Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Simpson, Davidlocked

  • Mark Smith

Simpson, David (1745–1799), Church of England clergyman and author, was born on 12 October 1745 at Ingleby Arncliffe, near Northallerton, Yorkshire, the son of Ralph Simpson, a farmer. His father expected his son to follow the same occupation, but, according to Simpson's own account, while he was still a boy he heard one evening during family prayers a voice within him calling him to go to be instructed for the ministry. His father, though initially sceptical, eventually gave way and Simpson received a classical education, first from the Revd Mr Dawson of Northallerton and then at Scorton grammar school. He was admitted to St John's College, Cambridge, on 19 June 1765 and graduated BA in 1769 and MA in 1772. Simpson's sense of calling led him to take seriously his preparation for ministry, and early in his university career he visited Theophilus Lindsey, then vicar of Catterick (but later a Unitarian minister), who directed him to a close study of the scriptures. This, together with a terrifying encounter with a highwayman, led him to serious religion, and although at first afraid of being identified as a 'Methodist' he began to associate with a group of evangelical undergraduates, particularly Rowland Hill, who was a member of his own college.

Simpson was ordained deacon in September 1769 and served an initial curacy at Ramsden Bellhouse, Essex. Thereafter, his early career was characterized by a turbulence not untypical of clergymen associated with Methodism. In 1771 he was ordained priest and became curate of Buckingham, but was forced to leave within twelve months because of opposition to his evangelical preaching. In 1772 he moved to Macclesfield at the invitation of Charles Roe, a leading evangelical manufacturer, and became assistant curate at St Michael's Church. In the following year, on 27 May 1773 he married Ann Yaldy, who died after only fifteen months, leaving one daughter, also named Ann. He remarried in October 1776; his new wife was Mrs Elizabeth Davy, with whom he had three children. Simpson's activity at Macclesfield, especially his close friendship with John Wesley, did nothing to decrease his reputation for Methodism and a group of parishioners induced Dr Markham, the bishop of Chester, to deprive him of his curacy. Shortly afterwards he was offered the prime curacy at St Michael's by a friend, who had the right of presentation. However, his opponents continued their protests and at this juncture Roe again intervened, offering to build a new church for Simpson. Christ Church, Macclesfield, was consecrated and Simpson licensed by the new bishop of Chester, Beilby Porteus, in December 1779; he continued as minister there until his death.

Although Simpson was an evangelical Arminian in his theology and associated most naturally with clergy of similar views, he maintained a wide acquaintance among evangelicals and was a regular correspondent of Rowland Hill, Thomas Robinson, and several others with whom he engaged in a concert of prayer. At Macclesfield he combined a regular ministry to a settled congregation with itinerant preaching in the surrounding area. He was a popular preacher and an energetic pastor, who visited regularly throughout his parish, ministered to the legal and medical needs of the poor, and founded friendly societies, charity schools, and Sunday schools. As a consequence, he attracted large congregations and often had six or seven hundred communicants. He was an early pioneer of congregational hymn singing, and a collection of hymns formed one of his earliest publications in 1776. Simpson was a prolific author and published more than thirty works including sermons, tracts, essays, and more substantial volumes of apologetic. Particularly interesting is A Plea for Religion and the Sacred Writings etc (1799), which included an appendix announcing his intention to secede from the church, partly because of conscientious objections to the damnatory clauses in the Athanasian creed (although Simpson himself was an orthodox Trinitarian) and partly because of corrupt practices within the church—an issue rendered more urgent by a lively sense of impending divine judgment. Only twelve days before the planned formal announcement of this decision Simpson died at Macclesfield after a brief illness on Easter Sunday, 24 March 1799; his second wife had died eleven days earlier. He was buried on 26 March at Christ Church, Macclesfield.


  • J. B. Williams, ‘A life of the author’, in D. Simpson, A plea for religion and the sacred writings etc (1837)


  • St John's College, Cambridge, papers


  • J. Collyer, stipple (after J. Russell), NPG
  • engraving, repro. in D. Simpson, A key to the prophecies etc (1801), frontispiece
, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints
J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)