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Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century


Philip Alexander Bruce, 1910






























Early Religious Spirit


ALTHOUGH the first settlement of Virginia had its principal motive in the practical commercial objects always so powerfully influencing the English mind, yet there is no reason to think that the laymen who set that memorable enterprise on foot, as well as the clergymen who encouraged it, were not deeply sensible of the religious aspect of so great an action.


The burning ambition of Columbus was to find a western waterway to the East, but, as is so well known, he never lost sight of the glory that would fall to his lot should he carry the Faith further than it had ever before gone. No such religious ardor as this colored the hopes of the intrepid adventurers who founded Jamestown; but back of all their thirst of gold and trade calculations, there existed a spirit that was eager to extend to the savage inhabitants of the new land all the blessings of the Christian Belief. In the royal instructions for the government of Virginia accompanying the letters of 1606, the President and Council were strictly enjoined to see to it that the "word and service of God were preached, planted, and used" among the Indians residing within the limits of the Colony; and in the same remarkable document, an order was given to the English settlers to treat the heathen people in those parts "with unfailing kindness, and to draw them to the true service and knowledge of God" by all proper and available means.  One of the principal reasons assigned for the grant of the first Virginia charter was that the great enterprise which it authorized to be undertaken would enhance the glory of the Divine Majesty by "propagating the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God." The True and Sincere Declaration, published in 1609, went so far as to say that the first object of the plantation was "to preach and baptize into the Christian religion, to recover out of the armes of the Devill, a number of poore and miserable soules wrapt up unto death in almost invincible ignorance."


There were among the early settlers many persons who had a most vivid and fervid conception of the religious duty the English owed to the savage people found in possession of the country. "What a crown of glory," exclaimed John Rolfe, "shall be set upon their heads who shall faithfully labour herein!"  "What is more excellent, more precious, more glorious," exclaims Ralph Hamor, with even greater enthusiasm, "than to convert a heathen nation from worshipping the devill to the saving knowledge and true worship of God in Jesus Christ?" Robert Johnson, a leading member of the London Company, made an eloquent appeal to every English subject to take part "in this high and acceptable work tending to advance and spread the Kingdom of Godand the knowledge of the Truth; so many millions of men and women, savage and blind, that never saw the true light before their eyes, to enlighten their minds and comfort their souls."  The same religious and philanthropic note was struck by the distinguished clergymen who delivered sermons for the advancement of the plantation. 


But perhaps the noblest of all the men who, in these early times, were interested in the Indians' spiritual welfare was George Thorpe, justly described as a "worthy, pious, and religious gentleman"; he came out to Virginia to serve as the manager of the college projected for the conversion and education of Indian youths; but his only reward for his untiring zeal was to perish miserably by a blow of the tomahawk in the massacre of 1622, when so many fell in the same treacherous attack.



There was one clergyman among the small number of persons
obtaining the grant of the charter of 1606, whilst in the list of those
receiving the charter of 1609, the names of one bishop and seven
clergymen appear. Among those subscribing to the company's
stock under the charter of 1612, were seven clergymen and one dean.



Proofs of Popular Religious Feeling


AS we have seen, one of the regulations enforced by Governor Dale was the observance of an annual fast day. Throughout the Seventeenth century, the reverent feeling of the people found expression in setting apart certain days of the year for humiliation or thanksgiving. The twenty-second of March, rendered forever memorable in the community's history by the first great massacre of the unsuspecting whites by the Indians, was commemorated by a solemn fast; and as late as 1643, the General Assembly required every clergyman in Virginia to give notice from his pulpit in ample time for this pious duty to be performed by each member of his congregation.


The following year, a second great massacre occurred; and so deep was the impression made on the popular mind by this catastrophe, that at first the last Wednesday in every month was set apart as a day of humiliation, to be wholly dedicated to prayers and sermons, in order that "God might avert his heavy judgments" from the unfortunate Colonists.  The General Assembly, having in 1668, adopted a resolution declaring that the numerous sins of the people were such as to provoke the anger of God and draw down his punishment unless they repented in time, appointed the twenty-seventh of August of that year a day of fasting; and all persons were warned to cease working, gambling, and drinking on that day, under the penalty of a heavy fine for disobedience.


Perhaps, under no circumstances did the religious spirit of the Virginians in the Seventeenth century find more remarkable expression than when they came to write their last wills. Some examples of this testamentary piety may be given. In 1656, Robert Dunster bequeathed "his soul to God and his sin to the Devil." Thomas Hunt, of Northampton county, was not content with such summary brevity: in his will, he asserted his great sorrow for his iniquities; his belief in their remission and forgiveness through the merits and sacrifices of Christ; his faith in the Resurrection and Final Judgment; and his absolute assurance of inheritance of eternal happiness in the life hereafter.


John Godfrey, of Rappahannock, was even more elaborate in his testamentary confessions: -- he began by declaring that he was in his senses only by "leave of Almighty God"; and that God alone knew how soon it would be before a mortal sickness would fall on him. Divine justice required that, for the "sins and wickedness daily enacted among us," all the people should be cut off without mercy; not, it appears, indirectly by the divine sword, as it were, but directly by the Indian tomahawk. "May the Lord, however," he writes, "not suffer us to come to such an untimely end as to be destroyed by the heathen, but we can expect no other, for without sound repentance from ye bottom of ye heart, there is small hope of grace." "This is to certify to all persons whom it may concern," he concludes, "that I bequeathe my soule to Almighty God that gave it to me unto ye meritorious death and passion of my blessed Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, that was crucified for my sins."


Col. John Stringer, the presiding justice of the Northampton county court, decided that he could not advance the cause of religion better than by an explicit confession of faith in his will. "I bequeathe my soul," he wrote, "to God, who first gave it to me, Father, Son and  Spirit in Unity and Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, who hath redeemed and preserved me by and through Jesus Christ, and also died for my sinns, and for the sinns of all peoples that truly believe in Him by unfeigned faith and repentance, for whose sake and loving kindness I hope to entertain everlasting life, wherefore, Dear Father, have mercy upon my soul."  be quoted.


In some, an anti-climax appears, which shows that the thought of death for the time being had dulled the makers' sense of humor; for instance, after a most fervent expression of repentance for sin and of hope of salvation, there will follow immediately the bequest of a "feather bed" or "female calf" to some near kinsman. John Emerson, having given directions in his will that his body should be "civilly and decently interred," and having prayed to God to "send us all a happy meetinge in his Kingdom," concluded as follows: "I desire that it may be remembered that my executors doe receive of Anne Sowerby my bolster belonging to this bed under me." 

Another testator, after a moving expression of his religious hopes closes with these words: "I give to Thomas Parramore one serge suit, and to Francis Parramore one yearling heifer."


George Jordan of Surry county, provided in his will for a pious observance which was to end only with the "destruction of the world"; he directed that, on the fifteenth day of every October, a sermon in his daughter's memory should be delivered in the house he had occupied in his lifetime; and when that day happened to fall on Sunday, the Holy communion was to be administered also. All the people residing in the neighbourhood were to be invited year after year, and entertained with an ample supply of meat and drink before they departed for their homes. Anticipating that the day's celebration in the manner thus laid down might fall into disuse as time went on, he prescribed in his will that whoever should come into possession of the land, "although it be a thousand generations hence," should forfeit it, should he fail to "perform this sermon and prayer." 


One of the most ordinary provisions of wills at this period was that the testators' children should be taught how to read the Bible.


Some of the Virginians were not content to confine their final expression of faith, or their last wishes to their wills; there is at least one very remarkable instance in which the tombstone was made to complement the last testament in this respect. Colonel Richard Cole, of Westmoreland county, who, there is reason to think, had led a somewhat wayward and rollicking life, ordered the following verse to be cut into the slab which was to cover his grave:


"Here lies Dick Cole, a grievous sinner,

That died a little before dinner,

Yet hoped in Heaven to find a place

To satiate his soul with grace."



Public Morals: Sabbath Observance


THE religious spirit of the people was reflected in a more conspicuous way still in the strict regulations adopted to ensure a proper observance of the Sabbath. I have already dwelt upon the provisions for church attendance which formed a part of the "Divine and Martial Laws" enforced during the administrations of Gates and Dale. During Argoll's administration, the penalty for failing to be present at divine services on Sunday and on a holiday, was, throughout the following night, to lie neck and heels in the Corp de Guard. Should the delinquent be a servant, the imprisonment was to continue for a week; but if a freeman, and it was his second offence, the punishment was to be prolonged for a whole month; whilst a third offence was to subject him to the like punishment for a year and a day.


The first General Assembly to meet in Virginia passed a law requiring of every citizen attendance at divine services on Sunday. The penalty imposed for a failure to be present was not at this time so severe as during the arbitrary rule of Argoll; if the delinquent was a freeman, he was to be compelled to pay three shillings for each offence, to be devoted to the church; and should he be a slave, he was to be sentenced to be whipped. 


The penalty of three shillings had by 1632, been reduced to one, but, in the course of that year, the General Assembly strictly enjoined all commanders, captains, and churchwardens to see to it that no person remained away from church without lawful excuse; and they were warned that, should they omit to perform their duty in this respect, they must "answer before God for such evils and plagues wherewith Almighty God may justly punish his people for neglecting so good and wholesome a law." That the statute was rigidly enforced is shown by the number of cases in which persons were summoned before the county courts to answer for what was described as "a breach of the Sabbath."


A violation of the Sabbath, it seems, might, in these early times, be committed in a great variety of ways, a few of which may be mentioned as examples. For instance, it was not lawful to go on a journey unless

with the view of attending divine services, or performing some duty not to be deferred; nor was the use of firearms allowed except to frighten marauding birds from the cornfields, or to resist an Indian attack.


In 1648, Oliver Segar, of new. Poquoson parish, in York, was presented by the grand jury for the offence of fishing on Sunday, which, in his case, was rendered more heinous by the fact that, on this particular day, the sacrament had been administered. As a punishment for his sacrilegious conduct, Segar was ordered by the county court to build a bridge across a swamp through which the road to the parish church had been laid off. A less expensive punishment seems to have been inflicted on Henry Truit, found guilty in Accomac of the same offence. A fine of one hundred pounds of tobacco was, about the middle of the century, imposed on Thomas Williams, of Lower Norfolk, for getting drunk on the Sabbath, and he was ordered to pay that amount into the county treasury.


In 1650, Henry Crowe, having found it impossible to resist the temptation of drawing his tobacco plants on Sunday, owing very probably to the first good season for doing so having fallen on this day, was summoned for that offence before the county court, and only escaped a heavy fine by an humble promise to amend. This incident throws into a strong light the authorities' determination to enforce a strict observance of the Sabbath; in a community given over, practically to the exclusion of all other interests, to the cultivation of tobacco, it must have appeared to many an excusable act to take advantage of what was perhaps the first moist day, and perhaps might be the last, for weeks, to transfer their plants to the field.


About the middle of the century, the grand jury of Lower Norfolk made a sharp complaint as to the general indifference to the observance of Sunday at that time prevailing in all parts of the county; and they

proceeded to charge the entire population with a breach of the day, but at the same time softened the character of the offense by stating that they considered it was largely due to the lack of a godly and competent minister; and they urged that the vacancy should be at once supplied in order to bring about a change in so deplorable a condition.


They indicted Thomas Wright for breaking the Sabbath himself, and causing his laborers to do so; and also Mrs. Elizabeth Lloyd for requiring her servants, on the same day, to follow all their customary employments. George Hankings was presented because he was in the habit of leaving his house on Sunday with his tools in his hands; and Thomas Goodrich, for having gone on two long journeys at times when he should have been in attendance at divine service.


An Act, passed in 1658, declared that, under no circumstances, should it be legal to transport goods by boat on Sunday. This was designed to prevent the loading and unloading of sea-going vessels on that day,

the penalty for which offence was either a fine of one hundred pounds of tobacco, or confinement in the stocks. 2 The same year, it was strictly forbidden to deliver any writ on the Sabbath; it seems to have been the sheriffs' habit up to this time to serve all such documents at the church door, first, because they were able to find there any person they were seeking, and secondly, because they thus avoided the fatigue

and loss of time that would have been entailed by a ride to this person's home, which perhaps was situated




1  Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 29; see also

Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1651-6, p. 113. Some of these

offenders were of the Quaker faith. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 434. 


1  York County Records, vol. 1638-48, p. 386, Va. St. Libr. 

2  Accomac County Records, vol. 1673-6, p. 262. 

3  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1646-51, p. 12. 

4  Ibid., vol. 1646-51, p. 152. 


1  Minutes of Assembly, 1619, p. 28, Colonial Records of Virginia,

Senate Document, Extra 1874. This law was re-enacted in substance

in 1629; see Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 213. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 155. 

3  See the case of Robert Martin in Lower Norfolk County Records,

Orders Febry. 15, 1642. 

4  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., pp. 261, 434. An Act of Assembly

passed as late as 1696 forbade travelling on Sunday; see Colonial

Entry Book, vol. lxxxix., p. 182. This was but one of repeated

enactments of the same law. 


1  Argoll's Edicts, May 28, 1618; see Brown's First Republic, p. 278,

and Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 144. 


Public Morals: Drunkenness and Profanity


WHILE there was a strong disposition among the members of all classes to drink rather freely, still there are many evidences that, when this disposition was pressed to the point of open intemperance, the law stepped in to check and repress it. There was no opposition to the enjoyment of liquor taken in moderation, but there was a determined hostility to its being taken in excess. The regulations to prevent this were among the strictest adopted during that period to root up vice in general; at the same time, they reveal that there was no intention to put an end to a reasonable degree of drinking.


As early as 1619, when the first General Assembly to meet in the Colony convened, a law was passed to punish drunkenness. If it happened to be the first offence of the person guilty, he was to be merely reproved in private by the minister of his parish; if his second, then he was to be rebuked in public; and if his third, was to be imprisoned during twelve hours in the house of the provost marshal. If the drunkenness was repeated, in spite of this last penalty, he was to receive such punishment as the Governor and Council should think his case should call for. 


In 1623, the General Assembly heartily confirmed a proclamation recently issued by those officers for the prevention of the same vice. Under an Act passed in 1631, a person guilty of intoxication was required to pay five shillings in every instance in which he had been detected; and again, in the following year, the same penalty was



That the repression of drunkenness was strictly enforced in all parts of the Colony is revealed by numerous entries in the county records. For example, in 1638, John Vaughan, Samson Robins, and their

wives, of Accomac, were condemned to sit in the stocks during the progress of divine service in the parish church because they had been found intoxicated; and twelve months afterwards, the same punishment was inflicted on David Wheatley for the like offence. This sentence was perhaps passed on these persons owing to their inability to pay the fine prescribed.


In 1648, the county court of Lower Norfolk required Rowland Morgan, as a penalty for his having been guilty of the "loathesome sinn of drunkenness," to build a pair of stocks, and set them up in front of the court-house door. At this time, the common punishment for this form of vice seems to have been, at least for members of the very lowest class in the community, to place the culprit in this implement, where he would be exposed to the gaze, and perhaps to the missiles of the jeering onlookers. If, however, the culprit was a servant, or a person not yet of age, his master or parents could obtain for him exemption from such disgrace by paying his fine; and, no doubt, this course was also open to any person found guilty of the same

vice who had sufficient means at his disposal to meet the charge. By an Act of Assembly passed in 1657-8 it was declared that no drunkard should be capable of holding public office; and three convictions were to be taken as proving such a character.


Perhaps, there was no county in Virginia during the Seventeenth century in which there was more laxness in the smaller morals than in Henrico, a condition quite probably due to the fact that the county was both thickly settled and situated directly on the frontier. It will be interesting to investigate how far drunkenness prevailed in that community at this period as almost certainly reflecting the most extreme license in this form of self-indulgence then to be observed in Virginia. The reports of the grand juries, show, however, that nowhere was the vice more carefully watched or more promptly punished. In the presentments for 1678 seven citizens were named as having been "disguised with drink," two of whom were of the highest social rank.  In 1685, the number indicted at one session of court did not exceed six; and each of these, it seems, had of his own motion admitted his guilt. One of the grand jurymen making the report presented a fellow juryman, who promptly presented his accuser for the same offense. It is notable that, on this occasion, five of the grand jury had no charge of a like kind to advance against any person in the community. At another session of the same court held in the course of this year, there were only two indictments for drunkenness ; while during the term held in June, 1686, three persons alone were presented for this vice; and in 1690, five.


It shows the strict manner in which the grand jurymen interpreted their duty that, among those persons indicted in the course of 1690, was James More, who was presented on the ground that he had been overheard to say: "I am devilishly cold and fuddled." In 1691, two cases were dismissed because the persons charged were able to swear that, although they had been drinking, yet they were in full possession of their senses, with memory perfect, and capable of performing any business assigned to them. The court, however, declined to admit that the fact that a person was "deep in liquor" at the time was any palliation of violent conduct; when, in 1692, Captain Chamberlaine offered this as his excuse for breaking out of prison, to which he had been temporarily committed, the justices sternly replied that drunkenness was an ill argument "to justify any offence." There seems to have been only one person indicted for intoxication at the term of court held in April 1693; and at a later term held in the same year, only two were presented for the same vice.


