James Picton - Quaker

by Brian Picton Swann

I wrote a 2 page article on James Picton, the Welsh Quaker, in the very first volume of the Dyfed FHS Journal.

He died in 1711 in Swansea and was the last member of his generation. He attended various Quarterly and Yearly Meetings of the Quakers. None of this is online.

JAMES PICTON, of Swansea. He was a younger son of Owen Picton of Trellifaint. He was probably born around the year 1630. On 26 March 1652 he was appointed Master of the Puritan Free School at Tenby; with a salary of £40 per annum. A few days earlier his brother, Owen Picton, had been appointed Under-Master of the Puritan School at Cardigan. He was the first of the Welsh schoolmasters to be confirmed in office under the Approbation Ordinance of 1654; the approval being dated 9 October 1654. On 1 March 1655 he obtained a five year lease of property in Pembroke from William Robin of Tenby, but he seems to have been ejected from its occupation by one Francis Rossant, and he subsequently brought proceedings in respect of the dispossession.

His career became a series of tribulations soon afterwards. He was won over to the Quaker faith in the crusade of 1657/8, and by the end of 1658 was described as “late schoolmaster” of Tenby. He was probably succeeded there by Edward Carver, who had previously been Usher to Picton there at a salary of £21 per annum, and who, according to Calamy, was ejected in 1661/2. James Owen, an informant of Calamy, is said to have been “educated first under James Picton”, but since Owen was not born until 1654 he can scarcely have been Picton’s pupil in Tenby; and regular loss of liberty after 1661 would have made it difficult for Picton to provide sustained instruction for any scholar.

James Picton brought an action against William Young, presumably his kinsman, in 1660/1 on a bond for £10, dated 8 April 1659. In 1661 he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance and Supremacy; and his persistence in that refusal resulted in his being sentenced to imprisonment at Haverfordwest Assizes in 1662. According to one source he was initially imprisoned at Haverfordwest, and then transferred to Carmarthen Castle where he remained a close prisoner until 1667 [Quaker Records Collection, An Account of Welsh Sufferings, 1660-1666, D/D SF313, Glamorgan Record Office, Cardiff]. Another version has that he was first incarcerated at Carmarthen in September 1662, and removed to Haverfordwest gaol four months later “where he remained a prisoner for many years” [J. Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, 1753, Volume I, pp. 748-749]. According to yet another source he was almost continuously an inmate of Carmarthen prison from 1663 until 1672, a term of 9 years [Norman Penney, ed., Extracts from State Papers relating to Friends 1654-1672, 1913, Healey Brothers, London, pp. 345, 354]. He was the only Quaker inmate of Carmarthen gaol released under the General Pardon of 1672, made under an Order of Council made at the Court at Whitehall, dated 8 May 1672. James Picton was the author of a pamphlet entitled “A Just Plea Against Swearing and against the National Worship of England”, which was published in London in 1663.

He was set free under Charles II’s Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. “No sooner was he set free than he went on with his old work of teaching publicly and without licence”. Such contempt of the constitutional powers, almost at the door of the Episcopal Palace at Abergwili, could not possibly be tolerated. He was soon put back in prison once more; with this sensational sequel as described by the Bishop, William Lucy himself. “A writ de homine replagiando was brought, the prison doores broken open, and he, thus delivered by the rabble, keepes schoole again in despight of the statute, and hath 70 or 80 scholars”. In a later letter the Bishop devoutly hopes that such a case is not known anywhere else, for he knows not how to have it amended. “It tastes of too much violence to be suffered in any commonwealth” [Tanner MS 146, ff. 113, 138-138v; also Tanner MS 314, ff. 40]. By the beginning of April 1673 James Picton had been restored to his prison lodging again, only to teach from that vantage point scholars who came in crowds to hear him under the windows of the gaol [T. Richards, Nonconformity and Methodism in Wales, p. 154; and Wales Under the Indulgence, 1672-1675, 1920, London, p. 171].

