Peter Annet (1693-1769) was a schoolmaster who lost his job because of his harsh attacks on the writings of English theologians. When he was sixty, he was jailed and made to do hard labor for his attacks on Moses. By his unorthodox definition of Christianity, which identified Christ with reason, he was a Christian deist. A good introduction to his ideas is the beginning nineteen pages of Deism Fairly Stated (London, 1746).
Anonymous (fl. 1740s) was the unknown author of the book The Reformation Reformed: Or, An Attempt Towards Uniting all Protestants in One Opinion Concerning Religion and Government (London, 1743). He advocated “true Christianity” but rejected much of the Old Testament. The best introduction to his ideas is pages 43-60 of this book.
Anonymous (fl. 1750s) was the unknown author of A Dissertation Proving the Light of the Gospel is the Light of Nature (London, 1756). He advocated a mystical interpretation of Jesus and his teachings. The best introduction to his ideas is pages iii-viii &1-32 of this book.
Anonymous (fl. 1750s) was the unknown author of the commentary in Free Thoughts Upon Faith: Or the Religion of Nature. A Poem, with Notes (Liverpool, 1758). The best introduction to his ideas is pages 3-34 in this book.
Anonymous (fl. 1790s) was the unknown author of Rational Religion, or the Faith of Man, a Poem (London, 1791). In this long poem, he articulated the basic tenets of deism. The best introduction to his ideas is pages 6-30 of this book.
A. W. (fl. 1680s) was an unknown writer who did not believe God made revelations. The best introduction to his ideas is his essay “Of Natural Religion, as opposed to Divine Revelation,” in Charles Blount, The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (London, 1695), 197-211.4
Walter Awberry (fl. 1731) was the author of a letter entitled “To the Publisher of the Independent Whig,” which was included in later editions of the collected essays of The Independent Whig. In this letter, he profusely praised all the deist ideas advocated in The Independent Whig. This letter is in Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, 8th ed., 4 vols. (London, 1733), 1:xxxv-lxxii. (For the identification of “W. A.” as Walter Awberry, see the Dictionary of National Biography, ed. Sidney Lee (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1900), 62:140.)
John Baskerville (1706-1775) was a famous printer and typeface designer. His only religious writing was in his will where he claimed the Christian revelation was “the most Impudent Abuse of Common Sense which Ever was Invented to Befool Mankind.” He also contended true religion was just being moral, which he contended was sufficient to “entitle him to Divine favour.” (For Baskerville’s will, see Ralph Straus and Robert K. Dent, John Baskerville: A Memoir (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1907), 117.
Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was a celebrated wood engraver especially noted for his small engravings of birds. He thought Jesus taught only the simple principles of deism. The best introduction to his deist ideas is his book A Memoir of Thomas Bewick: Written by Himself, ed. Iain Bain (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), 211-26.
Abraham Binns (fl. 1790s) thought the Bible needed to be made compatible with morality and science. The best introduction to his ideas is his short pamphlet Remarks on a Publication, Entitled, “A Serious Admonition to the Disciples of Thomas Paine, and all Other Infidels” (Stockport, 1796).
Charles Blount (1654-1693) had a wealthy father who was an unorthodox thinker. Charles Blount committed suicide after his wife died because he desired to marry her sister, an action that was considered immoral as well as being illegal. He was a natural religion deist who was not hostile to Christianity. The best introduction to his ideas is “A Summary Account of the Deists [sic] Religion” which is pages 88-91 of The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (London, 1695). This is available through Early English Books Online. Another good introduction is pages 47-73 of Religio Laici Written in a Letter to John Dryden (London, 1683).
James Boevey (1622-1696) was a merchant, lawyer, and writer. His religious ideas were deeply influenced by the ideas of Herbert of Cherbury. The best introduction to Boevey’s religious ideas are pages 1-41 of his handwritten, unpublished pamphlet The Deists [sic] Reflections upon Religion DE/P/F47/4, 1691, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, Hertfordshire, England. (This manuscript is at the Hertfordshire Archives where it can be viewed or a digital copy can be ordered.)