The authorities during the Seventeenth century appear to have been fully determined to repress as far as possible the evil habit of swearing. Under the Acts of 1619, a freeman or the head of a family, who, after three warnings, persisted in his profanity, was to be fined five shillings for the benefit of his parish church; and if the person guilty happened to be a servant, he was to be severely flogged unless his master consented to pay a fine equal to the one imposed upon a freeman for the same offence. The law of 1631 required that, for every oath a person uttered, he should be mulcted in one shilling; and by the Act of 1657-8, such a person, if he had been sentenced for the same offence on three separate occasions, was to be rendered incapable of holding any public office. If the person guilty was a servant or under age, then by the terms of this Act also, unless his fine was paid by his master or parents, he was to be punished in the discretion of the district magistrates or county justices. Under the military regulations prevailing in 1674-5, a soldier who persisted in swearing after he had been convicted of it at least three times, was compelled to ride the wooden horse.


In the course of 1685, Abram Womack, of Henrico, who, at this time, was serving on the grand jury, presented at a session of the county court Thomas Wells and his wife for swearing "in a horrible nature"; and on the same occasion, Major Thomas Chamberlaine was indicted for the like offense. Thomas Wells seems to have been inveterate in his indulgence in profanity; "I came to his house," Edward Stratton testified in 1686, "and I heard him singing with his servant wench and Indian boys and swearing several bitter oaths. I thought there had been several drunken men. And he and his wife doe make a common custom of swearing and cursing on the Sabbath day."


The only presentments entered by one grand juryman in Isle of Wight at a term of the county court held in 1688, was one against one person for "swearing God's wounds," and one against another for "swearing God's blood."  A few years afterwards, there were, at a single term of the Henrico county court, as many as ninety presentments for profane oaths; and in some of these cases, the same person was indicted at least three times for the like offence; among those included in the list of the guilty were men of such prominence in the Colony as William Randolph and Stephen Cocke, which proves that no favor was shown to any one, however powerful or influential, by the grand jury in their effort to put an end to the evil.


Apparently, profanity was not so prevalent in some of the counties of the Northern Neck, for, in the course of one year, 1692, there were only two cases reported by the grand jury in Westmoreland. The vice,

however, seems to have been so generally indulged in in Virginia, in spite of the vigilance of vestries and grand juries, that, during this year, the Governor and Council gave directions that the law for the prevention and punishment of swearing and cursing should be read at least once every two months from the pulpit of each church and chapel-of-ease situated in the Colony.


This action on the part of the highest authorities evidently stimulated the county and parish officers to extraordinary activity. In the course of the same year, one hundred and twenty-two persons were indicted in Henrico for uttering "wicked oaths"; and in the following year, sixty-eight; ofwhom John Huddlesey was accused of "oaths innumerable."  




In 1692, forty persons were presented in Princess Anne at the March term of the county court for common swearing; and in 1695, fourteen.  In the course of 1694, thirty-nine persons were indicted in Henrico for profanity. One of these, Ann Stop, was charged with having been guilty of that vice at least sixty-five times.


1  British State Papers, B. T. Va., 1692, No. 123, Unassorted Papers. 

2  Henrico County Records, vol. 1688-97, pp. 321, 322, 407, Va. St. Libr. 

3  Princess Anne County Order Book, 1691- 1709, pp. 34, 78. 

4  Henrico County Records, vol. 1688-97, p. 536. Ann Stop was, at a later date, appointed administratrix of her husband's estate. 


1  Henrico County Records, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 336.  

2  Ibid., vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 371. 

3  Isle of Wight County Records, vol. 1688-1704, p. 58. 

4  Henrico County Records, vol. 1688-97, pp. 133-4, Va. State Libr. 

5  Westmoreland County Records, vol. 1690-98, pp. 66, 67. 


1  Henrico County Records, vol. 1688-97, pp. 407, 536, Va. St.

Libr. The innkeepers, for allowing drunken disorder in their taverns, were frequently deprived of their licenses; see for an instance, Lower Norfolk County Records, 1646-51, p. 126. 

2  Minutes of Assembly, 1619, p. 27, Colonial Records of Va., State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874. 

3  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 217. 

4  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 433. 

5  Colonial Entry Book, Acts of Ass., 1674-5, p. 70. 


1  Henrico County Records, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 336. 

2  Ibid, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 312. 

3  Ibid, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 372; vol. 1688-97, pp. 133-4 Va. St. Libr. 

4  Ibid, vol. 1682-1701, p. 299, Va. St. Libr. 

5  Ibid, vol. 1677-92, p. 431, Va. St. Libr. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 433. See case of Richard Wilson in Northampton County Records, vol. 1657-64, folio p. 34. If the offense was attended with aggravated circumstances, it is probable

that a fine alone was not considered to be sufficient punishment. The following is from the York Records: "Whereas Nicholas Tailor was presented to this Court by the vestry of the Poquoson for coming out of the church drunk, and in full view of the congregation in tyme of divine service, there spewing, It is ordered

that for his sd. offense, he be put in the stocks, and there remain until released by the Court."

York County Records, vol. 1664-72, p. 36, Va. St. Libr. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 433. 

3  Henrico County Records, vol. 1677-92, orig. p. 70. 


1  British Colonial Papers, vol. iii., No. 9. 

2  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 217. 

3  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 193. This provision was taken from

the English Statute, 4 Jac. I., Cap. 5. 

4  Accomac County Records, vol. 1632-40, pp. 129, 145, Va. St.


5  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1646-51, p. 104. 

6  See a case in Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1656-66, p. 18. 


1  Minutes of Assembly, 1619, p. 20, Colonial Records of Virginia,

Senate Doct., Extra, 1874. 

CHAPTER V Public Morals: Bastardy and Slander


ONE of the most common offences against morality committed in the lower ranks of life in Virginia during the Seventeenth century was bastardy, the explanation of which fact is to be found in the number of women, who, in search of employment as agricultural and domestic servants, came over either free, or bound under articles of indenture drawn before the ship transporting them had left the shores of England. These women, as a rule, had belonged to the lowest class in their native country, and not all of them had received lessons such as to imbue them with the strictest principles of virtue. After their arrival in Virginia, their contracts rendered it difficult for them to marry. Having paid a very high price for their labor, their masters, not unnaturally, were opposed to their entering a relation which was quite certain to lead to interruptions in their field work, perhaps, at the very time their taking part in that work would be most valuable, if not wholly indispensable. Not only would the birth of children make it necessary for them to lie by for a month or more, but it might even result in their deaths, and the complete loss of the money invested by the planter in their purchase. Independently of these considerations, many of this class of women were exposed to improper advances on their masters' part as they were, by their situation, very much in the power of these masters, who, if inclined to licentiousness, would not be slow to use it. In the corn and tobacco fields, and in the barns, the female agricultural servants of English birth were also thrown into a very close and promiscuous association with the lowest class of men to be found in the Colony, and the opportunities thus constantly arising, no doubt, led to frequent immoralities; and the same was true of the social intercourse after hours of labor for the day were over; and also during the various holidays, including Sunday, which the servants and slaves enjoyed. The fact also that most of these women in emigrating from their native country had left all of their kins-people and early social ties behind must have had an important influence in weakening that sense of responsibility for their own conduct, which might have resulted in more self-control.


That servant women in Virginia during the Seventeenth century gave birth to so many bastards was not due to any lack of strictness on the part of the authorities in enforcing the laws designed to discourage this form of immorality. At a very early period, punishment was inflicted for incontinence even though the guilty parties had afterwards married, and their child had been born in wedlock.


Anthony Delamasse and Jane Butterfield, having been arrested in Lower Norfolk county, in 1642, for living unlawfully together, received each a round of thirty lashes; and they were thereafter kept separate until they had been legally united. John Smith, also of Lower Norfolk, was, for the same offence, compelled to contribute one hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco towards the erection of a pair of stocks in front of the court-house. During this year, a woman was convicted in the same county of having borne two bastards. John Pope, of Accomac, who had been summoned for improper intimacy with a woman, was tried and sentenced to build a ferry boat for the transportation of people across Plantation creek; and should he fail to do so, he was to receive forty lashes on his bare back, and on the following Sunday acknowledge his fault in the parish church in face of the congregation.


In a case of bastardy occurring in Accomac about this time, the father was required by the county court to go before the congregation of his parish church and confess his sin, whilst the mother was sentenced to be whipped until thirty lashes had been laid on her bare back. Edith Tooker, of Lower Norfolk, having been found guilty of the same offence, was ordered by the justices to appear in her parish church at the hour of divine service. Clothed in a white sheet, she was led in after the worshippers had taken their seats; the clergyman began at once to urge her to repent of the "foul sin" she had committed; but she, turning a deaf ear to his admonitions, "did, like a most obstinate and graceless person, cut and mangle the sheet wherein she did penance." She was for this act condemned to receive twenty lashes, and commanded to appear again in a white sheet in the same church, on the following Sabbath fortnight. During the same year, two other accused were, at the hour of divine service, required to take their stand, each on a stool placed in the middle aisle, where, in white sheets and holding white wands in their hands, they were forced to remain until the last hymn had been sung.




A conviction for adultery in 1642 was followed by a sentence under which both parties to the crime were compelled to throw themselves on their knees in the judges' presence and implore forgiveness; and at a

later hour, each had to submit to a severe flogging. Occasionally, at this time, the court, relenting under the influence of an expression of "hearty contrition and sorrow" on the woman's part, directed the punishment to be foregone; but generally, it was the man who escaped the whipping. For instance, in 1649, in a case of bastardy in Lower Norfolk, the mother was condemned to receive fourteen lashes, and the father to pay the cost of building a bridge across one of the creeks situated in that county. By an order of the justices of Northampton in 1648, an adulteress was dragged through the water behind a boat passing

between two previously designated points.


After the middle of the century, the offence of bastardy became more frequent than ever owing to the rapid increase in the number of female domestic and agricultural servants who were imported into the Colony. The records of all the counties show this.


Of the indictments entered at the December term of the court of Lower Norfolk, in 1654, twelve were for incontinence, although in three fourths of these cases the children had been born in wedlock. In the course of 1662, nine persons were indicted in York for the same offence; and, in the following year, at a single session of court, fourteen in Accomac. In the latter county, at one term of a later date, there were ten indictments for bastardy; and in 1666, eighteen in Northampton; whilst, in 1684, the whole number of the like presentments in that county amounted to eight. 5 In this year, as in 1688, later on, the indictments were confined to this one form of immorality. In 1688, there were at least three servant women residing under Col. John Custis's roof who had given birth to illegitimate children. Bastardy does not appear to have been a common offence in Henrico at this time, as, between 1682 and 1697, only about eleven cases were presented, and of the persons guilty at least two were women of the African race. In November 1695, there seem to have been only two cases, and in June, only three presented in Essex county; and during the same year, only five were presented in Westmoreland. In August, 1695, two women were indicted in Elizabeth City for sexual immorality; and in 1698, four.


How serious had become the burden imposed upon the Colony by the maintenance of illegitimate children is shown by the petition offered in the House of Burgesses by Col. Lawrence Smith, of Gloucester county,

in 1696, in which, after dwelling on "the excessive charge" that lay on the parishes "by means of bastards born of servant women," he asked that more stringent methods should be adopted in order to diminish the

drain upon the tax payers' purses for their support; but the House, after considering the whole question, decided that the laws in force were sufficient to cover the whole ground of complaint; and this, as we shall see later on when we come to treat of the Vestry's duties was a statement strictly accurate.


In addition to the different punishments inflicted for the various forms of incontinence which I have already touched upon, an Act was passed in 1657-8 depriving the person guilty, when of the male sex, of all right to deliver testimony in court, or to hold public office. The latter especially was a severe penalty in an age when there were few men of any importance in the community not anxious to fill some position in the administration of the Colony's affairs, local or general.


The authorities, during the Seventeenth century, showed equal firmness and swiftness in punishing those guilty of slander and defamation of character, or of spreading false reports. In 1662, it was provided

that any one setting afloat groundless rumours calculated to disturb the country's peace should pay a fine not to exceed two thousand pounds of tobacco, and be required to give bond for his good behaviour. A wife convicted of slander was to be carried to the ducking stool to be ducked unless her husband would consent to pay the fine imposed by law for the offence. There were other forms of punishment for it; in 1634,

for instance, a woman who had defamed another to her face by applying to her one of the most opprobrious of terms, was compelled to beg forgiveness of the injured person at church in the interval between the

first and second lessons, and to ask the congregation to pray for her, the guilty one, in order "that God might forgive her great sin."




Deborah Glasscock, of Lower Norfolk, having, in 1638, without any ground, brought an outrageous charge against Capt. John Sibsey, was sentenced to receive one hundred stripes on her bare shoulders and to implore his pardon, first, in court in the justices' presence and afterwards in the parish church during divine service. Two years later, Mrs. Thomas Causon raised a cloud of scandal against  Colonel Adam Thoroughgood's memory by publicly declaring that he had "paid slowly or paid not at all"; complaint having been lodged against her by his widow, she was arrested and ordered by court to beg Mrs.

Thoroughgood's pardon on her knees in the courtroom; and also in the parish church of Lynnhaven after the first lesson of the morning prayer.


Sometimes, after asking forgiveness of the victim of the slander, the author was compelled to submit to a severe flogging. A case occurred in Lower Norfolk in 1646, in which the guilty person, having first received fifteen lashes on his bare back, was sentenced to wear in court a paper on his head inscribed with the name of the person wronged; and this paper was also required to be worn in the parish church during divine service; and also at a public meeting, to be held at Elizabeth River. Some years later, a woman, residing in Northampton, was punished for defamation by being condemned to stand at the door of her parish church, during the singing of the psalm, with a gag in her mouth. Deborah Heighram, of Lower Norfolk, was, in 1654, not only required to ask pardon of the person she had slandered, but was mulcted to the extent of two thousand pounds of tobacco. Alice Spencer, for the same offence, was ordered to go to Mrs. Frances Yeardley's house and beg forgiveness of her; whilst Edward Hall, who had also slandered Mrs. Yeardley, was compelled to pay five thousand pounds of tobacco for the county's use and to acknowledge in court that he had spoken falsely. Hall, it appeared, belonged to the social rank of a gentleman, and for this reason, the sentence was not accompanied by ignominious circumstances. When Francis Manning complained to the justices of this county that his wife and himself were often "upbraided by their neighbours with scandalous speeches," the court publicly announced that, should the offence be repeated, those guilty of it should suffer corporal punishment.



1  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1646-5. p. 15. Capt. Thomas Willoughby was the person slandered. 

2  Northampton County Records, vol. 1651-54. p. 170. 

3  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1651-56, pp. 83, 84, 97. 

4  Ibid., vol. 1656-66, p. 82. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 109. 

2  Ibid., vol. ii., p. 166. 

3  Accomac County Records, vol. 1632-40 Libr. 

4  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders April, 2, 1638. 

5  Ibid., Orders Aug. 3, 1640. 


1  Westmoreland County Records, vol. 1690-98, pp. 66, 67. 

2  Elizabeth City County Records, Orders Aug. 19, 1695, July 18, 1698. 

3  Minutes of House of Burgesses. Sept. 28, 1696, B. T. Va., vol. iii. 

4  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 433. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1651-56, p. 114. 

2  York County Records, vol. 1657-62, p. 418, Va. St. Libr. 

3  Accomac County Records, vol. 1663-66, p. 23. 

4  Ibid., vol. 1666-70, p. 169; Northampton County Records, vol.

1664-74, folio p. 30. In 1677, nine cases of bastardy were presented by the church-wardens of Accomac; see vol. 1676-8, p. 48. 

5  Northampton County Records, vol. 1683-89, p. 53. 

6         Ibid., vol. 1683-89, p. 377. 

7  Henrico County Minute Book for 1682-1701. Two incestuous marriages in this county were, in 1694, reported to the Governor by the clergymen; see Colonial Entry Book, vol. 1680-95, April 21, 1694. 

7         Essex County Records, vol. 1692-95, Orders Nov. 12, 1695. 



1  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Sept. 6, 1641. 

2  Ibid., Orders April 12, 1641. 

3  Ibid., Orders Aug. 15, 1642. 

4  A case in Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Febry. 16, 1645. 

5  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1645-51, p. 131. 

6  Northampton County Records, vol. 1645-51, pp. 148-9. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Febry. 15, March 18, 1642. 

2  Accomac County Records, vol. 1632-40, p. 123, Va. St. Libr. 

3  Ibid, vol. 1632-40, p. 120, Va. St. Libr. A like case is found in Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders


1  See Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders June 4, 1640. Nine such cases were presented in Lower Norfolk at the December term, 1654; see Records, vol. 1651-56, p. 114. 

CHAPTER VI The Parish: How Formed


THE parish was the local unit for the administration of the religious affairs and the promotion of the moral health of the community. As one of the ordinary local divisions of England, it was established in Virginia at an early date; such a division existed in the Colony certainly in 1623, for, in the course of that year, it was provided by an Act of Assembly that a public granary should be erected "in every parish" to secure the people against the pangs of a general famine.


Now, as at a somewhat later period, the determination of the boundaries of a new parish had, no doubt, to be finally approved by the General Assembly itself; in 1642, we find this body instructing the justices of

Isle of Wight to divide the county into two parishes along such topographical lines as popular convenience demanded; and when the limits of each had been carefully defined, to make a full report to the General Assembly for confirmation. And in the course of the next year, this body, which had directed that the new county of Northampton should be laid off into two parishes, formally approved the determining lines adopted by the county court.


