Tracing the disparate ancestries of four great families


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biography of Rev Thomas Jackson 1783 – 1873

Rev Thomas Jackson 1783 – 1873

An eminent Wesleyan preacher, author, and editor, who, by the mere force of intellectual power and integrity of conduct and in spite of the adverse circumstances of poverty and lack of education in his youth, rose to the highest distinction in the Wesleyan society, and gained a widely-spread fame as a voluminous and learned writer.

He was born at Sancton, near Market Weighton, and was the son of a farm labourer and mole-catcher, who died in 1829, at the age of 83, leaving behind him eleven children, three of whom became Wesleyan preachers, and one the mother of the Rev Jackson Wray, a popular Wesleyan minister of the present day.

When a boy he spent his days in tending sheep, then became a farm servant, and afterwards was apprenticed to a carpenter, at Shipton. At the age of nineteen, he was converted by the preaching of the Methodists, and soon afterwards, displaying a talent for speaking, he was appointed an “exhorter,” then a “local preacher,” and in 1804 was admitted to the ministry as an “itinerant preacher.”

Five years afterwards he married Anne Hollinshead, in Lincolnshire, after which he laboured in the circuits of Horncastle, Lincoln, Leeds, Preston, Sowerby Bridge, Wakefield, Sheffield, Manchester and London. In 1817, he served the office of Sub-secretary to the Conference; in 1821, was appointed Sub-editor of the Bookroom, and from 1824 to 1842 was Editor, superintending, in that capacity, the Connexion’s periodical publications and carrying through the Press several of the standard works of the early Wesleyan writers.

He was elected to the “Legal Hundred” in 1822, and again in 1872, a distinction conferred on no other preacher. In 1838, and again in 1849 he was chosen President of the Conference, the highest portion in the Society; and from 1842 to 1861, he held the important and responsible post of Theological Tutor at the Richmond Theological Institute.

In 1861, he retired to London , resigning all his offices in consequence of the infirmities of age, having served the Society fifty-seven years; twenty as preacher; eighteen as editor; and nineteen as theological tutor; and eleven years afterwards, died at Hammersmith and was buried at Richmond . His memorial sermon was preached in City Road Chapel London, by Dr F. Johnson, at the request of the London ministers.“

This venerable minister entered on his probation in his 21styear and died in his 90th, having maintained an unsullied reputation through the whole period.”


Rev. Thomas Jackson - Wesleyan

Born in Sancton in 1783, he became a Wesleyan minister in 1801 ;

Assistant Secretary to Conference in 1817 ;

Connectional Editor in 1823 ;

President of Conference in 1838 and 1849 respectively

Theological Tutor at Richmond College 1841-1861.


As a boy he walked, after his day's work, to Pocklington (six miles distant) to purchase his first book which was Lindley Murray's Grammar. It is worthy of note that in later life he became the possessor of a library of 7000 volumes, and was himself an author of repute. He served his denomination for 57 years, made up as follows : 20 years in circuit work as a minister ; 18 years as Editor and 19 years as Theological Tutor.


When eighteen years of age Thomas attended some special services held at the Wesleyan Chapel at Market Weighton, and he dated his conversion from that time. Referring to this change he says :

" Mine was a change not only from misery to happiness, from sorrow to joy, but from the love and practice of sin to the love and practice of holiness.The entire bent of my nature was changed, my views and feehngs, my apprehension and inclinations, my desires, hopes and prospects were all new. The experience of nearly seventy years has served only to strengthen my conviction that the change I then underwent was no delusion, but a blessed reality, the effect of a divine operation."

His brothers Samuel and William experienced a similar change during this revival ; and the little Society at Sancton, having increased in numbers, determined to build a Chapel, the services up to that time having been held in a private house. The requisite amount of money was soon raised, mainly through the influence of Thomas's uncle, Mr. Thomas Marshall, and a neat little Chapel was erected on a portion of the garden belonging to the Jacksons, with the full consent of the family. " Some favourite apple trees, whose fruit had often gratified the taste of the juvenile members of the household, were destroyed to make way for this sanctuary, but every- one felt that the change was a mighty advantage."

