Thomas Shillitoe joined the Society of Friends as a young man. For this he was disowned by his father. He had a profound belief that his life was completely directed by divine guidance. He gave up working as a clerk in a banking-house in Lombard Street because conscience troubled him when he had to issue lottery tickets as part of his work.
In learning a new trade, shoemaking, to which he believed he was ‘directed’, he suffered financial hardship. The strain of this made him ill and on medical advice he left London and came to Tottenham, where his health improved and his business prospered. In 1779 he married Mary Pace. They had seven children. He was an active member of Tottenham Meeting. He was recorded a minister in 1790. His ministering took him all over the British Isles, to Europe and to North America. He visited drinking houses in Ireland and a notorious gang of outlaws in Bristol He spoke with George III, George IV, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and other heads of European states.
Thomas Shillitoe’s ministry
In 1806 Thomas Shillitoe retired from business, believing it right for him to devote himself entirely to ministry. His means were limited but his wants were few and his habit very simple and moderate. He was negligent in his dress, caring only for the purpose in mind. He walked for miles on his journeys, often labouring in fields and gardens as he went. He would walk thirty and forty miles a day and begin next day after just one night’s rest.
Thomas Shillitoe was a man of strong purpose. He was not put off by people’s position. He met and spoke with people from all backgrounds. His obvious sincerity and simplicity enabled him to gain audiences with royalty at home and abroad. He was a strong speaker who managed to arouse people from a state of indifference and unconcernedness.
His speeches frequently addressed his concerns regarding the observance of Sunday and legislation for temperance and morality.
“His watchfulness and circumspect conduct had, it is believed, a salutary influence among us” (quote from Testimony to Thomas Shillitoe).
During the last fifty years of his life Thomas Shillitoe was a vegetarian and teetotaller. He died in Tottenham in 1836. He was buried in the Friends Burial Ground behind the Meeting House.