This method of establishing a new parish was suggested by practical wisdom; in laying off the boundaries of such a parish, the questions to be considered embraced, not only the country's configuration, such as the presence of large streams and wide tidal creeks, but also the extent to which the population was either concentrated or dispersed. Only persons residing within the limits of the proposed parish were

thoroughly informed as to either, and in leaving the determination of boundaries to them, most frequently perhaps as represented by the bench of county justices, the General Assembly followed a course that assured the division most promotive of public convenience.


The parishes about 1643 spread over such a wide area of ground as to give rise to complaints that the services in the churches were neglected, and that the number of persons present at them was steadily declining. In reality, it was not possible for a large proportion of the parishioners to attend owing to the great distance to be traversed, or wide streams or inlets, often swept by storms, to be crossed. In order to create a remedy for these physical disadvantages, the policy of dividing all the large parishes was systematically carried out in every case in which the size of the population justified it. In 1643, three parishes were, with the approval of the General Assembly, erected in Upper Norfolk county, and a few years later, the inhabitants of Upper Chippoak were permitted to lay off a new parish, provided that they paid the dues already assessed against them for the support of the clergyman residing at Jamestown, and the special tax imposed for "finishing and repairing" the church situated at that place. When, during the early part of the Puritan Supremacy, New Kent became a county, the parish of Marston was established within its boundaries. 3 In the course of the same year, the county of Lancaster was divided into two parishes, the determination of whose respective lines seems to have been referred by the General Assembly to the popular voice, for it is stated that, by the justices' order, the inhabitants of all the country lying within the area of the proposed new parishes were summoned to meet at a designated place, there to agree upon boundaries that would be convenient to each set of parishioners. It was perhaps possible, in such a case, for a county court, of its own motion, to adopt certain lines of division as a purely tentative step, but to leave their acceptance to the popular vote. Whether the county should be laid off in parishes by the pole, or by number of acres, was generally decided by the people alone; and on their expressing a preference for a division by the pole, the county court would enter an order that this course should be followed. About 1656, the burden of providing for a minister was so heavy that the people inhabiting some of the newly formed counties were very dilatory in taking the steps necesssary for the erection of new parishes; which led the General Assembly to pass an Act requiring that all such counties should be at once laid off in parishes; that the determining lines should be agreed upon by the majority of the population; and that these lines should be confirmed by the subsequent action of the county court. 


Occasionally, it was found that the union of two parishes into one would greatly promote the religious welfare of the people, as well as reduce public expenses. Under these circumstances, the appeal for a change was, about the middle of the century addressed to the House of Burgesses, which, during the whole period of the Commonwealth, possessed the controlling voice in every branch of public affairs; for instance, in 1656, the inhabitants of Nutmeg Quarter begged that body to merge them in Denbigh parish as being contiguous; and the General Assembly, promptly acting upon their prayer, sent an order to the court of the county in which Denbigh parish was situated, to submit the question of consolidation to the popular voice; and should the majority be favorable to that course, to carry it out.


At a later period in the century, the appeal for throwing two parishes into one seems to have been made to the Governor and Council; thus, in 1691, Major John Robins and Mr. Thomas Harmanson, Burgesses from Northampton, petitioned those officials sitting in their ecclesiastical capacity, to make one parish of the two situated in that county; they based their prayer upon the ground that each of the two parishes was too small separately to support a clergyman in comfort and keep the church in repair, but that joined together, their combined inhabitants could afford to pay a high salary to the one minister who would serve for both, and preserve the single parish church in a sound condition. The Governor and Council seem to have thought that the request fully reflected the popular wish, for, apparently without ordering a general vote, which would have shown this beyond doubt, they gave directions for the two parishes to be consolidated, to be known thereafter as Hungar's parish. A few years afterwards, the inhabitants of Sittingbourne parish dwelling on the southern side of the Rappahannock appealed to the Governor and Council to require a division of that parish, but this body declined to allow the step proposed to be taken unless the petitioners should agree to unite with the nearest parish situated on the same side of the river.


Sometimes a parish that had once been fully organized sank, for a time at least, if not permanently, out of practical existence. There were generally several causes for this; such a cause was the presence of a soil that proved, after a short or long period of cultivation, incapable of further production on a scale sufficient to support a considerable number of people. A second cause was extreme unhealthiness arising from the existence of a great area of swamp land, which spread abroad over the entire face of the surrounding country an invisible but deadly cloud of miasma. And, finally, a parish situated on the irregular line of frontier was not infrequently depopulated for many years during the course of an Indian War by fear of those savage warriors, who, brandishing the tomahawk in one hand and the torch in the other, carried ruin and death into every dwelling-house in their path not yet emptied of its inmates. As soon as one of these periodical conflicts came to an end by the destruction of the Indian foe, or the signing of a treaty of peace, the white people not only returned to their former homes, but also began to hew down right and left the trees of the forest growing beyond the old settlements; parishes, which it had previously been unsafe to inhabit owing to their remoteness, came in time to be situated far within the chain of outer plantations, and the continuity of their organization was never again interrupted by apprehension of Indian invasion.


It was estimated that the number of parishes in Virginia in 1661 did not exceed fifty; nearly half a century later, in consequence of a disposition to consolidate existing parishes with a view to diminishing public expenses, the number had fallen off to forty nine. As a rule, each parish fronted on a stream for a great distance up and down, but its boundary lines perpendicular to the stream ran back into the country only a few miles. The parish took this shape from its conformity to the situation of the group of plantations embraced inits area. Not infrequently, it was divided into enormous halves by a wide river or broad inlet of the Bay. The presence of such a body of water, which had to be crossed by any one travelling to the parish church, should he happen to reside on the opposite side, had a tendency to diminish the parish's prosperity, and so soon as the size of the population justified it, a division, as we have already pointed out, always took place.


Every parish was laid off into precincts. This was done by the vestry, who were authorized by an Act of Assembly to create as many such divisions as the needs of their parish seemed to demand.












1  Virginia's Cure, p. 4, Force's Historical Tracts, vol. iii. 

2  Henrico County Records, Orders March 1, 1699. 


1  British Colonial Papers, vol. ii., No. 101. 

2  Campbell's History of Virginia, p. 371. 


1  Northampton County Records, vol. 1689-98, pp. 117-118. 

2  Orders, June 14, 1694, Colonial Entry Book, vol. 1680-95. 


1  Lancaster County Records, vol. 1656-66, p. 56. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 469. 

3  Acts of Assembly, 1656, Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 269. 


1  Acts of Assembly, 1643, MS., Clerk's office, Portsmouth, Va. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 347. 

3  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 256. 

4 Lancaster County Records, vol. 1652-56, p. 152. About 1680, the inhabitants of Pamunkey Neck petitioned the General Assembly for authority to establish a separate parish. A part of the Neck had previously been embraced in St. Peter's parish. The petition was granted;

Assembly Orders, 1680, Colonial Entry Book, vol. lxxxvi. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 279. 

2  Ibid., vol. i., p. 249. The name "Northampton' was substituted for "Accomac." Later on, Northampton county was divided, and its upper part was designated as "Accomac County." 

3  Ibid, vol. i., pp. 251, 347. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 128. When the country was laid off into shires in 1634, each shire was divided into parishes, and also into precincts or boroughs for the constables; see Hening's Statutes,

vol. i., p. 224. This probably signified merely a readjustment of the area of the existing parishes. 

2. Robinson Transcripts, pp. 226, 230. In 1639, Cheskiack and Lawne's Creek parishes were laid off by order of the General Assembly.                                                                                                                                                            


Parish Government: The Vestry


THE administration of the affairs of each parish was in the control of a local body known in Virginia, as in England, as the Vestry. Each of the vestries was composed of the foremost men residing in the parish represented by it, whether from the point of view of intelligence, wealth, or social position. To the power derived from an office of acknowledged authority, there was added the great personal weight

given by large possessions, force of character and intellect, and the very best education which England or Virginia afforded. It is rare to note in the county records the name of a vestry-man who, in signing

documents, was only able to make his mark. Many vestry-men enjoyed the further distinction of being members of the county court, the House of Burgesses, or the Executive Council. It does not seem strange to discover that even so powerful an individual as the Governor himself was generally at great pains to be conciliatory in his bearing towards the vestries, not only because they had practical control of their communities, and, through their representatives, of the colonial Assembly, but also because their family connections in England were often able to affect favourably or unfavourably his standing with the persons to whom he owed his appointment, and upon whose good will his continuance in office depended.


In the long run, the vestries proved themselves to be, of all the public bodies in the Colony, the most tenacious of their right of independent action, and in their contentions with Governor, Commissary, and clergy invariably turned up the victorious party. Thoroughly understanding the local interests of their parishes, they showed, as a rule, a determination to support these interests, whether or not their conduct was opposed to immemorial English customs, or brought them in direct conflict with the most influential personages of the Colony. In the firmness and persistency with which they, on so many occasions, refused to be guided by anything but what was called for by the welfare of their community, they revealed themselves as the earliest defenders to spring up in Virginia of the principle of local administration free from all outside interference. Chosen by the people, they were truly the representatives of the people within the sphere to which their jurisdiction was confined; and the example set by them had a powerful influence in nourishing the popular form of government.


Even more controlling was the influence which the vestrymen exercised from a social point of view. As the first gentlemen in the county, apart from the prestige they derived from being the principal guardians

of public morals, they were looked up to as the models of all that was most polished and cultured in their respective parishes. It was one of the happiest features of that early society that each community possessed in its vestry a body of men prompted as well by every instinct of birth, education, and fortune, as by every dictate of their official duty, to set the people at large a good example in their personal deportment and in their general conduct. To their influence is directly traceable a very large proportion of what was most elevated and attractive in the social life of the Seventeenth century; and to that influence, we are, in no small degree, indebted for the character of the distinguished men of Virginia who cast such renown over the great era of the Revolution.


Broadly speaking, the vestry's jurisdiction extended to the repression of all forms of immorality, the care of the indigent, and the administration of the affairs of the Church. In church government, as we shall see later on, the vestry's power, during certain periods of the Seventeenth century, ran very much ahead of the power of the same body in England, but, in a general way, it may be said that their respective jurisdictions covered nearly the same ground. Before entering into a detailed description of the various duties performed by the vestry in Virginia, it will be necessary to inquire as to the manner in which the members were chosen. The earliest reference to the existence of a vestry in the Colony is to be found, perhaps, in the statement contained in a letter of Sir Thomas Dale to a clergyman in London, that, during his administration, the affairs of the Church were conducted by "the minister and four of the most religious men." Whether these men were known by the name of vestry or not, they exercised substantially all the powers ordinarily incident to that body. They were, perhaps, not the first to be chosen for this purpose, but from the date of their selection, there is little room for doubt, there was always a small band of persons picked out of the congregation to aid the clergyman in carrying on the business, and in advancing the general welfare, first of the church at Jamestown, and, afterwards, of each additional church as soon as it was erected.


There was no custom prevailing in England more likely to have been followed in the Colony than this simply because it had a pressing motive in practical necessity. In a community in which, under the operation of the plantation system, the inhabitants were very much dispersed, it required constant vigilance to hold each congregation together; and this could only be effectively shown by an organisation like the vestry, whose first duty it was to maintain the prosperity of their particular church. It is not surprising to find in the earliest of the surviving county records frequent references to the existence of vestries. Certainly by 1635 the name was in common use in Virginia to signify a body of men who had control of the church affairs of their parish.


Who appointed the members of the vestry? During the period that immediately followed the coming together of the first Assembly in 1619, this seems to have been done by the monthly court, certainly at times.


By 1641, the parishioners alone appear to have exercised this power, for in the course of that year, the General Court instructed the clergyman in charge of the church at Jamestown to issue a general notice to the inhabitants of the county that a meeting of all the people would be held at that place on a specified date to choose a vestry. This manner of selecting was, in 1644, confirmed by an Act of Assembly, which provided that the choice should be determined by a majority of voices; and the same Act required that ample notice should be given by the clergyman and churchwardens to enable all the parishioners to be present on the appointed day. The utmost care was to be taken that only men thoroughly fitted by ability, character, and estate to fill so responsible a position should be named. In 1666, the court of Accomac ordered the reader of the parish church situated in that county to announce several Sundays in succession that the parishioners were expected to meet on a designated date at Mr. Thomas Fowke's house, and there choose the members of the new vestry. We find the same court in 1670 confirming the election of vestrymen, recording their names and administering to them the oaths of allegiance and supremacy.


By the provisions of an Act passed by what was known as Bacon's Assembly, vestrymen were to be chosen in mass at least once in the course of every three years; and they were always to belong to the rank of freeholders. This body had, by this time, grasped extraordinary power, and the requirement that all the members should be reelected together at definite intervals was designed to lessen this power by making the vestry more dependent on the people. Each vestry had assumed the right to fill all vacancies at its board by a vote of its own members apparently without submitting at intervals to a reelection of the whole body by the popular voice, and had thus become self-perpetuating. In the long list of grievances presented by nearly all the counties to the Commissioners who were settling the disturbed affairs of the Colony after the failure of the Insurrection of 1676, one of the most vigorously expressed was that condemning this encroachment upon the parishioners' rights and earnestly praying that it should be corrected. The complaint of Isle of Wight went so far as to request that, not only should all the members of every vestry be elected once every thirty-six months, but also that no member of the preceding vestry should be eligible for reelection when the next choice had to be made. This proposition was impracticable, but it shows to what an extraordinary point the abuses prevailing during the last year of Berkeley's administration had been pushed in every branch of the Government, local as well as central. At a time when the General Assembly persisted in sitting for half a generation without a single general election, and exhibited in all their proceedings the arbitrary spirit caught from the reactionary rulers of the Mother Country, it was to be expected that local bodies like the vestries, largely composed as they were of the same men, would display a similar determination to trample upon regulations, which, by requiring their repeated reelection as a body, made them dependent on popular favor.


The power of self-perpetuation without popular election at intervals, to which apparently they had no real claim, at this time, either in law or custom, seems to have passed from the vestries with the colony's pacification. As early as 1684, we find the county court of Rappahannock designating the twenty-second day of November as the date for the "free election" of the members of the vestry of North Farnham parish. The people were directed to assemble for that purpose at the parish church, there to choose one half of the members from the upper parts of the parish, and the other half from the lower. This was the only restriction upon the right of selection by the popular voice.


In accordance with this mandate of the county court, the inhabitants of the parish met at the appointed place, elected the members of the vestry, and returned their names to the justices at their next session; not so much, it appears, to be approved, as to be entered among the permanent records. The court promptly impowered the new vestry to lay the parish levies.


Should no election take place at the first popular meeting, the county court proclaimed a date for a second one. In 1692, the justices of Rappahannock appointed a day for the inhabitants of North Farnham parish to assemble, but when the day ended no vestry had been chosen. This fact was reported to the court, which proceeded to appoint a second date for the election; but, in the meanwhile, it directed that this order should be read in the parish church on two successive Sundays. In anticipation of a choice being made, Capt. William Barber, Capt. Alexander Swann, and Mr. Thomas Glasscock were named by the justices to administer to the new vestrymen the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, as well as the oath to execute properly all the duties of their office.


After the county of Richmond was formed from Rappahannock, dissatisfaction arose because its court had removed the persons chosen from that part of Rappahannock, before its division, to represent it in the vestry of North Farnham parish, and had then ordered the election of new vestrymen. The Governor and Council, to whom this complaint was made as the final arbiters in all ecclesiastical disputes, instructed the justices of Richmond to return to the Secretary's office a full account of their proceedings respecting these new vestrymen, on which a judgment might be based; and this command was at once complied with by the members of the court.


Sometimes, the original order for the election of a new vestry came from the Governor and Council, but perhaps only after some controversy had been settled by these officials sitting as an ecclesiastical court; for instance, in 1691, we find the Lieut. Governor and the Council instructing the county court of Northampton to appoint a day for the people of the parish to meet and choose a vestry. Only a small number of persons assembled, and it was decided to defer the election to a later date; when that date arrived, the new vestry was chosen "by subscription of the major part of the inhabitants" of the county who were present.


The county court was impowered to order the election of a new vestry should this be shown to be advisable. In 1697, a petition was presented to the justices of Elizabeth City by William Mallory and John Sheppard, in which they prayed for such an election; the justices were equally divided in opinion, and the petition for that reason alone seems to have failed.


At the end of the century, the vestries were chosen by the suffrage of the freeholders and householders; but in the intervals between the elections of the entire body by a popular vote, the vestrymen had power to fill any vacancy in their board caused by death, resignation, or removal from the parish; and this power they had, no doubt, always enjoyed, as it was called for as well by the necessities of parochial business as by the convenience of heads of families, who could hardly have been summoned for a new election every time such a vacancy occurred.