On a stone let into the wall at the west end of the Chapel is an inscription, "Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, 1840," and the building has suffered little from the hand of time. Having joined the Society at Shipton, Thomas now turned his attention to reading such of the few books as he could meet with, and shortly afterwards began to give brief addresses in meetings of the Society, having, as he states, even then a per- suasion that he would sometime preach the Gospel.

One evening, after the duties of the day were over, he walked some five or six miles to Pocklington to purchase a copy of Lindley Murray's " Grammar." This, his first purchased book, was by a Quaker in York, for it must not be forgotten that in those days the Quakers were doing an immense service in the education of the people. If anyone had met this lonely youth, and had whispered in his ear that he himself would become an author of some repute, that he would be the President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, and would, in his later years, be the possessor of a valuable library of his own, consisting of over seven thousand volumes, the lad would have thought it very unlikely that these things would ever come to pass. He next provided himself with a good pocket Bible, Mr. Wesley's sermons, and other works ; but to obtain books was a matter of great difficulty, as his wages were scarcely sufficient to supply

him with necessary clothes even of the cheapest kind. AppHcations now began, to come from many places in the district, asking him to conduct services on the Sabbath. In the Pocklington Circuit at this time there were but few chapels, so that meetings for preaching and public worship were mostly held in the kitchens of farmhouses and in the cottages of labouring men. The preacher usually stood behind a chair, the back of which supported a moveable desk, upon which lay his Bible and Hymn Book, the people standing or sitting upon chairs, tables, stools, or chests of drawers, as the case might be. In these humble sanctuaries the people worshipped God in spirit and in truth, as their entire behaviour indicated. The .sermons to which they listened contained no elaborate phraseology, no disquisitions on dark and doubtful questions, and no hard technical terms. Their substance was the essential truth of Christ's Gospel, and their garb pure Saxon English which even the children understood ; while they were delivered with a broad Yorkshire accent.

At the Wesleyan Conference of 1801 there was a difficulty in meeting the ministerial necessities of the Circuits, and as Thomas Jackson's name had, all unknown to himself, been mentioned at the Conference,

he was asked to take an appointment as a " Travelling" Preacher," which after some hesitation he decided to do. His first step was to borrow a sum of money from his eldest brother to enable him to indemnify his master for the loss of his services prior to the expiration of his apprenticeship. He was appointed to the Spilsby Circuit in Lincolnshire. His hunger for more books increased, hence the following entry : — *' Oh, what would I not have parted with, could I but have obtained forty or fifty volumes which I most needed. I should scarcely have given sleep to mine eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till they had all been been read, and their contents treasured up in my memory." At this time he began to learn Greek, which, he says, introduced him into a new world ; and at a later date he began to study Hebrew. In pursuing these studies, he made a practice of frequently rising as early as three o'clock in the morning.

His next removal was to Horncastle Circuit, and during his second year there, he became engaged to Miss Ann Hollinshead, who, with her sister, kept a boarding school.

At the Conference of 1808 held at Bristol, Thomas Jackson entered the " full ministry," and was appointed to Leeds, where he spent two happy and useful years. In Briggate in that town, Jackson discovered an old book shop where many valuable works in divinity and general literature were on sale, and from this shop he admits he " often returned all but penniless." Jackson and Miss Hollinshead were married on 21st November 1809. In old age, Jackson thus referred to his wife, " She was my best earthly friend, the wife of my youth, and ever my faithful companion for nearly forty-five years." The next two years he spent in Preston, and here he tells us he read, in the midst of his numerous engagements, from seventy to eighty volumes.

At the Conference of 1814 he was appointed to Wakefield Circuit, under the superintendency of the Rev. Robert Newton. The people there had been accustomed to an enlightened and instructive ministry, some of the ablest ministers in the Connexion having been in the circuit, and this stimulated Jackson to use all requisite care in the preparation and delivery of his sermons ; yet he adds, " they were not fastidious but loved the truth and received it with cordiality when presented with simplicity and earnestness."

At the Conference of 1816 he removed from Wakefield to the Sheffield Circuit. At the Conference of 1817 Mr. Jackson was appointed Assistant-Secretary to that body, and this involved him in a good deal of extra work. At the Conference of 1818 he removed to Manchester.

