ADAMS, Lawrence (-d.1645), of Totnes and Dartington, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

s. of William Adams of ?Totnes. m. (1) 1597 (with £400), Mary, da. of William Gould of Staverton, Devon and wid. of George Martyn, 1s. 1da.;1 (2) 17 Aug. 1615, Elizabeth Wise. bur. 23 June 1645.2 sig. Lawrens Adams.

Offices Held

‘Master’, Totnes by 1615-?d., mayor 1615-16, 1633-4.3


Adams belonged to a well-established Totnes merchant family, and made his living primarily by trading in cloth with France. In 1592, probably at the outset of his career, he was assessed for subsidy at £4 in goods, one of Totnes’ lower valuations.4 His marriage five years later was apparently a love match, the bride-to-be allegedly threatening to kill herself unless her father agreed to Adams’ demand for a larger dowry than was originally offered. However, this stratagem failed in the long term, as the marriage settlement had still not been fully honoured in 1604. By now Adams was living at Dartington, two miles from Totnes, but he continued to play an active role in the town’s affairs, and eventually moved back there.5 In September 1613 he delivered a letter of protest from the corporation to the earl of Northampton, in which it was claimed that the new French Company’s charter was being exploited by London merchants to monopolize the cross-Channel trade on which Totnes’ prosperity depended.6 Six months later Adams was elected to represent the borough in Parliament after the corporation rejected Northampton’s request to nominate one Member. He doubtless supported the Commons’ campaign against the French Company, which was led by the Plymouth Member, Sir William Strode, but he left no mark on the Parliament’s proceedings.7

During the 1610s Adams was one of Totnes’ more prominent merchants, not merely exporting cloth to France, but also trading in Newfoundland train oil and Mediterranean almonds.8 He served as mayor in 1615-16 and 1633-4, and during his second term obtained a legal opinion from the borough’s recorder that a statute of 1555 was still effective for excluding rural cloth merchants from the town’s markets.9 Although Adams was still active as a merchant in 1624, in later life he increasingly invested his profits in land.10 Already an old man when the Civil War broke out, he is not known to have taken sides. Adams died in June 1645, and was buried at Totnes. No will or grant of administration has been found. He was apparently the only member of his family to serve in Parliament.11

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: George Yerby / Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. REQ 2/405/59; Devon RO, Z15/30/1/1.
  • 2. Devon RO, Totnes par. reg.
  • 3. E. Windeatt, ‘Totnes Mayors’, Western Antiquary, x. 149; Reps. and Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxii. 115.
  • 4. REQ 2/417/118; E179/101/409, 421, 450; E190/938/11.
  • 5. REQ 2/405/59; E179/102/463.
  • 6. Devon RO, 1579A-O/16/32.
  • 7. Ibid. 1579A-O/12/5-6.
  • 8. E190/942/12; 190/944/2.
  • 9. Devon RO, 1579A-O/16/26.
  • 10. E190/945/10; E179/102/463; Devon RO, Z15/30/1/1.
  • 11. Devon RO, 1579A-O/17/30; Totnes par. reg.