Rous, John (fl.1656-1695) (DNB00)


ROUS, JOHN (fl. 1656–1695), quaker, was son and heir of Lieutenant-colonel Thomas Rous, a wealthy West Indian planter, of the parish of St. Philip, Barbados, and one of the principal landholders in the island (Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and the West Indies, 1669–74, p. 1101). Father and son both joined the quakers before October 1656, when the son wrote ‘A Warning to the Inhabitants of Barbadoes,’ 1656, 4to. The father entertained George Fox at his house for three months in 1671, and married, for his second wife, a Barbados quakeress. He was fined several thousands of pounds weight of sugar for not bearing arms and not furnishing horse and man to the troop of island militia. He died before October 1692.

John Rous proceeded to Rhode Island, America, at the beginning of October 1657 to preach and proselytise. The laws against quakers were most stringent. Rous and Humphrey Norton [q. v.] went to Newhaven, Plymouth, to plead for tolerance. They were arrested, and Rous, for refusing the oath of allegiance, was flogged. As soon as he was released he went to Governor Winthrop at Hartford, Connecticut, and there disputed publicly with Samuel Stone [q. v.] Rous says (New England's Ensign, p. 53): ‘Among all the colonies found we not the like moderation as in this.’

About the beginning of July 1658 Rous and Norton arrived at Boston, the day after an aged quaker, William Brend, had been beaten nearly to death with pitched cords. They were thrown into prison, but Rous was at first leniently treated, because his father was known and respected. He was twice flogged, however, before a public subscription to pay his fine settled the dispute. Five weeks later Rous returned to Boston to take ship for Barbados, but he was immediately arrested and carried before Governor Endecott, who sent him to prison (letter to Mrs. Fell from Boston prison, 3 Sept. 1658). On the 7th he was sentenced to have his right ear cut off. Contrary to law, this was done not in a public place, but in prison. After six weeks' confinement he was released on 7 Oct. He visited the islands of Nevis and Barbados, and sailed for England about April 1659. On the voyage he wrote, with Norton, ‘New England's Ensign,’ London, 1659, 4to.

He had corresponded with Margaret Fell [q. v.] for some time, and now made her acquaintance. In March 1661 he married, at Swarthmore Hall, Ulverston, her eldest daughter, Margaret. Settling in London, he carried on business as a West India merchant at the Bear and Fountain, Lothbury. His family lived at Mile End until he built a handsome house at Kingston, Surrey, converted later into a union-house, and since demolished. George Fox frequently visited Rous here, and the latter managed all the money matters of Mrs. Fox and the Fell sisters. He visited Barbados in 1671, and while on his homeward journey was taken prisoner by a Dutch privateer and carried to Spain, where he bought a ship to bring him home. In 1678 he took his wife on a visit to Barbados. He left the island, with the merchant fleet, about February 1695, and was lost at sea in a heavy storm. By his will (P. C. C., Irby, 103), dated 20 Oct. 1692, and proved 1695, Rous bequeathed his West Indian estates to his widow, and after her to his only surviving son, Nathaniel (1671–1717), who married Hannah, daughter of Caleb Woods of Guildford.

Rous wrote a few pamphlets in conjunction with others (Smith, Catalogue of Friends' Books, ii. 512); but it was less as a writer and preacher than as a man of wealth and practical judgment that he exercised an influence upon the early organisation of the Society of Friends.

[Webb's Fells of Swarthmore, passim; Besse's Sufferings, ii. 317, 331, 338, 352 (and pp. 187, 188, and 189 for his father, Thomas Rous); Fox's Journal, ed. 1891, ii. 131, 141, 145, 159, 206, 396, 404, 418, 440, 463, 489; Plymouth Colony Records, iii. 140; Bowden's Hist. of Friends in America, i. 98, 117, 138; Doyle's Engl. in America, ii. 137; Bishop's New England Judged, pp. 68, 71, 72, 91, 92, 179, 226; Whiting's Truth and Innocence Defended, an Answer to C. Mather, pp. 23, 26, 118, 150, 187; Neal's Hist. of New England, i. 297; Croese's Hist. of Quakers, bk. ii. p. 134; Sewel's Hist. of the Rise, &c., i. 254–6; Swarthmore MSS., Devonshire House, where many of his letters are preserved. Among the manuscripts of the Meeting for Sufferings at the same place is a letter, dated Barbados, 16 Sept. 1676, signed by Rous and others, to General William Stapelton, governor of the Leeward Islands, which asked for toleration for quakers, and accompanied a considerable parcel of the works of Fox, Mrs. Fell, Parnell, and others, for distribution among the governors of the West India and other islands.]

C. F. S.