Scanfield, John – Quaker

A character named Scansfield makes a brief appearance in the Preston diary of Thomas Bellingham in his entry for 23 September 1688, when he expresses himself disappointed with Scansfield’s preaching, and again in a fuller entry for the following day:

Mr Rishton gave an account of the quaker. His name is Scansfield. He pretends to be a docter – a dangerous, seditious fellow, and not without some suspicion of being a Jesuit. All his relations are R. C. He sayd there was a plott discovered of ye Bpps Keeping confederacy with Holland for raysing disturbances in England. He pretended to have an interest att Court, and to have an interest in electing Burgesses for this corporation. He and Tompson the Regulator were much together.

These entries piqued the curiosity of Henry Clemesha, the Preston historian, who had had sight of the Bellingham diary before it was published in 1908, and prompted him to write to the editor of the journal of the Friends’ Historical Society (JFHS) seeking information. The editor replied that several interesting manuscripts relating to a John Scanfield were to be found in the society’s reference library. [1] Clemesha’s letter must in turn have aroused the editor’s interest for a collection of those manuscripts appeared in an article in a subsequent issue [2], presumably after the publication of the Bellingham diaries. [3]

Besse lists John Scanfield among hundreds of Quakers jailed in London’s Newgate prison in 1660 and records that he was jailed at Canterbury in 1670 for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. [4] [5] It seems that he took to ‘travelling over the country as a Minister, for some years before his manner of life became generally known …’ [6]

He arrived in London in about 1679 and was already suspect on account of reports of his ‘Scandeless conversation’ from Quakers in Kent. The London Quakers soon came to share similar concerns. [7] They expressed fresh anxieties in 1686 suspecting him of ‘tampering with severall women’ (uncertain reading, the original is apparently difficult to decipher). They were concerned that a certain widow should not ‘be ensnared nor hurt by him’. Accordingly, they put him under ‘admonition and reproof’. [8]

A letter from a Quaker in 1687 refers to ‘his being Imployed for ye King’ and expresses worry about ‘his many wiles & strong temptations, & many may be snared & taken therein’. [9] In October of that year Quaker officials in London drew up a statement concerning Scanfield: they were especially disturbed by his huge debts which he avoided paying. The debts listed amounted to £471 4s 11d and one item suggested he had defrauded a widow by buying houses from her, selling them for £100 but only paying her £10. [10]

In April the following year Scanfield himself writes from Kendal admitting his faults but, in sanctimonious terms, professes to have repented. He hopes to be back in London within two months ‘at which time If I can Recive my salery which will be dew to me for my yeares travle among the mines I shall give An Evidence to my Credittors of my Itegryty’ (A footnote records that the writing is not clear and that the reading ‘travel among mines’ is uncertain, but wonders whether it relates to a previous reference to Scanfield being employed by the king.) [11]

An extract from the journal of Thomas Story for 1688 reveals that Scanfield, ‘a noted Quaker’, was preaching in Carlisle attacking both the Church of England and the Church of Rome, but ‘many suspected Scansfield to be a Jesuit’ who merely attacked Rome ‘to cloak his Design’ as an agent of James. [12] These suspicions match Thomas Bellingham’s mentioned above. A letter from Cumberland dated June 1688 expresses concern about Scanfield and notes that local Quakers have prevented him from preaching. [13]

Towards the end of 1688 Scanfield visited Margaret Fox at Swarthmore which prompted London Quakers to ask her to account for her actions. She replied in October, ‘Whereas thou desires mee to cleare my selfe Concerneinge Scamfielde, I am now way guilty Concerneing him …’ She relates that he came to dine with her, at which time she knew nothing of his unsavoury reputation. When he next visited her, she put what she had learned to him and, being dissatisfied with his response, ‘dealt very plainely with him’. [14]

A letter from George Fox, raising concerns about Scanfield from all over the country, prompted London Quakers to investigate further. On 10 October 1688 Scanfield appeared before them promising to reform and pay his creditors. The Friends ruled that he should not preach until he had given satisfaction. They were still expressing dissatisfaction in November and were seeking a further meeting with him. [15]

[1] ‘Notes and Queries’, The Journal of the Friends’ Historical Society 5, no. 2 (1908): 67.
[2] ‘The Defection of John Scanfield’, JFHS 5, no. 4 (1908): 177–87.
[3] Thomas Bellingham and Anthony Hewitson, Diary of Thomas Bellingham, an Officer under William III (Preston: Toulmin & Sons, 1908),
[4] Joseph Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, vol. 2 (London: L. Hinde, 1753), 578,
[5] Joseph Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, vol. 1 (London: L. Hinde, 1753), 294, 366,
[6] ‘JFHS’, 178.
[7] Ibid., 181.
[8] Ibid., 177.
[9] Ibid., 178–79.
[10] Ibid., 180–81.
[11] Ibid., 181–82.
[12] Ibid., 183.
[13] Ibid., 184.
[14] Ibid., 185.
[15] Ibid., 186–87.