Monday, November 17, 2014

Immorality Judged and Sentenced

Bruton Parish organized 1715
The best gentlemen of the county were selected to serve as vestrymen.  Only a few could not write, such as Robert Todd and John Clarkson of York parish (1647), however, they made their mark upon documents.  As was the custom in England, a feather pen was dipped into india ink and a wax seal placed beside the signature.  The clerks in many of the old Virginia documents sketched a primitive version of each seal at the signature line.  Afterwards, salt was sprinkled upon the signature, to set the ink.  When viewing so many preserved records dating from the early 17th century,such a practice did a fine job of preservation.  It is the paper upon which the documents were written which crumbled away.  The vestrymen proved to be the principal guardians of public morals and were admired as role models.  The power of the vestrymen as they controlled church affairs ran very much ahead of the power of the same body in England.  At the end of the seventeenth century, the vestries were chosen during an election by freeholders and householders. An Act passed in 1660 required that the number of persons composing a vestry be limited to twelve.  In essence, the power manifested in the vestry was political.  The powers consisted of appointing clergymen, investigating drunkenness, adultery and like moral offences. An entry appearing in the Northampton records in 1648, there was found a long list of depositions taken originally at a meeting of the vestry called together to consider the question of the innocence or guilt of a prominent citizen's wife who was accused of infideility to her husband.  The verdict was unfavorable to her and she was presented to the county court by the minister and churchwardens of the parish acting under the instructions from the vestry.  The depositions were read in court and the woman was convicted for the second time, however, this was her first time sentenced.  An awareness of the duties of the parish vestry should be considered in the genealogy as the church very much directed the affairs of the colonists and helps to explain why people were condemned, jailed or otherwise found themselves in trouble.  The era, the times....all of this, assembles the story, and provides pieces of the wanting puzzle.  Old church records, and every document in the court house should be examined to write the family history.  Rather than visit every court house, many old wills and testaments are found on Virginia Pioneers

Source: Northampton County Court Records, orig. vol. 1645-51, pp. 148-9.

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