Peter Annet

1693 - 18 January 1769

Originally from Liverpool, Peter Annet was a schoolmaster in London, and spoke as a radical deist and freethinker in a debating society that met at the Robin Hood and Little John pub, Butcher Row, Poplar (no longer in existence).

Annet was very hostile to the clergy, being a thoroughgoing deist, and his arguments are said to be forcible but to lack refinement. In 1739 he wrote and published a pamphlet, Judging for Ourselves, or Freethinking the Great Duty of Religion, a strong criticism of Christianity. For writing this and similar pamphlets, he lost his teaching position.

Peter Annet's periodical The Free Inquirer which ran for at least nine issues is reckoned to be the first freethought journal. Earlier publications, such as those of Jacob Ilive, being pamphlets. It was later published in book form as A Collection of the Tracts of a certain Free Enquirer.

When the Christian apologists substituted for the argument from miracles the argument from personal witness and the credibility of Biblical evidence, Annet, in his Resurrection of Jesus (1744), assailed the validity of such evidence, and first advanced the hypothesis of the illusory death of Jesus, suggesting also that possibly Paul should be regarded as the founder of a new religion. In Supernaturals Examined (1747) Annet roundly denies the possibility of miracles. Annet stands between the earlier philosophic deists and the later propagandists of Thomas Paine's school, and seems to have been the first freethought lecturer. [J. M. Robertson]

He was particularly critical of the character and reputation of King David. A work called A History of the Man after God's own Heart (1761) is attributed to him [also to John Noorthook]. In it he argued that a comparison of King George II with King David should be interpreted as an insult. The book is said to have inspired Voltaire's Saul.

Peter Annet is one among seven people listed in the Newgate Calendar as utterers of blasphemy and sedition. At the age of 68 in 1762 he was convicted at the King's Bench, Westminster, of blasphemous remarks on the five books of Moses and sentenced to Newgate prison for one month, and to be put in the pillories at Charing Cross and at the Royal Exchange, as well as being fined and sent to Bridewell Prison for one year's hard labour, and to pay further sureties for future good behaviour.

After his release he kept a small school in Lambeth. He also invented a system of shorthand and corresponded with Joseph Priestley.

Sources and Links

William McIlroy Foundations of Modern Humanism 1995.
Dictionary of National Biography written by Leslie Stephen.
Internet Archive Search Original Texts
The Free Enquirer> in Google Books (some pages)
Classics [Newgate calendar]
Britannica 1911