Papers of Rev.Dr.George Benson

Scope and Content

Correspondence of George Benson

An extensive collection of letters of the Rev. George Benson.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Benson was born on 1 September 1699 at Great Salkend, Cumberland to Joseph Benson and his wife Isabel (nee Moorhouse). His grandfather was George Benson (1618-1692) an ejected minister and founder of a congregational church at Cockermouth. He was educated at the parish school, and from 1716 attended Thomas Dixon's academy at Whitehaven followed by the University of Glasgow between 1717 and 1721. In 1721 he moved to London where he lived with Edmund Calamy (1671-1782). He was ordained at Abingdon, Berkshire on 27 March 1723. Initially a Calvinist, he developed doubts about predestination, which he expressed in his publication The Doctrine of Predestination Review'd ... in a Letter to a Friend (1729) and responding to the disapproval of his parishioners resigned his post 1729, moving to King John's Court, Southwark. In 1740 he relocated to Crutched Friars, Poor Jewry Lane, London, retiring in 1762. Between 1740 and 1762 he was the manager of the Presbyterian Fund and from 1758 was a trustee of Dr. William's Trust.

Benson wrote extensively on theological subjects, notably his paraphrases of the epistles, inspired by the paraphrases of John Locke. He appended 'dissertations' to his paraphrases, some of which were later reproduced as tracts. He was a noted theological polemicist who was held in high regard by both Anglicans and dissenters. Among his notable polemical works are The Reasonableness of the Christian Religion as Delivered in the Scriptures (1743, 1746, 1759) and A Brief Account of Calvin's Burning of Servitus for an Heretic (first published in 1738), the latter being a call for the free expression of ideas. He was awarded a DD by the University of Aberdeen in 1744, but denied a similar honour from the University of Glasgow because of his alleged Socinianism. The historian of Unitarianism, R.K. Webb suggests that the latter accusation was an exaggeration: 'it seems unlikely that Benson ever moved openly beyond his undoubted Arianism: the belief that Christ, while divine, was created and subordinate to God the Father'. In 1726 he married Elizabeth Hills, who died in 1740 and in 1742 he married Hannah Kettle. He did not have any children. He died on 6 April 1762 in London.


The letters have been sorted and organised into bundles. It is not known who did the organising or whether it represents the original order. Some of the bundles represent correspondence from a particular individual, other bundles seem to represent the way the collection was stored in the cupboards and shelves of the Unitarian College.

Each bundle is accompanied by a typed list of the letters with the cupboard reference in pencil at the top of the list. This order has been maintained and the pencil reference number listed as 'Former Reference'. However the letters have been listed below in a single numerical sequence.

The bundles were arranged as follows:

  • Benson Collection 8 (30 letters)
  • Benson Collection 7 (37 letters)
  • Benson Collection 6 (33 letters)
  • Benson Collection 5 (22 letters)
  • Benson Collection 4 (23 letters)
  • Benson Collection General (1 invitation and 67 letters)
  • Benson Collection 3 (29 letters)
  • Benson Collection 2 (31 letters)
  • Benson Collection 1 (27 letters)
  • Miscellaneous Letters (19 letters)


R.K. Webb, 'Benson, George (1699-1762)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

W. Turner, Lives of Eminent Unitarians Vol.1 (London: Unitarian Association, 1840).