Bolingbroke, or Henry St John, (1678-1751) was a wealthy politician. He was a leader of the conservative Tories and went into exile for supporting the Jacobite rebellion against George I. He was a Christian-centered deist with a profound interest in natural religion. A good introduction to his ideas is “A Letter to Mr. Pope,” in A Letter to Sir William Windham (London, 1753). The letter starts at page 425 of the Google online book version.
Alexander Campbell (fl. 1750) was a midshipman on the HMS Wager when the crew mutinied. He thought the Old Testament was not part of true Christianity. The best introduction to his religious ideas is his book An Examination of Lord Bolingbroke’s Letters on History, 2nd ed. (London, 1753), 1-33.
Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) was a poet best known for the Rowley series of poems which he forged and passed off as medieval poems. He often suffered from gloomy melancholy and killed himself when he was seventeen. He was a natural religion deist. The best statement of his ideas is the poem “The Defence” which is on page 439 of the 1842 edition of his Poetical Works.
Thomas Chubb (1679-1747) came from a working class background and was a glovers’ apprentice and a candle maker when he was younger. Because of the quality of his pamphlets, he was helped financially by Sir Joseph Jekyll. He was a Christian deist. A good introduction to his ideas is A Discourse of Miracles (London, 1742).
Anthony Collins (1676-1729) was a wealthy country squire and a local governmental official. He was influenced by John Locke and continental thinkers. He was a Christian-centered deist. An introduction to his ideas is Section 1, pages 5-18, of A Discourse of Free-Thinking.
William Corry (fl. 1750s) wrote Reflections on Liberty and Necessity, &c (London, 1759). His book focuses on showing that people have no free will. The best introduction to his ideas is pages 30-49 of this book.
Manasseh Dawes (d. 1829) was a barrister who wrote essays defending the American side in the Revolutionary War. There is no good introduction to his deist ideas.
Deist (fl. 1796) was the pen name of the author of the short pamphlet Thomas Paine Vindicated, Being a Short Letter to the Bishop of Landaff’s [sic] Reply to Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (London, 1796). This pamphlet defends Thomas Paine.
Thomas Dutton (fl. 1790s) was a poet and soldier. His most important theological work was a defense of Thomas Paine’s religious works. The best introduction to Dutton’s ideas is his pamphlet A Vindication of the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (London, 1795), 109-131.
Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753-1814) was a publisher of radical books and pamphlets. He despised the Old Testamentbut still saw himself as a Christian. The best introduction to his religious ideas is The Trial of Mr. Daniel Isaac Eaton for Publishing the Third and Last Part of Paine’s Age of Reason (London, 1812), 27-36.
Thomas Edwards (d. 1810) was a minister and fellow of Cambridge University as well as a writer and editor. He claimed that the Bible had many significant errors and that the only doctrine a Christian had to believe was that Jesus rose from the dead. The best introduction to Edward’s deist ideas is his short pamphlet A Discourse on the Limits and Importance of Free Enquiry in Matters of Religion (Bury, 1792).
Friend to Truth (fl. 1780s) was the pen name of the otherwise unknown author of the book Observations Upon the Four Gospels Shewing Their Defects . . . By Authority (Geneva, 1789). While he thought Jesus worked miracles, the book was focused on showing the Bible was too inconsistent to be an accurate account of Jesus’ life and works. The best introduction to his deist ideas is pages 337-50 of this book.
Thomas Gordon (d. 1750) was a writer whose patron and co-writer was John Trenchard. His political works were very influential among the American colonists. He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the essay “In what only true religion consists” in the Independent Whig (pages 454-468). This essay has different dates and numbers assigned to it in different editions of the book. It is usually thought to have been written in January of 1721 and given numbered as essay LIII or LIV.
James Edward Hamilton (fl. 1790s) was a writer who claimed to share the beliefs of the earliest Christians. The best introduction to his religious ideas is the ending section labelled “To the Reader” in his book Strictures upon Primitive Christianity . . . Mr. Babcock: Part the Second (London, 1792), 1-12.
