Peter Annet was a freethinker writer – one of 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.
Originally from Liverpool, he 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). He was dismissed in 1739 for publishing a freethought pamphlet Judging for Ourselves.
Other writings included Resurrection of Jesus (1744) and Supernaturals Examined (1747) questioning the reality of biblical miracles. A History of the Man after God’s own Heart (1761) is attributed to him, though also to one John Noorthouck. It is said to have inspired Voltaire‘s Saul.
The cause of his imprisonment, his periodical The Free Inquirer which ran for at least nine issues was the first journal of its kind, earlier such publications being pamphlets. It was later published in book form as A Collection of the Tracts of a certain Free Enquirer.
He also invented a system of shorthand. After his release he kept a small school in Lambeth, one of his pupils being James Stephen (1758-1832), who became master in Chancery.