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The next record of the early existence of the church in Virginia is to be found in the legislation of 1624. The colony had at this time, by an accession of strength from the mother country, recovered in a great degree, from the disastrous effects of the massacre in 1622; and a colonial assembly was convened by Sir Francis Wyatt, the laws of which consisted of thirty-five articles. The first seven related to the church and ministry, and enacted,
1. That in every plantation, where the people were wont to meet for the worship of God, there should be a house or room set apart for that purpose, and not converted to any temporal use whatsoever; and that a place should be empaled and sequestered, only for the burial of the dead.
II. That whosoever should absent himself from divine service any Sunday, without an allowable excuse, should forfeit a pound of tobacco; and that he who absented himself a month, should forfeit fifty pounds of tobacco.
III. That there should be a uniformity in the church, as near as might be, both in substance and circumstance, to the canons of the Church of England; and that all persons should yield a ready obedience to them, upon pain of censure.
IV. That the twenty-second of March (the day of the massacre) should be solemnized and kept holy; and that all other holydays should be observed, except when two fell together in the summer season, (the time of their field labours,) when the first only was to be observed, by reason of their necessities and employments.
V. That no minister should be absent from his cure above two months in the whole year, upon penalty of forfeiting half his salary; and whosover was absent above four months, should forfeit his whole salary and cure.
VI. That whosoever should disparage a minister, without sufficient proof to justify his reports, whereby the minds of his parishioners might be alienated from him, and his ministry prove the less effectual, should not only pay five hundred pounds of tobacco, but should also ask the minister's forgiveness publicly in the congregation.
VII. That no man should dispose of any of his tobacco before the minister was satisfied, upon forfeiture of double his part towards the salary; and that one man of every plantation should be appointed to collect the minister's salary, out of the first and best tobacco and corn.*
The adoption of these laws was the last act of legislation which affected the church, under the government of the Company. It was in 1624 that, under the forms of a judicial proceeding, the charter of the Company was arbitrarily resumed by the king, and the proprietary government ceased in Virginia.
• 1 Hening's Virginia Statutes, at large, 122 ; Stith, 319.
1628-1651. Visit of Lord Baltimore-Refuses to take the Oath of Supremacy-Witch
craft-Tyranny of the Governor-Stephen Reek's Case-Missionaries from the Independents of New-England-Driven away by Act of Con. formity-Right of Presentation and Induction—Loyalty of VirginiaAttachment to the Church-Banishment of Mr. Harrison, a Congregational Minister—Subjugation of Virginia to the Commonwealth.
The change in government does not seem to have interrupted the administration of existing laws. The pedantic monarch, who had now become sole proprietor, was ambitious of digesting a plan of permanent government, and required time and study for the full development of his talent for legislation. Meanwhile, and until the period of royal leisure should arrive, he appointed a provisional government to supply the present exigency, and the colony proceeded quietly under the laws already in being. It is not improbable, therefore, that the church slowly gathered strength, and assumed more of a permanent character, under the protection of the enactments already recited. The only laws concerning religion which are to be found on the records, provide that “all those that worke in the ground, of what qualitie or condition soever, shall pay tithes to the ministers;” and that there bee an especiall care taken by all commanders and others that the people doe repaire to their churches on the Saboth day; and to see that the penalty of one pound of tobacco for every time of absence, and fifty pounds for everie month's absence, sett downe in the act of the Generall Assembly, 1623, be levyed, and the delinquents to pay the same; as alsoe to see that the Saboth day be not ordinarily profaned by workeing in any imployments, or by iournyeing from place to place."* There is, however, in this portion of our narrative little more than conjecture to guide us; nor is there any incident, prior to the year 1628, which throws any light on the religious condition of the country. It was in that year that Lord Baltimore visited Virginia ; and called forth, by his arrival, evidence of the strong attachment of the colony to the principles of the Protestant faith, as held by the Church of England. His lordship was a member of the Church of Rome; and the assembly, which was in session at the time of his arrival, by an exercise of authority, the lawfulness of which has been questioned, f required of him and his fol. lowers to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. This was declined by his lordship; and the assembly contented itself with referring the whole matter to the king and council. The occurrence is recorded as illustrative of the general attachment of the colony to the reformed religion; and as indicating the prevalent opinion that the church in Virginia was a branch of the establishment at home, and entitled to the protection of the same laws. I
In the year 1629, Sir John Hervey entered on his ad. ministration as governor, under the authority of a royal commission; and on the twenty-fourth of March, in the succeeding year, he convened an assembly. The tyranny of his sway is attested by all the historians of the period, and a mildness in the administration of the laws, touching the discipline of the church, was one of the first subjects of official notice. The decisions of the court of high commission in England, were acknowledged, in words, to be authority in the ecclesiastical concerns of the colony, so far as they could have any application; but, in point of fact, their influence was very rarely felt. Indeed, it may well
* 1 Hening's Virginia Statutes, at large, 144.
+ Bozman's Maryland, 236, 237. 1 2 Burk, 25.
be questioned whether that influence was felt at all; as, during the first twenty-six years of the colony's existence, no record is to be found of any severity inflicted for the non-observance of the ordinances of the church, nor any instance of the application of ecclesiastical discipline for crimes of a spiritual nature. It has, indeed, been said that among the carly records is to be found the history of the trial, condemnation, and execution of a woman, by fire, for witchcraft; and this has led a late historian to insinuate the existence of a persecuting and intolerant spirit in religion.* If the supposed execution ever took place, it is not perceived that it sanctions the inferences which have been made. There is no evidence that the judgment was rendered by an ecclesiastical court; and it is well known that the belief in witchcraft was universal in Europe until the sixteenth century, and even maintained its ground with tolerable firmness until the middle of the seventeenth. It was an offence cognizable by the civil courts, having been made a felony, without benefit of clergy, by statute 1 James I, c. 12, (enacted in 1603,) so that, if the fact of the execution mentioned above rested on certain testimony, it would still be a gratuitous imputation to charge it upon the church. The only record of a trial for witchcraft in Virginia, is believed to be that of Grace Sherwood of Princess Ann county; and if it be this to which the historian has alluded, it does not sustain his insinuation ; for it was a trial before the civil authority; it did not take place until 1705, 6; nor does it appear from the record that the accused was executed. Virginia, therefore, is entitled to the honourable distinction of having, in the infancy of her political existence, sustained religion without severity, when her course found but little countenance in the world's example. And if she should
* 2 Burk, appendix, xxxi.
† Collections of the Virginia Hia. torical Society, vol. i. p. 73.