It is probable that, from a very early date, the number of persons composing a vestry was limited to twelve; by an Act passed in 1660, it was expressly declared that the membership should not exceed this

number; and such continued to be the law until the close of the Seventeenth century. The meetings of the vestry were held at least twice in the course of each year; and the minutes of their proceedings were very frequently incorporated with those of the proceedings of the county court. Very often, the members of a vestry came together in obedience to a special order issued by that court; for example, in 1662, the sheriff of Northampton received instructions from the justices to summon the "gentlemen of the vestry to meet at ye towne church on the following Monday at eleven o'clock" and in the same year, the vestry of Lynnhaven parish, in Lower Norfolk, were directed by the court of that county to convene at their accustomed place of meeting on a designated day. In cases of this kind, there was, no doubt, urgent business touching the parish's welfare which the justices thought ought to be attended to at once. In 1666, the vestrymen of the parish situated in Accomac were summoned to the next session of the county court with a view to following "ye order of public affairs"; this was probably to enable them to acquire a more intelligent understanding of the public needs before they undertook to make the bye-laws which they had been impowered to adopt.

The same year the members of the two vestries established in Lower Norfolk were directed by the county court to hold a meeting at the court-house for the same purpose; and during 1671, they were again summoned to the same place in order that they might consult with the justices "about several businesses concerning ye welfare of the county." These "businesses" doubtlessly related particularly to matters in which the purely moral health of the community was more or less involved. The regular session of the vestry seems to have been ordinarily held at the home of one of its members; perhaps at the home of each member in turn; but it was also very frequently held (more probably in the summer) in the parish church.

















































1  "Deposition of Thomas Moundfort saith that ye very day Mr. Benjamin Read, late of this County, did die, there happened to be a vestry appointed at York Church and your deponent going there etc"; York County Records, vol. 1690-4, p. 255; see also Orders May 2, 1641, Lower Norfolk County Records. The following entry has many resembling it in the county records: "A meeting of Vestry of Elizabeth River Parish called to meet at the house of Lawrence Phillips, &c"; 1648, Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1646-51, p. 82. 


1  Northampton County Records, vol. 1657-1664, folio p. 167. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1656-66, p. 344 2. 

3  Accomac County Records, vol. 1666-70, folio p. 15. 

4  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol 1666-75, p. 4 2. 

5  Ibid., vol. 1666-75, p. 632. 


1  Elizabeth City County Records, Orders Nov. 18, 1697. 

2  Present State of Virginia, 1697-8, Section xi.; Beverley's History of Virginia, p. 211. For vestry's power to fill vacancies as early as 1648, see Lower Norfolk County Orders Aug. 10, 1648; Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., p. 15. 

3  Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 25. 

4  Present State of Virginia, 1697-8, Section xi. 

5  For instances, see Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., p. 15. 


1  Richmond County Records, Orders July 2, 1692. 

2  The complainants were Capt. William Taylor, John Lloyd, and John Taverner; see Orders April 29,1693, Colonial Entry Book, 1680-95. See also Richmond County Records, Orders July 14, 1693. 

3  Northampton County Records, vol. 1689-98, p. 117. 


1  Rappahannock County Records, Orders Nov. 7, 1684. 

2  Ibid., Orders Dec. 21, 1685. 


1  Winder Papers, vol. ii., p. 183. 


1  General Court orders, Robinson Transcripts, p. 235 . 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 291. 

3  Ibid., vol. i., pp. 240-1. 

4  Accomac County Records, vol. 1666-70, folio p. 14. 

5  Ibid., vol. 1671-3, p. 174; Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 25 . 

6  Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 356. 


1  See Accomac County Records, Orders Sept. 14, 1635. An order of the county court of Lower Norfolk, adopted May 2, 1641, is expressed in such a manner as to justify the inference that the vestry of Sewell's Point church had been established previous to 1640. We find a reference to a vestry of that date in Robinson Transcripts, p. 14 . 

2  Ibid., Orders Sept. 14, 1635. 


1  See Hamor's Discourse for Dale's Letter. 


1  It was only during the last years of Berkeley's administration, when the influence of the reaction first set in motion in England under the restored Stuart dynasty seemed to overwhelm so many landmarks of freedom, that the vestries showed themselves to be out of sympathy with popular feeling. 


1  Apparently, Robert Todd and John Clarkson, of York parish, in 1647, were unable to write, but this does not follow positively from their making their marks, as they may have been physically disabled; see York County Records, vol. 1638-48, p. 275, Va. St. Libr. 



Parish Church: How Built


THE first religious services held in Virginia were held at Jamestown under an old sail cloth only a short time after the voyagers of 1607 had landed. The sail cloth was tied to the trunks of three or four large oaks or cedars, and as thus spread out afforded an ample shelter from the rays of the sun. The walls of this improvised sacred edifice were made of rails mauled from timber procured on the spot; the seats, of the round and unhewn logs; and the pulpit, of a bar of wood nailed to two trees. When the sky became overcast and rain fell, the services were held in a large tent brought over from England. Such were the simple makeshifts for a church building used by the English after the foundation of their first permanent settlement in America.


It was not long before a much less primitive church edifice was erected; but even this new building was looked upon as temporary in its character. It was in fact neither elaborate nor substantial. It was made apparently of roughly sawn planks or unhewn logs, in the shape of a barn; the roof was covered with rafts, sedge and earth; and so, we are informed, were the walls; while the weight of the whole rude structure rested upon crotchets. This edifice was destroyed by fire within a few months after it was completed.


Captain Newport had by this time returned to the Colony with the First Supply, and as soon as this catastrophe occurred, he set his mariners to work to build a second church.


The new edifice was, no doubt, of larger dimensions than the one that had recently been consumed by fire, for in length it extended sixty-four feet; in width, twenty-four. This church was still standing when De la Warr arrived at Jamestown. As this Governor was moved by extraordinary religious zeal, it was natural that one of the first acts of his administration should be not only to put the old building in a state of thorough repair, but also to make additions to it that greatly improved its appearance. The interior at least must have presented a very pleasing aspect; -- the whole chancel was constructed of the timber of cedar trees; and of the same beautiful and sweet smelling material, which was extremely abundant in the surrounding forest, was also made the pulpit, the pews, and the window frames. The communion table consisted entirely of black walnut, whilst the baptismal font had been skilfully hewed and carved out of a single block of wood. The windows were sufficiently numerous to let in a great flood of light; and, as noted with admiration at the time, were of a character to permit their being shut or opened without difficulty as the state of the weather required.


The chancel and the interior walls were kept decor- ated with the many beautiful flowers found growing in such profusion in the thickets of the neighbouring woods; there could be no clearer proof of the loving

interest taken in the church than was shown in thus adorning it from day to day while the wild flowers lasted; and, no doubt, when the frosts of November had destroyed all these blooms, branches of evergreens, like cedar, pine, and holly, were used to take the place of the dogwood, the sweet bud, the daisy, the clematis, and the arbutus. A steeple rose from the west end of the church; and within it were suspended two bells, which the sexton regularly rang at ten o'clock in the morning and at four in the afternoon, the earliest sound of church bells to call Englishmen to worship in the New World. It reveals the destructive influence of the varying climate, -- now extremely hot or extremely cold, now excessively dry or excessively humid, -- that this building, which was far from being unsubstantial, had sunk into such a condition of disrepair by the time of Dale's arrival in 1611, that it was found to be in imminent danger of falling to the ground.


The religious spirit of Dale was revealed in the fact that, after he had chosen Henrico as the site of a new settlement, one of the first tasks he undertook as soon as he had erected the palisade and watchtower, a measure of defense, was to build a wooden church; this edifice was designed to be only temporary, for while it was in the course of erection, the foundations of a brick structure were laid, which however were never pushed to completion. 2 It shows how perishable these early wooden churches were that, on Argoll's arrival at Jamestown in 1617, the church edifice there had become such a ruin that the people were forced to hold religious services in a storehouse.



It was in this year that Mrs. Mary Robinson, a pious and philanthropic lady of England, bequeathed two hundred pounds sterling for expenditure, in part at least, in the building of a church for the Indians' use; in her will, she directed her cousin, Sir John Wolstenholme, who seems to have acted as her executor, to exercise his own judgment as to where this church should be placed; but he was required to pay over the gift for the purpose designated within a period of two years after her death. The General Court of the London Company ordered a memorial of her name and her benefactions to be hung on the walls of the room in which they held their usual meetings, whilst they sent instructions to all the clergymen residing in Virginia to commend her in their prayers to the favour of God. With the fund thus obtained, a church was erected in Smith's Hundred.


The great massacre of 1622, which so completely altered the friendly relations of the settlers with the savages, no doubt put a sudden stop to all plans which might then have been under advisement for the building of additional churches for the Indians' benefit.


When Governor Yeardley arrived at Jamestown in 1619, he found a church in use by the people of that place which had been built by themselves without any assistance from persons residing elsewhere. As this edifice is stated to have been fifty feet in length and twenty in width, its dimensions were, by a number of feet, smaller than the dimensions of the church in which De la Warr and Dale had worshipped, although

the population of Jamestown must have increased in the interval. The wooden church erected at Henrico when Dale had founded a town there had, by this time, fallen into a state of complete dilapidation.

Apparently, there were no church edifices in existence on the other plantations in spite of the fact that many of these plantations contained numerous inhabitants; the religious services held there were quite probably conducted in private residences, for, only four years later, an Act was passed requiring a house or room to be set apart exclusively for religious exercises in every settlement where "the people used to meet for the worship of God"; a custom which, no doubt, prevailed wherever the number of persons made up more than one family.


It was provided by law in 1631-2 that the inhabitants of every parish should contribute an amount sufficient to build a church on a site selected by the clergyman and the churchwardens, and that, if the county justices neglected to compel the parish officers to carry out this order when disregarded, they were to forfeit fifty pounds sterling. 3 Seven years later, the Governor and Council, acting in their ecclesiastical capacity, gave instructions apparently to the county court and the local military commander to supervise the erection of a church in the upper parts of Lower Norfolk; and the county court was required to enforce these instructions, should the contractors fail to carry out their agreement. The choice of the exact site for the building was, in this case, it seems, left to the commander and justices, and not to the clergymen and churchwardens of the parish, although it is quite probable that the wishes and opinions of the latter were fully consulted. The edifice had been completed only in part when Captain John Sibsey and Henry Sewell were appointed by the county court to procure mechanics to finish the work, the cost of which was to be met by a special tax to be paid by the people.


Whilst the expense of erecting a church was not infrequently covered in part by the fines assessed by the county court as the penalty for the commission of various offenses, yet the chief method of raising the necessary funds continued, during the whole of the century, to be the imposition of a tax, which fell, like the ordinary items in the county and parish levies, on the people at large. It is probable, however, that this tax was generally confined to the tithables residing within the bounds of the parish in which the church was to be built. In 1640, an order was issued by the justices of Lower Norfolk that the inhabitants of the particular area of country beginning at Mr. Peter Porter's house and ending at Captain Thomas Willoughby's, should contribute, for repairing and finishing the parish church, one bushel of corn and twenty-four pounds of tobacco per poll. Special gifts of one hundred pounds of tobacco each had already been received for this purpose from Mr. Cornelius Lloyd and other wealthy citizens. The building of this church had been greatly delayed by want of nails and other iron work, but these articles were in the end furnished by one of the parishioners, who further showed his interest in the edifice's completion by promising to give it his personal labor for the space of a fortnight. 



An Act of Assembly, which had confirmed the boundaries laid off for Lawne's Creek parish, relieved the inhabitants of Chippoak and Hog Island of the payment of one half of their dues to the clergyman

at Jamestown, provided that they contributed to the fund for the erection of the new church at that place. For this, the parishioners of James City had already been assessed. In 1642, the people of Hog Island

were released from the obligation of making such a contribution because it was held that they resided too far away from the town. To the church at Jamestown, as to so many others, private individuals had made liberal gifts to ensure its early construction. This fact we learn from a letter addressed by Governor Harvey and his Council to the Committee of Plantations in England, in which it was stated that, previous to January, 1639-40, they had not only presented out of their own purses a large sum to be expended for this purpose, but had induced numerous shipmasters and planters to imitate their example. The edifice had not been finished by 1642, for, in the course of that year, the General Court entered an order touching its completion.


About 1656, so many parishes were without an edifice for religious services that it was found necessary to pass an Act providing for the removal of the deficiency. It was ordered that every person residing

in a parish lacking such an edifice and also a clergyman, should pay annually into the county court's hands the sum of fifteen pounds of tobacco, to be used towards the erection of a parish church, and the purchase of a glebe as a means of insuring a comfortable support to whatever minister should be called to fill the vacant position. A few years later, it was recognized that so general a law as this might work a great hardship in the parishes occupied by a population both small and impoverished on account of the barrenness of the soil, the unhealthiness of the plantations, or some other cause of a like blighting nature; in a case of this kind, the parish was to be consolidated with one adjacent, and the inhabitants of the former

of the combined parishes were to be required to build only a chapel-of-ease, in which the usual services were to be held.


One of the different forms of oppression inaugurated during the period when the vestries, following the example of the Long Assembly, sought to perpetuate themselves without submitting to an election by the

popular voice, was to levy a public tax for the erection of new churches when the old had, by mere carelessness, been suffered to fall into a state of neglect, though capable of restoration by the expenditure of a small amount. In 1675, the inhabitants of Accomac complained bitterly to the county court that such a charge had been imposed on them at a time when there was a church in the parish going to ruin merely because it had been half finished; and that until this was completed, it was contrary to "law and reason" to start building another one, especially when they had al- ready been mulcted to "the utmost of their abilities."


As we have seen, gifts from private citizens to aid in the erection of a new church were not uncommon previous to the middle of the century. After that time, such gifts became more frequent owing to the growth of population and the great increase in the wealth of individual planters. About 1660, a large amount of tobacco was contributed to the building of a church in Upper Machodick parish, in Westmoreland county, by Nathaniel Jones, and also by one of his kinsmen who was interested in advancing the religious welfare of the people. Before a public levy was laid for the construction of the church at Middle Plantation in 1678, voluntary donations were solicited of the parishioners, and in response to the appeal, John Page and Thomas Ludwell each subscribed twenty pounds sterling, and Philip Ludwell and Col. Thorp each ten, whilst numerous citizens contributed respectively five pounds sterling. Thomas Ludwell showed special generosity, for, under the provisions of his will, he left, for the same general purpose, thirty pounds sterling, a sum that had a purchasing power of about seven hundred and fifty dollars in modern currency. The entire cost of building the church at Middle Plantation was stated by Culpeper to have been eight hundred pounds sterling, which represented an amount equal in value to twenty thousand dollars at least.


In 1682, Robert Everett, of York, made a gift of five hundred pounds of tobacco towards the erection of a new church in Poquoson parish. Lieut. Gov. Nicholson, who was conspicuously generous in contributing to the like objects, wrote, in 1690, to the justices of Lower Norfolk, to remind them that they "should not allow him to be disappointed in paying what he had promised" towards the completion of one of the

churches of that county then in the course of construction; and a few years later, he subscribed twenty pounds sterling to the fund which was to be expended in erecting a similar building at Yorktown.


The presentation of a site for a new edifice of this kind was not an infrequent act of liberality on the part of wealthy planters; in 1658, Joseph Croshaw, of York, granted in fee simple, not only the ground on which the new church of Marston parish was to stand, but also a considerable additional area to serve as a yard; James Calthorpe, of Poquoson parish, made, in 1688, a similar gift; and their example was followed by George Barrow, of Sittingbourne parish, in Rappahannock.


A contract between the churchwardens of Hungar's parish, in Accomac, and Simon Thomas, a carpenter, preserved among the records of that county, gives no doubt, a fairly accurate idea as to the method

followed in building parish churches towards the close of the Seventeenth century. Under the terms of this agreement, the projected edifice was to extend forty feet in length and twenty-five in width. Its framework, which was to be constructed of wood, was to be supported by blocks cut from the trunks of the locust as a tree especially remarkable for the durability of its fibre even when exposed to the most trying variations of weather. This skeleton frame was to be covered with planks of the finest quality, whilst the braces, studs, and rafters were to consist of seasoned oak. The ceiling of the old church, which must have still been in a sound condition, was to be transferred bodily to the new, and in reconstructing it, care was to be taken that it should "rest upon arches underneath the roof." These arches the carpenter agreed to build.


The churchwardens, as the agents of the vestry, bound themselves to furnish the entire number of nails which would be called for in building the church; to supply the carpenter and his assistants with all the food they would need; and to transport to the site of the projected edifice whatever timbers would be required. Thomas, on his side, agreed to devote his attention to the work until it was completed, without allowing himself to be diverted by other tasks of the like nature, and without intermitting his labor except on "some great occasion"; and even this was, on no account, to draw him away from the church for a period longer than seven days. By way of compensation, he was to receive ten thousand pounds of tobacco, which represented a sum equal in modern values to about two thousand dollars. Thomas seems to have been employed to erect more than one church, for, in 1681, he is found engaged in building an edifice of this kind in Northampton County.


The great majority of the churches built in Virginia during the Seventeenth century were built of some endurable variety of wood. There were a few, however, made of brick; such was the character of the material entering into the construction of the edifices at Middle Plantation and Jamestown. The church at Smithfield, which still stands in its original beauty and solidity, was also built of brick, and forms perhaps the most admirable specimen of ecclesiastical architecture in Colonial Virginia surviving to the present day. That fine structure, which recalls in its general aspect both within and without, so many of the ancient parish churches of England, bears silent testimony to the thorough organization reached at a very early date by the religious establishment in the Colony. It is hard to realize that a building like this, which would now appear more congruous if found standing in the valley of the Thames, or the Severn, in the midst of immemorial yews, was erected very probably within thirty years after the foundation of Jamestown. It offers very striking proof of the fact already dwelt upon, namely, that, from the very beginning, the settlements in Virginia resembled more the long established communities of England than the communities of a new country as conceived of by us in the light of our knowledge of the modern American frontier.


