

[Funeral Sermon by Henry, 1706; Life by Charles Owen, 1709; Richards's Welsh Nonconformist's Memorial, 1820, pp. 314 seq.; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, v. 58; Williams's Life of Philip Henry, 1825, pp. 152 seq.; Rees's Hist. Prot. Nonconf. in Wales, 1883, pp. 247 seq. 287 seq.; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 12, 85 seq.]

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