Edward Williams was born at Bodfari in the Vale of Clwyd on 14 November 1750 and died in Rotherham, Yorkshire on 9 March 1813. In his early life and education the religious tensions of the time are clearly displayed. His parents, staunch Anglicans, sent him first, in 1761, to the school at St Asaph with a view on holy orders, and then, in 1766, to the school at Caerwys with a legal career in mind. Disinclined towards either profession, he worked for a period on the parental farm during which time he heard, and was impressed by, the preaching of the Methodist revivalist cleric, Daniel Rowland of Llangeitho. Though attracted by the zeal of the Methodists, and to some extent influenced by Robert Llwyd, the so-called ‘father of Methodism’ in the Vale of Clwyd, his conviction that the intellect was important and needed to be nurtured allowed him to be persuaded to enter the Anglican Church with a view to studying at Oxford University. He came under the tutelage of David Ellis, the curate of Derwen near Corwen, again with a view to ordination, but he was dissuaded from this route a second time, having witnessed the debauched behaviour of a group of Anglican ordinands and, as a result, he was lost to Anglicanism and never reached Oxford. At home in neither Anglicanism nor Methodism, he finally adopted the Old Dissent with its emphasis on a scholarly ministry through the good offices of Daniel Lloyd, the Independent minister at Denbigh. In 1771 he entered the Abergavenny Academy with a view to becoming a dissenting minister. Possessed of a serious disposition, Williams's period at the Academy was characterized by discipline, personal piety and earnest application to study, aspects that would typify the rest of his ministry. At this time he studied the work of the Cambridge Platonists, particularly Theophilus Gale, Ralph Cudworth and William Wollaston, whose unifying of rational thought with a mystical tendency appealed to Williams's pious young mind. He was ordained in 1775 having been called to minister to the church in Ross on Wye. He married Mary Llewellyn in 1777, but she predeceased him in 1795. In the same year that he married his first wife Williams removed to Oswestry where, in 1781, he began to teach students under the patronage of Willielma Maxwell, Lady Glenorchy. In the following year he was approached to head the Abergavenny Academy, a request to which he conditionally acceded, providing that the Academy was removed to Oswestry. Such was the Congregational Fund Board's desire to have Williams as Principal that they concurred with his request despite the opposition of his predecessor, Benjamin Davies, who had been appointed to the Principal's post at Homerton Academy. Williams combined teaching with pastoral work until 1791 when he was called to Carr's Lane Church in Birmingham. Never completely at home there, he was easily persuaded, in 1795, to take charge of the Independent Academy at Rotherham and to pastor the church at Masborough. Also in that year he was involved in establishing the London Missionary Society, and in 1796 he married Jane Yeomans of Worcester. Though committed to the Independent way, he supported the early moves made to establish a Congregational union. He remained in Rotherham until his death.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.