Drew, Samuel Thomas

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Cornish shoemaker, local preacher and author, known as 'the Cornish metaphysician', he was born in St Austell on 3 March 1765, the son of Jacob Drew, one of Whitefield's converts. From the age of 7 he worked in the fields and then as an apprentice shoemaker at St. Blazey. He also became involved in smuggling. In January 1785 he became a shoemaker at St. Austell and came under the influence of the Methodists, especially that of Adam Clarke, for whom he later acted as secretary. He became a local preacher in 1788, surviving charges of heresy. The vicar of Ruan Lanihorne, John Whitaker, supported and encouraged him.

The first Methodist layman to make a name in philosophy, he had the confidence to reply to Thomas Paine's Age of Reason and Polwhele's Anecdotes of Methodism. There followed Essays on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Human Soul (1802), the Identity and Resurrection of the Human Body (1809) and the Being and Attributes of Deity (1811). He also wrote a history of Cornwall (begun by F. Hitchens) and an indifferent life of Thomas Coke, some of whose writings he had ghosted. He edited the Imperial Magazine and was superintendent of the Caxton Press, first in Liverpool, then in London. Dubbed the 'English Plato', he was granted an MA at Aberdeen in 1824 and offered the Chair of Moral Philosophy at London. He died at Helston on 29 March 1833.


'Very early in the year 1805 I became more particularly acquainted with Dr. Coke than I had been before. At that time his Commentary on the Bible was verging towards a close, and his History of the West Indies had acquired an embodied form. Being constantly engaged in soliciting support for the missions, and finding their claims upon his exertions to increase daily, he lodged some papers in my hands, requesting me to examine them with attention, to notice defects, to expunge redundancies, and to give, on some occasions, a new feature of expression. All this was accordingly done; and in many instances my recommendations were fully adopted. This intercourse subsisted for some years; and I received from Dr. Coke a pecuniary remuneration, in proportion to the time that was expended in his service…

'In the year 1811 … he proposed to incorporate my name with his own; but in the title pages of works that had already appeared, this could not be done. In such, however, as were then designed to be published, it is probable that this incorporation would have taken place, if a change in the mode of his proceedings had not rendered it impracticable, by the disposing of his works to the Conference and consequently by suspending the plans which he had in contemplation.'

Samuel Drew, Life of Dr. Coke (1817) pp.370-2

  • Jacob H. Drew, The Life, Character and Literary Labours of Samuel Drew, A.M. (1834)
  • Jacob H. Drew, Samuel Drew, the Self-taught Cornishman (1861)
  • G.J. Stevenson, Methodist Worthies (1884-1886), 4 pp.557-60
  • John T.Wilkinson, Samuel Drew (Cornish Methodist Historical Association, 1963)
  • Oxford DNB