John Henley (1692-1756) was originally a minister of the Church of England. After leaving that church, he became extremely well-known for his church/comedy show that he called the Oratory. He advocated a mystical interpretation of Jesus and his teachings. The best introduction to Henley’s deist ideas is his book The Coup de Grace: or, Mr. Bayle’s Prophecy Fulfilled, 4th ed. (London, 1745), 2-20.
Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) fought in European wars and was English ambassador to the French court. He was the first English deist. His ideas were influenced by Stoicism, and he was a natural religion deist sympathetic to Christianity. The best introduction to his ideas is chapter nine, “Common Notions Concerning Religion” in De Veritate or On Truth. It is not available online.
John Hollis (1757-1824) was a former Unitarian who decided Christianity could not be a revelation from God because the Bible was too immoral. The best introduction to his deist ideas is his short pamphlet Sober and Serious Reasons for Scepticism, as it Concerns Revealed Religion (London, 1796).
John Holwell (1711-1798) went to Calcutta as a surgeon when he was still young. In India, he was appointed to various offices including temporary governor. He claimed there was a divine revelation in India, which taught the same principles as the Christian revelation. A good introduction to his ideas is his book Interesting Historical Events, Relative to the Provinces of Bengal… Part III (London, 1771), 41-91.
Jacob Ilive (1705-1763) was a printer who was jailed for blasphemy. In his early works, he defended Christianity, but in his final theological work he took the position of a natural religion deist. The best introduction to his final thoughts is p. 49-65 of Modest Remarks on the Bishop of London’s Several Discourses (London, 1755) which he published under the name of “Philotheos.” (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online.)
Soame Jenyns (1704-1787) was an esteemed writer and politician who announced his conversion from deism to a kind of Jesus-centered deism in 1776. He said the purity of Christianity’s moral doctrine proved it was a divine revelation, but he did not think the New Testament itself was a divine revelation. An introduction to his deist ideas is A View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion, 3rd ed. (London, 1776), 115-33.
Francis Lodwick (1619-94) was a merchant and member of the Royal Society. He did not publish his religious manuscripts, but they were published in the book On Language, Theology and Utopia, edited by Felicity Henderson and William Poole (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2011). Lodwick believed Jesus was sent by God to remind people of the truths of natural religion. The best introduction to his deist ideas are pages 171-99, 209-15, 243-5, 270-8 of this book.
Doctor Lyons (fl. 1720s) was a physician and author. He read the early philosophical work of young Ben Franklin, and they became friends. Lyons was a Pythagorean. The best introduction to his religious ideas is his The Infallibility of Human Judgment, its Dignity and Excellency, 5th ed. (London, 1725), 9-18, 29-35, 77-81, 174-82, 233-5.
Allan Macleod (d. 1805) was born in Scotland, but he spent most of his life in England as a political writer and editor. An introduction to his deist ideas is The Bishop of Landaff’s “Apology for the Bible” Examined (London, 1796), 251-283.
Conyers Middleton (1683-1750) was a professor at Cambridge University who caused a major controversy in the late 1740s over when Christian miracles ceased. He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the beginning twenty pages in “A Letter to Dr. Waterland” in The miscellaneous works of the late reverend and learned Conyers Middleton, vol. 2. The letter starts on page 181.
Misophenax (fl. 1762) was the pen name of the anonymous author of Christianity True Deism (London, 1762). He identified Christianity with deism. While he is unknown now, his book was reviewed favorably in two eighteenth-century English journals and a French one. The best introduction to his deist ideas is pages 35-81 of this book.
Thomas Morgan (d. 1743) was an independent minister who was dismissed for his unorthodox ideas. He then became a doctor to support himself. He described himself as a Christian deist. A good introduction to his ideas is the lasting 35 pages (pages 416-450) of his most important book, The Moral Philosopher.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was born to Quaker parents in England. After he went to America, his pamphlet “Common Sense” was instrumental in helping the Americans win the Revolutionary War. He despised Christianity and thought science proved deism was true. A good introduction to his ideas is the conclusion of his book The Age of Reason.
