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About William "The Hammer" 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Edmundson, William, the father of Quakerism in Ireland, was born at Little Musgrove, Westmoreland, in 1627. He served as a trooper under Cromwell through the campaigns in England and Scotland. In 1652 he left the army, married, joined his brother, also a Parliamentary trooper, in Ireland, and opened a shop at Antrim. His mind had long been deeply exercised in religious matters, and in 1653, while in England purchasing goods, he was convinced of the truth of the doctrines of the Society of Friends by the preaching of James Naylor. Shortly after his return in 1654, he and his brother, his wife, and others whom he had converted, held at Lisburn the first meeting of that society in Ireland. In consequence of his preaching, and that of George Fox and other expounders of the doctrines of Quakerism, the Society of Friends gained many converts in Ireland, chiefly among the English colonists of the Cromwellian settlement. Meetings were established at Dublin, Londonderry, Cork, Waterford, and Charleville, in 1655; at Mountmellick, in 1659; Wexford and Athlone, in 1668; and at other places, in some of which the Society is now no longer represented. After some years' sojourn in Antrim, he removed to Rosenallis, near Mountmellick.
While earning a maintenance for his family, much of his life was devoted to preaching and religious labours at home and abroad. The peculiarities of the Society of Friends — their objection to military service, to oaths, and the sacraments, their refusal to uncover the head as a mark of respect except to God, and their adherence to the use of "thee" and "thou" to all men — subjected William Edmundson and his friends to much persecution. He was imprisoned, without any crime being laid to his charge, no fewer than seven times in the course of his life.
The particulars are often too painful for relation. He paid three religious visits to the West Indies and America — in 1671, 1675, 1683 — upon the first occasion in company with George Fox. During the War of 1689-91 his sufferings, and those of the other Friends in Ireland, were very great. Friends were especially the victims of the depredations of the rapparees, or Irish irregular troops, who were disposed to regard with little favour the occupants, however inoffensive, of the lands once held by their ancestors. William Edmundson made great exertions to relieve the general distress prevalent in Ireland at the time, and his personal appeal to James II. was not without result. His latter days were spent peaceably at Rosenallis, where he died, 31st August 1712, aged 84. He was twice married. His grave may be seen at the Friends' burial-ground, Rosenallis, and his Bible, the companion of so many of his wanderings, is in the possession of his descendants. His Journal, published in Dublin in 1715, is one of the most valuable contributions to the literature of his society.
- 122. Edmundson, William: Life, Travels, Sufferings, and Labours. Dublin, 1715.
William "The Hammer" Edmundson's Timeline
October 24, 1627
Little Musgrave, Crosby Garrett, Westmoreland, England
July 20, 1654
Antrim, Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
December 5, 1655
Lurgan, Armagh, Ireland
December 7, 1659
Laois, County Laois, Ireland
September 21, 1662
Tineal, Leix, Ireland
September 6, 1666
Leix, Queens, Ireland
September 19, 1669
Leix, Queens, Ireland
December 15, 1671
Leix, Queens, Ireland