Thomas Capiter of Grimsby c1714-1772

Thomas Capiter was by all accounts one of the founding fathers of Methodism in Grimsby. He was born around 1714 but his origins are obscure. There is a family tradition that his unusual surname is Dutch and that the family came to England with William of Orange. He is said to have served as a purser in the Royal Navy, probably during the War of the Austrian Succession (1739 – 47) .

When he retired from the Navy he took up farming in the parish of Hunberston, near Cleethorpes and later moved to The Nunn in Grimsby. On 2nd October 1745 he married Elizabeth Holland at Irby on Humber. The marriage was childless and Elizabeth died in 1763 and was buried at Grimsby on 25 March. Her headstone read:

In memory of Elizabeth, the wife of Thomas Capiter, who departed this life March ye 23rd 1763 aged 63 years.

Farewell dear wife and must it now be so

I must prepare, to eternity I must go

And if while on earth our fellowship was so sweet

What must it be when round the throne we meet[1]

Four months later, on 21 July, Thomas married Ann Dawber by licence at Waddingham St Mary. He was decribed as a gentleman aged 47 and she as a spinster aged 24[2]  The witnesses were Richard Fowler and Richard Fowler jr. Their only child Thomas was baptised at Grimsby on 5th October 1765.

According to his obituarist Thomas Capiter was converted when he was about eighteen (ie c1732) and was one of the most zealous young men in the country[3]. He joined the Methodist Society at Grimsby around 1746[4] and was “of great service to the infant cause”. It was largely through his exertions that the first chapel was built in Grimsby. It stood in Blows Yard. John Wesley preached  in “the new room which they have just finished”  on 16th July 1757 although it was not registered as a dissenters’ meeting house until 27th October 1759[5]. At the end of the nineteenth century a volume entitled “Disbursements for Building a Society Room at Grimsby” which ran from 1756 to 1761 and was thought to be in Thomas Capiter’s handwriting was owned by a George Stampe[6].

Thomas was a class leader in the Grimsby society. A membership list for 1770 list him as the leader of the first class, of which a member was John Dawber (a relative of Thomas‘s s wife?) and Ann Capiter was in the second female class. Thomas was dead by 1775,the date of the next list, but Ann continued to be listed to 1784 when she was described as a gentlewoman living in Old Church  Street. John Dawber was present in 1775-6  but gone by 1780.[7]

Thomas became and enthusiastic preacher although his enthusiasm seems to have been greater than his talent. Rhodes states that “though his gifts were not very extensive he spoke in such lively manner as frequently made a deep impression on his hearers”[8]. Whatever his limitations as a preacher Thomas was nevertheless put in the stocks for his pains on several occasions and once he was tarred and feathered. The vicar of Grimsby’s hostility was such that he had a press gang take him aboard a man of war HMS Caroline, which was lying in Grimsby Roads. It was his good fortune to be recognised by some of his former shipmates, who knew he had received an honourable discharge at the end of his earlier service, and the captain, Sir Richard Girlandson, ordered him to be put ashore[9].

The story is told of a Mr Bell who so opposed his wife’s attachment to Methodism that he was in the habit of locking her in the house, assaulting her, and bringing their children to Methodist meetings dressed in rags in order to embarrass her. Once when Thomas Capiter was preaching at Thurnscoe, a village near Grimsby, Bell brought his wife to the meeting and told the preacher that since he (Bell) could not keep her from Methodist meeting he (Capiter) might as well keep her.

The preacher embraced the opportunity of addressing Mr Bell on the impropriety of his conduct, and the dangerous situation he was in as a sinner against God, and exhorted him to flee from the  wrath to come. It was a good word in season, he became a  changed man from that time[10].

In 1753 John Wesley himself had cause to write to Thomas to remind him of the rule that no preacher should preach more than twice in one day except on Sundays and special occasions when three times is permitted.  “We know nature cannot long bear the preaching oftener than this, and therefore to do it is a degree of self murder. Those of our preachers who would not follow this advice have all repented when it was too late”. He also emphasised that preachers should not preach for above an hour at a time and that they should not speak louder “than the number of hearers requires”[11].

On 10th December 1771 Thomas made his will. And he died on 16th February of the next year. These dates correspond closely with his obituarist’s statement that “he was about eleven weeks ill.” He goes on to state

“In this whole affliction he never appeared to have the least doubt of his acceptance with God nor even shewed the least impatience. I visited him several times, and found him quite resigned and very happy.

As death approached his joys increased and he seemed like a celestial inhabitant, full of life, love, joy, and praise. He exhorted those who came near him, in a very moving manner, to prepare for a better world. Indeed he was so filled with the divine life that his very countenance shone, which all who came near him could not but behold! Having called for his wife he took leave of her in a very affectionate manner; exhorting her to live to God …. close to the Society. And finding God had made her willing to resign him he seemed quite in an extasy (sic); they then parted with a tender smile well knowing they should soon meet again.

He then spoke to the family, one by one, and gave them very wholesome counsels and offered up fervent prayers for them. He also had some of the most serious people in the Society sent for, that hey might sing and rejoice with him.”[12]

He was buried at Grimsby on 19th under a headstone which read:

My dear companion gone over the stream before

And lo I hasten  unto that heavenly shore

That happy sharer of my heart  I there again shall find

Where time and death can never part our souls in Jesus joined[13]


[1] C H Smith, Memorials and headstones in St James’ Church and churchyard, p, 179, Grimsby 1928

[2] Lincoln marriage licences, 130

[3] Rhodes, Benjamin, An account of the death of Mr T Cappiter (sic), Arminian Magazine, May 1785. Rhodes was a Methodist minister in Grimsby at the time. He wrote the obituary on 26th February 1772.

[4] Lester, George, Grimsby Methodism

[5] Lester, George, Grimsby Methodism

[6] K, H, “Grimsby and the beginnings of its Methodism“, Methodist Recorder, 8 December 1898

[7] Grimby Class books  1769, 1774 – 6, 1780 – 4

[8] Rhodes, op cit

[9] Baker, Frank, The Story Cleethorpes and the contribution of Methodism, Cleethorpes, 1953

[10] Hocken, Joshua, A brief history of Wesleyan Methodism in the Grimsby Circuit, 1839

[11] Letters of John  Wesley, III 97

[12] Rhodes, op cit

[13] C H Smith, Memorials and headstones in St James’ Church and churchyard, p. 180, Grimsby 1928

In compiling this account of the life of Thomas Capiter I have drawn heavily on notes which were made by father, the late Dr JE Oxley, at a time when it was believed that Thomas Capiter was an ancestor. The grounds for this belief was a  tree compiled by a family member in the early 1900s. Although well provided with dates in other respects the tree was silent (diplomatically?) on the date when Thomas’s granddaughter, Mary Ann, married our ancestor, James Paddison Squire. It was only when resources became available online that we discovered that the wedding took place in Hull, well away from their native town of Grimsby, almost two years after the baptism of our ancestor Edwin Squire! This question  and the grounds for thinking that Mary Ann may have been Edwin’s mother nevertheless, will be considered in my account of Edwin‘s life which is at present in the early stages. GW Oxley


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