One of the most frequent items in the list of expenses provided for in the parish levy was the cost of repairing the parish church from time to time. Sometimes, the outlay on this score was very heavy; in one case reported in Lower Norfolk in the course of 1656, it amounted to nearly seventy-five hundred pounds of tobacco 1 ; and in other cases which might be mentioned the outlay was almost as large. A parish might well consider itself exceptionally fortunate should it have received from some benevolent testator a sum sufficient to meet the expense of repairing its church; such was the happy condition, in 1658, of the parish of Martin Brandon, to which John Sadler, a wealthy merchant of London, had left for this purpose a quantity of goods valued at twenty pounds sterling. Nor was the need of renewal confined to the edifices built of such perishable material as wood: -- in 1699, William Broadribb and Edward Travis, churchwardens of James City parish, petitioned the Governor and Council for public assistance in restoring the walls and pews of the church at Jamestown to their original sound condition.




The principal seats in each church seem to have been held by the families of the wealthiest planters residing in the parish. The right to the exclusive enjoyment of a whole pew for an indefinite period was often granted in return for substantial aid in building the church itself; such was the reward which John Page and Edmund Jennings received for their generous contributions towards the construction of the church at Middle Plantation; such also Mr. Kendall for subscribing one thousand pounds of tobacco for the removal of the church in Hungar's parish to a new site. Sometimes, the holder of a pew obtained his right of permanent possession by having it built at his own cost; such was the manner in which Col. John Custis, of Northampton, acquired the one he occupied in his parish church; he seems to have paid Simon Thomas, the carpenter who erected the edifice, several head of live-stock and a large cask of cider to construct for him a pew, which, of all the pews, should be situated the nearest to the chancel. In seeking to be so placed, Custis was either vain and desired to own the most conspicuous seat on account of the prominence it would give him in the eyes of the congregation, or he was deaf and wished to be in close range of the pulpit and reader's desk.



1  "The deposition of Thomas Lucas saith that in September last at ye raising of ye new church, Mr. John Custis came thither and spoke to Simon ye carpenter to make him a pew in ye sd new Church, telling him he would give him...tobacco. Ye said Simon made answer yt he would not take tobacco to build it but had rather take creatures. Said Custis made answer yt he would give creatures to choose, and ye sd Custis desired to have ye first pew in ye church...and farther ye sd Custis bade ye sd Simon to send to his house and he would give him a thirty or forty gallon cask of Cyder to drink ye next day."

Northampton County Records, vol. 1679-83, p. 187. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1656-66, p. 32. 

2  Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., vol. vii., p. 211. 

3  They also requested aid in building a steeple; see Minutes of

Assembly, May 17, 1699, B. T. Va., vol. lii. 

4  Northampton County Records, vol. 1689-98, p. 251. Mr. Kendall was on this occasion the only contributor. 


1  See Mr. R. S. Thomas's exhaustive article on the old brick church near Smithfield in Va. Hist. Soc. Collections. In 1695, a brick church was standing near Princess Anne courthouse; see Princess Anne County Order Book, 1691-1709, entry for Sept. 12, 1695. In that year, an order was entered for the building of the new courthouse "on the land belonging to the Brick church." 


1  Accomac County Records, vol. 1678-82, p. 240. As soon as a new church was finished, a committee was appointed by the county court to view it and make a report; see Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1656-68, p. 228; also Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 103. 

2  Northampton County Records, vol. 1679-83, p. 187. The dispute referred to in this entry may have been connected with the new church in Hungar's parish alluded to in the preceding authority. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1686-95, p. 145; York County Records,

vol. 1694-97, p. 323, Va. St. Libr. 

2  York County Records, vol. 1657-62, p. 104; vol. 1687-91, p. 453 , Va. St. Libr.; Rappahannock County Records, vol. 1656-64, orig. p. 309. 


1  Westmoreland County Records, vol. 1653-72, pp. 122, 170. 

2  Meade's Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, vol.

i., p. 146, Phila. edition. 

3  Will of Thomas Ludwell, Waters's Gleanings, p. 719. This money was to be employed "towards building a church in Virginia." 

4  Colonial Entry Book, 1681-5, pp. 173-4. Culpeper stated this in his report to the Board of Trade in 1683. The amount seems so large that it is possible there was some mistake. See also William and Mary College Quart., vol. iii., p. 172. 

5  York County Records, vol. 1675-84, orig. p. 447. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 44. 

2  Accomac County Records, vol. 1673-76, p. 362. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i, 277. 

2  British Colonial Papers, vol. x., 1639-43, No. 5. In his will, dated 1636, William Beard left 500 lbs. of tobacco to a "new Church at James City," i.e. towards its construction; Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., vol. xi., p. 148. 

3  Robinson Transcripts, p. 236. 

4  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 263. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders March 15, 1640.

When the parish covered a very wide area of ground, there was sometimes a private arrangement between the inhabitants of one half of it and the inhabitants of the other half to aid each other in building two churches, one for each half of the parish. This occurred in Fairfield parish in Northumberland County in 1696; see Minutes of Council, Oct. 9, 1696, B. T. Va., vol. 1iii. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders July 6, 1640. At this time, there were parish churches at Lynnhaven and Sewell's Point; and an order had been issued to build a chapel-of-ease at Elizabeth

River; see Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Aug. 3, 1640, May 2, 1641; also Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. i., p. 143. 

3  Robinson Transcripts, p. 230. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Nov. 21, 1638. Under the authority of the Act for establishing ports, passed in 1654, the justices of Lower Norfolk county selected the plantation of William Shipp on Elizabeth River as the place where to build a new church and lay off a new market. Land belonging to Mrs.Yeardley situated on Lynnhaven River was chosen as the site for the second church, and also for the second market; Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders July 16, 1655; see also the Lower Norfolk

County Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 32. 

2  In 1638, David Winley, of Accomac, was fined one hundred pounds of tobacco for slander, which was devoted to the erection of a new church; Accomac County Records, vol. 1632-40, p. 112.

Va. St. Libr. 


1  A Briefe Declaration, p. 80, Colonial Records of Va., State

Senate Doct., Extra, 1874. 

2  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 123. 

3  Acts of Assembly, 1631-2, Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 216. 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, vol. ii., p. 33, Richmond edition. 

2  For will of Mrs. Robinson, dated Febry. 13, 1617 (O. S.) see Brown's First Republic, p. 275; see also Abstracts of Proceedings

of Va. Co. of London, vol. i., p. 29. 

3  Brown's First Republic, p. 286. 


1  Dale to the Council in England, May, 1611, Brown's Genesis of  United States, vol. i., p. 492. 

2  A Briefe Declaration, p. 75, Colonial Records of Va., State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874. Works of Captain John Smith, vol. ii., pp.

11, 12, Richmond edition. 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, Arber's edition, p. 165. 

2  Ibid., Richmond edition, p. 170. 

3  Brown's First Republic, p. 57. 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, Arber's edition, p. 165. 


CHAPTER XVIII The Clergy: Their General Character


IF we consider as a body the ministers who performed the various duties of their calling in Virginia during the Seventeenth century, there is no reason to think that they fell below the standard of conscientiousness governing the conduct of the English clergymen in the same age. The early history of the New World was adorned by no nobler group of divines than that group which gives so much distinction, from the point of view of character and achievement alike, to the years in which the foundation of the Colony at Jamestown was permanently laid. Among the company setting out for Virginia with the expedition of 1606 was Rev. Robert Hunt, a man who, as Governor Wingfield, his friend and companion, declared, "was not anywise to be touched with the rebellious humors of a popish spirit, nor blemished with the least suspicion of a factious schismatic."


The ships were, by unprosperous winds, detained six weeks in sight of the English headlands; and during this entire time, he lay so sick that his recovery was looked upon as impossible. The vessel bearing him waited for a change of weather at a point in the Downs hardly twenty miles away from his old home, and yet neither his proximity to that beloved spot, nor the illness weighing him down, nor unjust reflections and imputations leveled against him, could move him to abandon an enterprise in which his whole soul had been embarked. All these influences tugging so persistently at his heart to persuade him to turn upon his course, "all," exclaims his historian, with ardent admiration, "could never force him so much as a seeming desire to leave the business." The secret and wily plots under way to defeat the action would have been successful had he not, by his patience, pious warnings, and faithful and unselfish example, quenched the "flames of envie and dissension." His discriminating glance detected John Smith's high and useful qualities; when the fellow councillors of that bold and impatient spirit would have shut him out of their body, it was the "good doctrine and exhortation," the sound common sense and eloquent persuasions of the devoted clergyman, which reconciled the perilous differences and led to Smith's admission to his rightful place at the board. A fire broke out among the inflammable huts at Jamestown and destroyed Mr. Hunt's library, and every article he possessed except the clothes he was then wearing; but not one word of dissatisfaction or repining was heard to escape from his lips, though the loss, especially of his books, must have fallen heavily on his spirit. Remaining in Virginia until his death, he, throughout his whole pastorate, directed his thoughts and energies exclusively towards advancing the Colonists' spiritual welfare. Whilst he lived, so an eye witness declared, he so "comforted the wants and extremities" of the settlers that all their hardships seemed easy enough to bear as compared with what they had afterwards to undergo when he was no longer on earth to teach them by word and example how to endure their sufferings with heroic patience and fortitude.


Rev. Richard Buck, who succeeded Hunt, was a graduate of Oxford, and when the question of his appointment to Virginia arose, was earnestly recommended as a man zealous and faithful in his calling; and this encomium was fully confirmed by the entire history of his pastorate from the first hour of his arrival in the Colony.


Rev. Alexander Whitaker, who left England about the same time, 3 was the son of one of the most celebrated preachers of that age; had won at Cambridge the degree of master-of-arts; and had filled a benefice in a northern shire with such untiring devotion to its duties that he had succeeded in securing the hearty approval and deep love of his parishioners. In the possession of a large salary that more than supplied him with all that he needed; with the assured prospect of even more lucrative preferment and far greater distinction in the church, -- nevertheless, well born, well educated, well placed as he was, he voluntarily left his "warme neste" (to use the expressive phrase of Rev. William Crashaw), and, to the amazement of his kindred and friends, passed oversea to "help to bear the name of God to the Gentiles." What did he himself say of the heavy task he had undertaken at a sacrifice of all personal ease and promotion?


"My coming to Virginia," he wrote, "has been prosperous, and my continuance here hath been answerable. I think I have fared better for your prayers and the rest. Though my promise of three years' service to my country be expired, I will abide in my vocation here until I be lawfully called hence." And there, in the zealous performance of his duties, he remained until accidentally drowned in the James River.

In forming the "hard but heroical" resolution of going out to Virginia, he was aware that he would be confronted with innumerable perils to his personal safety; and in meeting death upon the waters, while perhaps on an errand of sympathy and consolation, he had only come to that premature end by the shock of fate which he doubtless anticipated in giving up his quiet parson- age amid the peaceful scenes of an English parish. 


Rev. Mr. Glover, a contemporary of Whitaker, did not survive so long; and, like Whitaker, paid with his life for his zealous self-sacrifice in settling in Virginia. He was one of the numerous victims of the new country's extraordinary unhealthiness before the plantations had spread out widely; so long, however, as his health permitted, he is described by one who was deeply interested in the Colonists' religious welfare at that early period as giving "his soule to Christ Jesus, under whose banner he went to fighte, and for whose glorious name he undertook the danger." Glover was a graduate of Cambridge, and by his faithful conduct while holding livings in Bedford and Huntingdon shires had come to be greatly reverenced and beloved. Like Whitaker, however, though perhaps past his youth, he felt that he was called to that wild and remote field of labor oversea; and he put aside every hope and comfort in his native land in his determination to obey. He gave up his life to the cause, apparently without one word of repining or lamentation, except perhaps that the work in which his heart was centred should be cut short by his death. Well might the eloquent Crashaw, in dwelling with fervent admiration upon the firm resolution, the unyielding patience, the indefatigable zeal, and the indifference to suffering of these early clergymen, exclaim: "The ages to come will eternize your names as the Apostles to Virginia."


In 1616, when Dale left the Colony to return to England, the pastors then occupying pulpits there were Wm. Wickham, who resided at Henricopolis; Alexander Whitaker, at Bermuda Hundred; Richard Buck,

at Jamestown; and Mr. Meese, at Kikotan. Wickham, it appears, had never been ordained, but after the death of Mr. Whitaker, owing to the smallness of the number of clergymen surviving, he was, it seems,

impowered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the request of Governor Argoll, to administer the sacraments. Two years later, Governor Yeardley reported that there were then ( 1619) only five pastors in Virginia; and of these five, but three had received orders. Of the two who had never been ordained, one, Samuel Maycock, was a scholar of Cambridge University. 1 Francis Bolton, who filled first the living at Elizabeth City, and afterwards the one on the Eastern Shore, having, in 1621, been highly recommended to the Company for piety and learning, had been gladly accepted as the minister for appointment to the earliest vacant pulpit in the Colony. He seems, at one time, to have officiated as the rector of the church at Jamestown, the most important in Virginia; here he succeeded Rev. Hawte Wyatt, a brother of Governor Wyatt, and himself a graduate of an English university with the degree of master-of-arts. 2 Rev. Robert Staples, who emigrated in 1622, was a man of such remarkable qualifications that twenty conspicuous English divines had united in urging the Company to secure his services as a pastor for one of the Virginian benefices.  Rev. Thomas White, who went over about the same time proved himself to be so zealous and untiring in the performance of his duties, that the Governor and Council addressed a letter of special thanks to the Company for having dispatched to them so useful a minister. 4 At a later date, the authorities did not content themselves with simply commending a divine who had set a lofty example to his fellow clergymen; in 1635, as we have already stated, they bestowed on the Rev. Willis Higby a grant of two hundred and fifty acres for his "faithful paines" in pursuing his calling, and for the quiet and pious life with which he had "seconded his doctrine."


From the middle of the century to the end, as from the beginning to the middle, a large proportion of the clergymen were not only graduates of English universities, but also men of more or less distinguished social connections in England. Morgan Godwyn, at one time, in charge of the living of Marston parish adjoining Middle Plantation, was the great-grandson of a chaplain of Queen Elizabeth, afterwards promoted to the bishopric of Bath and Wells. His grandfather had filled the see of Hereford, whilst his father had died an archdeacon. 2 Rev. Philip Mallory, who had won the degree of master-of-arts at one of the universities, was both the son and the brother of a dean of Chester, and had himself occupied a vicarage in County Durham before emigrating to Virginia; the personal esteem and confidence in which he was held, as well as his high reputation for ability, were shown by his selection in 1661 as the agent to be sent to England to advance the interests of the colonial Church; and in the same year, the General Assembly paid a warm tribute to his zealous and faithful conduct in performing his duties as a clergyman. Rev. Thomas Hampton was a bachelor-of-arts of Corpus Christi College.

His family, like that of Mallory, had been intimately associated with the English Church; he himself was the son of a vicar; and a brother had long occupied the same office. Rev. Thomas Harrison, who, after acting as Berkeley's chaplain, was converted to the Puritan faith, was appointed, on his return to England, the chaplain of Henry Cromwell, a proof of his high standing as a man of talents and devoted piety. Rev. Justinian Aylmer was the grandson of an archdeacon of the same name, and there is reason to think identical with the Justinian Aylmer, who, in 1657, graduated from Oxford University with the degree of bachelor-of-arts. Rev. Rowland Jones, like so many others of the clergy who settled in Virginia, was sprung from a family prominent in the Church. His father was a vicar. Jones himself had enjoyed all the advantages of education which Merton College could afford. Rev. John Clayton, before removing to the Colony, had been vicar of Crofton Warwick; he was a graduate of Oxford University, a member of the Royal Society, and a student in the natural sciences of remarkable attainments. The book which he wrote touching the various natural features of Virginia is one of the most valuable and entertaining composed in the Seventeenth century on the same or a kindred topic. Rev. James Blair had graduated from the University of Edinburgh as a master-of-arts, and was a man of such conspicuous ability, and such extraordinary vigour of character, that, in addition to serving as a clergyman, he filled many honorable and responsible positions, -- was commissary of the Bishop of London, member of the Council, and President of William and Mary College.


