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Samuel Birks (1725-1825)

Samuel Birks was the son of Samuel Birks senior of Thorpe Hesley near Rotherham in Yorkshire.  Samuel had the unusual distinction of hearing John Wesley preach as early as 1733 when at the age of seven, he went with his father to hear John deliver the sermon at Wentworth Parish Church - John had accompanied Samuel Wesley senior on a visit to the nearby seat of the Marquis of Rockingham. This marked the commencement of an involvement with the Wesleys and Methodism that was to last for over ninety years.

Samuel's father attended the preaching of the independent evangelist David Taylor in 1738 and afterwards despatched his twelve year old son to escort the preacher to Thorpe Hesley, an experience which Birks was fond of recalling in later years. Taylor's sermon led directly to the founding of a religious society in the village. The early Wesleyan itinerant John Nelson preached in Birks's house as early as 1741.

In 1743 Samuel Birks senior escorted John Wesley to Rotherham and Sheffield and the following year, Charles Wesley visited Thorpe Hesley, again accompanied by Samuel Birks senior. The small party was ambushed by a mob close to the village and were rescued by Samuel Birks junior who had been on his way to plough a nearby field; the stocky eighteen year old charged the rioters on horseback, giving his father and Wesley the opportunity to escape. It was said that later that day the young man attended the preaching in a very gleeful mood.

Birks remained intimately connected with Methodism for the rest of his long life and in the 1820s was able to provide the historian James Everett with valuable first-hand recollections of the early days of the movement in what became its heartland. Among the people with whom he was personally acquainted was the near-legendary Grace Murray - Birks was one of the small group in 1749 that witnessed her departure from Syke-House on the way to her wedding to John Bennet.

In addition to his involvement with Methodism in his native village, Birks played a significant role in the Rotherham society and was the first name on the list of trustees of Sheffield's Norfolk Street chapel in 1780.

Birks was married and the name Edmund Birks also appears in the list of Norfolk Street trustees, who may be a son or another close relation.

He died 'in great peace' in his home village at the age of ninety-nine years and six months on August 11th 1825.

Source: Samuel J. Russell, Historical Notes of Wesleyan Methodism in Rotherham Circuit (1910), pp.1-25-7, and A Biographical Dictionary of 18th century Methodism by Samuel Rogal (Edwin Mellen Press 1997), History of Norfolk Street Wesleyan Chapel and Wesleyan Methodism in Sheffield by Revd. T. Alexander Seed (Sheffield Wesleyan Mission, 1907), 49, Methodist Magazine 1825, 718 and Historical Sketches of Wesleyan Methodism in Sheffield and its vicinity by James Everett (Sheffield, 1823), 4, 6-8, 14, 36, 40, 43, 47-48, 60, 79 etc

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