Thomas Doolittle

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Thomas Doolittle (1632?–1707) was an English nonconformist minister, tutor and author.


Early life

Doolittle was the third son of Anthony Doolittle, a glover, and was born at Kidderminster in 1632 or the latter half of 1631. While at the grammar school of his native town he heard Richard Baxter preach as lecturer (appointed 5 April 1641) the sermons later published as ‘The Saint's Everlasting Rest’ (1653). These discourses produced a conversion. Placed with a country attorney, he objected to copying writings on Sunday, and went home determined not to follow the law. Baxter encouraged him to enter the ministry.

Kidderminster town and civil parish in Wyre Forest, Worcestershire, England

Kidderminster is a town in Worcestershire, England, 17 miles (27 km) south-west of Birmingham and 15 miles (24 km) north of Worcester. At the 2011 census, it had a population of 55,530. The town is twinned with Husum, Germany.

Richard Baxter English Puritan church leader, poet, and hymn-writer

Richard Baxter was an English Puritan church leader, poet, hymnodist, theologian, and controversialist. Dean Stanley called him "the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen". After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer. After the Restoration he refused preferment, while retaining a non-separatist Presbyterian approach, and became one of the most influential leaders of the Nonconformists, spending time in prison. His views on justification and sanctification are somewhat controversial and unconventional within the Calvinist tradition because his teachings seem, to some, to undermine salvation by faith, in that he emphasizes the necessity of repentance and faithfulness.

He was admitted as a sizar at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, on 7 June 1649, then aged 17. His tutor was William Moses, later ejected from the mastership of Pembroke. Doolittle graduated M.A. at Cambridge. Leaving the university for London he became popular as a preacher, and in preference to other candidates was chosen (1653) as their pastor by the parishioners of St. Alphage, London Wall. The living is described as sequestered in William Rastrick's list as quoted by Samuel Palmer, but James Halsey, D.D., the deprived rector, had been dead twelve or thirteen years. Doolittle received presbyterian ordination.

Pembroke College, Cambridge college of the University of Cambridge

Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. The college is the third-oldest college of the university and has over seven hundred students and fellows. Physically, it is one of the university's larger colleges, with buildings from almost every century since its founding, as well as extensive gardens. Its members are termed "Valencians".

William Moses (1623?–1688) was an English academic and lawyer, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge during the Interregnum and later serjeant-at-law.

On the passing of the Uniformity Act 1662 he thought it his duty to be a nonconformist, though he was poor. He moved to Moorfields and opened a boarding-school, which succeeded. He took a larger house in Bunhill Fields, where he was assisted by Thomas Vincent, ejected from St. Mary Magdalene, Milk Street.

Moorfields area in London

In London, the Moorfields were one of the last pieces of open land in the City of London, near the Moorgate. The fields were divided into three areas, the Moorfields proper, just north of Bethlem Hospital, and inside the City boundaries, and Middle and Upper Moorfields to the north. The headwaters of the Walbrook formed much of the eastern boundary.

Bunhill Fields cemetery

Bunhill Fields is a former burial ground in central London, in the London Borough of Islington, just north of the City of London boundary. The site is managed as a public garden by the City of London Corporation. It is about 1.6 hectares in extent, although historically it was much larger.

Thomas Vincent was an English Puritan minister and author. He is referenced as a main character featured in "The Living," by Anthony Clarvoe, a play about 1665 plague London.

Ejected minister

In the plague year of 1665 Doolittle and his pupils moved to Woodford Bridge, near Chigwell, close to Epping Forest, Vincent remaining behind. Returning to London in 1666, Doolittle was one of the nonconformist ministers who, in defiance of the law, erected preaching-places when churches were lying in ruins after the Great Fire. His first meeting-house (probably a wooden structure) was in Bunhill Fields, and here he was undisturbed. But when he transferred his congregation to a large and substantial building which he had erected in Mugwell (now Monkwell) Street, the authorities set the law in motion against him.

Great Plague of London pandemic

The Great Plague, lasting from 1665 to 1666, was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England. It happened within the centuries-long time period of the Second Pandemic, an extended period of intermittent bubonic plague epidemics which originated in China in 1331, the first year of the Black Death, an outbreak which included other forms such as pneumonic plague, and lasted until 1750.