Robert Hunt, Richard Buck, Hawte Wyatt, and Francis Bolton, previous to 1630, and Justinian Aylmer, Rowland Jones, John Clayton, John Clough, and James Blair, after that date, were incumbents of the pulpit at Jamestown. That we are more familiar with their lives than with those of the same number of men who, during the same period, occupied, one after another, the same benefice in some other part of Virginia, is due only to the fact that they were associated with the history of the political capital and social centre of the Colony. Outside of the great towns of England, or the wealthiest and most populous of the English

rural parishes, there was, in the course of the century, perhaps no single English living filled by a succession of clergymen superior to this body of men in combined learning, talents, piety, and devotion to duty; and yet there is no reason to think that the ability, zeal, and fidelity of these ministers who occupied the pulpit at Jamestown were overshadowing as compared with the same qualities in the clergymen, who, one after another, occupied any of the more important benefices in York, Surry, Elizabeth City, or Gloucester counties, or the counties situated in the Northern Neck, or on the Eastern Shore. Among these clergymen towards the end of the century were such men as Rev.Bartholomew Yates and Rev. Peter Kippax, who were both bachelors-of-arts of Brasenose College, Oxford; Rev. Cope Doyley and Rev. Emanuel Jones, bachelors-of-arts of Merton and Oriel Colleges; Rev. St. John Shropshire, who had won the same degree at Queen's College; Rev. James Clark, distinguished for culture as well as for piety; Rev. William Thompson, described in a public paper as an orthodox, faithful, and painstaking minister, who led a quiet, sober, and exemplary life, and was of a "conversation becoming his function unreprovable."


All the surviving records of the Seventeenth century go to show that, whatever, during that long period, may have been the infirmities or unworthy traits of individual clergymen, the great body of those officiating in Virginia were men who performed all the duties of their sacred calling in a manner entitling them to the respect, reverence, and gratitude of their parishioners. There were two influences quite sure to have made a deep impression even on those members of the profession, should there have been any, who were disposed to lead unbecoming lives: -- first, that general attitude of hostility to all forms of dissoluteness which must have prevailed among the great majority of the ministers themselves, because, if for no higher reason, it was the only means of preserving the exalted position of their order; and, secondly, the force of public sentiment, which was not likely to have judged overleniently the bad conduct of those holding themselves out as the moral teachers and exemplars of the people.


We have already seen how extremely active the grand juries and churchwardens were in presenting all persons guilty of immorality, and in this action they were simply reflecting the general temper of the community, which was certain to have been especially quick to condemn a clergyman's offenses because so much more injurious and pernicious in their influence.




As early as 1631-2, when the Colony was still in its infancy, and the force of public opinion not yet as powerful as it was destined to become with the growth of population, the General Assembly passed an Act declaring that no divine should set an evil example by drinking or playing dice or cards; and again in 1643, it was provided that, should a clergyman conduct himself in a manner unbecoming his profession, the Governor and Council should punish him either by suspension or the infliction of such other penalty as their judgment suggested. 


If the clergyman who, by nature was inclined to be lax in his conduct had no other reason for self-restraint, his absolute dependence upon his vestry for his continuation in his place must have influenced him powerfully to act with prudence and circumspection. There is no evidence to show that that body was disposed to consider an unworthy life on the part of their minister a matter of no great concern to themselves. There may have been times when they allowed an anxiety to keep the pulpit of the parish occupied to induce them to retain a pastor whose courses they had reason to criticise, yet we have the testimony of the author of Leah and Rachel, a careful observer of the condition of the Church in the Colony, that, even under these circumstances, they "still endeavoured for better" in his stead, and succeeded in obtaining him. There are likely to have been few clergymen who would deliberately defy their vestry's disapproval when they were aware that the inevitable consequence, however delayed, was dismissal as soon as that body was able to secure a substitute. If a minister's conduct had been "abominably scandalous," we learn from Beverley that he found it far from easy to acquire another living; and this fact, which was clearly known to every member of the same calling, must have served as a powerful check upon any one who otherwise would have been indifferent to his vestry's displeasure. The room for employment outside of the plantation was not so great that a clergyman, with the most ordinary sense of discretion, could afford to run the risk of losing the only means of subsistence which at the time was in his reach. Let him give offense to his vestry by an improper life, and at once, owing to his uncertain tenure, the bread that went to the support of himself and his family, might, at the end of the annual contract, be taken away.


It is probable that the "loose lives and ungodly conversation" laid by the intemperate Godwyn at the door of some of the Virginian divines of these times was merely a not unnatural distaste for the morbidly austere standards of Puritanism affected by that writer, standards that dismissed as unbecoming in a clergyman all those innocent gratifications in which the Church of England saw no real harm unless pushed to an extreme. The very ministers against whom Godwyn brought this charge in the spirit of a Bunyan or a Mather, who were outraged by the ringing of bells or the kissing of one's wife on Sunday, were perhaps the very persons whom Berkeley, a zealous Anglican, long afterwards eulogized as the "worthy men" driven by "Cromwell's tyranny" to Virginia. Among the almost innumerable instances of disputed wagers in horse racing, card playing, and the like preserved in the county records, there is apparently not one in which a clergyman is entered as a party to the suit; and there is also but one case apparently in which a clergyman of those times participated even indirectly in a horse race. And yet it was not at all opposed to what was thought becoming in the Anglican clergymen of that age to take part in those sports in the open air, and in those pastimes within doors which were enlivened by liberal betting.



1  We find such a distinguished clergyman as Rev. James Blair serving as endman in a horse race which took place in Henrico county; Henrico County Minute Book, vol. 1682-1701, p. 268, Va. St. Libr. 


1  As the Virginian clergyman's title to his benefice was subject to a contract renewable from year to year, he was, as the world goes, much more likely to have acted discreetly and becomingly than the English clergyman who held his living by a freehold tenure, a fact that made him practically independent of his congregation. We are referring only to those men in the Colony and Mother Country whose conduct was not governed by the highest motives alone. 

2  Godwyn's Negro's and Indian's Advocate was dedicated to Cromwell. Whilst breathing humane sentiments, this remarkable pamphlet is animated by much of that spirit which objected to bear

baiting, not because it hurt the bear, but because it gave the spectators pleasure. For Berkeley's statement, see Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 517. Berkeley declared on the same occasion that the ministers were well paid, and "by my consent," he added characteristically, "should be better if they would pray oftener and preach less." 


1  "There came thither such as wore black coats and could babble in a pulpit, roar in a tavern, exact from their parishioners, and rather by their dissoluteness destroy than feed their flocks. Loath was the country to be wholly without teachers, and, therefore, rather retain them than be destitute; yet still endeavors for better

in their places, which were obtained, and these wolves in sheep's clothing by their Assembly questioned...and some forced to depart the Country. Then began the Gospel to flourish." Leah

and Rachel, p. 9, Force's Hist. Tracts, vol. iii. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 157; MS. Laws of Va., 1643, Clerk's Office, Portsmouth, Va. An Act of Assembly passed in 1677 fixed the penalty of acting "scandalously" at the loss of half a year's salary; see Colonial Entry Book, 1675-81, p. 160. Governor Nichol- son was instructed to use the "best means for the removal of any person already preferred who should appear to give scandall either by his doctrine or his manners"; see Instructions to Governor Nicholson,

B. T. Va. vol. vii., p. 168. 


1  Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog.k, vol. viii., pp. 59-63. Rev. David Lindsay of Northumberland county was the son of a Scotch baronet and King-at-arms. See William and Mary College Quarterly for 1907. 

2  Surry Country Records, vol. 1671-84, p. 124, Va. St. Libr. 


1  I am indebted for most of the preceding details to Mr. Tyler's Cradle of the Republic, a work full of interesting information obtained by original research; see page 87 et seq. 


1  Tyler's Cradle of the Republic, p. 151. Among the clergymen residing in Virginia in 1680 were Benjamin Doggett, Charles Davies, Mr. Dudley, Mr. Scrimgour, William Butler, John Waugh, John Farnefold, John Ball, Paul Williams, John Clough, Rowland Jones, Thomas Vicars, John Gwyn, John Sheppard, William Sellick, Thomas Taylor, William Williams, Robert Carr, Thomas Hampton, Robert Parke, William Housdon, John Gregory, John Wood, Henry Parkes, Thomas Teakle, John Lawrence, and James Porter. The following clergymen signed a memorial to Governor Andros in 1696: -- James Blair, Cope Doyley, James Sclater, William Williams, Henry Pretty, Joseph Holt, Geo. Robinson, John Batte, Andrew and John Monro, Charles Anderson, Francis Fordyce, Jonathan Saunders, Jno. Alexander, and John Wallace. 

2  Neill's Va. Carolorum, p. 342. 


1  Brown's First Republic, p. 327; Neill's Va. Co. of London, p. 138. The three ordained clergymen were Rev. Richard Buck, Rev. Mr. Meese, and Rev. Mr. Bargrave. William Wickham and Samuel Maycock had not been ordained. 

2  Abstracts of Proceedings of Va. Co. of London, vol. i., p. 135. 

3  Ibid., p. 166. The Company supplied both Rev. Robert Staples and Rev. William Leete with £20 respectively to meet the cost of their clothes and books, and to defray the charges of their voyage to Virginia. 

4  Randolph, MS., vol. iii., p. 166. Among the clergymen residing in Virginia in 1623 were Greville Pooley at Fleur de Hundred; Hawte Wyatt at Jamestown, David Saunders (Sandys) at Hog Island; and George Keith at Elizabeth City; see Colonial Records of Va., State Senate Doct., Extra, 1874, p. 37. About fifteen ministers arrived between 1618 and 1623, among them William Bennett, Jonas Stockton, Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Pemberton, and Henry Jacob. Rev. Robert Pawlett also came over in this interval; he seems to have been also a physician and surgeon. 


1  Brown's Genesis of the United States, p. 619; Anderson's Colonial Church, p. 225. 

2  Anderson's Colonial Church, p. 238. One of the most learned and eloquent tributes ever paid to the zeal and piety of these early clergymen will be found in the address delivered by Mr. R. S. Thomas before the convention of the P. E. Church at Petersburg, Va., in 1898. This is one of several contributions, equally interesting and valuable, which Mr. Thomas has made to our knowledge of the church in Colonial Virginia. 

3  Campbell's History of Virginia, p. 117, Phila. edition. 

4  See Letter of Governor Argoll, June 9, 1617, Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 137. 


1  Brown's Genesis of the United States, p. 500; Works of Captain John Smith, vol. ii., p. 22, Richmond edition; Neill's Virginia Company of London, pp. 75, 76, 82, 100. 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, p. 959, Arber's edition. Wingfield declared that he always "took such notes in writing of Mr. Hunt's sermons as his capacity could comprehend"; Brown's First Republic, p. 31. 

2  Purchas, iv., p. 201 . Buck came out with Sir Thomas Gates. 

3  Whitaker came out with Dale in 1611. 

4  Brown's Genesis of the United States, vol. ii., pp. 614 - 15 . 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, vol. i., p. 150 , Richmond edition. 

2  Ibid., p. 152 , Richmond edition. 


1  Works of Captain John Smith, p. xci., Arber's edition. 

CHAPTER XX Struggle to Enforce Conformity


DOWN to the passage of the famous Act of Toleration by Parliament in the reign of William and Mary, there was, with the exception of the brief period during which James the Second granted freedom of worship to all sects, a determined and persistent attempt on the part of the government of the Colony to enforce in religious belief and services a rigid conformity with the doctrines and ceremonies of the Church of England. One of the General Assembly's most important duties was to enact legislation designed to protect the Established Church against dissent and schism; and an equally important duty of the General Court in its ecclesiastical capacity, was to punish those guilty of defying this legislation by entertaining religious tenets and following rules of worship not authorized by the Anglican canons.


From the foundation of Jamestown, the English Government showed great solicitude that conformity should be strictly maintained. As early as 1606, when instructions were drawn up by the King for the guidance

of those having the first expedition in charge, an injunction was laid on the President, Council, and minister that, not only should the "true word and service of God be preached, planted and used" in the projected

Colony, both among the English settlers and the savages, but that this word and service should be "taught and performed" according to the doctrines and rites of the Church of England alone. In order to ensure universal conformity, the Divine and Martial Laws of 1611 required that every man and woman then residing in Virginia, or who should hereafter arrive, should make a candid confession of religious belief; if found

deficient in religious knowledge, then he or she, as the case might be, was directed to apply at once to the minister for the proper instruction; and should the person fail to do so without excuse, then the penalty was to be one whipping for the first offense, two for the second, and for the third a daily whipping until compliance was proven.


In the instructions given to Governor Wyatt in 1621, he was ordered to maintain in Virginia the form and spirit of the "Church of England as near as may be" and, in 1639, he received further instructions to regulate the religious affairs of the people by the English ecclesiastic laws and statutes. 4 In 1641, Berkeley was enjoined by the English Privy Council to see that "God Almighty was duly and daily served" according to the framework of religion represented by the Anglican Church; and in 1662, when he had been restored to the

Governorship, this order was repeated.


The effect of these instructions was seen in numerous Acts passed by the General Assembly at different times during the century. As early as the session of 1623-4, this body declared that all religious services

held in Virginia should be required to follow as closely as possible "the canons in England, both in substance and circumstance." That this law reflected the settled determination of all the higher authorities of the Colony at this time is shown by the Governor and Council requesting that the French and Walloon Protestant families, proposing to remove oversea, should not only take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, but also agree to conform in their religious worship to

all the Anglican rules. In 1629, the General Assembly ordered every clergyman occupying a living in Virginia to give the strictest obedience to these rules or submit to severe punishment 3 ; and again in 1631, the same body passed an Act to enforce the most rigid observance of the "canons and constitutions of the Church of England." Twelve years later, it was provided that not only should all ministers conform to these canons and constitutions, but that all persons dissenting should leave the Colony.


The oath which the churchwardens were required to take in 1664 shows how firm the General Assembly continued to be in its determination to maintain conformity. "The ceremonies and rites," that oath declared in referring to the service in the church, "shall be according to the orders and canons of England, and the Sacraments shall be performed according to the Book of Common Prayer." At a meeting of the Council held in 1691, a complaint was made that some of the vestries were retaining ministers who had departed from the rules and doctrines of the Anglican Church; and a command was promptly issued that no pastor should be allowed to hold a living who refused to comply with the regulations of that Church. Nicholson, in vacating the Lieut. Governorship of the Colony in 1692, declared emphatically that the people of Virginia were faithful to the Church of England; and the general correctness of this statement was confirmed by Andros who succeeded him. When Nicholson returned to the Colony a second time, he was impowered to remove any pastor whose doctrines gave rise to "public scandal"; and thereafter no minister was to be admitted to a pulpit who was unable to show a certificate from the Bishop of London to the effect that he conformed to the tenets and discipline of the Anglican Church.


"Public scandal," as the term went, seems to have been easily aroused in some quarters by very slight departures from the requirements of the ecclesiastical laws. For instance, in 1668, a violent controversy arose between Rev. Francis Doughty and two of his vestry, John Catlett and Humphrey Booth, because Doughty, in performing divine service, had been guilty of "abstraceons from chants." This was only one of several delinquencies on his part hinting of non-conformity. In taking the oath as a clergyman, he had not only declared himself to be a true son of the Anglican Church, and confessed his belief in its Articles of Faith, but had bound himself to act consistently with all its various canons down to the least important. The justices of Rappahannock, where Doughty's living was situated, were ordered by the General Court, to

which, in its ecclesiastical capacity, complaint had been made, to try the charges against him. The issue must have been contrary to his wishes, for in a document recorded in the county he expressed his determination to transport himself out of the Colony of Virginia into some other country and climate that might prove more favorable to his "aged, infirm, and disordered body." His wife was, however, unwilling to depart, as she found Virginia "best agreeing with her health"; and she also could not make up her mind to leave her children, who were probably grown and settled. There was not the slightest toleration for religious views which seemed to give countenance to heresy.



1  Westmoreland County Records, vol. 1655-64, p. 46. 

2  Rappahannock County Records, vol. 1668-72, pp. 40, 51, 119, 195, Va. St. Libr. There was a suggestion that Doughty had been somewhat lax in his personal conduct; in what direction it is not stated; and this probably explains his wife's refusal to accompany him in his self-banishment. As we have seen, he made a liberal conveyance of property for her support. The oath taken by Doughty as a minister was, doubtless, the one taken by all persons of his calling before entering upon their work. In 1668, Doughty was the paster of Sittingbourne parish. Rev.John Waugh, of Stafford county, seems to have thought conscientiously that

neither license nor banns were necessary preliminaries to the marriage ceremony, whether required by law or not. In 1674, he was suspended for marrying a couple without receiving any proof that a license had been obtained or banns published; see Westmoreland County Records, vol. 1665-77, p. 217. He committed the same offence in 1699; see Minutes of Council, Dec. 19, 1699, B. T. Va., vol. liii.; also Letters of William Fitzhugh, Oct. 27, 1690. 


William Robinson, of Northampton, declared in a pub-lic argument in 1657 that Christ was never beheld by "carnal eye"; in uttering these words, he was accused of having committed a felony; and for this, he was

arrested and carried to Jamestown to be tried by the General Court. A friend of Robinson, who held the

same opinion, boldly announced that, in its support, he was ready to forfeit his life, "thus sealing it with his

blood"; he also was promptly arrested and imprisoned; and was not released until he had given bond for his

good behaviour. In the very year in which these prosecutions took place in Northampton, Joseph Whitby

and his wife, of Surry, were brought before the justices accused of entertaining "heinous tenets"; and it was

only after expressing their deep contrition for their sin, and promising to abstain from such errors in the

future, that they obtained their discharge.