Samuel Parvish (fl. 1730s) was a bookseller. He thought many Christian doctrines were shown to be false if one examined them carefully. A good introduction to his ideas is his book An Inquiry into the Jewish and Christian Revelation (London, 1739), iii-vi, 1-30. (The character “Indus” represents his views)
James Pitt (fl. 1714-1755) wrote articles under the pen names of “Socrates” and “Publicola” for the London Journal in the late 1720s and early 1730s. He thought true Christianity was identical to Jesus’ original teachings. Pitt was widely read as
this newspaper was the most popular English newspaper of its time. The best introduction to his deist ideas are two articles in the London Journal: “An Essay on Original Primitive Christianity,” published on November 15, 1729, and “The Vindication of Lord Shaftesbury’s Writings, Continued,” published on June 17, 1732.
Rational Christian (fl. 1760s) was an otherwise unknown author of the book The Morality of the New Testament Digested Under Various Heads (London, 1765). He maintained that the Gospel was nothing more than a retelling of the religion of nature. The best introduction to his deist ideas are pages 1-39, 58-70 of this book.
Real Deist (fl. 1767) was the anonymous author of Thoughts on Miracles in General, and as They Relate to the Establishment of Christianity in Particular (London, 1767). He denied God ever worked miracles or made revelations. The best introduction to his ideas is pages 91-107 of this book.
M. Robles (fl. 1740s) was a Jewish stockbroker and lecturer on deist topics. He praised free-thinking in religious matters, disparaged superstition, and maintained God never acted immorally. The best introduction to his ideas is his pamphlet Bigotry, Superstition and Hypocrisy Worse than Atheism (London, 1742), 1-33
Shaftesbury (1671-1713) was an earl who was involved with politics but had to withdraw to private life for health reasons. He was tutored by John Locke, but his works were deeply influenced by Stoicism and Platonism. He was a natural religion deist who was sympathetic to Christianity. The best introduction to his ideas is section 3 (pages 256-280) of “The Moralists” in vol. 2 of his book Characteristicks.
Matthew Tindal (1653?-1733) was a fellow at Oxford University who converted to Catholicism for a short period. He was a natural religion deist who was sympathetic to Christianity. The classic statement of his ideas is Christianity as Old as the Creation. The first three chapters (pages 1-35) give a good summary of his views.
John Toland (1670-1722) was one of the best-known freethinkers of his day. He made his living as a writer and edited volumes of classic English political writers. He was a Christian-centered deist. A good introduction to his ideas is the preface (pages iii-xxxi) to Christianity not Mysterious.
John Trenchard (1662-1723) was a lawyer and in Ireland a commissioner of forfeited estates. He often wrote in partnership with Thomas Gordon. His political writings were very influential amongst the American colonists. He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the essay “In what only true religion consists” in the Independent Whig (pages 454-468). This essay has different dates and numbers assigned to it in different editions of the book. It is usually thought to have been written in January of 1721 and given numbered as essay LIII or LIV.
Thomas Tryon (1634-1703) was the major advocate of vegetarianism at the end of the seventeenth century. He was influenced by Neoplatonic and Pythagorean ideas, but he believed the only true religion was piety and morality. The best introduction to his deist ideas is “Of the Various Opinions in Religion,” in his book Tryon’s Letters, Domestick and Foreign (London, 1700), 61-3.
John Walker (1759-1830) was a writer and doctor. He is best known as the leading smallpox vaccinator in early nineteenth-century London, where he personally vaccinated tens of thousands of people. The best introduction to his religious ideas is chapter ten of John Epps, The Life of John Walker, M.D. (London, 1831). This chapter is a review of Walker’s religious views compiled from papers Walker left behind.
John Wilkes (1727-1797) was a radical member of parliament who was later elected lord mayor of London. The best introduction to his Christian-centered deism is in chapter four (pages 131-174), a chapter on Wilkes’ religious views with much material from his unpublished letters, written by John Sainsbury, John Wilkes: The Lives of a Libertine (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006).
David Williams (1738-1816) founded the Royal Literary Fund. He was a minister until he lost his job on account of his unorthodox ideas. He was a natural religion deist sympathetic to Christianity. The best introduction to his ideas is An apology for professing the religion of nature (London, 1789). (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online).
