William Edmundson (1627 - 1712) MP

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Nicknames: "The Irish Hammer", "William Edmondson"
Birthplace: Little Musgrave, Crosby Garrett, Westmoreland, England
Death: Died in Rosenallis, County Laois, Ireland
Occupation: brought the Quaker message to Ireland
Managed by: Mikaël Suzanne Joel Jubert
Last Updated:

About William Edmundson

William Edmondson or Edmundson (1627—1712) brought the Quaker message to Ireland. He formed the first recorded Meeting for Worship in Lurgan, Co. Armagh in 1654. 

Edmundson had been a soldier in the Parliamentary Army in England but left it and moved to Ireland with his young wife Margaret and became a shopkeeper. On a later visit to England he heard a Quaker preaching, felt in unity with what was said, and became one himself. Back in Ireland again he was a powerful advocate of Friends’ method of worship and way of life. In due course he moved to Rosenallis near Mountmellick. He was a good organiser, and over the next few decades he played a major role in the growth of the Society of Friends in Ireland.

Legacy

Edmundson was a man of earnest piety, sound common sense, and unusual self-denial, besides which he was charitable to a fault and possessed considerable, although rough, eloquence. His ‘Journal’ and other works are written in a simple, unaffected way which make them very pleasant reading, and they are still among the most popular works on quakerism.

Biography

William Edmunson was born in Little Musgrove, Westmoreland to John and Grace Edmunson in 1627.  At the age of 13, Edmunson became an apprentice carpenter in York. Later he joined the Parliamentary Army and fought in Scotland under Oliver Cromwell. He fought at the Battle of Worcester which was the final battle between Cromwell and the Scottish supporters of Charles II. Subsequently, he was invited by his brother to come over to Ireland where 'presentations and opportunities to get riches,' either by trading or taking land.

Originally, Edmunson intended to settle with his brother John, in Waterford, where his regiment was stationed. However, John had been transferred to Antrim and it was there that William first settled. In 1654, Edmunson and his family moved to Lurgan, Co. Armagh to open a shop. The same year the first regular Quaker meeting in Ireland was set up by Edmunson, with others, in Lurgan. The term 'meeting' is used by Friends, to denote a religious service. The descendants of the Quakers in Lurgan became the most important linen drapers in the town. Their advancement in this area had a major influence on the development of the linen industry in the country.

The Quakers in the 1650s were a radical group and were perceived as a threat to the government. Edmunson was one of the most prominent of the Quakers and this lead to frequent imprisonments. William's imprisonment in Armagh jail was the first of many sentences, which found him in jail in Cavan, Belturbet and Maryborough (Portlaoise). Edmundson decided to take up farming and moved with his family and several other Quaker families to land owned by a Col. Nicholas Kempston in County Cavan. The Quaker community increased in Cavan as a result of the conversion of a number of other settlers, including John Pim and William Neale. They moved to Cavan in the hope of starting a new life free from prosecution. Although Kempston was not a Quaker, he was sympathetic to the community. He promised to build a meeting house and 'do great matters to promote the truth.'

In 1659, Edmunson and his group of Quakers moved from Cavan to Queen's County (Laois). They moved south because they claimed their landlords had failed to honour the 'convenient' made with them. Edmunson moved to Rosenallis, which is located on the edge of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. They came to do battle against the imposition of tithes. Richard Jackson, John Edmunson, John Thompson, William Moon, John Pim with their families were among some of those who left for Queen's County with William. Only the Pim family remains today of these early pioneers, many of whom settled around the village of Rosenallis and Mountmellick. Edmunson obtained land in the townland of Tinneal just outside the village. He donated the site of the Quaker graveyard at Rosenallis. The triumph of the Cromwellian army in Ireland in the early 1650s meant that areas like the slopes of the Slieve Bloom Mountains could now be occupied by English settlers. Not all the Friends moved south, Thomas Edmunson, a brother of William, stayed at Drumgesh where he died in 1673 and was buried at Drumlane, Co. Cavan.

It was not long before the Quakers met with opposition in the area. George Clapham, Church of Ireland minister of Rosenallis, seems to have been determined to destroy the Friends. He organised a boycott of the Quakers, which met little success. Edmunson and others sent to prison for refusing to pay tithes. This prompted, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to order the cessation of attacks on Quakers. However, the Quakers failed to convince the authorities in Dublin that the tithes should be dropped. This proved a continuous source of tension between the Quakers and the authorities. The Quakers kept a record of their 'sufferings' which involved paying a fine or going to prison to their refusal to pay tithes.

Although his residence was at Tinneal, Edmunson continued to preach throughout Ireland, England, America and the West Indies. George Fox and Edmunson set up the structure of the Quaker meetings in Ireland in 1668 and 1669. He was also a friend of William Penn, the founder of the Quaker colony, which later became the state of Pennsylvania. During his visit to Ireland in 1669, Penn stayed twice at Edmundsons house in Tinneal.

Family

His father was a wealthy yeoman. He lost both parents when very young, and was brought up by a cruel uncle.

Edmunson married twice, his first wife was Margaret Stanford who died in 1691. She died from exposure after being stripped by raparees who attacked the Quakers at Rosenallis. 

In 1698, he remarried this time to Mary Pleadwell (Mary Strangman, a quakeress of Mountmellis).  Edmunson was by now in his seventies. Seven children are recorded in his will. These were Samuel, William, Tryll, Mary, Fayle, Susanna Sheldon, Hindrance Seale and Anna Moore. The farm which was to be Edmunson's home for the remaining years of his life was situated on the road between Mountmellick and Rosenallis.  In June of 1711 he was present at the Dublin yearly meeting, and on his return home was taken ill and died, after extreme suffering, on 8 Nov. 1712. He was buried in the quaker burial-ground at Tineel, near his residence.

Works

His principal writings are: 1. ‘A Letter of Examination to all you who have assumed the Place of Shepherds, Herdsmen, and Overseers of the Flocks of People,’ 1672. 2. ‘An Answer to the Clergy's Petition to King James,’ 1688. 3. ‘An Epistle containing wholesome Advice and Counsel to all Friends,’ 1701. 4. ‘A Journal of the Life, Travels, Sufferings, and Labours of Love in the Work of the Ministry of that Worthy Elder, William Edmundson,’ 1715. The last has been frequently reprinted in England and America.

Links

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William Edmundson's Timeline

1627
October 24, 1627
Little Musgrave, Crosby Garrett, Westmoreland, England
1652
1652
Age 24
1654
July 20, 1654
Age 26
1655
December 5, 1655
Age 28
1659
December 7, 1659
Age 32
Laois, County Laois, Ireland
1662
September 21, 1662
Age 34
Tineal, Leix, Ireland
1666
September 6, 1666
Age 38
1669
September 19, 1669
Age 41
1671
December 15, 1671
Age 44
1712
August 31, 1712
Age 84
Rosenallis, County Laois, Ireland