Some historians of the Quaker movement have suggested that this glimpse of ‘the man at the window’ is the last sight which posterity has of James Picton. This is clearly not so. Picton regained his liberty [he was presumably a free man by 2 July 1673, since on that date he witnessed the Quaker marriage at Tenby of William Jenkins and Elizabeth Griffith; RG 6/683] and moved to Swansea, where the Quaker cause was strong. In 1683 he visited Bristol, where, according to Besse, he “went to visit his Friends in prison, and being at prayer with them, the gaoler came up in a rage, and took him up from his knees. Next morning he was carried before the Mayor and other Officers, and for not giving sureties for his good behaviour, was committed to prison”. What privations he suffered during this further period of detention can probably be best gauged from the account which the Bristol prisoners kept, and subsequently published under the title of “A Narrative of the Cruelties and Abuses acted by Isaac Dennis, Keeper, his Wife and Servants, in the prison of Newgate in the City of Bristol, upon the People of the Land in Scorn called Quakers etc”.

How long James Picton’s enforced residence in Bristol continued is uncertain. He had been a delegate from South Wales to the London Yearly Meeting in 1681; and was a delegate from Swansea and Llandeilo at the 1682 Yearly Meeting of the Welsh Quakers, held at Redstone, Pembrokeshire, on 17 February 1682/3, which was the first to be held in South Wales. He appears to have been married by 1684, as James Picton and his wife were recorded [National Library of Wales, Margam MS 6029; published in Y Cofiadur, Volume, p. 22]. See also Alan P. F. Sell, The Great Ejectment of 1662: Its Antecedents, Aftermath and Ecumenical Significance, Pickwick Publications, 2012. James Picton, infant, was buried at Swansea on 27 March 1679. He is listed in the Golden Grove MS p. 89 as being of Swansea in 1685. He next appears in the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting held at Pontymoel on 17 February 1688/9, when he attended as one of the representatives from Glamorgan. He was one of the Glamorgan representatives at the Yearly Meeting held in Breconshire on 9 February 1689/90, when he was charged with others to ensure that the burial ground purchased from James Price in Carmarthenshire was “well and sufficiently secured” to the use of the Friends. A long epistle written by James Picton appears in the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting held at Swansea on 22 February 1690/1; and again the following year he was one of the Glamorgan representatives when the Yearly Meeting was held at Haverfordwest on 14 February 1691/2. He was asked to write an account of this Meeting for transmission to the Quakers’ Yearly Meeting in London. He expressed a willingness to attend the next London Yearly meeting in person. He again represented the Glamorgan Friends at the Yearly Meeting of 1696, held at Pontymoel on 14 February 1696/7, and was charged with writing to the Yearly Meeting in London.

James Picton does not appear to have attended the Yearly Meetings of the Welsh Quakers after 1696, although an epistle from him was read at the 1701 Meeting, held at Llanidloes on 22 February 1701/2. Possibly his advancing years and the effects of past imprisonments were beginning to undermine his constitution. He attended the Quarterly Meetings held at Swansea in each June between 1701 and 1709 inclusive. A letter to him is inserted in the Meeting Minutes for 8 June 1704, but he not present at any of the Quarterly Meetings held outside Swansea - from which it would appear that his fitness for travel was no longer assured.

James Picton of Swansea left a will, dated 11 October 1709 and proved on 15 February 1710/11 [. He gave 20 shillings apiece to the son and daughter of his brother, Owen Picton, deceased. A similar sum was given to the son and daughter of his brother, William Picton, deceased. To his kinswoman, Anne Musgrave, he left 20 shillings; to his kinsman, James Lewis, 20 shillings; to Richard and Matthew Phillips, sons of John Phillips, 20 shillings each, and the residue of his estate he gave to his kinswoman and executrix, Anne James, spinster. These kinsfolk were probably related to his wife’s family. James Picton was probably the father of:

  1. JAMES PICTON, infant, buried on 27 March 1679 at Swansea St. Mary.

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Last Modified Aprilt 2019

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