Seeking Puritan Diaries

I am seeking the diaries of Puritan and Dissenting ministers from 1640 to 1715.

Here is an extract from the diary of the preacher, John Westley of Whitchurch, Dorset, recorded as an ejected minister in Edmund Calamy’s A Continuation of the Account of the Ministers … Ejected and Silenced (vol I, p 440) copied into Samuel Palmer’s The Nonconformist’s Memorial (vol I, p 478). Having been criticised by some parishioners for not using the Book of Common Prayer, he has a long conversation with the Bishop of Bristol which includes the following exchange.

B [Bishop]. In what Manner did the Church you spake of send you to preach ? At this Rate every body might preach !
W [Westley]. Not every one. Every body has not preaching Gifts and peaching Graces. Besides, that is not all I have to offer your Lordship to justify my Preaching.
B. If you preach, it must be according to Order, the Order of the Church of England, upon an Ordination.
W. What does your Lordship mean by Ordination ?
B. Do not you know what I mean ?
W. If you mean that sending spoken of, Rom. x; I had it.
B. I mean that : What Mission had you ?
W. I had a Mission from God and Man.
B. You must have it according to Law, and the Order of the Church of England.
W. I am not satisfied in my Spirit therein.
B. Not satisfied in your Spirit ! You have more new-coined Phrases than ever were heard of !

This small section illustrates not only the difference in opinion between the establishment and the dissenters, but also the contrast in thinking and language. The conversation ends with the Bishop agreeing not to “meddle” with Westley and bidding him “Farewell, good Mr. Westley”.

Although heavy in meaning and consequence, it appears that Westley chose to record this passage in a relatively light tone, but why and for whom? To show the human side of Bishops, to emphasise how God took care of potentially perilous situations or perhaps unconsciously to express a feeling of relief? Even in a private diary, there are choices of style, selection of material and unconscious ways of remembering and interpreting recent events, and this analysis of the text will fuel part of my research.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the complete diary of John Westley. Edmund Calamy probably saw it, but all I have are several sections which he quoted. This is not just regrettable for my PhD research which is focussing on the diaries of Puritan and Dissenting ministers, but also for understanding the development of a later spiritual movement, since John Westley was the paternal grandfather of John and Charles Wesley. According to Calamy, their maternal grandfather, Samuel Annesley also kept a diary, but this too remains elusive.

In later posts, I will provide information on the ministers’ diaries I have found in manuscript form or in edited versions, and then a list of ministers’ diaries referred to in the past but which I have not been able to trace.

Colin Harris
PhD student at Aix Marseille Université

Cite this blog post
Colin Harris (2018, August 9). Seeking Puritan Diaries. Dissenting Experience. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from

Colin Harris

Doctor of English Studies at LERMA, Aix Marseille Université. Thesis: Puritan diaries of the seventeenth century (1640-1688): writing ministerial experience. MA ACMA (Recherche) Aix Marseille Université. BA Cantab.

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