William Edmundson

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.