Old Meeting House Congregational Church (1643)

The Best Hidden Church in Norwich

Joshua Lincoln (1652 - 1742)

The following account is of the life and family of Joshua Lincoln, who is commemorated with his wife on a grave slab at the back of the Old Meeting House in Colegate, Norwich. The account is the result of family research carried out by Gary Colquhoun in Melbourne, Australia and Helen Wolvey, of St Albans, Herts, who are Joshua’s 7 x great grandchildren. Joshua’s and Esther’s epitaph runs as follows:


Here lieth ye Body of Esther the
Loving and much Beloved wife of
Who departed this life ye 24 of April
1724  Aged 61

Happy the Dust which fills this Urn
Untill her much loved Lord’s return
For when his Trumpet shakes ye skies
Her Christ shall with her Rise.

Here also lieth the Body of
Who died the 3 of April 1742
Aged 90 years

Here also lieth the Body of SARAH
Their Daughter the Loving and Beloved
She departed this life March 5 1742
Aged 51 years

Tis here her mortal Path the Body Rest
Her nobler Path unto Grace we trust is Blest

Joshua Lincoln (or Lincolne, the surname is spelt variously) was born in about 1652, probably in Norfolk. His parentage is unknown and there are no birth records for him. He worked as a worsted weaver and lived in or around Colegate in Norwich.

On 25 April 1681, Joshua married Hester or Esther Yestis in St Stephen’s Church in Norwich. He was described as “a single man of St George’s Colegate” and Esther was a “single woman of St Michael at Thorn, Norwich”. Her surname, Yestis, is unusual and she may have come from a Dutch or Flemish family of weavers. Her family was large and the name Abraham was common for sons in the family. She had a brother, Abraham Yestis, who was a worsted weaver of Tombland, Norwich.

Joshua was a Dissenter who worshipped at the Old Meeting House in Colegate. A document compiled in 1749 lists the members of the church; after the 2 Pastors of the time, Abraham Tozer and Samuel Wood, are the names of 4 Deacons – John Dawson, John Hensman, Joshua Lincolne and William Patting. The first 3 are described as “dead”. The men and women of the congregation are listed separately and Esther Lincolne’s name appears later.

In the Register of Duties paid for Apprentice’s Indentures, Joshua Lincolne of Norwich, worsted weaver, took on an apprentice in March 1716 named Sam Baldwin, the son of a London shoemaker.

In 1723, Joshua’s name appears as a Freeman of the City of Norwich; this could have either been him or his son, Joshua Lincolne.

Joshua and Hester/Esther proceeded to have 11 or 12 children, 10 girls and only 2 sons, who were all christened at St George’s Church, Colegate.  This was the law of the time as the Dissenting churches were not allowed to officially marry people or baptise children. Of their 12 children, only 6 grew into adulthood and married:

  • Martha born 1682, married Simeon Waller
  • Anne born 1689, married William Woolner in the Cathedral at Norwich
  • Sarah born 1691, married John Allen, buried with her parents 1742
  • Hannah born 1694, married Joseph Snelling
  • Joshua born 1688, married Sarah Leeds at Heigham (direct line of descent to me)
  • Abraham born 1695, married Hannah Bradford in London. (** see below)

Joshua Lincoln lived to the ripe old age of 90. He had been married to Esther for 42 years and was a widower for 18 years. Sadly his daughter Sarah predeceased him by a month. He seems to have been fairly successful as a weaver and was possibly made a Freeman of the City. His gravestone in the Old Meeting House bears testament to him, his beloved wife and daughter, and to his religious faith.

His first son, Joshua, was born in 1688 and married Sarah Leeds in Heigham in 1713. The records for this Joshua are scanty and can be confused with those of his father, but he does not seem to have followed his father’s trade but became a saddler and set up in business in Beccles, where he took on apprentices in 1711 and in 1720. At some point he moved back into Norwich and seems to have branched out in business; in his will he leaves “all my working utensils belonging to the Convoying Business” to his older son, yet another Joshua. In 1756 Joshua subscribed to a religious publication, ‘Zarah, that is Christianity before Judaism’ produced by Revd. Francis Fayerman of Geldeston.

