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Joseph Williams (1692–1755) by Hopwood, pubd 1815 (after unknown artist) © National Portrait Gallery, London


Williams, Joseph (1692–1755), evangelical dissenter and journal writer, was born on 16 November 1692, presumably in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, the son of a clothier of Kidderminster. His parents may have been John and Ann Williams, whose son Joseph was reportedly baptized at Kidderminster on 28 November 1692. He had one brother and two sisters. Nothing is known of his early years or education, but his journal and correspondence provide unparalleled pictures of the inner and outer life of an eighteenth-century dissenting layman in the puritan tradition and of some key figures at the beginning of the evangelical revival. At the age of about twelve he began working at his father's trade, spending two years from the age of fifteen working at the loom for fourteen to sixteen hours a day, and then another year scribbling (carding wool). Though distracted at different times by irreligious co-workers, he found opportunities to read devotional books during working hours. On his father's death in 1719 he seems to have inherited the business, and over the next thirty-five years he recorded periods of near bankruptcy alternating with great prosperity. ...