Burneyeat (Burnyeat), John (1631–90), quaker missionary, was born in Crabtreebeck, Cumberland. A pious, industrious farmer, he attended a meeting held by George Fox in 1653 and afterwards joined the Society of Friends. Following his conversion, he continued to farm and did not begin to play an active role in the missionary work of the society until 1657. In late 1657 he was imprisoned in Carlisle and, after an unsuccessful attempt to spread quakerism in Scotland, he made the first of many visits to Ireland in 1659. There he worked closely with fellow quaker Robert Lodge, most notably in Galway city, where the society continued to maintain a presence into the 1670s, despite being expelled during the early restoration period. Burneyeat was imprisoned several times and, on one occasion, he almost starved while crossing uninhabited areas of the country.
In 1664 he sailed from Galway to Barbados and from there travelled throughout Maryland, Virginia and New England, where he endeavoured to combat the schismatic influence of John Perrot (qv), the Irish quaker missionary and opponent of George Fox. Burneyeat went back to Ireland and England in 1667 and was in Dublin in 1669, reportedly preaching at a meeting attended by William Penn (qv). He returned to America in 1670, where he made preparations for George Fox's proposed visit to the colonies in 1671. Partly through the efforts of Burneyeat, Fox was enthusiastically welcomed by American quakers and the two men, accompanied by several Friends and an Indian guide, travelled extensively throughout New England. In Rhode Island, however, the colony's elderly founder, Roger Williams, accused the quakers of heresy, resulting in a response from Burneyeat and Fox, which was widely read, entitled A New England fire-brand quenched (1678).
Back in Ireland in 1673, Burneyeat attended most of the quaker meetings in the country between May and December of that year, before travelling to oversee quaker societies in England and Wales. There he played a leading role in the unsuccessful attempt to heal the breach caused by the Wilkinson–Story controversy in relation to quaker discipline. He returned to settle in Dublin in 1683, at a time when quakers were coming under increasing pressure following the discovery of the Rye House plot. He worked closely with Anthony Sharp (qv), a leading quaker merchant in the city, and both men were arrested when magistrates moved against the society's religious meetings in August 1683. Although no charges were formally brought against him, Burneyeat remained in prison for two months; his unconditional release was secured in October by the earl of Arran (qv), then lord deputy.
When James II (qv) succeeded to the throne in 1685, Irish quakers benefited from the king's general policy of indulgence, which opened the way for their admission to civic corporations. Burneyeat and John Watson prepared a statement of advice to quaker office-holders, recommending they refrain from using words, customs, gestures or wearing clothes that were ‘not agreeable to the simplicity of the truth, nor doth answer the plainness of their holy profession’ (Greaves, God's other children, 140). When political tensions increased in 1688, Burneyeat contemplated fleeing to England but finally decided to remain in Ireland, where he died in 1690.
As one of the earliest quaker missionaries in Ireland, Burneyeat was, according to early quaker records, ‘serviceable in settling good order and discipline in many places’ (Wigham, 28). In addition to A New England fire-brand quenched, his publications include An epistle from John Burneyeat to Friends in Pennsylvania (1686); The holy truth and its professions defended (1688), written with John Watson in response to accusations made by Lawrence Potts; and The innocency of the Christian quakers manifested (1688), written in association with Amos Strettell, refuting the criticism of James Barry, a Dublin congregationalist minister. A collection of Burneyeat's works and testimonies, The truth exalted in the writings of that eminent and faithful servant of Christ, John Burnyeat, was published posthumously in 1691. In 1683 he married Elizabeth Maine, formerly Mason (d. 1688) and the couple had one son, Jonathan, himself a quaker minister from the age of twelve. Burneyeat continued to preach in Ireland, England and Scotland until his death at the house of John Watson of Kilconner, Co. Carlow, on 11 July 1690. He was interred in the New Garden burial ground, near Dublin.