William Wollaston (1659-1724) was a schoolmaster who retired to write after he received a significant inheritance from a relative. He believed God providentially cared for people without ever doing miracles. An introduction to his deist ideas is his book The Religion of Nature Delineated (London, 1724), 103-125.
Probable Deists, Former Deists, and People Investigated to See if They were Deists
There were two groups of people who were highly likely to have been deists, but I did not include them in the above list because I could not find enough information about them.
The first group were four speakers at the Robinhood Society debating club, which was an extremely popular debating club in London in the middle of the eighteenth century. These four speakers were Mr. B**d**gt*n, Mr. C**d**l, Mr. Gr***s, and Richard M*C**L*Y. These speakers defended deism according to Francis Gentleman’s book The History of the Robinhood Society (London, 1764), 194, 181, 143, 181.
The second group of likely deists were four writers who praised other deists and their deist ideas. These four writers were Eustace Budgell, Martin Eagle, the anonymous author of A Vindication of the Memory of Mr. Chubb(London, 1747), and the anonymous reviewer of Misophenax’s book Christianity True Deism in The Monthly Review of July, 1762, pages 32-7. Because these eight people defended deism or praised deists, they were very likely to have been deists, but I could not be certain as I could not find enough information about them.
There were also five other people who, by their own admission, were deists for a period of time, but later recanted their deism. These five were Captain Wilson, James Lackington, Charles Gildon, William Godwin, and James Boswell.
There were many other thinkers whom their contemporaries or modern scholars considered deists. Some of these thinkers were not deists and others I could not find enough evidence to prove they were deists. These figures included Joseph Ames, John Asgill, Maurice Ashley, R. Bell, Thomas Bentley, Sir Brooke Boothby, Sir Thomas Browne, Thomas Burnet, Ephraim Chambers, John Clendon, Martin Clifford, Bernard Connor, John Gilbert Cooper, Henry Coventry, William Coward, John Craig, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Tinkler Duckett, Edward Evanson, Blencombe Fisher, Martin Folkes, Charles James Fox, John Fransham, Dr. Samuel Garth, Francis Glisson, Edmund Halley, Thomas Harriot, James Harris, Sedgwick Harrison, John Hawkesworth, John Hervey, Edmund Hickeringill, William Hodgson, Thomas Holcroft, William “Orientalist” Jones, William Kenrick, Thomas Lyttleton, Thomas Marryat, Frank Nicholls, William Nicholson, Dr. Thomas Pellet, Robert Pescod, Ambrose Philips, Francis Place, Mr. Reynolds, Sir Samuel Romilly, George Rous, William Skinner, Thomas Spence, Nicholas Stevens, John Stewart, Samuel Strutt, John Suckling, William Taylor, William Temple, John Thelwall, Samuel Thompson, John Tillard, and the unknown author of The Religion of Reason: Addressed to the Rising-Generation . . . his Son (London, 1754).
The deists often ridiculed and criticized their Christian contemporaries because the deists thought the clergy had perverted true religion through the clergy’s thirst for money and power. The Christian clergy were understandably very upset at this accusation. One response of the clergy was to call some thinkers who ridiculed or criticized them deists, even if these thinkers did not espouse natural religion. In particular, Thomas Woolston was often labeled a deist, as were Bernard Mandeville, and Henry Dodwell, Jr. But none of these thinkers advocated natural religion. If one reads Thomas Woolston’s works, he consistently claimed he was advocating the ancient Christianity of the Church Fathers.(See, for example, A Discourse on the Miracles of our Saviour, 4th ed. (London, 1728), 5-6.) Henry Dodwell Jr.’s one book, Christianity not Founded on Argument, advocates a form of what we now call evangelical Christianity. Bernard Mandeville’s most comprehensive theological work, Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness (London, 1720), advocated a form of theologically liberal Protestantism. If any of these three thinkers were stating their true beliefs, they were not deists. If they were not stating their true beliefs, we do not know what their true religious beliefs were. Therefore, I did not include them among the deists.