There was a large number of persons residing in the Colony about 1660, who rejected the doctrine laid

down in the Book of Common Prayer, namely, that by baptism the infant is regenerated with the Holy Spirit. This opinion on their part seems to have made them as a class the target for the sharpest denunciation; they were described as schismatical persons, as persons averse to "the orthodox established religion," and governed by the new fangled conceits of their own heretical inventions. Whoever refused to baptize his child was compelled to pay two thousand pounds of tobacco for the offense 3 ; and so serious was a case of this character considered to be that it frequently went up to the General Court for settlement; in 1675, for instance, that court issued an order requiring the father named in it to baptize his child at once; and in the course of the same year, the county court of Lower Norfolk directed John Biggs to repair to the minister of his parish for a like purpose. This he must have declined to do, as only a few months afterwards, he was fined thirty-five hundred pounds of tobacco under a judgment of the General Court, to which his obduracy had been referred for punishment. Heretical opinions about the doctrine of baptism were not restricted to laymen; as early as 1645, Rev. Thomas Harrison, of Lower Norfolk, who had become a Puritan, and who soon abandoned his pulpit in Virginia, was indicted by the grand jury because he refused to perform the sacrament of baptism according to the canons of the Church of England.  



1  Robinson Transcripts, p. 262. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, April 16, Aug. 18, 1675. 

3  Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., p. 12. 



1  Northampton County Records, vol. 1657-64, folio pp. 13, 27.

Robinson, as will be found later on, was a Quaker. 

2  Surry County Records, vol. 1645-72, p. 113, Va. St. Libr. 

3  Neill's Va. Carolorum p. 293; Hening's Statutes, vol. ii., p. 166.

This doctrine as to not baptizing was held by the Quakers as well

as by the Puritans. 


1  Northampton County Records, vol. 1664-74, p. 1. 

2  Order of Council is recorded in Henrico County Records, Orders

May 15, 1691. 

3  B. T. Va., 1692, No. 128; Council Orders Sept. 20, 1692; Colonial

Entry Book, 1680-95. 

4  B. T. Va., vol. vii., p. 168. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 123. 

2  British Colonial Papers, vol. i., Doct. 55. 

3  Acts of Assembly, March 24, 1629, Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 214. 

4  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 216. 

5  Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 277. 


1  Instructions to Virginia Company of London, 1606. 

2  Divine and Martial Laws, 1611, p. 17, Force's Hist. Tracts, vol.


3  Randolph MS., vol. iii., p. 161. 

4  Colonial Entry Book, 1606-1662, p. 213. 

5  Ibid., 1606- 1662, pp. 219, 266. 


1  Thomas Ludwell, writing to Secretary Arlington in 1666, stated

that "Quakers and all other non-conformists are tried before the

General Court at Jamestown"; see British Colonial Papers, vol. xx.,

Nos. 125, 125, i. 


CHAPTER XXIII Dissent: The Puritans


IT was not until 1662 that the term "dissenter" became strictly applicable to Puritans, for it was not until this year that the great English Act of Uniformity, which was so radical and far reaching in its operation, was passed. This Act was the final upshot of the uncompromising influences separating the Puritan and the Churchman during the civil wars. There were numerous Puritan clergymen in the early history of the Church of England, and it was to this section that several of the most saintly divines who went out to Virginia, during the first years of the Colony, belonged.  Such were George Keith and Alexander Whitaker. It was Whitaker who expressed surprise that "so few of our English ministers that were so hot against the surplice and subscription" emigrated to Virginia, "where neither is spoken of." That those persons who administered the Colony's affairs in the time of the Company entertained no strong prejudice against the Puritans even when their principles were pushed to the extreme of separatism, is shown by the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers received permission to make a settlement within the boundaries of Virginia. As we have seen, however, the General Assembly began as early as 1623-4 to enforce a strict conformity with the canons of the Church of England both in "substance and circumstance"; the same measure was re-enacted in 1631; and from this time, with the exception of the interval of the Protectorate, down to the passage of the Act of Toleration, the Puritans remained as much under a ban as the Quakers themselves.


The first large congregation of persons, either Puritans at the time, or to become Puritans later on, to make a settlement in Virginia obtained patents to land situated on the present Burwell's Bay. The leader of this band was Edward Bennett, who was accompanied by his nephews, Robert and Richard; and Rev. William Bennett served as its first minister. The community established by this congregation, known as "Edward Bennett's Plantation," showed, during many years, their sympathy with the Puritan doctrines and form of religious worship. In 1642, the very year in which Sir William Berkeley, an ardent and zealous follower of Laud, became Governor of the Colony, Richard Bennett and others holding to the same beliefs, who resided in Nansemond county, sent a messenger to Boston in New England with letters requesting that ministers should be directed to go to Virginia to administer to the spiritual wants of the Puritan non-conformists there. 1 It was evident that the latter did not anticipate that any effort would be made at this time to interfere with their religious services; and that the same view was entertained by their friends in Massachusetts was shown by the readiness of the response in dispatching to Virginia William Thompson, John Knowles, and Thomas James, three Puritan clergymen of distinction. They carried letters of introduction to Governor Berkeley from Governor Winthrop. 2 Berkeley, however, was as bitterly hostile to the Puritans as to the Quakers, and as he was choleric and outspoken, he very probably gave these clergymen a very ungracious reception.


It was under his influence that, in 1643, an Act was passed which declared that, in order to preserve the Established Church's unity and purity of doctrine, every minister whatever residing in Virginia should

conform to all of its canons. If any one refused to do so, then he was not to be suffered either to teach or to preach, whether in public or in private; and if he continued obstinate, he was to be compelled to leave the Colony. This statute, so unmistakable in its meaning, was Berkeley's formal reply to Governor Winthrop's letters handed to him by the three Puritan divines. Knowles and James soon became discouraged and returned to the more congenial atmosphere of New England; Thompson, who was stouter of heart, if not more zealous, lingered, and it seems, by his earnest and resolute spirit in defying all obstacles in his way, made numerous converts, including, among others, a son of Daniel Gookin. Cotton Mather, probably exaggerating the success won by Thompson in Virginia in the teeth of the hostile authorities, declared, in the language of poetical enthusiasm: -- "A constellation of great converts there shone around him, and his Heavenly glory were." It shows the ease with which inferences can be drawn from a terrible catastrophe to support either side of a religious controversy that the massacre of the whites by the Indians in 1644 was proclaimed far and wide by the Puritans as a judgment from God upon the persecution they had suffered, and by Churchmen as an evidence of the Deity's condemnation of their own sin in granting a refuge to the Puritans in Virginia.


At least one clergyman of the Established Church seems to have been deeply affected by the awful significance which the non-conformists had attributed to the massacre; this was Thomas Harrison, who at one time had acted as Berkeley's chaplain;  and there appears a certain poetical retribution in the fact that one so close to this redoubtable champion of Laud's doctrines should have become a convert under the influence of an argument which must have seemed especially outrageous to all good churchmen. The impetuous wrath of the hot-headed Governor when his spiritual adviser turned coat must have been even greater than when, at a later period, he confronted the youthful Bacon at the door of the State-House. Harrison, as we have already mentioned, was in 1648, the minister occupying the pulpit in Elizabeth River parish, but was compelled to abandon that living because he refused to read the Book of Common Prayer as a part of the services, or to administer the sacrament of baptism. Either he or others had preached with such extraordinary energy and zeal in Nansemond county that he was able to announce by letter to Governor Winthrop that he had made seventy-four converts; that nineteen persons "stood propounded"; and that numerous others were showing a favourable disposition. In the end, he seems to have been required to leave Virginia not later than the date on which should sail the third ship departing after he was informed of the order. On his arrival in New England, he reported that he had left in the Colony a congregation of Puritans numbering at least one hundred and eighteen persons. He consulted with the magistrates and elders as to what course he should pursue; -- whether he should remain in Massachusetts or return to Virginia. They declared that there was excellent ground for expecting a "far more plentiful harvest" than had yet been reaped from the fact that many members of the Council were leaning toward Puritanism, and that at least one thousand persons had been converted to its doctrines; it would, therefore, in their opinion, show great haste should the Puritan ministers abandon the field before the terms on which they could stay there became absolutely intolerable.


Harrison's banishment naturally aroused opposition among persons of the same tenets. The Puritans were now supreme in England, and this fact induced some of his followers to send a petition to the Council of State, in which their former pastor was described as an able man of an unblemished life, who had excited the hostility of the Virginian authorities by his refusal to read in church the Book of Common Prayer. As Parliament itself had now prohibited the use of that book, it was only to be expected that this body would command the Governor of the Colony to allow Harrison to return to his ministry. His zeal, however, does not appear to have carried him so far, for at no very distant date, he is found serving as Henry Cromwell's chaplain, a proof of the radical change which his religious opinions had undergone since he had filled the same office under Sir William Berkeley.


Harrison was followed in the Elizabeth River parish by Rev. Wm. Durand, who appears to have entertained the same religious views; and in this, he was supported by some of the first men in his congregation, as well as by a large number of the plainer members; but this did not save him from being apprehended at the suit of the King, and being compelled, like Harrison, to vacate his pulpit. The influence of their Puritan doctrines remained, for, in 1649, Edward Lloyd and Thomas Meares, justices of the county court, and six additional citizens of about equal prominence were indicted as "seditious sectaries" because they had refused to attend religious services in the parish church, or to hear read the Book of Common Prayer; and for this double offence, they were required to give bond to appear before the Governor and Council sitting as an ecclesiastical court at Jamestown.


During the existence of the Protectorate, the Puritans had no ground for complaint; their party was now supreme; and by the irony of circumstances, they, in their turn, were in a position to harry those who had striven so persistently to curb their freedom of religious opinion and worship. Perhaps, they would have done this had not their number, after all, been too small to make persecution effective. By the eleventh article of the terms of surrender agreed upon in 1651, the Book of Common Prayer (to which, as we have seen, the Puritans specially objected) was to be allowed to continue in use for the ensuing year provided that the prayers for the King and royal government were omitted; and the ministers then in possession of livings in the Colony were not, during the same period, to be interfered with either as respecting the retention of their pulpits, or the payment of their accustomed dues. If at this time a clergyman of Puritan leanings was to be found among the Virginian divines, this arrangement protected him as fully as it did one conducting religious services in strict conformity with the Anglican orders and constitutions. But it was only a breathing spell which the Puritan minister enjoyed while the Protectorate lasted; he had been exposed to serious persecution, as we have seen, previous to the establishment of the Puritan Supremacy in England; as soon as that supremacy was overthrown by the restoration of Charles the Second, and a rigid Act of Uniformity passed by Parliament, the Puritans residing in Virginia became as distinct a sect of dissenters as the Quakers themselves, and the hand of repression fell upon them not less heavily than it had done before. Berkeley probably detested them more thoroughly than he did the Quakers; but they do not seem to have found the same nourishment in persecution, and either steadily declined in numbers, or were less disposed to cling publicly to their own doctrines. The gap between them and the Established Church was far less wide, and time perhaps had a tendency to bridge it entirely. Whatever Puritans resided in the Colony towards the end of the century obtained by the Act of Toleration the same freedom of religious opinion and worship outside of the Established Church as had been bestowed on all other dissenting sects.


It does not seem strange to find that the Puritans failed to secure much foothold in Virginia during the course of the Seventeenth century. They were always a small and apparently never an influential body. It

is quite probable that the only real differences dividing them from the other congregations were wholly religious in character, namely a rejection of the Book of Common Prayer, and of the Sacrament of Baptism. If they introduced into their social life all those sombre and austere habits and customs prevailing in the theocratic communities of New England, there is no proof of the fact. All the influences at play in such a colony as Massachusetts, for instance, tended, as time passed on, to accentuate the harsher features of Puritanism, and not the least powerful of these influences were those springing from the soil and climate. In Virginia, on the other hand, the Puritan found himself in a community where not one person in fifty surrounding him was in sympathy with his religious creed, or his social principles; there he was not sustained by the example or the teachings of all his associates as he would have been had he resided in Boston or Plymouth; but, on the contrary, was far more likely to be pointed at as a target of ridicule, or held up as an object of folly. The general tone of the social life in which he moved prompted him unconsciously to make the most of the comparatively few pleasures offered in those narrow bounds, whether they consisted of a glass of wine, a dance, a game of cards, or a horse-race. The whole tone of that life was generous, liberal, abounding, at the very time that it was marked by reverence for religion and respect for law. Not one Puritan in an hundred perhaps could have preserved the sombre self-denying spirit of his sect in the life of the secluded plantation, which gave an exaggerated importance to the few indulgences in the reach of the inhabitants. Insensibly, the general tendencies of such a religious body planted in Virginia must have been modified by influences like these, so entirely hostile to the extreme severity long distinguishing people of that faith in the northern communities. It was perhaps due to this modification in their character that the Puritans of Virginia played no great role in the Colony even during the supremacy of their party in England.



1  For the Puritan emigration to Maryland, see Fiske's Old Virginia and her Neighbors. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., pp. 14, 83; see also

Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders, Aug. 15, Oct. 1, 1649. 

2  Randolph MS. vol. iii., p. 243. This condition prevailed in England also. During the Protectorate, the church buildings were considered to be the property of the parishes; and according to the wishes of the majority of the worshippers, the pulpit of each benefice could be filled by a clergyman of the Presbyterian, Independent, or Church of England faith. This system prevailed from 1654 to 1660. 


1  Winthrop's Journal, p. 334. This estimate of number was based on conjecture, as the northern Puritans themselves acknowledged. Winthrop's Journal in part will be found printed in William and Mary College Quarterly, vol. xiii., p. 54 et. seq. 

2  Interregnum Entry Book, vol. cxv., pp. 482-3. 

3  Durand seems to have followed Harrison to Boston. 


1  An Act passed in 1647 declared that no minister who had refused to read the Book of Common Prayer was entitled to the payment of tithes by his parishioners; see Hening's Statutes, vol. i., p. 341. 

2  Mass. Hist. Coll. Fourth Series, pp. 434-5. This letter was dated 1647. It is possible that Harrison occupied two pulpits at the same time, -- one at Elizabeth River, and the other in the adjoining county of Nansemond. All the Colonial records of Nansemond have perished. 


1  See Fiske's Old Virginia and her Neighbors, where this fact is mentioned. In 1640, as already stated, Harrison was elected to a living in Lower Norfolk county, which he seems to have filled until 1648. His chaplaincy must have been coincident with the occu- pation of this pulpit, see Tyler's Cradle of the Republic, p. 139. 


1  Va. Maga. of Hist. and Biog., vol. iii., p. 54. 

2  Winthrop's New England; see William and Mary College Quart., vol. xii., p. 56. 


1  Abstracts of Proceedings of Va. Co. of London, vol. i., p. 93. Campbell in his History of Virginia states that the first Puritans arrived in 1619, and that a larger number would have followed had it not been for a proclamation issued by Bancroft, Archbishop of  Canterbury. 


1  Purchas, Book ix., ch. xi. 

2  The early tone of the Church of England was distinctly Calvinistic, and it was not until 1630 that a reaction set in. This was first observed in the English Universities, and as the leading exponents of the movement were earnest advocates of the extreme view of the Divine Right of the King, they received the recognition of the crown by promotion to bishoprics and livings. The Act of Uniformity, adopted in 1662, completed the elimination of Puritan influence from the Church of England. All ministers were, by

this law, to be expelled from their benefices should they decline to accept the whole of the Book of Common Prayer. 

CHAPTER XXV Atheism and Witchcraft


TO confess that one was devoid of any religious belief was, if possible, deemed to be even more heinous than to acknowledge oneself to be either a Quaker or a Papist. How slight were the grounds on which charges of atheism were brought was illustrated in the case of Wingfield, the first President of the Council and Governor of the Colony: -- he was accused of practically denying the existence of God because he had failed to carry a Bible with him to Virginia. Wingfield, knowing how destructive of his reputation such an imputation would be unless refuted, defended himself by saying that, when he left his home in one of the English shires to go up to London, his Bible was sent to that city along with his other books, and there left in the care of a Master Croft, but the trunk containing it was broken open by a thief and rifled, and he presumed that the Bible was one of the things "beasiled," as it could not be found among his other books on their

arrival in Virginia.


In 1654, Edward Hill, when a candidate for the office of Speaker of the House of Burgesses, was, without ground, charged with being a blasphemer and an atheist, and the accusation seems even to have been

investigated by the General Court. But his acquittal did not save him from further imputations on the same score. Hatcher, a delegate in the House over which Hill was presiding at the time, boldly exclaimed during a session of the Burgesses: -- "The mouth of this House is a devil." He was compelled to kneel and acknowledge the impropriety of this speech; and his name was afterwards dropped from the roll. 1 In 1683, Thomas Newhouse, of Lower Norfolk, was accused of having asserted before an assembly of people that "a great part of the Bible was false." He was arrested, tried by the justices of the county, and at once sent on to the General Court sitting at Jamestown. A large number

of persons were, on one occasion, indicted in Accomac on the ground that, by their participation in a mock marriage, they had made a scoff of the same holy book.


During the last year of the century, it was proclaimed in an Act of Assembly that a denial of the existence of the Deity or the Trinity, or an assertion that there were more Gods than one, or that the Christian religion was false, or that the Scriptures were of human and not of

divine origin, should subject the person guilty of such an utterance, for the first offence, to incapacity to hold public offices; and for the second, in addition to this penalty, to disability to sue in a court of law, disqualification to serve as a guardian or executor, and

incapacity to accept any gift or legacy; and as a further punishment, he was to suffer imprisonment during a period of three years.