Woodford Bridge district in east London, England

Woodford Bridge is part of the East London suburb of Woodford, in the London Borough of Redbridge. It includes Monkhams and is located on an old road between Chigwell and Leytonstone.

Great Fire of London disaster in 17th century England

The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London from Sunday, 2 September to Thursday, 6 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. It threatened but did not reach the aristocratic district of Westminster, Charles II's Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city's 80,000 inhabitants.

The Lord Mayor tried to persuade him to desist from preaching; he declined. On the following Saturday about midnight his door was broken open by a force sent to arrest him. He escaped over a wall, and intended to preach next day. From this he was dissuaded by his friends, one of whom (Thomas Sare, ejected from Rudford, Gloucestershire) took his place in the pulpit. The sermon was interrupted by the appearance of a body of troops. As the preacher stood his ground the officer told his men to fire.’ ‘Shoot, if you please,’ was the reply. There was uproar, but no arrests were made. The meeting-house, however, was taken possession of in the name of the king, and for some time was used as a Lord Mayor's chapel.

Rudford village in United Kingdom

Rudford is a village in Gloucestershire, England. It is located approximately 4 miles north-west of Gloucester. The local church is dedicated to St. Mary. It is also 5 miles from Newent.

Gloucestershire County of England

Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean.

On the indulgence of 15 March 1672 Doolittle took out a licence for his meeting-house. Doolittle owned the premises, but he now resided in Islington, where his school had developed into an academy for ‘university learning.’ When Charles II (8 March 1673) broke the seal of his declaration of indulgence, thus invalidating the licences granted under it, Doolittle conducted his academy with great caution at Wimbledon. At Wimbledon he had a narrow escape from arrest. He returned to Islington before 1680, but in 1683 was again dislodged. He moved to Battersea (where his goods were seized), and then to Clapham. These migrations destroyed his academy, where his pupils had included Matthew Henry, Samuel Bury, Thomas Emlyn, and Edmund Calamy. Two of his students, John Kerr, M.D., and Thomas Rowe, achieved distinction as nonconformist tutors. The academy was at an end in 1687, when Doolittle lived at St. John's Court, Clerkenwell, and had Calamy a second time under his care for some months as a boarder. Until the death of his wife he still continued to receive students for the ministry, but apparently not more than one at a time. His last pupil was Nathaniel Humphreys.

Islington area in London

Islington is a district in Greater London, England, and part of the London Borough of Islington. It is a mainly residential district of Inner London, extending from Islington's High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy High Street, Upper Street, Essex Road, and Southgate Road to the east.

Wimbledon, London suburb of London

Wimbledon is a district and town of south-west London, England, 7.1 miles (11.4 km) south-west of the centre of London at Charing Cross, in the London Borough of Merton, south of Wandsworth, north-east of New Malden, north-west of Mitcham, west of Streatham and north of Sutton. Wimbledon had a population of 68,187 in 2011 which includes the electoral wards of Abbey, Dundonald, Hillside, Trinity, Village, Raynes Park and Wimbledon Park.

Battersea area of the London Borough of Wandsworth, England

Battersea is a district of south west London, England, within the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is located on the south bank of the River Thames, 2.9 miles (4.7 km) south west of Charing Cross.

After 1689

The Toleration Act of 1689 left Doolittle free to resume his services at Mugwell Street, preaching twice every Sunday and lecturing on Wednesdays. Thomas Vincent, his assistant, had died in 1678; later he had as assistants his pupil, John Mottershead (moved to Ratcliff Cross), his son, Samuel Doolittle (moved to Reading), and Daniel Wilcox, who succeeded him.

His Body of Divinity was an expansion of the Westminster Assembly's shorter catechism. His private covenant of personal religion (18 November 1693) occupies six closely printed folio pages. He had long suffered from the stone and other infirmities, but his last illness was brief. He preached and catechised on Sunday, 18 May, took to his bed in the latter part of the week, lay for two days unconscious, and died on 24 May 1707. He was the last survivor of the London ejected clergy.


Doolittle's twenty publications are enumerated at the end of the Memoirs (1723), probably by Jeremiah Smith. They consist of sermons and devotional treatises, including:

His last work published in his lifetime was:

Posthumous was*


Doolittle married in 1653, shortly after his ordination; his wife died in 1692. Of his family of three sons and six daughters all, except a daughter, were dead in 1723.

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    Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : "Doolittle, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.