Barker, Joseph

Born on 11 May 1806, he was the fourth son of WM clothiers at Bramley, near Leeds. Despite working long hours in the woollen mill, from early youth he had a hunger for knowledge. He joined the WM society in 1822, despite some reservations, and was helped in furthering his education by the itinerant Joseph Sutcliffe and by Joseph Hill, a teacher and local preacher. His formal education was confined to a few years at James Sigston's Academy in Leeds. He became a local preacher, but then, finding he could not accept WM views on the eternal sonship of Christ, joined the MNC and in 1828 became an itinerant. His views became steadily more liberal and radical; he became an enthusiastic teetotaller and in 1841 was expelled from the MNC for doctrinal unsoundness, including the rejection of infant baptism and the permanent observation of the Lord's Supper. A compulsive communicator, he published over 100 tracts and books and edited The Christian Investigator and Evangelical Reformer. His periodicals and lectures brought him immense popularity, so that his expulsion led to a damaging loss of members, ministers and chapels and the formation of the 'Christian Brethren'. He was, however, a poor organizer and many 'Barkerites' rejoined the MNC. Others followed him into Unitarianism. Following a visit to America in 1847, he attended the Chartist convention in 1848. By 1851, when he emigrated to Ohio, he was virtually a free-thinker. He returned to England in 1860 to edit the secularist weekly The National Reformer, but gradually reverted to orthodoxy and became a PM local preacher at Tunstall. Following his wife's death in 1871, his last years were spent in the USA. He died in Omaha on 15 September 1875.

  • J.T. Barker, The Life of Joseph Barker, written by himself (1880)
  • John T. Wilkinson, in History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 2 (1978) p.293
  • Michael Brook, 'Joseph Barker and The People', in Publications of the Thoresby Society, 46:3, pp.331-378
  • Stephen Roberts, 'Joseph Barker and the Radical Cause, 1848-1851', in Publications of the Thoresby Society, 2nd series, 1 pp.59-73
  • Timothy Larsen, 'Joseph Barker and Popular Biblical Criticism in the Nineteenth Century', in Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library, 82:1 (Spring 2000) pp.115-34
  • Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography
  • Oxford DNB