During his third year in this Circuit he was suddenly called upon to take charge of the literary work of the Connexion till the next Conference, and, with the consent of the Manchester friends, he removed with his family to London in April. Having never been in London before, every object was not only new but surprising. He however found very little time in which to gratify any curiosity he might have, but his attention was specially directed to the City Road premises where Mr. Wesley had lived and died, and to Bunhill Fields burial ground in the same road, where rest the remains of Bunyan, Watts, Defoe and other well-known men.

Mr, Jackson had formed a very high opinion of the character and writings of John Goodwin, a Puritan Divine, who he thought had received but scant justice, and he undertook the task of writing his life. In the preface, he writes of Mr. Goodwin : — " It is highly honourable to him, though the fact is little known, that he was the first of our countrymen who excited general attention by writing distinctly and explicitly in defence of universal liberty of conscience as one of the most sacred rights of human nature. He had published several admirable tracts against coercive interference in matters purely religious, before either Locke, or Milton, or even Dr. Owen, wrote a single line on the subject." The book ran to 459 pages, and was published in 1822. The publication of this work probably suggested to the Connexional Authorities the idea of appointing Mr. Jackson as Connexional Editor, and the proposal was in due course made

To this " he says, " I felt a strong repugnance on several grounds. It seemed unfair to require from me, who had never enjoyed the advantages of a regular education, the performance of literary duties which men of scholarship and of high intellectual ability had hitherto been selected to fulfil. I had done the best I could during the last twenty years by hard study and extensive reading to acquire theological and literary information, but these pursuits had been carried on under great disadvantages, without the assistance of anyone and in the midst of pressing engagements, so that I had little confidence in myself." His entreaties were, however, unavailing, the Conference was inflexible ; and in the printed Minutes of their proceedings stands the record " Thomas Jackson is our Editor."

Mr. Jackson found that the edition of Mr. Wesley's works, then extant, had been very carelessly edited, and it was arranged that he should edit and bring out a new and complete edition in fourteen volumes, one volume to appear every two months. This was a great addition to his other labours, but was success- fully carried out. At the Conference of 1830 he was re-appointed Editor for a further term of six years, and altogether he held this important connexional office for a period of eighteen years.

At the Conference of 1838, again held in Bristol, where he had been ordained thirty years before, Jackson was elected President ; an office which he says he never desired, but earnestly deprecated 'whenever he heard it mentioned as being likely to devolve upon him.

The Conference desired him during his presidential term, to prepare a volume on the history and progress of Methodism, in anticipation of the Centenary to be celebrated in the following year. This volume of 280 pages was published in due course, and met with general approval.

During his presidential year, he was almost continually travelling either in England, or Scotland or Ireland. This however was not very congenial employment to him, and at the close of his term of office he returned with zest to his study and its less exciting duties. In addition to all his other tasks he published in this year a volume of " Expository Discourses,"* as to which he good humouredly adds, " This work was well intended, but was never popular, and was in greater demand in the general book market than among the Methodist people ; teaching me that whatever the INIethodists thought of me otherwise, they had no high opinion of me as a writer of sermons : so I never obtruded upon the world another volume of the same kind."

In the autumn of the same year he paid his yearly visit to his native place, both his parents being then upwards of eighty years of age.

In 1841 it was proposed that he should be transferred from the Connexional Editorship to the Theological Institution. To the resignation of the Editorship he raised no objection, but he felt that at sixty years of age, to be forced into an engagement so onerous as that of a theological tutor was no light task. Neither arguments nor objections on his part, however, made any impression upon the Conference, and he reluctantly yielded to their request. He therefore went to the Institution, which was then at Stoke Newington but in the next year was removed to Richmond, and at the latter place he remained until November 1861.

When he had been employed seven years in the office of theological tutor, it pleased the Conference a second time to elect him its President. The Conference this year (1849) was held in Manchester, and owing to the Reform movement which led to a sad disruption. it was one of great anxiety in Methodism. Jackson notes that it was to him a year of hard labour and of deep anxiety. Having concluded his important duties as President, he returned to his quiet course of life at Richmond, " with a feeling of satisfaction and thankfulness which no words can express, and pursued his studies with renewed zest, so as to do everything in his power to aid the young men in their studies and to assist in raising up a zealous, intelligent, and efficient ministry in the Connexion."

