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  • Was the Deist Thomas Morgan (d.1743) a Medical Practitioner among the Quakers in Bristol? Some Observations about the History of a Quaker Label.
  • Jan van den Berg (bio)

It happens sometimes that a man during his lifetime writes some pamphlets about a specific subject. And afterwards these documents are interpreted in a different direction. And at the end this man turned himself a Quaker without knowing it. It happened with Thomas Morgan, a farmer’s boy who was educated at Bridgewater academy, was ordained by the Presbyterian minister John Bowden (d.1750) in Rook Lane Chapel at Frome in Somerset on September 17th 1716, became a minister of a dissenting congregation at Marlborough in Wiltshire, was afterwards dismissed for his Arian heterodoxy, turned himself into a medical practitioner in Bristol in 1727 and ended his life as a deist in London.1

In scientific literature one will find from time to time the observation that this Thomas Morgan worked as a medical practitioner among the Quakers in Bristol. And it was noted also that he was a Quaker. Already in the Bibliothèque Britannique, ou histoire des ouvrages des savans de la Grande Bretagne, volume 10 (1737) page 4, published in The Hague in the Netherlands, we read about him: ‘peut-être y-a-t-il du Quakerisme dans son fait ’. This indication has got its proper life in the continental and American literature since then. So we find the relationship with the Quakers in the first thesis written about Morgan in 1745 by the subsequently famous biographer Christian Gottlieb Joecher (1694–1758): ‘Dicitur quoque circa hoc ipsum tempus … Quackerorum patrocinium suscepisse ’.2 The German theologian and pedagogue Johann Rudolph Schlegel (1729–1790) noted in 1784 that Morgan was first an Arian, then a Socinian, a Quaker and at last a Deist.3 In orthodox eyes this was a negative development, going not only chronologically but also from bad to worse! To be called a Quaker meant in this view being part of a chain of heresies, ending outside the true church.

In this way we will see that representatives of the classical denominations encounter each other in the same judgment. This opinion crossed denominational and other borders, because the same order of phrase was said about Morgan at the end of the eighteenth century by the Dutch Reformed Church historian Anneüs IJpey (1760–1837),4 and in the beginning of the nineteenth century by the Bavarian Roman Catholic church historian Philipp Jakob von Huth (1742–1813).5 Afterwards this opinion crossed the Atlantic and was stated by Charles Hodge (1797–1878), for a long time incumbent of theology in Princeton and [End Page 36] the Nestor of Presbyterian orthodoxy, in his translation of the German theologian Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck’s (1799–1877) History of Theology in the Eighteenth Century, published in the Biblical Repertory in 1828: “Morgan in his search for truth was led from one sect to another. He was a Presbyterian preacher, then Arian, then Socinian, then Quaker, then Deist.”6 Furthermore this opinion came to England in 1862 when the same phrase about Morgan was quoted by the Anglican apologete Sanderson Robins (1801–1862), vicar of Saint Peter’s in the isle of Thanet.7

Back in Germany the church historian of Helmstedt in Lower Saxony, Heinrich Philipp Konrad Henke (1752–1809), knew that Morgan served the rich Quakers in Bristol as a physician.8 Afterwards Gotthard Victor Lechler (1811–1888), the author of the classic Geschichte des englischen Deismus, noted in 1841 Morgan’s study of medicine and his practice among the Quakers of Bristol.9 The literature has since then never relinquished this relationship, albeit not with the negative sentiment of before. So the young Georg Christian Bernhard Pünjer (1850–1885), professor of theology in Jena, called him in a neutral way “a physician among the Quakers of Bristol.”10 Ernst Troeltsch (1865–1923), at the time incumbent for systematic theology in Heidelberg, called him at the end of the nineteenth century “Arzt einer Quäkergemeinde.”11 Still in 1958 Werner Georg Kümmel (1905–1995), incumbent of the chair of New Testament in Marburg, simply called him ‘der...


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