Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, William (1593-1667)

THOMAS, WILLIAM (1593–1667), ejected minister, born at Whitchurch in Shropshire, was educated first in the high school there. On 1 Dec. 1609 he matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, graduating B.A. on 8 Feb. 1613 and M.A. on 17 June 1615. On 4 Jan. 1616 he was presented to the rectory of Ubley, near Pensford in Somerset, where he worked for over forty years. He was an earnest puritan. In 1633 he refused to read ‘The Book of Sports,’ and on 23 June 1635 he was suspended ab officiis, and on 28 July a beneficiis. He was restored after three years' suspension, on the intercession of friends with Archbishop Laud. He took the ‘covenant’ of August 1643, and the ‘engagement’ of October 1649. He was one of the subscribers to the ‘Attestation of the Ministers of the County of Somerset, against the Errors, Heresies, and Blasphemies of the Times’ in 1648. In 1654 he was assistant to the committee for the ejection of scandalous ministers.

Having addressed some letters of remonstrance to Thomas Speed, a merchant and quaker preacher at Bristol, Thomas was attacked by Speed in ‘Christ's Innocency Pleaded’ (London, 1656). The question of the lawfulness of tithes was chiefly in dispute, and Thomas was accused by his adversary of a readiness to preach ‘rather at Wells for tithes than at Ubley for souls’ (p. 10). Thomas retorted in a work entitled ‘Rayling Rebuked,’ with a second part, ‘A Defence of the Ministers of this Nation’ (London, 1656). Thomas's controversial tone is more moderate than that of his antagonist. Speed, however, prepared another work, ‘The Guilty-covered Clergyman Unveiled’ (London, 1657), to which Thomas replied in ‘Vindication of Scripture and Ministry’ (London, 1657). The controversy then dropped. Both of Thomas's books were noticed by George Fox in his ‘Great Mistery of the Great Whore Unfolded’ (1659, pp. 104–10, 237–42).

In 1662, on the passing of the act of uniformity, Thomas declined to conform, and was ejected from his living. He continued to reside at Ubley, and attended the established worship. He took the oath imposed by the Oxford Five Mile Act in 1666. He died on 15 Nov. 1667, and was buried in the chancel of the church at Ubley. His son Samuel [q. v.] erected a monument to his memory there.

Thomas was a good scholar and a successful preacher. He kept copious manuscript volumes of ‘Anniversaria,’ in which he entered comments on memorable events, besides volumes on special subjects, his ‘Ægrotorum Visitationes’ and ‘Meditationes Vespertinæ.’ Bishop Bull, who resided in his house as pupil for two years (1652–4), states that he ‘received little or no improvement or assistance from him in his study of theology,’ but adopted views opposed to those of Thomas, through the influence of his son Samuel, with whom he contracted an intimate acquaintance.

In addition to the controversial tracts against Speed, and some ‘Exhortations,’ Thomas published: 1. ‘The Protestant's Practice,’ London, 1656. 2. ‘Christian and Conjugal Counsall,’ London, 1661. 3. ‘A Preservation of Piety,’ London, 1661, 1662. 4. ‘The Country's Sense of London's Sufferings in the Late Fire,’ London, 1667. 5. ‘Scriptures opened and Sundry Cases of Conscience Resolved’ (on Proverbs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), London, 1675, 1683. The subject of this article must be distinguished from three other silenced ministers of both his names: William Thomas, a schoolmaster, who died in 1693; William Thomas, an itinerant baptist preacher about Caermarthen, who died on 26 July 1671 and was buried at Llantrissent in Monmouthshire; and William Thomas, M.A., of Jesus College, Oxford, who was ejected from the rectory of St. Mary's Church, Glamorganshire, and afterwards kept a school at Swansea.

[Foster's Alumni; Reg. Univ. Oxon. (Oxford Hist. Soc.) II. ii. 307, iii. 317; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. cols. 798–9; Calamy's Cont. p. 745; Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, iii. 171, 212–15, 500, 503; Nelson's Life of Bull, pp. 22–4; Sylvester's Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, iii. 13.]

B. P.