29 November 1807

John Dunkin,1 Woodham Mortimer, to Mary Hays, 3 Park Street, Islington, 29 November 1807.2


Woodham Mortimer Novr 29. 1807

My Dear Sister,

   After informing you ‘which I do with much pleasure’ that  we  are all through the goodness of God in Health, there is little from our part of the Country worth notice except among friends; who feel an Interest in communicating their Sentiments and feelings; and however trifling they might appear to the world, I trust they are not so with us, who have been so united so many Years, both in family, and what is more, I trust, in a real & disinterested friendship – I cannot discard feelings and Interest in the Concerns and friendships of life, any more than I can in the most important Concerns of Religion & immortality –  that Religion, which claims to inculcate Truth, at the expence of the internal feelings of the Heart by cold reasoning, does not suit my taste; as, while it cuts off that informal Joy, which causes an inward Peace to pass the Mind, it leaves in the place, only doubt and disbelief, in the room of Confidence and Hope, which run through the whole of revealed Religion –  Where we have found happiness ourselves, we are certainly acting a friendly part by recommending to others –  if Religion be a delusion, it is certainly a happy one, if it only tends to support our Minds under the troubles of life, of which (of late) I have experienced many, and from which, none are exempt; the embracing of it can do us no harm, whilst the rejection of it may be attended with the most fatal consequences – experience tells me it is the best support in life, and I have had witness of its being the only Consolation in Death –  I am induced to embrace it because it so well supplies the defect of my reason, which rarely leads us to the Grave; while the other, gives a hope full of immortality and eternal life –  real religion appears to me plain when unshackled from the sophistry of Men –  it is intended as a common blessing, and so plain that a wayfaring man, though ignorant of the great Concerns of life, nay not err – the reason I fear it is rejected by many is, because it brings them too much on a level with mankind; whereas, all the World must be considerd as guilty before God – taking it as a whole, the intent appears to be to humble the Creature and to exalt the Creator, who is God over all, blessed for evermore – when our own insufficiency ^is seen^, and not till then, we shall prize the sacrifice & atonement of our Saviour, who appears the way, the only way, and a happy way it is for our admission into heaven – this view of the Subject cannot lead generous Minds to a careless life; as those must be depraved indeed on whom [“]gratitude does not have a proper effect, to lead to obedience” – I have been led to this subject from a Conversation which passed with Mr WK,3 while in Kent – he appears an alterd man – I think far from happy – I was told however from his wife the next Day, who expressed great Satisfaction from what passed, that he had treated the subject with me, far more sincerely than he had been accustomed to do with others – ^& I sincerely^ wish it may lead him properly to reflect on it – allow me to request you will procure for Sarah (and that you will desire our young friends4 at Islington to read it seriously also) a religious Novel in Letters 3 vols octavo, called Thornton Abbey5 – the best reasons for dissent from the establishment are there given that I have seen, and also I think some of the best, against scepticism & infidelity – I have had much pleasure in reading them myself, and I will thank you much, for your candid attention to them – A Society Book, the life of Dr Beatie6 is now under our perusal, with which I have been particularly gratified – borrow it of Johnson, I am sure you will approve it for elegance of Style, and wish also, you might fall in with the Sentiments – I woud buy it myself now but [intend asking] the purchaser at our sale – I promise myself much pleasure on reading his essay on Truth, in answer to Hume On Natural Religion – this I have orderd from Chelmsford – when I have read it myself I shall give you my Sentiments thereon,  but perhaps you can borrow this also – I expect it will be found too abstruse & metaphysical for the Young People7 – I coud say much on Dr Beatie, but my paper will not allow it – excuse my recommending these subjects so earnestly – they are the only ones worthy our real Consideration – I fancy to myself if you were fully to fall in with them, with your fine lively imagination & powers, how much good you might do, with our young Friends as they woud pay much regard to your judgment[.] I have only room to request my best Love to my dear Girls, who tho’ absent constantly occupies a share in my Heart – make mine, and all our best regards to our friends at Islington – & be assurd I am sincerely & affectionately