Joshua’s wife Sarah died in 1753, whereupon he drew up a new will leaving all his estate to his children and requesting that he be buried “as near to my dear wife in the Meeting Ground as convenience will permit”. Presumably both Sarah and Joshua lie in the burial ground at the back of the Old Meeting House. Joshua died in 1765, leaving 3 children:

  • Esther, born in 1720, who married John Hensman in 1758 at St George’s Colegate
  • Joshua, born in 1722 who married Rebecca Hensman in 1756 at St George’s
  • William, born 1728, who married Rebecca Plaisted at Worlingham near Beccles in 1751 (direct line of descent to me).

The name Hensman appears among the 4 Deacons of the Old Meeting House in the list of 1749. Esther and Joshua appear to have married a brother and sister, from a family of Dissenters who also attended the Meeting House with the Lincolnes.

Their brother William Lincolne was left “£140 and no more on consideration of the great Expence I have been at in his Education” in his father’s will. Dissenters were barred from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, but William had been educated to a high degree at the Dissenting Academy in Northampton, run by Dr. Philip Doddridge, and was appointed as the Dissenting minister at Beccles in 1750 at the age of 22. In 1757 William became the Pastor of the Presbyterian congregation at Bury St Edmunds and served there for 35 years until his death in 1792.

A letter from Dr. Doddridge survives in my possession, written on 4th July 1749 to William’s father, Joshua Lincolne. In it Dr. Doddridge expresses his great satisfaction with William’s progress and in particular his preaching skills:

 “I never parted with your good son before with so much sorrow and yet so much joy. Much does it grieve me to think how probable it is I may see him no more as a member of my family; how much does it rejoice me to see how well he has improved his time, how abundantly God hath prospered his studies … I will not say much of his preaching lest I injure him by raising too high an expectation; but I bless God for what I heard from him on Lord’s day morning and my people were exceedingly pleased with it.”

The letter also shows the warmth of feeling that existed between Dr. Doddridge and the congregation at Norwich. He not only thanks Joshua and Sarah Lincoln for their hospitality and friendship, but also “Mr Wood and Mr Joyce, May Balderson and his brother, Mr Hensman and Mr Dawson, with the dear remains of Mr Scott’s family.”

** Joshua Lincoln’s son Abraham was probably apprenticed to a mercer in Stepney, London, because that is where he met his wife and seems to have lived for several years. However, he returned to Norwich and lived in St Andrew’s parish. He was described as a ‘milliner’ on his son’s baptismal register. He died in 1757, leaving everything to his wife Hannah Bradford and any surviving children. The ‘Norwich Mercury’ of 19 February 1757 described him as “a considerable silk mercer of St Andrew’s”.

His son, another Abraham Lincolne, was baptised on January 6th 1720 at St Andrew’s Church by John Brooke. This Abraham was also a silk mercer who spent most of his working life in London and became quite rich, but retired back to Norwich. He married twice, but only his son survived him. He died in Norwich in 1798 and there is a commemorative tablet to him, and his little daughter Hannah, in St Andrew’s church in Norwich.

His only son, another Abraham Lincolne, was born 1765 in Spitalfields, London, carried on his father’s business and became extremely wealthy. He never married but lived in Highbury Place, Islington, where he amassed a large library and a collection of 2000 shells. He died in 1848 and left generous bequests to dozens of his Lincolne cousins, as well as £20,000 and his house to Anna Sewell, a distant cousin who had acted as his housekeeper for 30 years. His shell collection eventually ended up in Salford Museum.

As far as we can tell, the Abraham Lincolnes described here are no relation to the US President Abraham Lincoln. The president’s forebears seem to have come from Hingham in Norfolk. As we do not know anything about the original Joshua Lincoln’s parentage or where he came from, we cannot claim any family links with the president. The Biblical name Abraham was commonly used in religious families and we know that in the family of Joshua’s wife, Esther Yestis, the name crops up several times in each generation. The very last Abraham Lincolne in the family was born in Witham, Essex in 1816, was brought up in Halesworth, Suffolk and emigrated to Australia aged 20 where he farmed cattle.

©Helen Wolvey 2015

Joshua Lincoln

Portrait of Joshua Lincoln

Letter from Philip Doddridge to Joshua Lincoln

Please click the links below to view the files relating to the letter dated 4th July 1749.

The original letter from Doddridge

A transcript of the letter written by Doddridge to Joshua Lincoln