Wills, Thomas

Anglican clergyman and minister in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, born at Truro of Puritan lineage. Orphaned early in life, he was brought up by an aunt and came under the spiritual influence of George Conon, master at Truro Grammar School, and the Rev. Samuel Walker. Going up to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, he met a fellow Cornishman and evengelical, Thomas Haweis, through whom he came to an assured faith. Ordained deacon in 1762 and priest two years later, he became curate of St. Agnes and Perranzabuloe on the north coast of Cornwall. He resigned the latter charge in 1765, but stayed at St. Agnes until 1779. His ministry there, it was said, often saw the church 'filled from door to door'. He was said to bear quite a strong likeness to George Whitefield in both voice and appearance.

Visiting Bath in 1772 for the benefit of his health, he became acquainted with Selina Wheler, niece of Lady Huntingdon, and they were married in 1774. The Countess thought very highly of him and through her influence he left St. Agnes to engage full-time as chaplain and evangelist in her Connexion. Before leaving his parish he initiated the building of an independent chapel at Peterville, opened in in 1780 and supplied by preachers of the Connexion. Although he enjoyed a leading role in the Countess's work, travelling the country in its interests and serving as a minister at her Spa Fields Chapel in London, he fell into disfavour through some blunt criticism of her leadership, chiefly concerning Trevecka College, which he considered too expensive to run, and her plans to extend her influence to America in 1783 and to Brussels in 1786, which he believed to be ill-considered. Some unguarded comments on her 'senility', made in private correspondence, came to her knowledge and were so resented as to result in his summary dismissal in 1788. Having left the Church of England so that he could continue in her service when the Countess was forced to register as a Dissenter in 1780, he spent the rest of his active ministry as pastor of Silver Street chapel, Cheapside, before retiring to Cornwall. He is buried in St. Buryan churchyard.

  • Oxford DNB