In the winter of i860 his health seriously failed, and at the next Conference he requested to be allowed to retire upon " the list of Supernumeraries," after having served the Connexion fifty-seven years ; twenty in the work of the ministry, eighteen as Editor, and nineteen as theological tutor. He wished to have, as he said, " a season of comparative retirement at the close of a busy life," and the Conference, passing a resolution of their high appreciation of his remarkable services, yielded to his request. On his retirement into more private life he received from friends in various parts of the country numerous tokens of the esteem and affection in which he was held throughout the Connexion.

Mr. Jackson tells us it was with mixed feelings that for the first time for the space of fifty-seven years, he had no official appointment of any kind, but was left at liberty to choose his place of residence, and employ his time as his own conscience might dictate. He adds, however, that he was by no means idle and usually preached every Sabbath. He admits that while in the streets of London he " occasionally felt inclined to pick up a valuable book at a small expense " but had to resist the temptation. He did not, however, give up all his work as an author. He felt it his duty to write a bulky pamphlet in defence of Methodism against the unfair attack of an Irish prelate; he made important additions to his " Life of John Goodwin," and only a few months before his death conducted through the press a revised and enlarged edition of that work, a marvellous achievement for a man nearly ninety years of age.

Even in old age, Mr. Jackson never ceased to be a student : his delight was in his books ; he would read for many hours, and then seek a change in writing. What he read he made his own, and was always as ready to dispense his treasures of wisdom as to accumulate them.

In the autumn of 1867 he paid a visit to Sancton,  “a spot endeared to him beyond all that words can express" He was grieved to find the parish school sadly out of repair, and the church scarcely less so, and he left a sum of money with the Vicar towards the repair of the school and the church. With this and other moneys the school was rebuilt, and a stone above the door bears the following inscription ; "1870. Jacksons Memorial and National Schools." In the school there is an enlarged portrait of Mr. Jackson ; but one cannot help wishing that somewhere in the village a more substantial memorial could be erected to the memory of this illustrious family. This might fittingly take the form of a new chapel, preserving the present one as a shrine to which visitors will in future undoubtedly repair.

In the following year he paid another visit to Yorkshire, partly to see his surviving relations and friends, and partly to assist in the services connected with the opening of a new chapel at Market Weighton, where he preached in the evening, his brother Robert having occupied the pulpit in the morning.

The Conference of 1872 was held in London, and he gladly availed himself of the opportunity of being present once more. His friends rejoiced to see him, and the Conference paid him a compliment, by choosing him a second time to be one of the hundred ministers of whom the Legal Conference is composed, a distinction never before conferred on any Methodist minister. After the Conference he gradually declined in health, and he fell asleep on March 10th, 1873, being a few months over eighty-nine years of age.

Thomas Jackson (1783-1873) Thomas Jackson was born in Sancton, Yorkshire, the son of a farm labourer. At the age of fifteen after an intermittent education, Jackson was apprenticed to a carpenter. While serving his apprenticeship, Jackson began to attend Methodist worship and in 1801 he was converted through the ministry of Mary Barritt. He began to preach soon after and entered the itinerancy in 1804. Jackson was a close friend of Jabez Bunting, whose views on politics and Wesleyan polity he shared. In 1817 he succeeded Bunting as sub-secretary of the Conference and in 1824 was appointed to the important post of connexional editor, again in succession to Bunting. From his days as an apprentice, Jackson had embarked on a programme of rigorous self-education. As connexional editor he authored a wide number of publications and established himself as one of Wesleyan Methodism's greatest apologists and historians. The pamphlets which he wrote were cornerstones in the defence of traditional Wesleyanism during this very troubled period. He also edited the journals of Charles Wesley, and the sermons and other works of John Wesley, while his two volume biography of Charles Wesley is still the most complete work about the hymn-writer and co-founder of Methodism.

In 1842 he was appointed theological tutor at the Richmond Theological Institute and served there for nineteen years until poor health forced him into retirement. Jackson served as President of Conference in 1838 and 1849. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974) and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, edited by Donald Lewis (1995)

* The copy in the possession of the writer is inscribed " Mrs. Steele, with the kind regards o{ her brother, Thomas Jackson, Richmond, December 21, 1853."


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