                        John Dunkin


Address: Mrs Mary Hays | N° 3 – Park Street  | Islington

Postmark: 30 November 1807, 10 o’clock


Post paid


1 John Dunkin (1753-1827) married Joanna Hays (Mary’s eldest sister) in 1774, the year John Hays, Mary's father, died. Dunkin lived next door for a time to the Hays family in Gainsford Street and later allowed Mary and her mother and some other siblings to live with him at the Paragon in South London. He would become very wealthy and assist Hays’s two brothers, Thomas and John, in their businesses as corn factors, of which Dunkin was one as well. He retired to Essex in 1804, remaining true to his orthodox Baptist faith his entire life, as the above letter makes clear. For more on Dunkin, see his entry in the Biographical Index.

2 Misc. Ms. 2175, Pforzheimer Collection, NYPL; Brooks, Correspondence 487-88.

3 Most likely this is William Kingsford and his wife Elizabeth, originally from Kensworth, Bedfordshire, a relation of the Rev. Sampson Kingsford (1740-1821), chief minister at the General Baptist meeting in Black Friars, Canterbury, from 1771 until his death on 27 August 1821. Mary Hays visited the Kingsfords at their home in Wepham near Canterbury in the summer of 1799 (see Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays, 30 August [1799], Fenwick Family Papers, New York Historical Society Library), so connections with Elizabeth Hays and the Kingsfords most likely dates from that same period. How the two families became close enough to allow for one to host the other for a visit is not known. Elizabeth Kingsford (b. 1783) of the Vicarage at Kensworth was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Kingsford and most likely a relation of Sampson Kingsford. The same was probably true for Mrs Kennett Kingsford of Beeleigh, Essex, whose husband purchased the Beeleigh Steam Mill in 1822 from John Dunkin. Beeleigh is the same village in which several of Elizabeth Lanfear’s relations on the Dunkin side lived (some of whom also subscribed to Fatal Errors).

4 Reference here is Sarah Dunkin, one of the three Dunkin daughters (the other two were Emma and Marianna) who were living at that time with Hays in Islington. The "young friends" are the two stepsons of  Elizabeth Hays Lanfear, Ambrose and Joseph Lanfear (about the same age as Dunkin's daughters), who lived a short distance away in Upper Terrace, Islington.

5 Thornton Abbey, a Series of Letters on Religious Subjects, appeared in several posthumous editions. The author was John Satchel [Satchell] (1737–97), who joined the Baptist congregation in Kettering in 1777 and by the mid-1780s was exercising his gift in preaching.  By 1790 he was pastoring a group from his home church, now led by the famed Baptist minister Andrew Fuller, in what became briefly a second Baptist church in Kettering; that congregation dissolved in 1795 and returned to Fullers church.  The edition acquired by Dunkin was most likely the one edited (in three volumes) by Fuller in 1806 and published by J. Burditt, 60 Paternoster Row, London, whose publishing record is dominated by Baptist titles and who was a frequent publisher for the Religious Tract Society, which is the "Society" mentioned by Dunkin in the above letter. Satchell also authored an anonymous pamphlet on the followers of John Glas in 1796. For more on Satchell, see  John Rippon, ed., Baptist Annual Register for 1790, 1791, 1792, and part of 1793 (London: J. Rippon [and others], 1793), 9; Michael McMullen and Timothy Whelan, ed., The Diary of Andrew Fuller, vol. 1 of the Collected Works of Andrew Fuller, gen. ed. Michael Haykin (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016). 

6 See W. Forbes, An Account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, including many of his Original Letters (Edinburgh: Constable, 1806).  The “Society” is most likely a reference to the Religious Tract Society, which began in 1799 and would become a major distributor of religious reading materials around the world,  with many of its titles appearing on the bookshelves in Joseph Johnson’s bookshop in St. Paul’s Courtyard. It is also possible Dunkin was a member of a local reading society, but given his rural location, the former option is more probable. The reference to “Chelmsford” in the next sentence could be a reading society but more likely he is ordering the book from a local bookseller. James Beattie (1735-1803) was a Scottish theologian and Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic at Marischal College, Aberdeen, best known for his Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism (1770), the counterpart to Davie Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).

7 Dunkin’s term for his three daughters (all in or near their early teens) living with Hays in Islington.