The excess of incredulity as reflected in atheism was probably far less frequently observed in the Colony than the excess of credulity as reflected in the belief in witchcraft. There was perhaps not a single community in the civilized world of those times in which this form of superstition did not exist; in some, as in Massachusetts, for instance, the belief in witchcraft was carried so far that it led, as at Salem, to the judicial murder of numerous unhappy persons; the annals of Virginia bear no such stain, but this uncouth superstition, which had its birth in ignorance and malice, prevailed certainly among the lower section of her people throughout the Seventeenth century. Fortunately, it resulted in the infliction of no severer punishment than a flogging or a ducking; and even this punishment was imposed in only two cases whose record has survived, one of which occurred early in the following century.


Rev. Alexander Whitaker, one of the most accomplished men of that age, writing to Rev. William Crashaw in England, touched at some length on the "anticks" of the Indians. "All these things," he concluded with

evident awe, "make me think that there be great witches among them, and that they are very familiar with the Devill." As soon as the Colony's population began to increase very much, the "great witches" were not supposed to be confined entirely to the ranks of the savages; they had now appeared among the settlers themselves; but unlucky was the man or woman who, in a moment of passion, attributing to some neighbor the

evil powers of a witch, was unable afterwards to prove the charge; the accusation was too serious in its consequences, should the person to whom such powers were imputed, be innocent, to be passed over without an inquiry. In 1641, Jane Rookins, in a quarrel with George Busher's wife, as the consummation of abuse denounced her as a witch. Mrs. Busher, resenting the charge, in her great fear lest it should bring down on her head a wave of popular rage, made a complaint to court of the wrong done her by the application to her of such a frightful word. Mrs. Rookins professed to have no recollection of having used it, but declared her readiness, should she have done so, to express her hearty penitence. The apology was accepted as sufficient, but the justices ordered her husband to reimburse George Busher for the expense he had been put to in prosecuting the case.


In the course of 1655, the justices of Lower Norfolk stated from the bench that the reputation of several women residing in the county had been recently blackened and their lives jeoparded, by the "dangerous and scandalous speeches" of persons publicly accusing them of witchcraft. So great an outrage did the court consider this to be, that they entered an order that, should anyone bring a charge of this kind without being able to support it by his own oath, or the oaths of other witnesses, he was to forfeit one thousand pounds of tobacco. 2 During the same year, Rev. David Lindsay, of Northumberland, a clergyman who

had emigrated from Scotland, a land where witchcraft flourished, accused William Harding of that county of sorcery; the case was submitted to a jury, who found him guilty in part of the crime laid at his door; the court promptly sentenced him to receive ten stripes on

his bare shoulders, and then to be banished permanently from the county. Two months, however, were allowed him within which to take his leave, for it was evidently regarded as only right that he should be permitted to settle his affairs before his departure. Three years

later, Rev. Francis Doughty, emulating the zeal of Mr. Lindsay, had Barbara Winbrow dragged before the justices of Northampton, on the ground that she was notoriously bad in her life and conversation, and generally supposed to be "guilty of witchery." She had already been arraigned for sorcery before the General Court, but had secured an acquittal.


The only case involving the infliction of the death penalty on anyone accused of this offence coming before the courts of Virginia during the Seventeenth century related to an incident occurring, in 1659, at sea.

In the course of a voyage from England, Captain Bennett, an Englishman engaged in the trade with the Colony, hung at the yard's arm, quite probably at the clamorous demand of his superstitious passengers during the progress of a violent storm, an old woman named Katharine Grady suspected of witchcraft; but when information as to this summary act was submitted to the General Court at Jamestown, he was immediately summoned before them to answer for it, a proof that they did not consider that a charge of sorcery against anyone would justify such an instant and such an extreme penalty.


A law passed in 1655 would seem to show a determination on the General Assembly's part to discourage as far as possible the endless turmoil caused by charges and countercharges of witchcraft; they referred to such accusations as designed to bring "slander and scandall" upon the person held up as guilty; and they, therefore, provided a severe punishment for anyone who began them. From this it would be presumed that they themselves had very little faith in such imputations. That

this statute was enforced is proven by the case of Anne Godby, of Lower Norfolk; in a moment of great passion, she denounced the wife of a prominent citizen as a witch, and for this her husband was compelled to pay, not only a fine of three hundred pounds of tobacco, the penalty for her contempt of the statute, but also all the costs of the suit, including the fees and expenses of the numerous witnesses.


In 1665, Alice Stephens was brought before the General Court on a charge of witchcraft 3 ; and in the course of the same year, a judgment was obtained in the same court against a woman who had made a similar

charge against one of her neighbors. 4


A difference having arisen in 1671, between Mrs. Neal and Edward Cole, residents of Northumberland county, Mrs. Neal, during the quarrel, gave utterance to a "kind of prayer" that "neither he nor any of his family might ever prosper." Shortly after this vindictive expression had passed her lips, Cole declared that all the people connected with his plantation fell ill, and that Mrs. Cole also was taken down with sickness, and had not yet been restored to health. All this, so he informed Captain Edward Le Breton, was due entirely to the influence of Mrs. Neal's curse. On another occasion, when his wife was confined to her bed, he had sent word to Mrs. Neal to come and visit her. At this time, it would seem, he was not aware of her evil powers, but fortunately, said he, in entering the house, she passed under a horseshoe nailed over the door, and this fact alone had led her, when she reached Mrs. Cole's side, to pray heartily for her recovery. That this was no groundless assertion was proven by her becoming malignant again as soon as removed from the benign influence of the horseshoe.


About 1679, Alice Cartwright was accused in the court of Lower Norfolk of having cast a spell over John Salmon's child. A jury of women was at once impanelled, but as they reported that they had found no suspicious marks on her body to show that she was in commerce with witches, she was discharged as innocent.


The delusion prevailed in those times that if the person who had fallen under the evil ban of sorcery was a heathen, Christian baptism would break the charm and set him free. Not long before the Insurrection of

1676 began, under the leadership of the younger Bacon, Colonel Mason captured the youthful son of the King of the Doegs and carried him home. After arriving there, it is alleged the boy lay in bed for a

period of ten days, his eyes staring and his mouth agape, but with no sign that he was breathing, although his body remained warm. Captain Brent, a Roman Catholic in faith, visiting him, perhaps out of curiosity, pronounced him, after examination, to be bewitched, and earnestly recommended that he should be baptized,

a remedy which, he said, he had often heard would at once counteract the evil consequences of sorcery. His advice was promptly followed, and the chronicler of the incident sagely declares that the boy soon



In the commissions which the justices of the county courts received on their appointment to office in 1691, they were strictly enjoined to inquire, not only as to all felonies, trespasses, and forestallings occurring, but also as to all witchcrafts, -- a crime against the safety of individuals, and the peace of the community, as serious in its nature (at least in the eyes of the Governor drawing up these commissions), as any coming within the Grand Jury's jurisdiction. 2 Nevertheless, after this time, whilst the accusations of witchcraft brought into court for investigation were numerous enough, there seems to have been little disposition on the part of justices or juries to affirm them by a favorable judgment or verdict. A charge of sorcery was as easily provable in one case as in another, as in no case was there any ground at all for it to rest on; and that these officers of the law should have allowed such charges to be the subject of civil suit more often than of criminal prosecution, shows that they were beginning

to disbelieve in them thoroughly.


This fact is illustrated in numerous cases. In 1694, William Eale accused Phyllis Money of having cast a spell over Henry Dunkin's horse and by making him start off suddenly lacerate his owner's leg; and he

further declared that she had taught her daughter, who was Dunkin's wife, to be a witch, and that Mrs. Dunkin had in turn taught her husband to be a wizard. Not content with speaking these terrible words in Dunkin's house, Eale had repeated them again and again in other

places. Phyllis protested that she had never been guilty of witchcraft, or of any "wicked and base acts" of that nature, but that in consequence of Eale's groundless charges, her neighbors had refused to

"keep company" with her and her husband, and that they had been much injured in their credit and good name; and she even went so far as to assert that their lives had been in imminent danger. Had there been a

strong belief in witchcraft among the justices of the county court, Phyllis and her husband would have been arrested on the original charge and prosecuted; instead, they were allowed to bring a civil suit, which

amounted to no more than an ordinary action of defamation; and in the end failed to secure any damages.


In the following year, Henry Dunkin was summoned to court in a civil suit for scandalous reflections on the reputation of John Dunkin and his wife, the most reprehensible of which were that Elizabeth Dunkin had boasted to him that she was a sorceress; that she had bewitched his cow, and was herself regularly sucked by the Devil. This was a charge which, could it be proven, would have rendered her, by the provisions of the English law, liable to be burnt at the stake, an accursed and shameful death; such "damnable and wicked words" falsely attributed to her, Elizabeth alleged, were deliberately designed to destroy the good

names of herself and her husband, to ruin them in their estates and fortunes, and to bring lasting discredit on their posterity. A short time after Henry Dunkin reported these words to have been uttered, he went to John Dunkin's house, and there heaped "atrocious and scurrilous names" upon Elizabeth, denounced her as a witch and her children as witches' imps, and ended by defying all her works of sorcery. The case was submitted to a jury, with a claim on John and Elizabeth Dunkin's part to forty thousand pounds of tobacco in damages; but that body returned a verdict allowing them only forty pounds of that commodity. It would appear from this that the members of this jury at least

looked upon a charge of witchcraft as calculated to make so little public impression that it could not be regarded as a very serious form of defamation.


A suit was brought by William Morris, of King and Queen county, in 1695, on the ground that his wife, Eleanor, had been accused of sorcery. Eleanor, in her testimony in court, stated that she had resided in Virginia thirty years, and that in the whole of that

time was "never guilty of any conjuration, witchcraft, enchantment, or charm," but, on the contrary, her skirts had remained clear of all such offences, or even the suspicion of them. Notwithstanding this fact, Anne Ball had gone about declaring in a very loud voice that Eleanor had been and still was a witch, and had ridden her during several days and nights until she was wearied nearly to death. The jury, instead of

turning a credulous ear to such a charge, promptly acquitted Eleanor, and found Mrs. Ball guilty of defamation. Mrs. Ball seems to have been disposed to bring numerous accusations of the same character, for about the same time she charged Nell Cane with riding her twice. 


Princess Anne county, which was to become early in the Eighteenth century the scene of the most memorable trial for sorcery recorded in the colonial history of Virginia, seems to have been frequently agitated, towards the end of the Seventeenth century, by the

machinations of supposed witches. The most conspicuous of these was Grace Sherwood, who was to win such lasting fame as an enchantress. She appeared in this character as early as 1698, in which year, she was accused by John Gisburne of casting spells. She evidently thought that the reputation of possessing such evil powers was not favorable to her personal safety, for she joined with her husband in suing Gisburne

for defamation. As the jury decided against her, it would be inferred that, like the jury in the Dunkins' case, they did not deem a charge of witchcraft, from the very nature of it, entitled to any consideration. Anthony Barnes also brought a similar accusation against Grace: -- he declared that she had ridden his wife one night, and then, in the shape of a black cat had slipped through the keyhole, or a crack in the door. Barnes being sued for slander, the jury again decided against Grace, perhaps because they looked upon the charges as too absurd to carry weight in the minds of sensible people. Some years afterwards, the same woman was sentenced to be ducked, ostensibly to test whether she

was really a witch, but quite probably to punish her slyly for having become a serious nuisance to the public by the strife which she was so successful in stirring up.


The year in which Grace Sherwood was accused of witchcraft by Anthony Barnes, Anne Byrd, of the same county, was charged by Charles Kinsey with riding him from his house as far as Elizabeth Russell's; this led to a report that she was a sorceress; and so much disturbed was she and her husband by this reputation, that they brought suit against Kinsey and placed the damages at one hundred pounds sterling. The defendant

admitted that he had used such words, but declared that Anne had appeared to him merely in a dream, or if he were really awake at the time, that it was a pure illusion. The jury after this explanation found in his favor, but they also found in favor of John Pitts (who

had accused Anne of riding him along the sea-shore), although Pitts, instead of seeking to back out like Kinsey, persisted in saying that "to his thought, apprehension, and best knowledge, she did serve him

so." In this case, as in the others already mentioned, the jury plainly considered the charge to be too improbable in itself to be received with credulity, and, therefore, the reputation of Anne Byrd could not have been really injured. 2 And yet about the same time, a jury of women were impanelled, on Captain William Carver's information, to examine Jane Jennings for witch spots, as she had been accused of being intimate with evil spirits and skilful in the arts of a



In re-examining the various cases of supposed witchcraft which I have enumerated as found in the surviving records of Virginia during the Seventeenth century, it will be seen that, in one instance only, that

of William Harding of Northumberland county, was the accusation (and that in part alone) sustained by the decision of a court or the verdict of a jury. The convicted person in this case was simply banished,

more probably because he was notoriously bad in his life or was looked upon as causing dissension, than because he was really considered to be capable of exercising evil powers. In all those other cases in which

some one had charged another with being a sorcerer or sorceress, instead of the law officers accepting the imputation seriously, they had been satisfied either to impose a fine on the accuser for defamation, or to dismiss the case without allowing any damages at all.

The impanelling of female juries to make a search for witch spots on the supposed sorceress' body was the only act that seemed to show any belief in this form of superstition on the part of that class in the community from which the different magistrates were drawn; but it is quite possible that this concession to popular ignorance was made because all the chances in such examinations were against the discovery of such spots. The tit sought for with the greatest eagerness was not one planted in the female body in the economy of nature, and the judges had sufficient knowledge of female anatomy to be willing to rely on the impossibility of finding it anywhere outside of the realm of

the imagination. The ancient superstition of stroking a corpse to discover whether the dead person had died by violence, or in the course of nature, was often exhibited in Virginia during this century. This was done at the inquest over the dead body of Panell Rynurse held in Northampton in 1655; at the jury's command, William Custis touched

the inanimate face and ran his hand along the motionless form; and as no signs of life appeared in consequence, a verdict was brought in that the death had not been brought about by violent means. A similar case

occurred in Surry county in 1662; in this case, the body was a female servant's, and her master and mistress, who were suspected of having murdered her, were required at the inquest to stroke the corpse. The idea in this, as in Rynurse's case, was that, if the person or persons touching the body were guilty, it would give some indications of returning life. A third case, involving a child's corpse is preserved in the records of Accomac. The supposed murderer here was also compelled to draw his hand over the body.



1  Northampton County Records, vol. 1654-5, folio p. 123. 

2  Surry County Records, vol. 1645-72, p. 205, Va. St. Libr. 

3  Accomac County Records, vol. 1678-82, p. 159. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., p. 49. 


1  Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. ii., pp. 92, 93. 

2  Ibid., vol. i., p. 20; Princess Anne County Records, Orders July

8, 1698. 


1  Essex County Records, Orders June 11, 1695. 


1  Westmoreland County Records, Orders Aug. 28, 1695. 


1  Westmoreland County Records, Orders Nov. 1, 1694. 


1  T. M.'s Account of Bacon's Rebellion, p. 9, Force's Hist. Tracts, vol. i. 

2  See Nicholson's Commission to the Northampton County Justices in 1691, vol. 1689-98, p. 98. See Commission of Essex County Justices in 1692, vol. 1692-5, pp. 1, 2, Va. St. Libr. 


1  Northumberland County Order Book, 1666-72, folio p. 104. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Jan'y 16, 1678-9;

Lower Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. i., p. 56. 


1  Robinson Transcripts, p. 243 2. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, vol. 1656-66, p. 267 . The

statute is referred to in this court entry. 

3  Robinson Transcripts, p. 250 . 

4  Ibid., p. 256. 


1  Northumberland County Records, Orders Nov. 20, 1655. There were other charges besides witchcraft brought against Harding on this occasion, and it is possible that the conviction was for these other offenses, and not for sorcery. The expression is: "They (the Jury) found part of the articles proved by several depositions." Harding, like Barbara Winbrow, may have been notoriously "bad in his life and conversation," and his banishment may have been due to this fact alone. 

2  Northampton County Records, vol. 1657-64, p. 18; General

Court Orders, Dec. 1, 1657, Robinson Transcripts, p. 2432. 


1  General Court Orders, Robinson Transcripts, p. 28 . 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders May 23, 1655; Lower

Norfolk County Antiquary, vol. iii., p. 152. 


1  Hening's Statutes, vol. iii., p. 168 . 

2  Brown's Genesis of the United States, vol. i., p. 499 . 


1  Acts of Assembly, Nov. 20, 1654, Randolph MS., vol. iii., p.

236; Neill's Va. Carolorum, p. 237. 

2  Lower Norfolk County Records, Orders Aug. 15, 1683. 

3  Accomac County Records, vol. 1690-97, p. 37 .  


1  Works of Captain John Smith, Arber's edition, p. lxxxviii.

By an Act of Assembly passed in 1675, with the view of establishing certain military regulations, it was provided that a soldier guilty of blasphemy in camp should be required to run, after the Indian fashion, the gauntlet of one hundred men, and if he persisted in the offense, his tongue was to be pierced with a red hot iron; Colonial Entry Book, vol. lxxxvi., p. 70. 





The Knickerbocker Press, New York


Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Religious, Moral, Educational,

Legal, Military, and Political Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records.

Philip Alexander Bruce - author.

G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York; London. 1910.