Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitehead, John (1630-1696)

WHITEBREAD, JOHN (1630–1696), quaker, was born of puritan parents at Owstwick in Holderness, Yorkshire, in 1630. He entered the army when eighteen, having three years before experienced ‘conversion.’ He first preached as a quaker at Malton in December 1652. In March or April 1653 he held a meeting at Butterwick, and in the summer he left the army and started preaching on the moors of Yorkshire. In November 1654 he attempted to preach in Lincoln Cathedral, but had to be rescued by soldiers from an angry crowd. At Christmas he was in prison at Leicester. Thence he went to Wellingborough, where, after the vicar, Thomas Andrews, had contemptuously departed, he held forth to an attentive audience in the church. A public dispute between the two followed, and on 14 March 1655–6 Whitehead was arrested as a vagrant. He called in a Yorkshire neighbour, Marmaduke Storr, who was then visiting his brother in prison at Northampton, to prove that he reputably maintained his wife and family; but on the witness refusing to swear, both Whitehead and Storr were committed to Northampton gaol. They were liberated by an order from Cromwell in January 1657.

After preaching in Berkshire and London Whitehead was in 1658 in prison at Boston. He was again in prison at Aylesbury in January 1660–1 for refusing the oath. There he wrote ‘A Small Treatise’ (1661, 4to; 2nd ed. 1665, 4to). On 13 Nov. 1661 he was arrested while on a visit to a friend at Binbrook, Lincolnshire, and spent three months in Lincoln Castle. On 9 July 1662 he was again sent to the castle, and kept until May 1663. While there he wrote ‘For the Vineyard’ (1662, 4to). After three months' liberty he was again in gaol at Hull, and later in the year at Spalding.

Whitehead travelled with George Fox [q. v.] in Derbyshire in 1663, and next year he succeeded in obtaining an order for Fox's release from Scarborough Castle. Soon after 1668 he removed from Owstwick to Swine Grange. In 1675 he drew up an address to king and parliament asking relief for the Yorkshire quakers who had been fined and distrained to the amount of 2,381l. 10s. under the Conventicle Act.

On 22 May 1682 Whitehead was again committed to Lincoln Castle charged with being a jesuit. He was then on his way to London to see about a legacy of 200l. in a chancery suit. In spite of certificates from the vicar and churchwardens of Swine, the constable and inhabitants of Owstwick, and his written declaration of allegiance, he was sent to gaol, and when brought up in March 1683 was asked if he could deny that he was a Romish priest in orders. He was unable to procure counsel, and was remanded. Some time before July 1684 he was released. At that date he was presiding over a meeting for discipline at Fulbeck, when two justices entered. Fines were subsequently levied to the amount of 72l. 13s. 2d.

Whitehead's last imprisonment was at the Poultry Compter, London, whither the lord mayor, Sir Robert Jefferies, sent him on 11 Feb. 1685, for preaching at Devonshire House. He died on 29 Sept. 1696 at his house at Fiskerton, Lincolnshire, and was buried at Lincoln on 1 Oct.

Besides the works already mentioned, Whitehead wrote: 1. ‘The Enmity between the Two Seeds,’ London, 1655, 4to. 2. ‘A Reproof from the Lord,’ London, 1656, 4to. 3. ‘A Manifestation of Truth,’ 1662, 4to; this was in answer to ‘Folly and Madness made Manifest’ (Ashmolean Library), by William Fiennes, lord Saye and Sele, which Whitehead had received in manuscript. 3. ‘Ministers among the People of God (called Quakers) no Jesuits,’ 1683, 4to. Other fugitive pieces are in ‘The Written Gospel Labours of that Ancient and Faithful … John Whitehead,’ London, 1704, 8vo; preface by William Penn.

[Fox's Journal, pp. 267, 304, 305, 428; Chalk's Life and Writings of Whitehead, 1852; Smith's Cat. ii. 909–15; Besse's Sufferings, i. 75, 76, 331, 347, 348, 349, 355–7, 360, 479, 482, 523, 525, 528, ii. 98, 107, 139, 143; Poulson's Hist. of Holderness, ii. 103, for an engraving of Owstwick Meeting House; Whiting's Memoirs; Whitehead's Christian Progress, p. 23. Two original letters to George Fox are in the Swarthmore MSS.]

C. F. S.