FERRAR (FARRER), John (c.1588-1657), of St. Sithes Lane, London; later of Little Gidding, Hunts.

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

b. c.1588, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Nicholas Ferrar, Skinner, of St. Sithes Lane and Mary, da. of Lawrence Woodnoth of Shavington, Cheshire; bro. of Nicholas*.1 educ. Enborne, Berks. (Robert Brooks) c.1598; travelled abroad (Hamburg, c.1612).2 m. (1) 16 Feb. 1613,3 Anne (d. 12 July 1613),4 da. of William Shepherd of Great Rollright, Oxon., s.p.;5 (2) 14 Feb. 1615,6 Bathsheba, da. of Israel Owen, Grocer, of London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.).7 suc. fa. 1620.8 d. 28 Sept. 1657.9

Offices Held

Freeman, Skinners’ Co. 1613;10 Merchant Adventurers by 1613;11 member, E.I. Co. 1614,12 Somers Is. Co. by 1618,13 cttee. Virg. Co. by 1618, dep. treas. 1619-22, auditor 1620-4.14

Commr. Virg. plantation 1631.15


Ferrar’s father, a London merchant, made his fortune from privateering in the war against Spain, and obtained a grant of arms in return for £300 lent to the Crown in 1588.16 Ferrar followed his father into business, becoming a Merchant Adventurer, and joining three new trading companies.17 His chief loyalty lay with the Virginia Company, of which his father was also an active member. In 1619, when the leader of the Company, Sir Thomas Smythe*, was ousted from office, Ferrar became deputy to the new treasurer, his ‘friend and familiar’ Sir Edwin Sandys*, and thereafter Company meetings were often held at the Ferrars’ house in St. Sithes Lane.18 On his father’s death in 1620, Ferrar inherited this property, and devoted himself entirely to the Company.19 He was commended by Sandys for his zeal in Virginia business, although the governor of the plantation, Sir George Yeardley, pointed out in June 1620 that Ferrar had under-estimated the amount of provisions needed for the colonists, who were on the verge of mutiny.20

It was doubtless to defend the Virginia Company’s interest that two leading members, Lord Paget and the earl of Southampton, procured Ferrar’s return to the third Stuart Parliament for Tamworth and Newtown. Ferrar opted for Tamworth on 6 Feb. 1621.21 His only committee appointment was for a bill concerning bankruptcy (13 March).22 When the treaty with Spain was debated on 13 Apr. he informed the House that the king had imposed 12d. per pound on Spanish tobacco, and restricted its import to his own farmers.23 Five days later he seconded the opposition of Sir Dudley Digges* to an immediate ban on all tobacco imports, pointing out that the Virginia colonists had at present no other means of livelihood, although it was hoped that in time they would produce the same commodities as the Baltic states.24 Ferrar was seriously ill during the summer, but on 1 Oct. Sandys was able to congratulate him on his recovery, ‘which raiseth in me a hope that God will not abandon Virginia, so long as he preserveth such an instrument for the good thereof’.25 He left no trace on the records of the autumn sitting.

The suspension in 1621 of the lottery that had funded the Company, the Indian massacre in 1622, and attacks on the Company charter in 1623 deprived Ferrar of any hope of profit from his investment.26 Both he and his brother Nicholas, who had succeeded him as deputy, were briefly placed under house arrest in May 1623 for slandering the 2nd earl of Warwick (Sir Robert Rich*) at a Company court.27 By 1624 his own affairs were seriously embroiled, and he claimed to have lost almost a quarter of his £13,000 capital.28 With his family he moved to Nicholas’s house at Little Gidding, which operated as a pious semi-monastic Protestant community. A visitor described John in the early 1630s as ‘a short, black-complexioned man, his apparel and hair so fashioned as made him show priest-like’.29 After his brother’s death in 1637 he inherited the Little Gidding estate, and maintained the way of life Nicholas had established there. He entertained the king in 1642 before fleeing into exile abroad during the Civil War.30 Little Gidding was sequestrated but Ferrar was able to recover the estate without composition, and in thanksgiving resolved to devote a twentieth of his income to charity.31 His last days were spent writing a biography of his brother, our chief source of information about the family.32 He died on 28 Sept. 1657 and was buried at Little Gidding.33 His son John succeeded him, but neither he nor any other member of the family entered Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: Virginia C.D. Moseley / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. D.R. Ransome, ‘John Ferrar of Little Gidding’, Recs. of Hunts. iii. 17; we are grateful to Dr. Ransome for commenting on an earlier draft.
  • 2. Ferrar Pprs. ed. B. Blackstone, 10; Ransome, 17.
  • 3. HALS, King’s Walden par. reg.
  • 4. P. Peckard, Mems. Nicholas Ferrar, 11.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. St. Olave’s, Hart Street (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlvi), 260.
  • 7. A.L. Maycock, Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, ped., opp. p. 322.
  • 8. C142/382/73.
  • 9. The Gen. n.s. xxvi. 68.
  • 10. Ransome, 17.
  • 11. Peckard, 11.
  • 12. CSP Col. E.I. 1613-16, p. 289.
  • 13. Rich Pprs.: Letters from Bermuda ed. V.A. Ives, 109, 132, 157.
  • 14. Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, i. 213, 227, 385, 473; ii. 30, 536.
  • 15. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 3, p. 192.
  • 16. Ransome, 16; Grantees of Arms ed. W.H. Rylands (Harl. Soc. lxvi), 86.
  • 17. T.K. Rabb, Enterprise and Empire, 290.
  • 18. Recs. Virg. Co. iii. 224.
  • 19. PROB 11/135, f. 255v.
  • 20. Recs. Virg. Co. iii. 298, 371.
  • 21. CJ, i. 510b.
  • 22. Ibid. 551b.
  • 23. CD 1621, iii. 293; iv. 227.
  • 24. Nicholas Procs. 1621, i. 271; CD 1621, iii. 10; v. 77.
  • 25. Recs. Virg. Co. iii. 509.
  • 26. Ibid. ii. 19, 31; iii. 513, 514, 516; iv. 76, 106-10.
  • 27. Ibid. ii. 433; HMC 8th Rep. ii. 45; APC, 1621-3, p. 498.
  • 28. Peckard, 167-8.
  • 29. Ibid. 287.
  • 30. Ibid. 227.
  • 31. Ferrar Papers, 302.
  • 32. Ibid. passim.
  • 33. Ransome, 24.