Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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MILES , JOHN ( 1621 - 1683 ), Particular Baptist leader ;

b. at Newton-Clifford in Welsh Herefordshire . He matriculated from Brasenose College , Oxford , 18 March 1635/6 , aged 15; his stay at Oxford is indeterminate; his career from 1636 to 1649 uncertain, but probably he was a chaplain in the Parliament's forces in the South Wales campaigns of the second Civil War , and must have settled down in some guise in the Gower hinterland of Swansea . In the spring of 1649 he went to London , was baptized at the Baptist church that met in the Glass House , Broad Street , and was, by its leaders, sent to spread Baptist principles in Wales . His headquarters became Ilston in Gower ; the first baptisms (as recorded in the church register) were dated at the beginning of Oct. 1649 , the last on 12 Aug. 1660 ; the total baptisms were 261. Miles proved himself an organiser of the first rank, gathered adherents from Carmarthen to the Hay , formed them into subsidiary churches, arranged a circuit system for his preachers , and summoned general meetings to discuss questions of doctrine and policy . He preached a strict exclusionist dogma, maintaining that baptism was for adults only, by immersion only, that only such were to be admitted to the Lord's Table, all this against a background of advanced Calvinism as expressed in the London Confession of the Particular Baptists ( 1644 ) and operated under a close system of supervision that was for all practical purposes Presbyterian . In consequence, the strange doctrines that flourished in the heyday of liberty had no attraction whatsoever for Miles , neither the Arminianism of the Baptists of Radnor , nor Erbery 's Third Dispensation, nor the Lord's imminent coming beloved of the Fifth Monarchists, nor the inner light of the Quakers ( Quakerism he looked upon as an ‘ infection of the times ,’ against which he composed the Antidote of 1656 ). He was admittedly one of the Welsh Puritan leaders , was named as one of the ‘ approvers ’ in the Propagation Act of 1650 , signed several certificates for ministerial appointments under the Triers , and was himself (in 1656-7 ) made ‘ lecturer ’ at Llanelly under that dispensation; from 1657 to 1660 the Lambeth MSS. describe him as ‘ minister of Ilston ,’ giving particulars of ‘augmentations’ to the natural revenue of the living. Miles was no revivalist to put a whole countryside on fire; he was the propagandist , putting forward stiff premises and drawing irrefragable conclusions, who would secure disciples with convictions as abiding as himself; in his case, notably Lewis Thomas (q.v.) , who supervised the area between Bridgend and Carmarthen in the days of persecution, and William Prichard (q.v.) , who had the guardianship of the eastern districts, with Abergavenny as nucleus, and who, by his baptising William Jones (d. c. 1700 ) of Rhydwilym (q.v.) about 1667 , opened the way for such intense Baptist activities in western Wales that they bade fair to overshadow the original movement at Ilston .

There was no hope for Miles and his preachers at the Restoration ; those Baptists who worked under the Triers and received maintenance from the Trustees had to surrender their livings under clause XI of the Act of September ( 12 Chas. II , c. 17). He emigrated to America , but there is no proof (apart from the fact that his name does not figure in any records of the Carmarthen consistory court ) that he moved out before 1663 , nor any definite proof that he returned to Wales for a while in 1665 . It is certain, however, that he had reached Rehoboth in Massachusetts before the end of 1663 , that he organised a Baptist church there (of which Nicholas Tanner , who had been baptized by him at Ilston in 1652 , was a prominent member), that effective opposition from other sects caused him and others to found a new settlement in 1667 , again in Massachusetts , and called Swansey , and that a new Baptist church was established there much more comprehensive in its polity than that of the Ilston original in Wales . Records go to prove that Miles became a schoolmaster at Swansey in 1673 , but had to flee to Boston during ‘ Phillip's War ’ with the Indians in 1675 . Eventually he returned to Swansey , and d. there on 3 Feb. 1682/3 . His son JOHN MILES was the first town-clerk of Swansey ; his son SAMUEL MILES turned Anglican , graduated at Harvard in 1684 , at Oxford (by diploma) in 1693 , and was for nearly forty years rector of the King's Chapel (Episcopalian) at Boston .

Sources:

  • Brasenose College Register, 1509–1909 . Oxford Historical Society, 1909 , 1509-1909 , 171;
  • Alumni Oxonienses , 1500-1714 , 1012;
  • Lambeth Manuscripts 977 (85, 104, 105), 993 (344), 995 (29), 1004 (51);
  • Thomas Shankland in Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes Bedyddwyr Cymru , 1910-11 , 8-16;
  • D. Rhys Phillips in Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes Bedyddwyr Cymru , 1928 , 1-107;
  • T. Richards , A History of the Puritan Movement in Wales , 1920 , 202-8;
  • An antidote against the infection of the times , 1656; reprinted by the Baptist Historical Society, Cardiff, 1904 of 1656 reprinted by Welsh Bapt. Hist. Soc. 1904.

Author:

Thomas Richards, D.Litt., (1878-1962), Bangor

Published date: 1959