Early Life

“Leeds Portrait”, shows Priestley aged 35 as Minister of Mill Hill Chapel.

Joseph Priestly was born on March 13, 1733 in Birstall Fieldhead, England [3]. He was the oldest of six children born to Mary Swift and Jonas Priestley, a finisher of cloth. To ease the family’s burdens, Priestley was sent to live with his grandfather around the age of one. Five years later, he went back to home after his mother died. When his father remarried in 1741, Priestley went to live with his aunt and uncle: Sarah and John Keighley.  They were wealthy and childless and lived just three miles from Fieldhead. When Joseph was four years old, he could flawlessly recite all 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Short Catechism.  This showed that he was an extremely intelligent boy and absorbed almost anything put in front of him. His aunt decided to get the best education for him that they could.  They planned to have him become a part of the ministry. Joseph Priestley attended local schools where he learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.  He also improved on a system of shorthand writing, further showing his genius. Both on his own and with tutors to help him, he became proficient in physics, philosophy, algebra, mathematics and a variety of ancient Near Eastern and modern languages. He went to the Dissenting academy at Daventry for four years. In 1755, his aunt’s goal was completed when he became minister at a small Presbyterian parish at Needham Market, Suffolk [2]. There he wrote The Scripture Doctrine of Remission. In 1758 he went to Nantwich, and in 1761 became a tutor at Warrington Academy in Lancashire. Ordained in 1762, he was married that same year to Mary Wilkinson, the sister of the Welsh ironmaster, John Wilkinson. He gradually came to question the divinity of Jesus, while accepting much else of Christianity, in the process becoming an early Unitarian [3].  A Unitarian is someone who focuses for on the unity with God and doesn’t believe in the Trinity, which consists of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

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One Response to Early Life

  1. Pingback: Joseph Priestley To the Point | Stepping Toes

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