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OVERTON, JOHN (1763–1838), divine, born in 1763 at Monk Fryston in Yorkshire, where his father was a small landed proprietor, belonged to an ancient Yorkshire family which was early in the fourteenth century settled at Easington Hall in Holderness, and of which Major-general Robert Overton [q. v.] was a member. The ancestral estates passed by sale into the Milner family towards the close of the seventeenth century. John appears to have received his early education in the village school at Monk Fryston, whence he proceeded to Magdalene College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1790. Magdalene was then beginning to be a stronghold of the evangelical party. He had a high reputation at college, but unfortunately overworked himself, and fell ill just before the tripos examination came on. He was therefore obliged to be content with an ordinary degree. Having received holy orders, he became assistant curate to William Richardson of York, one of the leaders of the evangelical party in the north. He remained with Richardson until 1802, when he was appointed, through the influence of Wilberforce, to the chancellor's livings of St. Crux and St. Margaret's in the city of York. Overton, like most of the early evangelicals, was a strong tory in politics and a great admirer of Mr. Pitt. He took an active part in promoting the election of Wilberforce for the county of York. He died at York on 17 July 1838, and was buried in the chancel of St. Crux, in a vault with his wife.

In 1792 he married Elizabeth Stodart of Reeth, near Hawes, in the Yorkshire dales, whose father was agent to the lairds of Arkendale. By her, who died in 1827, he had a family of twelve children, eight sons and four daughters. The sons all grew up to manhood, and were all six feet and upwards in height. Four of them—John, William, Thomas, and Charles—received holy orders; two were lawyers, and two were doctors. John, the eldest (B.A. 1820 and M.A. 1823, Trinity College, Cambridge), won the Seatonian prize at Cambridge and was rector of Sessay; he also won the declamation prize at Trinity College. Charles [q. v.], the sixth son, is separately noticed.

Overton is chiefly known as the author of ‘The True Churchmen Ascertained; or an Apology for those of the regular clergy of the establishment who are sometimes called Evangelical Ministers, occasioned by the publications of Drs. Paley, Hey, and Croft, Messrs. Daubeny, Ludlam, Polwhele, the Reviewers, &c.’ It was published at York in 1801, and reached a second edition in 1802. The evangelicals, Overton contended, ‘are the true churchmen; and, in a very fundamental and important sense of the word, Mr. Daubeny and his associates are dissenters from the Church of England.’ The challenge was quickly taken up. In 1802 Dr. Edward Pearson [q. v.], the Christian advocate at Cambridge, published ‘Remarks on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in a Letter to J. Overton,’ followed in the same year by ‘Remarks in a Second Letter.’ Archdeacon Daubeny defended his position, in 1803, in his ‘Vindiciæ Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ,’ which is almost entirely occupied with ‘The True Churchmen.’ A rather unfavourable review of Overton's book appeared, moreover, in the ‘Christian Observer,’ a periodical which had been lately started for the express purpose of advancing the cause of which Overton was the champion. He replied in ‘Four Letters to the Editor of the “Christian Observer.”’ The editor was Zachary Macaulay [q. v.], father of the historian. ‘The True Churchmen’ was, however, warmly welcomed by the evangelicals generally as an able and manly defence of their position, as appears from a number of private letters, still in the possession of the family, from men like Charles Simeon, Richard Cecil, Professor Parish, William Hey, and Thomas Dikes. Overton published a patriotic sermon in 1803 on the renewal of the French war after the short-lived peace of 1802, which was highly praised in the 'British Critic,' and another in 1814 on the premature rejoicings over the supposed downfall of Bonaparte.

[Private information from the Rev. Thomas Overton, rector of Black Notley (son of John Overton), the Rev. F. Arnold Overton, vicar of High Cross (his great-grandson), and Mrs. Overton (widow of his son Henry); John Overton's Works, passim, and Archdeacon Daubeny's Vindiciæ Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ.]

J. H. O.